Reflecting on my reflections… #pgce

This is the second of two posts in which I want to reflect back on my experience as a PGCE student. (First post was about using Turnitin as student).

I started this blog whilst working as an elearning technologist to share ideas, research and my thoughts. I worked on several projects with Alan Cann (+Alan Cann) about encouraging undergraduates to reflect on their learning. Of course, once I started my PGCE, it was my turn to reflect.

After a rather demoralising week in my final placement, I wrote my weekly reflection and sent it to my visiting tutor as usual. He sent me this response:

A very professional and exemplary reflection! You will make an excellent teacher not least because of your ability and willingness to look at your practice on both a micro and macro level.I really hope you find that you can consolidate this thinking into your practice over the final week. Good luck!!

It was wonderful to have some positive feedback and it made me realise just how far I’ve come. Reflection is something that is very personal, and I had always intended that my weekly PGCE reflections would be open and all online on this blog. In the majority of cases, this hasn’t felt appropriate, and having read a great summary of what looks like an interesting paper on a typology of reflection (via Zara Hooley) it is maybe because many of my reflections as a trainee teacher fell into the confessional category ! (See Reflexive Management Learning : An Integrative Review and a Conceptual Typology in the June 2012 issue of Human Resource Development Review 11(2).)

When I look back at my early reflections, particularly those about the course rather than teaching placement, (e.g.Reflecting in public) they are much closer to a diary with the odd comment into themes running across the teaching we received. This latest reflection (with only two weeks to go on the course) is a completely different animal altogether. My weekly reflection has become the place that I analyse my teaching, its effect on the children’s learning and my wishes to change my practice and how I will implement those changes in the future.

I know that many other PGCE students have struggled with reflections and asked for exemplars to see what they should be aiming for. The response from the staff has always been that reflection is personal and so sharing exemplars would be pointless. However, amongst us we have shared reflections with one another. I know that Alan has tried to demonstrate reflection by actively modelling it online using social media, and it would have been massively helpful to have access to this sort of support and personal feedback. Twitter does provide a space to reflect with peers and get advice from more experienced colleagues, but is usually not as in-depth as is needed for a PGCE course.

I thought it would be useful to add links here to some of my public ones:

https://drbadgr.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/first-week-in-first-placement/

https://drbadgr.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/end-of-second-teaching-placement-pgce/

https://drbadgr.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/general-reflections-from-week-one-in-slovakia/

and from my fifth week in my third and final teaching placement:

Overall progress

This week I have settled into more of a standard routine of teaching the whole class on an 80% basis. Whilst I have developed my written planning to use weekly plans for maths and literacy, I feel that I have not has as much time or opportunity to reflect on my teaching and it’s impact on the children’s learning.

Behaviour management

I stuck to the behaviour management system, making use of the visual representation on the board of the different levels of sanctions. I restated the rules and my expectations clearly at the beginning of the week, particularly as two boys had been away for two weeks before the half term holiday and had not been taught by me for any length of time. I quickly settled back in to using the system rigorously and noticed that by Wednesday children’s eyes were already flicking to the board and the visual representation of the system behind me whenever I called out their name to be quiet when I expected it to. However, towards the end of the week this began to slip, as I was feeling tired and constantly writing names down or calling them out was interrupting the flow of my thought when talking to the class. It wasn’t until I discussed the class motivation in my observed lesson with my tutor on Thursday that I realised I had been concentrating so hard on the behaviour system that I had forgotten that the other main element of managing behaviour is having appropriate and engaging tasks for the children to complete. As I have been moving through different topics in maths and literacy, I am still finding out a great deal about the children’s attainment and ability to work together. I have therefore not always been applying this knowledge to change the activities I have been setting during the main part of the lessons.

Having talked it through and reflected on this discussion over the last two evenings, I can see that I have grasped the classroom management techniques for reinforcing my expectations for behaviour but that I now need to combine this with more engaging tasks at appropriate levels. Combined, these should help the flow of my lessons and enable me to move forward more quickly. I had even commented to the children on Friday that the constant stopping to ask for attention was getting boring – and they agreed! This week I will review my weekly plans very carefully to ensure that the activities are well thought through, aligned to the learning objective and that I am sure of what the children will achieve and how they will carry it out. (Q31, Q25a).

Reflection

For various reasons I have had less opportunity to discuss my lessons with my mentor or LSA this week. Looking back over the week, I think that this has led me to reflect less on my teaching and the children’s learning. When I have my own class next year, I realise that I will need to seek out my NQT mentor to discuss my teaching regularly. I have found that talking my lessons through, even quickly, really does help to move me forward and develop further (Q7a, Q7b, Q9).

Purpose and timing

Whilst I am often clear in my own mind about the purpose and timing of work to be completed by the children, I do not always explicitly share this with the class, particularly when planned to be carried out over several days. This leads to the children not having an overview of their work, or ownership, in that they do not know how long to spend on tasks as they are not sure when we will move onto the next piece of work. This leads in turn to children repeatedly asking me when they finish a piece of work and if they can work on various pieces at other times of the day. I will endeavour to share the bigger picture with children for my final week of lessons (Q29, Q25b).

The wider aims of my teaching

A discussion with my tutor this week and the publication of the draft primary national curriculum this week has caused me to think more deeply about the wider purpose of my teaching. It is easy to slip in to a very narrow view, particularly when working on a fixed length placement with a ‘borrowed’ class. There are several times that I have realised that with my own class there will be certain routines that I will want to establish when I have the opportunity to work with them over a longer period of time. These will include practical things such as where workbooks are stored, how they given out and collected in, how whiteboards and other classroom resources are used and accessed. I have also thought about how I would like to set a homepage on the classroom PCs that provides children with 3 or 4 quick activities that they can do to productively work on during spare time in the day (such as typing skills, or google search techniques), and how I would like to add access to podcasts of stories and audio books to my guided reading sessions.

Some of these practical elements have a wider impact, however. I tried to ban the use of rubbers when I was teaching the year 5 children in the community room during SATs. This worked while we were away from the main classroom, but I failed to continue to use it in once working with the whole class, as there were just too many rubbers (and sources of children’s own rubbers!) to deal with. In my own classroom I will not allow rubbers (and I already know that they are not permitted in the school except for art). The practical impact is for children to work more quickly, rather than spending time looking for rubbers and then reworking something they had already done. The wider philosophical aspect, however, is much more important to me. I would like to encourage a feeling in my classroom that it is a safe place to make mistakes, that in fact, mistakes and risk taking is encouraged. A place where as a teacher I can see the mistakes that children make and praise them for learning from them.

Whilst I have a clear idea about the wider principles I would like children to develop in maths over their year with me, such as reasoning, explanations and application, I am not as certain about the language skills that I would like to develop. I have so far taken a rather functional approach to teaching literacy and grammar, and not concentrated on the wider richness of language and development of a love a reading or writing. Interestingly, a similar argument is happening around the draft national curriculum proposals, and the author Michael Rosen’s blog on the topic of grammar rules this week, struck a chord with the discussion I had with my tutor this week (http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/grammar-rules-or-patterns.html). He argues that teaching grammar only by a set of rules denies the joy and pleasure of the English language. I think this is an area that I will develop more confidence in as I teach more, but I will seek some input from my NQT mentor and literacy co-ordinator on the school’s wider aims for skills development in literacy which will help to guide me initially. (Q14, Q17)

[note the ‘Q14′ etc. refers to the teaching standards that we need to meet as trainees. These are changing in September 2012 and some tutors have asked for them to be referenced in reflections, whilst others have explicitly asked for them to be removed]

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