‘Beyond the curriculum’ – trainee teachers’ models of knowledge
This article discusses how pedagogical knowledge can be conceptualised within ITE to support trainee teachers with developing effective learners. In data collected from a large sample of student teachers on a range of ITE programmes over a five-year period, involving systematic observation of a teaching session followed by a semi-structured, indepth interview ((Twiselton, 2000); (Twiselton et al., 2003); (Twiselton, 2004)), it seemed possible to discriminate three distinct categories of student teacher:
Task managers: Student teachers in this category viewed their main role as being very product-orientated, concerned with completing the task rather than developing the learning. Examples of comments include: ‘I didn’t want them to start being silly, that was really the main thing I was thinking about’, and ‘Really, I was just concentrating on getting it done’.
Curriculum deliverers: Unlike the previous category, these student teachers made more explicit reference to learning, but this was conceived within the restrictions of an externally ‘given’ curriculum. Typical examples include: ‘We needed to cover the comprehension bit before going on to the next one’, and ‘The school wanted me to do story writing so that’s why I was looking at that really’.
Concept and skill builders: These student teachers appeared more focused on the subject and the concepts and skills needed to become proficient within it. Examples include: ‘They need to consolidate and apply it to their own writing and see how the process works, backwards and forwards. I wanted them to get the information and then convey the information, because so much work they do depends on being able to do that.’
The task managers and curriculum deliverers appeared to treat knowledge as isolated and atomised. In this view, learning can be represented as a series of ‘products’, seen as ends in themselves. Consequently, the subject knowledge they were operating with (and seeking to develop in children) was narrow and fragmented. In contrast, the concept and skill builders linked concepts and skills to broader frameworks. Their subject knowledge involved a dynamic process of structuring ideas in a way that linked them up with what was at the core of the subject. This provided a basis of understanding that could be linked to infinite contexts.
For developing teachers to be supported to work in this way, connections need to be made with the subject beyond the curriculum and the world outside the classroom. It is not enough to place student teachers in school and expect the learning to happen without the right kind of support. Mentors who know the school context better than external supervisors are better placed to help student teachers to make the necessary connections. However, traditional methods of supervision (observation and feedback), even when conducted by a school-based mentor, are often inadequate.
We need to help student teachers to get on the inside of teachable moments that cannot be fully captured in plans or evaluations, or even through uninvolved observation. Team teaching, with student teachers actively involved in working alongside experienced teachers, analysis of video observations, and other methods of deconstruction are among better ways to do this well. School-based mentors need to be helped to see the importance of making these connections explicit to student teachers.
Reframing teacher knowledge: A model for professional knowledge development
In January 2012, 14 Expert Subject Advisory Groups (ESAG) were established in England, funded by the Department for Education. These groups became sectorled, with a remit to provide guidance and practical support for teachers, schools and teacher educators when implementing the 2013 National Curriculum. As a member of the Physical Education ESAG, I was concerned with how new teachers entering the primary education profession would become equipped with the knowledge required to teach the physical education programme of study. With unquestionable belief that a teacher is the critical factor in the education of young people, I developed a Professional Knowledge Model (PKM) for physical education with an explicit focus on teacher knowledge.
In this article, I present a nonsubject- specific version of the PKM to highlight two points. The first is that the development of a teacher’s knowledge is an iterative process — complex, ongoing and not simply determined by number of years teaching. The second is that anyone involved in the education of young people must be mindful that knowledge needs reviewing, i.e. an experienced teacher may need to return to learning from an earlier phase of their career. The PKM is a tool intended to help practitioners to reflect upon the breadth and depth of their knowledge and help signpost future professional learning needs.
What is professional knowledge?
A specialist body of knowledge is common to any definition of a professional, with the application of this knowledge often being unpredictable and requiring a level of judgement and decision-making (Furlong et al., 2000). What sets education and teaching apart from other professional contexts is that the knowledge required must be geared towards the learning and the knowledge creation of others (Hegarty, 2000). Determining what knowledge teachers need, however, is not straightforward, as epistemological viewpoints may vary from one professional to another.
The early stages of developing the PKM required an extensive review of the literature across teacher education and physical education, to determine what knowledge was already of value to that professional community. From this, I synthesised 37 knowledge statements and presented them to the Physical Education ESAG, a sample of teacher educators and pre-service teachers from 16 initial teacher education (ITE) providers across England (Randall, 2016). The knowledge statements were critically debated and organised into categories of emerging, secure and aspirational stages. From the knowledge statements, four knowledge domains emerged: content knowledge, subject pedagogy, case knowledge and reflective and academic engagement.
The culmination of this research was the PKM (please see Figure 1 for a nonsubject- specific version of this model). The study concluded that teacher educators and pre-service teachers believed that the four knowledge domains in the PKM had shared importance within their professional role (Randall, 2016). The same study also revealed that variations of confidence occurred across the four professional knowledge domains, with pre-service teachers saying that in some instances they had been taught ‘secure’ and ‘aspirational’ forms of knowledge on their ITE programme ahead of knowledge at a more ‘emerging’ stage. These findings have implications for both ITE and professional development programme design.
Using the PKM to support professional learning
At the centre of the PKM lies knowledge that underpins the ‘emerging’ phase. Teacher knowledge then moves progressively outwards until it becomes aspirational and expert in nature.
Teachers at any point in their career could use the PKM in the following ways:
- To identify their current stage of teacher learning as they aim to progress from an emergent, secure or aspirational level of professional knowledge
- A reflective tool to identify areas of strength and areas in need of further development
- A curricular outline for professional development programmes
- A map of career progression
- A reviewing tool for institutional programmes, ensuring a breadth of opportunity for knowledge development.
For colleagues working within ITE, the PKM could also prompt the following questions:
- Are opportunities made available for development across all four knowledge areas on each programme route?
- (if applicable) Does progression through subject specialist routes ensure students reach an aspirational level of professional knowledge?
- What aspects of the programme are strengths that could be shared with other providers or disseminated out of the local context?
- What aspects of the programme require further development?
Although not intended to present #EduTwitter offers resources, pedagogical discussion and opportunity for epistemological and ontological debate teacher knowledge as a set of knowledge facts, the PKM aims to engage teachers and teacher educators in a process of critical reflection about professional knowledge development.
Why participating in the ‘Tweacher Society’ is good for reflective practitioners
Critical reflection has been included in ITE and NQT induction programmes in the form of lesson evaluations. However, as Watts and Lawson (Watts and Lawson, 2009) point out, they have sometimes been seen as tick-box exercises, undermining their effectiveness as evaluative tools. In their study, trainee teachers published lesson evaluations on an online forum, were encouraged to comment on each other’s evaluations, and conducted a meta-analysis of their own evaluations. Watts and Lawson concluded that participating in such activity ‘can present the student teachers opportunities to question existing personal beliefs and to reform personal theories upon which effective change to practice can occur’ ((Watts and Lawson, 2009), p.615).
For me, this kind of activity is moving towards what Foucault calls the ‘critical ontology of ourselves’, which he describes as ‘an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them’ ((Foucault, 1991), p.50).
The act of publishing one’s lesson evaluations into an online forum space is akin to the activity of what I term the Tweacher Society: those teachers and educationalists who participate in the discourse of education on Twitter and through blogs, sharing their ideas, beliefs, concerns and fears. The rise of the Tweacher Society has signalled an important shift in the nature of the relationship between teachers, the DfE and OfSTED (Lane, 2014), but it has also created a discursive space for teachers to share resources, discuss pedagogy and interrogate ideology. The emergence of ResearchED and the CCT reflect the clear desire of teachers to engage with, and embrace, evidence informed practice as a means to improve their teaching and raise educational standards. I would also argue that these are enactments of Foucault’s critical ontology – an on-going experiment with the ‘possibility of going beyond’ the limits imposed upon us as teachers by challenging the myths, dogmas and shibboleths of established and expected pedagogical practice.
Participation in the Tweacher Society can also have a profound effect upon the individual. We scan our timelines, retweeting points of interest, reading and sharing blogs, clicking through hashtag threads. Through each of these, we are building a digital collection of things said, a scrapbook of snippets. This is, I contend, a digital version of what Foucault describes as the hupomnemata in his Self Writing (Foucault, 1997). But not only do we curate, we put our own ideas and beliefs out for consultation – what Foucault describes in Self Writing as correspondence. We open ourselves up for scrutiny and engage in a kind of continual feedback loop through which we are constantly writing and rewriting ourselves, forming and reforming ourselves. As Tim Rayner puts it, ‘I tweet, therefore I become.’ (Rayner, 2012)
The implication and practical application for teachers and trainee teachers is simple. #EduTwitter offers resources, pedagogical discussion and opportunity for epistemological and ontological debate. The Tweacher Society is essentially a potent community of practice (Gilbert, 2016). And yet, it seems that many teachers in many schools are oblivious or uninterested. This is a shame because, in my experience at least, most school based CPD and INSET is lacklustre at best, and the Tweacher Society offers so much more.
Therefore, I implore all teachers – both novice and expert – to engage and participate in the Tweacher Society, to correspondand to #TweetLikeFoucault !
Academic language teaching for all
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. L Wittgenstein
Ninestiles has a culturally diverse student body. Approximately 43% of our students are learners of English as an additional language (EAL), and this figure is increasing yearly. Our EAL learners are quite confident when conversing in everyday spoken and written language, but when required to communicate in a more formal, academic context, they tend to struggle. This is concerning, especially since the new GCSE specifications require students to respond to more extended essay-type questions. Our students find it difficult to write authentically and convincingly as scientists, or historians, for example, as they haven’t explicitly been taught how to do this.
Proficiency in academic discourse requires specialised language teaching in every subject. The problem for most schools is that not all teachers have the confidence, skills and understanding to undertake this successfully. Teachers need to be able to understand the distinctive word, sentence and grammatical features of academic language within their subject so that they can improve the quality of students’ writing.
In October 2016, Ninestiles applied to become part of the EAL in the Mainstream Classroom Programme. The programme aims to support teachers’ use and understanding of grammar, core vocabulary and spoken language, which are key to helping EAL pupils and are also likely to have benefits for children more broadly, especially those from a disadvantaged background (see www. challengepartners.org/eal-mainstreamclassroom). The programme focuses on science and history, although it will be expanded to include other subjects.
A team of leaders and four teachers attended a three-day training course. Using examples of student writing alongside GCSE texts in history and science, the sessions enabled teachers to develop their thinking on language teaching and learning, with coaching on the features of language within their subject area.
Impact and next steps
The quality of students’ written responses in history and science improved. Students studying history were more aware of the importance of modal verbs when exploring questions such as ‘What course of action could President Kennedy have taken during the Cuban Missile Crisis?’, and students in science were able to improve their explanations in eight-mark questions by applying devices such as causal connectives to signpost their reasoning. Pleasingly, this was the case for most students, not just EAL learners.In addition, teachers felt more confident about their practice. One history teacher commented: ‘This training has really changed my mindset. I have started noticing the use of tenses such as present and past perfect in historical texts.’ One science teacher felt that ‘the feedback I give to my students now is more incisive. I feel more confident about commenting on grammatical features and identifying key language areas for development.’
We are widening the delivery of the programme to all subjects. We realise that this is just the beginning, but our aim is to ensure that our teachers feel empowered to secure academic proficiency in all our students.