Being Critically Reflective

‘The process of becoming a reflective practitioner cannot be prescribed. It is a personal awareness discover process.’ Larivee (2010, p.296 ‘Reflective Practice International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives’)

On my journey to becoming a critically reflective practitioner I have had a lot of obstacles to face. Due to personal circumstances I moved into the University halls and struggled financially to pay the rent. As a result I lost my access to pebblepad in December and have had no access to it since, hence blogging through WordPress. I have also had to correspond through e-mail with my peers instead of using the Tutor Group Blog for feedback on critical incidents. I have been updating my progress through this WordPress blog as it is still in a blog format and is available online. Although having to blog this way has had somewhat of a negative impact on my communication with my peers about my placement and I can’t blog about personal issues/sensitive student information as it is a public forum. In short, I have found it very difficult to progress smoothly on my course when this pressure has been coupled with my own issues. It has been a stressful year that would have been more of a pleasure had I had my access to pebblepad back earlier in the year. This issue could have been resolved a lot earlier but due to Student Finance not releasing my grant I have had to find alternative ways of completing the course. I have mostly included my work in my paper portfolio which has been hard to do as sometimes I lose track of what has been printed and what hasn’t. Despite all of this and my medical issues I have managed to collate my work by using checklists and keeping notes.

As I have been through this it has allowed me to become reflective in a sense that I have learned that there is always a different approach you can take in order to get a task done – which is surprisingly helpful when I know I am a logical and ordered thinker. I particularly struggle when having to do a task out of sync. This means that when I work, I have to do it in order and disruptions to this routine force me to stop, a difficult trait that I have had to overcome at times. Knowing this about myself has let me be more open-minded with my students and the circumstances they may be in. ‘Reflective teaching should be open-minded enough to constructively critique their own beliefs, as well as those of others.’ Pollard (2008, p.94). By being able to know what I am good at and what I need to improve on, by looking inwardly at myself, I can move on. I can then transfer this to how I relate to my students. If we set goals together, much like setting goals with my tutor and mentor, the task becomes easier to break down and eventually complete. It becomes a lot less daunting for me. I believe that some of my students feel this way too from looking at the progress of their work. I have been able to become more adaptable. ‘One of the central features of inclusive education is that it is about teaching for diversity. In this process the teacher has to be flexible and adaptive, recognising that different learners have varied ways of interpreting and understanding information.’ Clough and Corbett (2000, p.165)

I have also learned that it is imperative to be organised, which has been hard to do when I have had these issues. To combat this I started making plans. Sounds simple, but it took me a while to work out that this was beneficial for me. ‘Proper preparation prevents poor performance and planning ensures the best kind of preparation. Planning is a better approach for those who strive for success as it makes it possible for them to utilize their time more efficiently and effectively.’ Aysha (2012). By implementing these plans throughout all areas of my life, not just in the sense of teaching, I feel that I am starting to get back on track and succeeding. This has been evidenced by completing all of my observations successfully. 

‘Becoming an effective practitioner involves considerably more than accumulating skills and strategies.’ Larivee (2010, p.293). This is something that I wholeheartedly agree with. My subject specialism is Media Production and I have had the pleasure to teach my passion, Photography. Here I have accumulated an array of skills and strategies but I feel that the teacher I am becoming is more than that. I have considerably more knowledge now than when I started the course, both in teaching and subject specialist areas, but I am also a different person. I have learned a lot about myself and I have done this by reflecting. I now know that I am competent enough to teach a class of rowdy teenagers as well as adult learners. I am  good at making resources. I create interesting lessons that the students enjoy. My Harvard referencing has improved (See all of this blog post!). I am interested in politics and policy within FE – who knew?! But most of all I am becoming a good teacher and I believe this is because of all of the support I have had along the way from my peers, colleagues, mentor and tutor.

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Why is marking important?

I have found a really interesting article on TES that explains why marking is important which has really helped me come to terms with my own marking of student’s work.

Make no mistake: this is the most important thing you do as a teacher. All the other stuff is of no use whatsoever if you don’t mark your books properly. You can be endlessly enthusiastic, have great subject knowledge, be fully cognisant of every rule and regulation, manage behaviour wonderfully, teach fascinating lessons at a cracking pace, which feature bucketloads of flannel-free praise, and it will be all to nought if you don’t mark their books. They won’t progress.

Antithetically, you can turn up hungover every morning, wearing the same creased pair of Farahs as last week, with hair that looks like a bird has slept in it, then spend most of the lesson talking at kids about how wonderful you are; but mark their books with dedication and rigour and your class will fly.’ Phil Beadle, TES. (2012).

I have found marking to be a difficult part of teaching as I find it increasingly hard to be critical of student’s who I like and have formed a teacher/student bond with. It feels like scolding a new-born puppy for weeing on the carpet. I have nurtured my Level 3 Year 2 students through a module called ‘Digital Storytelling’ and quite recently this has begun to come to an end, although I won’t be involved in the final grading of the module I was there when it came to some  interim marking. Overall I was impressed with the standard of the work but there were a few who were ‘letting the team down’ so to speak and needed some reinforcement.

Positive feedback? I can do that, great! Constructive criticism… not so much.

‘It’s all about professional integrity

For me, professional integrity boils down to one key rule: a teacher who places marking their books properly at the heart of their practice is a teacher who possesses professional integrity.

The reasons you should prioritise marking above every other facet of the role are manifold, but simple enough. Firstly, what is the point of kids doing the work if no one reads it? None. Like the tree in the forest that falls when no one hears it when a kid writes a piece of work for you to read, and you do not read it, it is, to them, like they haven’t written it at all.

Their effort is pointless if you don’t read it

Not reading it sends all manner of negative messages to the child: effort is pointless, their work is of no value to you and they could have got away with not bothering. This is how kids are made to feel in crap teachers’ classes. Don’t make them feel that way in your class.

Where work is not properly marked or, worse still, is not marked at all, a pernicious negative message gets through to those kids whose work has been ignored in double quick time: they stop trying, stop caring and stop working. Pages get left blank, presentation goes awry, discipline disappears. An unmarked book rapidly becomes shocking, and tells any observer everything about you they will ever need to know.

A key observer’s trick, with which you can tell whether the teacher is good, bad or indifferent in seconds, is to look at the first page of an exercise book, then the last page. If there is evidence of progress in the standard of the work, then the teacher is a good teacher: if the work has gone downhill, they are not. Simple.’ Phil Beadle, TES. (2012).

From reading this I know how important marking can be, I know a bad comment or remark can have a devastating effect on myself so I have unconsciously made it an aim to be positive about any work I do have to mark. For the HND students I have marked their Video Editing projects and have found it difficult to give a pass grade, I want them to do better than that and in doing so I have spent a fair amount of time with each student ensuring that they do better so I can feel comfortable in giving a higher grade. It may seem like a weird way to encourage them but I don’t want to give a ‘bad’ grade and so instead I push them  further. Now they are all of Merit standard or higher, which I feel much happier in grading. I think my ‘pushing’ technique has ultimately paid off and I’m happy with the videos both the Level 3 and HND have produced.

You can read the full article here: http://newteachers.tes.co.uk/news/importance-marking/45966

Andragogy, Humanism, Cognitivism, Behaviourism.

I had to resubmit PPD Component 2. This was because I needed to be specific about my personal experiences and didn’t include enough links with various theorists I have come across whilst on the course. In order to pass I also had to include sections on Andragogy, Humanism and Cognitivism and Behaviourism as I had made reference to them but not spoke about them enough. I decided to do some more research on these four areas.

Andragogy

Andragogy relates to adult learning. ‘Adults are self directed and expect to take responsibility for decisions.’ Knowles (cited in Instructural Design, 2013.)

For example, when you teach you act as a facilitator rather than a teacher and thus make the learners self-directed and aware of what they are learning for themselves as well as the outcomes of the session. Doing case studies and setting targets are ways to achieve this.

  1. Self-concept: As people mature, they move being a dependent personality toward being more self-directed
  2. Experience: As people mature, they amass a growing set of experiences that provide a fertile resource for learning
  3. Readiness to learn: As people mature, they are more interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their jobs or personal lives
  4. Orientation to learning: As people mature, their time perspective changes from gathering knowledge for future use to immediate application of knowledge. As such, adult learners become more problem-centered rather than subject-centered (Knowles, 1980)
  5. Motivation to learn: As people mature, they become more motivated by various internal incentives, such as need for self-esteem, curiosity, desire to achieve, and satisfaction of accomplishment
  6. Relevance: As people mature, they need to know why they need to learn something (Knowles, 1984). Furthermore, because adults manage other aspects of their lives, they are capable of directing or, at least, assisting in the planning and implementation of their own learning.

I feel that this mostly applies to the HND students I teach as they are all classed as adult learners. In particular, on the Video Editing module I taught, it was about the process of creating a video as opposed to researching the content that surrounded editing a video. The research formed the starting point of the module, examples of good and bad editing were shown and these were discussed. Later this moved into an independent learning environment when the students began editing their videos and I assisted when needed (acting as a facilitator).

Humanism

Humanism is looking at a student on a whole as they grow. ‘A primary purpose of humanism could be described as the development of self-actualized, autonomous people.’ Learning Theories (2007).

‘Humanism would concentrate upon the development of the child’s self-concept. If the child feels good about him or herself then that is a positive start. Feeling good about oneself would involve an understanding of ones’ strengths and weaknesses, and a belief in one’s ability to improve. Learning is not an end in itself; It is the means to progress towards the pinnacle of self-development, which Maslow terms ‘Self-actualisation’. A child learns because he or she is inwardly driven, and derives his or her reward from the sense of achievement that having learned something affords.’ Bill Huitt.

The humanistic approach seems to be the one I adopt the most as it is something I practice myself on the course. Striving for self-actualisation is shared by myself and my students alike. I help the students achieve this by helping the students to reflect on their work and set goals, much like Andragogy, however this relates to younger students and their journeys. By being supportive and having clear plans of work, this keeps the student on target and able to fulfil their inward aims.

Cognitivism

Cognitivism is seeing the student as a computer. ‘People are rational beings that require active participation in order to learn, and whose actions are a consequence of thinking.’ Learning Theories (2007).

The purpose in education is to develop conceptual knowledge, techniques, procedures, and algorithmic problem solving using Verbal/Linguistic and Logical/Mathematical intelligences. The learner requires scaffolding to develop schema and adopt knowledge from both people and the environment. The educators’ role is pedagogical in that the instructor must develop conceptual knowledge by managing the content of learning activities. This theory relates to early stages of learning where the learner solves well defined problems through a series of stages.

Cognitivism to me, means that you learn by doing, by thinking, by repeating (to an extent) and getting it ‘stuck in your head’. This type of learning essentially changes your brain’s physiology as new information is absorbed. As you grow, your synapses develop when you experience new and memorable things so by using cognitivism in teaching you can help to embed these ideas and allow them to flourish with the student. This can also be linked to VAK learning styles. VAK should be included in every aspect of the session and I try hard to do so as I feel it is important, if Verbal/Linguistic and Logical/Mathematical intelligences are also considered then a great deal of inclusion can take place.

Behaviourism

Behaviourism was developed by John Watson and relates to changing a students behaviour. ‘Behaviours are acquired through conditioning. Conditioning occurs through interaction with the environment.’ Cherry (2013).

Behaviourists explain behaviour in terms of (1) the stimuli that elicit it and (2) the events that caused the person to learn to respond to the stimulus that way. Behaviourists use two processes to explain how people learn: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

In 1920 Watson and Raynor conditioned a child, deemed ‘Little Albert’ to be anxious when presented with a white rat or stimuli representing a white rat. The image was coupled with a loud noise and over time similar stimuli such as a rabbit or fur coat would make ‘Albert’ anxious. This behaviour then decreases over time, known as extinction. To relate this to my classes, it boils down to a punishment/reward scheme. I have had many issues with latecomers during my lessons and this has been noted throughout my observations. If I were to adopt a behaviourist approach then I would punish this bad behaviour and the likelihood of repetition would decrease. This is an example or operant conditioning. However, I will always feel uncomfortable in ‘dishing out’ punishments for fear of looking monstrous but I can see the advantages of making students aware of what they can and cannot do in the class.

Observation 8: Pigeons and Perception

I spent a lot of time planning for this observation as it has been commented on as one of my weaknesses throughout my observation process (See Action Plan and STE Booklet). I took extra care in looking over every annotation that has been made on my lesson plans and spent extra time fixing these problems and after much effort I finally felt comfortable that I had nailed it and chose this as one of my areas of focus for the observation. As Sue Cowley says in ‘A-Z of Teaching’, ‘Clearly a well-planned lesson is reasonably likely to be a good one…’ (2004, p.66). I also put a lot of time into making my Prezi and researching all the appropriate materials as I wanted to make sure that what I was about to deliver was of a high enough level. I knew that I wanted to do something that was visually interesting as well as being something that would get the students thinking, so I started by looking at neurology and how the brain interprets art. I then stumbled upon an unusual experiment, a neuroscientist interested in art, the psychology behind perception and the tools needed to create a visually stunning piece. I have included the initial notes I made on these subjects.

  • Pigeons and Picasso.

A group of Japanese scientists wanted to discover whether a group of pigeons could distinguish between Picasso and Monet’s paintings. They claimed that they were trying to see if behavioural differences can be stimulated by complex categorisations. This study, which was later awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in 1995. The pigeons could apparently ‘perceive’ the colour and line structure in the paintings and thus tell the difference. Although an eccentric investigation this leads us in to how perception is formed and how visual language can be applied. 

  • Semir Zeki.

Visual Language in the form of lines and marks are constructed into meaningful shapes, structures and signs. Different areas of the cortex respond to different elements such as colour and form. Zeki discovered the many visual areas of the brain and how they functioned when processing colour, motion and form. Zeki has come to believe that all major artists are natural neuroscientists with a deep understanding of how the human brain looks at the world. He claims they are consistently trying to find a visual language for those concepts because, according to Zeki, seeing is not a passive process.

  • Language of Photography.

Photography can be considered as Visual Language. Here are some elements that impact upon photography;

– Light – Lighting helps to depict mood and evoke feeling.

– Time – Timing can effectively portray the message of a memory in time.

– Composition – Ratio and Proportion have a lot to do with the final look.

– Subject – By emphasizing your subject with framing you can capture the attention of viewers and make them see the focus of your photo and the story you want to tell.

– Colour – Warm and bold colours grab our attention and can make a photo more interesting.

  • Rorschach Tests/Ink Blots

Common answers for cards;

Card 1: Bat, butterfly, moth. 

Card 2: Two humans, animal, dog, bear, elephant. (Red details often seen as blood.)

Card 3: Two humans. (Humans involved in an interaction.)

Card 4: Animal hide, skin, rug. (Looking up, authority, often perceived as male ‘Father Card’.)

Card 5: Bat, butterfly, moth.

Card 6: Animal hide, skin, rug. (Often described as a sexual card.)

Card 7: Human heads, women and children. (Often perceived as female ‘Mother Card’.)

Card 8: Animal, four-legged animal. (First coloured card, complex.)

Card 9: Human. (Unstructured, vague.)

Card 10: Crab, lobster, spider, rabbit, caterpillars, worms, snakes.

I found it rather easy to understand everything I had researched as it is something I have a genuine interest in. I knew that I wanted to start with the pigeon experiment to introduce the session and to give an indication of what would be included in the session. Then to go on to talk about Semir Zeki and his work,  then to do an activity using the Rorschach tests and finally end with an activity that relates it all to photography with examples. I was unsure as to whether I was including too much for a 60min session and this was highlighted in my feedback when it was suggested that I could have either started with the Rorschach tests or condense the amount of time spent introducing the session. Although I agree with these points I also wanted to make sure I was contextualising the session and giving enough background so that the students didn’t feel lost along the way. However I can see the merit in starting the session with an activity as it gets the brain ticking almost immediately, ‘switching on’ for example. It would also allow me to demonstrate cohesion between the learners. ‘Group work offers a wide range of benefits… – it is also excellent for developing the skills of co-operation and consideration.’ Cowley (2004, p.45).

My second area for focus as chosen by my mentor and tutor was my ‘Use of ICT’. This came as a little bit of s surprise to me as I feel that I am very good when it comes to producing resources and using ICT in the classroom. As Petty describes in ‘Teaching Today’, ‘You can use a computer as a presentation device, and hence to inform group discussions and other activities… You can also use an interactive whiteboard to present such resources…’ (2004, p.381). This is what I did. I used the whiteboard and Prezi in conjunction to present the session and start group discussions. As it was a small class, this was easy to do and I also know them quite well so felt comfortable in starting discussions and using questioning. The main weaknesses with my use of ICT that were discussed were; the graphics in the Prezi could be distracting to students and I need to be aware of the colours I use in order to make it readable; I should experiment with other resources as I potentially rely on Prezi too much. I agree with both of these comments. Whilst creating the design for the Prezi I decided to use yellow, black and white. When presented on the whiteboard the colours were a little washed out and from the back of the class it was hard to read. For this session there were 6 students sat at the front, if I were to present this again to  a larger class then I would make sure to change the colours and check that it is easy to see from each corner of the classroom. Also, I definitely should experiment with more resources but I do like to build additional resources around the Prezi. I mostly use this as I know that the majority of the students both in the HND class and the Level 3 are visual learners and the graphics tend to keep them interested as opposed to a static Powerpoint. Saying this, I should definitely build some more paper based resources,  books, visual stimuli into my classes in the future.

‘The aim of these ‘teaching without talking’ methods is to make the students active and goal oriented, with tasks that require them to reason and to form constructs while resources are presenting new ideas to them’ Petty (2004, p.215). This is something I believe I achieved whilst going through the Rorschach tests. The goal was to identify what they saw in the images, then to explain their reasoning behind these answers whilst I introduced why these tests are used and how we can test perception with them. This activity was the highlight of the session as all of the students were engaged and gave brilliant and unusual answers. I purposely took out some cards as I wanted to stay away from sexual answers but these did arise anyway but it was in an adult way and was dealt with appropriately. It was commented that I could have used just four of the images instead of six so I could spend more time on each and discuss them thoroughly. This was something that I didn’t consider whilst constructing the session as I believed the students would complete the task quickly but it turned out that they were happy to talk for longer about this and instead I shortened the last task to compensate. This may have not been the best move as some of the session’s context was lost, as in, how did all of this relate to photography? Although, the students did seem to understand the concepts I was delivering and said to me that they thoroughly enjoyed the session as it was different and interesting which was great to hear.

I was definitely more comfortable in delivering this session and I feel I have progressed a lot since my microteach. I have felt unusual since but I feel that this is due to finally completing my observations after a lot of struggling through the year. I am very happy that I passed and I do believe that I deserved to do so as I have put a lot of work into completing. I still have a lot to work on, for example, my lesson plans could do with more detail and I could work on using more resources. However as a teacher I feel confident now and less of a nervous wreck that I was at the beginning of the year. Go me!

Observation 6 – Evaluation

I feel that I spent a lot of time planning for this lesson as I had to source the materials and videos I would use. I also had to consider how I could link these throughout.

I believe that the content of the lesson was appropriate however it may have been too much of a stretch from their Photographic background however my aim was to try and inspire the students to think differently and consider music and film meanings in relation to their own area of study. In this area I feel I was successful.

By having the whole group and having a large amount of learners turn up late my planned methods quickly disintegrated. I definitely need to work on challenging lateness and managing large groups.

I tried to differentiate throughout the session by including a range of activities and trying to make students pair up with students they don’t usually work with – however I need to enforce this more if it is my approach.

I think that my Prezi was well made and well used. I enjoy using this resource and will continue to update them.

I now need to:

  • I need to challenge lateness.
  • I need to focus on how to manage a large group.
  • I need to enforce any rules that I make.

Observation 4

I feel that I could have planned further for this session and considered the layout of the room more. This lead to some learners being intimidated by speaking in large groups. I should have assessed the room further and broke down the group into smaller groups so they could discuss their ideas better.

I feel that the content of the lesson was appropriate for the learners and at the right level. My aim was to get the learners prepared for a presentation assesment I am putting in place in the following weeks.  I feel that they grasped the idea of the session and were sharing ideas effectively. I advised them to work in the groups they had chosen themselves in order to get set, costume and props etc.

The group activity was fairly effective however I was advised that I should have put the learners into smaller groups so they would work better. I feel that I included all the lessons by using a lot of direct questioning. Each student had the chance to share their idea and recieve more feedback and help from other learners. I should have given them more time however to establish planning in their groups.

I definitely didn’t use enough resources, I could have planned for a lot more use of target cards and generally getting learners to write tasks down.

  • I need to make sure I have sufficient resources.
  • I need to assess the room and set it up properly and in a considered way before each session.
  • I also need to be aware of latecomers and put in place strategies to counter this.