Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Knowing what you are supposed to be doing is not enough

I have been thinking about whether teachers knowing more about research into science education will make a significant difference to what we do in the classroom. It's not straightforward.

Recently I bought "Enhancing Learning with Effective Practical Science 11-16" edited by Ian Abrahams and Michael Reiss. It's new, and even has 2017 as the publication date. I am familiar with the work of Prof Ian Abrahams in the area of practical work in science and wasn't surprised to read the first chapter which talks about how practical work doesn't have the all the effects on learning that most science teachers would suppose it should.

The second chapter talks about the 'hands on, minds on' approach that Reiss and Abrahams advocate. They offered training to teachers to help them improve their teaching approaches. The training didn't have a great deal of impact in primary schools as they found that in primary science this is done quite well already. However, the training was of very variable impact in secondary schools. For one school it had a fantastic impact because of the personnel, time, support and buy in from the department and school management. This example got me thinking again about the impact of CPD on teaching.

In 2014 I heard from Prof Shirley Simon on the conditions that teachers need for CPD to be effective. It was a real eye opener for me. It wasn't anything I didn't already know, but I suppose sometimes information comes along in such a way that it is at the right time and the right message to have an impact. I knew from a project I did back in 2011with the Science Learning Centre that one day of training isn't enough to change practice and I experienced it myself. Online training over the course of a few months made me make a change because I knew I was going to be asked about it. Doing the AfL MOOC wth Futurelearn made me change what I did for a while, but it took discipline to do what the course was asking, the prolonged nature of the course was a real help.

Do we take time to let changes to our practice embed? There is a lot of talk in education about practices being 'embedded', but what does this really mean? Is it enough to know what research says or to hear about a pedagogical approach? Does knowing about something help to make it happen in the classroom? I don't think so.

As a profession we are becoming more research aware and while I think this is a valuable and important step, it isn't going to have a swift and deep impact on the way we teach. Mainly because it is hard to change what we do in the classroom.

This is something for the College of Teaching to consider. It's something for any organisation that is involved in CPD to consider. How do we convert knowing into doing?

Prof Simon said we need, time for change, relevant resources, activities and strategies to implement in the classroom, critical reflection, collaboration between colleagues and 'professional learning' should be focused on outcomes.

Even action research, which starts to address these five areas isn't a strong model. What happens after a year when the teacher has worked on a project. If it is part of your performance management and you claim there has been no impact? Or what about if there is an impact, do the whole department implement it?

I am aware of my limitations and I know that I find it difficult to implement even great ideas I hear about at one day training courses in my classroom. I wonder how difficult others will find things. Especially if they are contradictory or in conflict with school and departmental processes.

We certainly need a different atmosphere around how to change practice if we do what things in teaching to change in any way.

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