Moving beyond delivery: The thorny issue of competency

It is at around this point in the ITT year when many training teachers begin to get into their stride.  They are no longer complete novices; they have built a familiarity with their placement setting and its rules and procedures, they are understanding how to fit into the departmental team and be a professional, they have developed strategies for managing classrooms and are developing good relationships with their teaching groups.  Lessons at this point have generally departed from the realms of ‘disaster’ and, whilst having areas to improve, are often functioning with reasonably coherent teaching. 

A sticky problem then arises.  In contrast to Priya (the subject of a previous blog who is more than well-aware that she’s hit the plateau and is finding it tough), students in this category often can’t see that their progress is beginning to slow.  Where the student teacher is seemingly doing so well, how can they be pushed to engage beyond the successful pattern into which they have settled?  What do you do as a teacher educator when the trainee is competent and yet their lessons are still not demonstrating the depth of engagement with the subject discipline that would release them into creating and teaching really interesting and historically purposeful lessons?  Much of the advice given to Priya, to move her beyond the plateau, applies in this situation too and would be worth considering. Here, however, I want to consider how we can use two approaches to shift the training teacher’s focus from their teaching to pupil learning and help them see the need to keep pushing on. 

Refocusing on learning

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Get your ITE student formatively assessing classwork

Whilst training teachers should be undertaking ‘marking’ by this point, many of them struggle to do this in a meaningful way.  Even if they move beyond ‘ticking and flicking’ to adding comments, it is often clear that they are going through the motions of marking rather than really engaging with its purpose.  Indeed, in some school settings formative book marking (whether individual or whole class, written or verbal) has been done away with altogether and replaced by summative end of module assessments.  We need to be mindful of unnecessary workload, and yet for ITE students reflecting upon the understanding of pupils as demonstrated in their classwork (in a considered manner away from the immediacy of the lesson) is a valuable learning tool. 

Training teachers need to be supported to analyse work that pupils have done as an outcome of their teaching.  Formatively assessing whilst asking questions such as:

  • Does the pupil work match up to the intended rationale of the specific task/ the lesson as a whole?
  • What seems to be the pupil’s main historical takeaways from the lesson?
  • Has the emphasis fallen in the right place?
  • What are the common misconceptions?  Is it possible to use the work to trace back through the lesson and spot when these misconceptions began to emerge?
  • Considering the common targets that are emerging from the pupils’ work, how might this change the planning of the next lesson or the broader sequence?

Engaging in this process begins to move them away from thinking about their own teaching ‘performance’ and their ability to manage a classroom and get pupils completing interesting activities.  It makes them question whether those tasks have any value and, if they do, whether the pupils are being supported to make the most of the activities, moving beyond the specifics of the moment to build up their historical big picture understanding.

Film the lesson focusing upon pupils’ oral contributions

When I listen to my PGCE students evaluating the questioning, feedback or discussion phases of their lessons, they most frequently consider the logistics of the phase – the point at which it occurred in the lesson or the manner in which pupils were drawn in or encouraged to participate.  On occasion they move to consider the types of questions that were asked and whether they supported the lesson aims.  All of these reflections typically centre around them as the teacher.  Our aim now should be to refocus upon the pupil.

Filming the lesson, focusing upon what the pupils say (in their paired discussion or whole class verbal contributions) can be quite illuminating, but once again requires some scaffolding of the student teacher to help them consider the nature and content of those pupil contributions:

  • Do pupils offer answers only or do they also pose questions?
  • Do their answers draw on specific factual information in support?
  • Are pupils confident to infer?
  • Do they draw on their prior learning from the lesson sequence as they build their responses?
  • Do they set their understanding of this topic in a wider historical context?
  • Can they make thematic connections?
  • Are they utilising historical language to explain their understanding? 
  • Are they demonstrating that they have grasped the disciplinary nature of the subject or are they simply retrieving basic factual information?
  • Is there a mismatch between their oral contribution and their written work?
  • And in response to the answers from all these questions: Why or Why not?

Forcing the training teacher to consider the content of pupils’ oral contributions in a more analytical manner ensures they think carefully about how the information and understanding they have intended their activities to impart is being processed by students.  To reflect upon whether any real learning is taking place.   

A different perspective

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Pivoting the focus onto pupil learning can really help to move on students who are stuck in a teaching rut.  It helps them to realise that managing to TEACH competent lessons is only part of the picture.  It helps them to understand that without pupils making progress in their understanding of history, in broad as well as specific contexts, a lesson is meaningless.  It helps them to gain a different perspective.  It can be instrumental in moving them on.  

Further Reading

Black, P. (2003), The Nature and Value of Formative Assessment for Learning, Improving Schools, Vol.6, Issue.3.

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