Galloping into the final furlong: Supporting your mentee to make the most of their final weeks as a training teacher

We are entering that often tricky period in the ITE year when most students know if they have done enough to meet the teacher standards and are very much in the final furlong with the finish line in view.  They now face a decision – do they gallop to the finish line, driving forward, attacking every single yard of race left, or do they slow to a canter, reflecting on the distance travelled, ‘saving themselves’ for the race to come in September? 

The dilemma as a teacher-educator is simply this: How do you capitalise on the ‘form’ your ITE student has demonstrated so far? In these final few weeks, how do you support them to be Red Rum rather than Eeyore?

Awe, wonder and historical curiosity

During the brilliant HA conference this past weekend I was particularly struck by two workshop sessions I had the privilege to attend. The first, presented by Sally Burnham (who we are so fortunate to count amongst our mentoring partnership) was reflecting on the power of using stories in the history classroom. The second seminar was presented by Michael Riley and considered how we can revitalize the curriculum at KS3.  The common thread across both these seminars was the desire to inject awe and wonder into history lessons and an understanding of how vital it is to capture the imagination of young people.   To not just teach history, but to inspire pupils to love history.

In this final furlong, I desire for my training teachers to realise this too.  My hope is that they will help their pupils set sail on journey of discovery into a past which is simultaneously strange and ‘other’ yet holds tantalising threads which resemble and weave into the very fabric of the lives they are now inhabiting.  I hope they will seek to provide a rich and intricate sense of period through which pupils might begin to ask complex and searching questions of historical enquiry.  In short, to promote historical curiosity.  

Exploration and experimentation

Having got to grips with the ‘basics’ to develop into competent beginning teachers, I want this final furlong to be one of real exploration which pushes the boundaries of their thinking as teachers.  Does this mean I want them to explore different pedagogical approaches?  Perhaps. Does it mean I want them to think really creatively about how they can immerse pupils in the history curriculum and build both enthusiasm and a resonant sense of period? Absolutely.

Recently I observed one of my students teaching a lesson through a complex simulation task.  The task had a clear rationale, designed for the specific enquiry, not ‘lifted off the pedagogical shelf’.  It didn’t go perfectly, but it was the first time the training teacher had seen a simulation in action, let alone attempted such an endeavour.  Importantly, some key pupils who were normally hard to ‘engage’, were fully immersed in the conceit of the activity and were beginning to grasp at an understanding of the motivations of people in the past.  This student was being brave in the final furlong, pushing themselves out of their comfort zone, attempting to gallop to the finish.  They were supported to constructively reflect on the limitations of the pedagogical approach, re-focus on the historical understanding the pupils had (or had not) developed as a result, and to consider how this might change their approach to deepen the historical learning taking place.  Sharpening critical reflection, being pushed to reflect upon and scrutinise the fundamentals of lesson planning and approaches to curriculum is vital.  Being encouraged to explore creativity pedagogy, all within the safety of a supportive mentoring relationship, is a precious opportunity offered by this final phase of placement.  This is what keeps your mentee galloping to the finish line. 

Expanding horizons

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

During our penultimate week of university-based days on the UoN History PGCE we seek to expand horizons and situate our students in new contexts which require them to reconsider what they have come to regard as good practice.   We take our students on a whole day experience at a local school where 78% of pupils have English as an additional language, push them to explore how the creative arts and Lego might unlock deeper historical understanding, and pull them out of the classroom to investigate how local field trips, landscape and artefacts connect pupils to their historical heritage and provide a rich experience which helps them to understand history ‘happened where

they and their families lived and worked, and it had shaped the fabric of their lives’ (Burn & Todd 2018, 50).

Upon returning to school after the Whitsun break, we hope that our students approach their final weeks of placement with renewed vigour and perspective, and a desire to experiment and push the boundaries.  We also hope that our students will have a deeper and more expansive appreciation of the historical opportunity of their classroom.   To be successful in this they need, at the very least, their mentor to fully support them in their risk taking and to pick them up when they fall at the hurdle. However, I’d go a step further and urge our mentors to join them in the endeavour; modelling risk and creativity may be the greatest gift a teacher-educator can provide for their training teacher in this final furlong before they embark on their career.   

References:

Burn, K. and Todd, J (2018), ‘Right up my street: the knowledge needed to plan a local history enquiry’, Teaching History 170, 50-60.

Davies, M. and Heyward, P. (2019) ‘Between a hard place and a hard place: A study of ethical dilemmas experienced by student teachers while on practicum’, British Educational Research Journal Vol. 45, No. 2, April 2019, 372–387.

Further Reading:

Dawson, I., Why use active learning? http://www.thinkinghistory.co.uk/UsingActivities/UsingActWhy.html, Accessed 20/5/2019.

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