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Posts Tagged ‘supporting learning’

The fourth and final observation experience as part of this PGCAP module required me to observe a peer on the course. I observed Carlo. He had not given me a pre-observation form in advance, so I wasn’t entirely sure what kind of session I was walking into – Carlo had however ensured that I knew exactly where I needed to go.

The class was made up of 3 masters level students, who had chosen to attend Carlo’s option module on ‘EU and US competition law’. Carlo introduced me and then got going with his lecture. The first thing that struck me was the fact that I was in a room with 4 people for whom English was not the first language, yet they were going to teach and discuss some really complex aspects of law. I was so impressed!

Feedback and discussion

Carlo gave a verbal overview at the start of the session, and gave students the handout of the slides he had on PowerPoint. I wondered how Carlo would know whether students have covered the material he wanted them to cover. My recommendation was to provide specific aims and objectives at the start of the session, that he can then return to at the end and check that student’s feel they have learnt about all that was intended, which Carlo thought was a good idea. D’Andrea (2000) presents the pros and cons of making teaching and learning objectives explicit, and goes on to posit that this approach is often described as more ‘teacher-centred’ – as opposed to ‘learner –centred’. This is an approach that I commonly utilise as it provides structure and focus, and gives students a clear outline for the areas that are intended to be covered. But one of the criticisms cited by D’Andrea is that it ‘limits opportunities from spontaneous unintended outcomes occurring during learning experiences’ (p43, 2000). I believe that a skilled teacher can allow those ‘spontaneous unintended outcomes’ to still take place, ideally embracing them, but can still cover the planned work. And if time runs out and the outcomes have not been achieved, then a confident educator will be able to see that not as a negative, but a positive, and hopefully be able to schedule in any missed learning outcomes within another session. One of my PGCAP classmates Becci, talked about ‘unintended but beneficial learning outcomes’ in our session on 8/3/2012 and I do feel that it is imperative that we as educators should be able to recognise these and allow them to flourish.

During the session Carlo asked a question that provoked some discussion – he drew a diagram on the board to help people remember the point he was trying to make, thus giving students some visual imagery. He gave positive feedback and good non verbal cues when a student started to answer, therefore encouraging her to keep going. Throughout Carlo responded well to questions asked by the students, and they seemed satisfied with the answers. They clearly felt comfortable to ask at any time. The session was very much about passing on fact – there was little room to ask learners for their opinions as the subject matter is so black and white. This led me to wonder how students could play a more active role? I wondered if it might be useful to set them a task as a group – for example to provide a critical analysis of the public versus private enforcement. It would encourage them to think independently within the classroom, plus give them a chance to try and get under the surface of an aspect of law that exists, so that they can develop deeper understanding of the topic (Light and Cox 2001)

Carlo used a good example when getting learners to consider the ‘prisoner dilemma strategy’ – he related it to popular culture (the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’) which was interesting for students and helped make a point. Jennifer Moon discusses how the arts can be used as a medium with which to ‘make sense, or better or broader sense, of experiences’ (p 173, 2010) and herself uses a quote from ‘Harry Potter’ to aid understanding about reflective practice.

My final recommendation for Carlo, was for him to consider brightening up his PowerPoint presentation with pictures or colours, as it was a little dull to look at – for those students who are more visually/spatially intelligent – (the learner who has capacity to learn by visualising, whose mind is best stimulated by visual images (Jacques and Salmon 2007)) a brighter PowerPoint might provide additional stimulation.

On the whole I really enjoyed observing Carlo – he made good eye contact, had open body language, he moved about, he had a good relationship with his students, and they were all very welcoming of me. Carlo seemed to appreciate my feedback and suggestions. I have been surprised when writing this up at how much richer my feedback appears now I have been reading the theory to support my recommendations. I am encouraged that my instincts are right. But on the other hand, they are far more than instincts – they are the (usually subconscious) product of experience, trial, error, and success, all mixed together with a generous sprinkling of knowledge of interpersonal skills and humanistic  psychology.  But the question is how we ensure some sort of standardisation of the above, without losing individual creativity, for quality assurance and quality enhancement in academic practice? (A5; K3; K6; V1)

D’Andrea V-M (2000) Organizing teaching & Learning: Outcomes based planning in Fry H, Ketteridge S and Marshall S A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: enhancing academic practice Kogan Page; London.

Jacques D and Salmon G (2007) Learning in groups: a handbook for face to face and online learning environments Routledge; Oxon.

Light G and Cox R (2001) Learning & teaching in higher education: the reflective professional Paul Chapman; London.

Moon J (2010) A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice RoutledgeFalmer; Oxon.

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I was observed by my colleague, Carlo, delivering the second part of the Moving and Handling session. This part of the session was a practical workshop, whereby the students are taught safe techniques to use when out in practice, and have the opportunity to have a go with the equipment and practice the techniques within a lab environment, before actually using them within the workplace.

An example of the types of techniques taught in this session – hoisting:

Feedback and discussion

I felt that the session went okay – it wasn’t brilliant, and it wasn’t a awful. I struggle with the fact that it is difficult to be creative delivering such a session, therefore the the driver that makes the most difference within the classroom is me! Biggs (1999) talks about creating intrinsic motivation, that students need to value the topic they are learning about for its own sake, rather than because they are going to be assessed in it. He comments that teachers who love their subject and show it can be inspirational to students. If teachers percieve great value in the topic they are talking about, then this will have the knock on effect of causing students to be curious because they wish to seek some of that value. I do believe in the importance of teaching students about safe moving and handling, and I am committed to seeking out ways to deliver it in the most interesting way – but ultimately I hope that I am able to enthuse them.

I felt that the session was a little disorganised, as I split the bigger group into smaller groups and they rotate around the equipment practising new skills and techniques. I move among them, being available for answering questions and clarifying tricky techniques, as well as to observe and provide on the spot feedback to individuals and groups in action. When I met with Carlo to hear his feedback, he felt that the session did not appear disorganised. He thought that I came accross as ‘in charge’ and that I worked well with the groups. He acknowledged that the nature of the task requires students to take initiative, and he noted that they were working but looked relaxed. He gave some positive feedback about the way I handled a question asked by a student who approached me saying that she had what was probably a ‘stupid’ question. I reassured her it wasn’t stupid at all, and Carlo thought I gave an excellent reply, but he also liked the way I answered not just to her but to the whole class. This is one of the methods I always try to utilise to encourage contribution, and to get students to speak up. Another method I used during this session (in this and much of my other teaching)  is to encourage students to share their own experiences from work or practice, to try and give the subject some meaning. Light and Cox (2001) state that this is one of the elements of the deeper approach to learning, where students are able to relate what they have learnt to their own personal experience. They go on to note that an important aspect of learning is that experience is valued, particuarly for more mature students, of which we have quite a high proportion on the Joint Programme.

Carlo and I had a discussion about how one can assess what students have learnt in a session such as this? They are helping and commenting on each others practice within the group, plus I am available to support and guide if needed and assess at quite a superficial level, though not equally with all members of the group (A3). But ultimately it is hard to assess what people have learnt and this is problematic – furthermore, Moving and Handling is a good example of a skill that once learnt will be forgotten if its not being used regularly. Glasser (1988 in Biggs 1999) note that most people learn:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 50% of what they see and hear
  • 70% of what they talk over with others
  • 80% of what they use and do in real life
  • 95% of what they teach to someone else

This list, although obviously providing approximate percentages as these will vary hugely from individual to individual, does give us as educators an idea of how people learn effectively and the strategies that need to be developed to support such learning. A practical session such as Moving and Handling, where students actually get to ‘have a go’ will hopefully aid learning. (A1; A2; K2; K3; K5)

Overall I enjoyed being observed, particularly by someone from a different discipline, as I appreciated the objective perspective Carlo would be able to bring to the exercise. I enjoyed the discussion afterwards where Carlo probed me somewhat, seeking clarification about why I did some things the way I did them – always a useful exercise in maintaining and improving quality. (K6)

Biggs (1999) Teaching for quality learning at university SRHE and OU Press; Bucks.

Glasser W (1988) quoted by ‘Association for supervision and curriculum development guide’ cited in Biggs (1999) Teaching for quality learning at university SRHE and OU Press; Bucks.

Light G and Cox R (2001) Learning and teaching in higher education: the reflective professional Paul Chapman Publishing; London.

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My colleague, Denise Megson, observed me delivering a ‘moving and handling’ theory session to a group of about 18 first years, who were also joined by 4 third years, who needed to attend an annual moving handling update.

http://media.storybird.com/embedplayer/bin/StoryplayerEmbed.swfBeing observed teaching Moving & Handling on Storybird

The feedback from Denise was generally positive and constructive – she said that I set the scene well, and used humour appropriately. I answered questions well and she liked the way I used the doughnuts. I used them as a teaching aid, partly to help me explain the make up of the intervertebral discs, and partly to support more experiential learning  for the students. If experiencing something ‘is a linking process between action and thought’ (Beard and Wilson 2002, p15) then my aim was for the group to see and taste the doughnuts, whilst also understanding the physiology and being able to apply knowledge of how a prolapsed disc happens, so that they can take adequate future measures to avoid it happening. (A1; A2; K2; K3)

Recommendations

Denise made some useful suggestions that I will definitely consider implementing when I next do the session – there were a few slides with lists of relevant legislation on them. She suggested doing a question and answer session in place of these slides. She also suggested doing a quiz when I cover the section on statistics – either a pre test or post test. Uutilising teaching methods such as these would have provided more variety within the classroom, essential for effective learning particularly in a group where you have a range of individuals with a range of preferred learning styles as noted by Moon (2010). Moon notes that ‘those experiencing variation learned better’ and that ‘those experiencing variation retained the material better’ (p28-29). As there is limited opportunity to emotionally connect with the material covered within a Moving & Handling session, retention of the facts is a desirable outcome. (K3; V1)

I had one student who rather dominated discussion, and was being a bit of a clown and Denise suggested I make more effort to encourage contributions form others in the group, for instance by saying  something like ‘thanks John, lets hear from someone else’. This is not an uncommon difficulty and Jaques and Salmon (2007) make a number of suggestions including the use of hand signals, body language and gestures; giving dominant students roles (such as note taking); bringing in other students (as Denise recommended); using activities that take away their audience; or introducing ground rules or a card system. (A4; V2)

I felt that being observed by a colleague was an invaluable experience. Denise is a very experienced educator, with many years of experience – in fact she taught me when I did the programme 15 years ago! Equally, I have colleagues who haven’t been teaching so long, but who are passionate, creative and committed, so I believe we all have a lot to learn from each other. Fullerton ( 2000) notes that ‘peer observation’ of teaching within staff teams is becoming more prevalant within higher education. I have had informal discussions with my mentor and colleagues and all seem to agree that peer observation would be beneficial. We have a Team Development day in June, so I intend to put it on the agenda to discuss. One of the many benefits of peer observation is that it can contribute to quality assurance (REF), with a particular focus on teaching (k6).

Beard C and Wilson JP (2002) The Power of experiential learning: A handbook for trainers and educators Kogan Page; London.

Fullerton H (2000) Observation of teaching in Fry  H, Ketteridge S and Marshall S (2000) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing academic practice (pp 220-234) Kogan Page; London.

Jacques D and Salmon G (2007) 4th edition Learning in groups: a handbook for face-to-face and online environments Routledge; Oxon.

Moon J (2010)A Handbook of reflective & experiential learning: theory and practiceRoutledgeFalmer; Oxon.

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I really enjoyed yesterdays session – although I am well aware of PBL, I have never actually taken part in doing a PBL exercise. I found that I got really into the task – so much, that I didn’t stop at all! What struck me most from the session as a whole, was the fact that we learnt from our (dubiously reliable) research – ie canvassing of students we found –  that they are very one dimensional in their views about the purpose of feedback. They see it solely as a means to find out how they are doing/progressing (or not). However the HEA Academy lists 7 reasons why giving feedback is beneficial www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/…/id353_senlef_guide.pdf  (page 6) which I thought provided a much more holistic grounds for giving feedback. I’m going to try and be more explicit with students in the future, about the principles of feedback – to help them get a better picture of how much everyone can gain from effective feedback.

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The requirement to keep a portfolio has got me thinking about the work we set our students. The assessement within some modules is very rigid and leaves little opportuntiy to be creative or imaginative. This often reflects the style of the teacher – some of my colleagues are incredibly prescriptive when it comes to assessment, they like to give the students very clear instructions on what they must and must not do. I suppose this helps the marking process, as all the assignments can be measured against each other, in a much more quantitative fashion. My personal preference is to be a bit less prescriptive with essay titles and instructions (where the assessment is an essay). I like to give some pointers, and some essential components of what the essay must include, but give the student room to bring something of themselves to the piece of work. There are always students in the group who struggle with this approach, and I will admit to being frustrated in the past, by those individuals who want everything spelling out to them, who don’t seem willing (or confident?) to come up with something of their own.

However, what I am discovering on the PGCAP, is that I think I resemble those students more than I have previously realised. I have really struggled with being given such an open remit when it comes to the construction and design of the portfolio. I have on many occasions wanted someone to tell me exactly how it should be laid out, and be more prescriptive about what content should go in what sections. The fact that it is up to me, has caused me more headaches, than it has liberated me. This has been something of a revelation, as I have always thought of myself as a creative, ‘not wanting to be forced into a box’ type of person and thinker. But actually in many ways perhaps I am more conservative, and wanting to be told what to do, then I have realised. The learning I shall take from this, will be to be more patient with those individuals in the future who need a bit more guidance with the layout and completing of their work. Our job as educators is surely to empower people and nurture their creative impulses, so I think I’ll be little more empathic in the future.

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The ‘mixed reality’ game to spice up teaching:

The challenge:

This ‘game’ sounds complicated, but I’m sure when we actually get going it will all make sense! Although I am not actually teaching this topic in the next couple of weeks, the concept I would like to consider is that of ‘white privilige’. This is something we teach to first years during a module that is entitled ‘Promoting Equality and Citizenship’. The underlying theme of the module is to get students to think about and recognise power – and in turn, oppression and discrimination, in all its forms. Historically social work teaching took the stance of teaching about racism and anti-racism, and whilst this in itself is essential, the majority of students, ie the white students, would go through the motions of trying to understand racism, but not really getting it, as naturally they would all consider themselves to be liberal individuals who of course act in an anti-discriminate way at all times. More recently there has been a move to explore the concept of white privilige with social work students, and this can be a really challenging concept for them to grasp. It means encouraging them to see that simply by being white, they are accorded priviliges – often automatically and unconsciously – that black and Asian people do not have. And therefore they need to be aware of the power that being white and living in a predominantly white society gives them. It is imperative that the teaching of this subject does not leave them feeling guilty or upset about something they have no control over, but that it simply brings the issue to their attention, so that they can be mindful of it in practice and in life in general.

Teaching this topic is tricky, and students struggle with it – interestingly it is the white students who struggle, not the black ones, as this is something that they already know. We have to enable students to safely explore how this makes them feel, and occasionally there are real problems where some individuals will defiantly take the stance that ‘I am not racist just because I’m white’. When we first present this topic people are incredibly challenged, as it turns the usual approaches to looking at racism inside out. But, once students have ‘got their heads round it’ they are enlightened, empathic, humbled, and even more committed to working in an anti-discriminate way than they were before. Any ways to aid the teaching of this very sensitive and tricky topic are welcomed!

The intervention:

We met in Manchester City Centre and were paired up to go and find a teaching aid that would assist us to teach our concept in a way that would be more likely to be grasped and remembered. My teammate was Kevin, Kevin bought a clock to aid the teaching of his ‘problem’.

I chose a ‘Draw your own jigsaw puzzle’ to use in the classroom:

My rationale was that I could break up the individual pieces and give them to individual students, asking them to draw a picture or write a few words to describe their identity. As a group we would the explore the nature of what people wrote/drew and look at how many described their ethnic origin or skin colour as part of their identity. We tend to find that the white students do not describe themselves as ‘white’ because they rarely think consciously about being white. The second part of the exercise would involve some fun team work, where the group then have to put the jigsaw together (A1).

The results:

I have not had the opportunity to put this exercise into action as we don’t teach this module again until semester one, but I have shared it with colleagues and they thought it sounded like a good idea. Plus, a colleague from the PGCAP contacted me to ask if he could use my idea, which was really encouraging!

Lessons learned from doing the exercise:

The exercise had two strands – 1)  that it got us out of the classroom, mixing with others from the programme, and doing a task that was fun and memorable. And 2) that it gave us the time and space to think about using play with our students, as well as thinking of creative and alternative ways to help us get our point across. I love the way Stuart Brown talks about the benefits of play in adult education in this clip:

He talks about how 3D play ‘fires up the cerebellum, puts impulses into the frontal lobe and helps the development of contextual memory’. As well as considering how I could use more items within the classroom, I would also like to think of ways to get the students out of the classroom to ‘play’, as I am certain that having this experience myself will have added the development of contextual memory as Stuart Brown suggests. We do get the students out of the classroom visiting resources and services, but never do we get them out of the classroom to have fun – whilst also learning at the same time.

The intention is that this activity will aid deeper learning, as it is essential that students grasp the concept that is being taught (ie about ‘white privilige’). Simply standing in front of them and telling them that white privilige exists would not be enough for them to grasp the deep implications of this. They need to have the opportunity to consider the concept, to think about it, and to be challenged by it in order to achieve deep understanding and the implications for their work practice and it is intended that this activity would provide people with the chance to think deeply about this topic, catering for individuals who have a range of preferred learning styles and learning needs (K2; K3). This film demonstrates why it is important to engage different students in different ways to enable individuals with differing learning styles to all have the opportunity to construct meaning from what  they learn:

It is a film which is based on Biggs ideas about ‘constructive alignment’ and how the teacher must align the planned learning activities with the learning outcomes.

In terms of my specific idea, I believe it could be replicated – indeed, I will ask Carlo how he got on using it, and report back if within an appropriate time frame.

My partner in crime Kevin and myself after we’d presented our items to the group

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