Reflecting on Professional Practice

 

The three critical incidences I will be reflecting on for this module come from a scheme of work I created for Year 8 students in my previous school. I taught three different version of the scheme to three different classes in order to analyse the different outcomes. This is a scheme of work that I was newly developing at the time and this was my first experience of using the AF Truth Model as a method of creating a narrative world for the students to work within. The AF Truth Model is a method of using personal stories in Drama in a formulated way combining three elements; known facts, assumed facts and elements of fiction. The scheme of work I created was based on my own family history; details of which can be found in Appendix iv.

Three different versions of the scheme were taught to three different Year 8 classes. Although the scheme was taught at the same point in the academic year and Drama classes in the school are not set by ability I anticipated different outcomes due to the social mixes in the different classes. The differences between each of the three versions of the scheme came from the different narratives used as well as how, and when, information from the narrative was revealed to the students. Summarised versions of each of the three versions of the schemes can be found in Appendix i.

The AF Truth Model narrative for version A of the scheme was placed in the historical context of the Second World War when John was killed in action. My motivation behind this choice was that, although these events took place decades before the pupils were born, as WW2 is a topic the pupils will have studied regularly at school they would know more about the conflict than the Falklands War for example. I thought that this prior understanding might enable the pupils to engage further in the narrative of the characters as they could bring their own knowledge to the tasks in lessons. The decision to make John and David brothers was designed to heighten the contrast between the two men and the paths they chose to go down. I also thought that this would be a more useful direct comparison when it came to debating the central question for the scheme ‘is it ever acceptable to kill someone?’ Having John and David as brothers also allowed continuity from the pupils’ previous scheme of work on Blood Brothers. 

My evidence for analysing the success of this scheme came from classroom observations I made whilst teaching, the pupils’ final assessment piece and the timeline tasks. The responses from the pupils during the lessons in week 1 were positive, particularly their responses to John and David as siblings; the concrete link to their previous scheme of work enabled the pupils to transition smoothly into the new scheme of work. Pupil engagement and responses from the debate surrounding the key question for the unit far exceeded my expectations. Initially the pupils were polarised in their responses, which I anticipated, however they then progressed to being increasingly sophisticated and well-considered. Pupils were able to identify various jobs where it might be necessary to take a life and how those people might feel about this responsibility. They were also able to reflect on capital punishment and how they might react if anything were to happen to their friends or family. The pupils’ engagement in this debate made me optimistic about the potential for the pupils’ work during the rest of the scheme.

The pupils’ responses to the timeline task were varied, as can be seen in Appendix ii. There were a few positive responses from pupils such as ‘he walks to school with his brother for the first time.’  It may be that, with version A of the scheme, as I was effectively asking the pupils to imagine what life was like in the 1920s the task was too abstract for them to feel able to succeed in, therefore they suggested things like ‘headbutt someone face.’ These responses could be the pupils defending themselves with humour rather than exposing themselves by writing something carefully considered. It also may be that I as a teacher did not frame the task clearly enough as a few of the answers; ‘I fell over and died’ and ‘got a phone aged 16′ have no relevance to the task as the students were asked to think of potential moments within John and David’s lives. Although I had attempted to engage the pupils with John and David’s stories by inviting them to contribute moments from their own lives, perhaps the aim of the task had become unclear.

The scheme culminated in at practical assessment where students worked in groups of their own choice and were given two different options to form the basis of their assessment piece; John joining the army and life in the trenches, or life for John’s family during the first three years after his death focussing on David. The pupils’ planning notes for these assessment pieces, which can be found in Appendix iii, often take the form of initial ideas rather than fully-formed scripts or detailed plans. The lack of detail in these notes was reflected in the pupils’ performances which focussed on the more stereotypical emotional or situational responses. Upon reflection the way the assessment was framed was too prescribed and there were not many opportunities for the pupils to take ownership over their work. For the following two versions of the scheme I adapted the assessment requirements to enable the pupils to be more creative with their assessment performances.

I consider Version A of the scheme to be a trial which enabled me to explore the use of the AF truth model. Although there were some successful moments within the scheme, for the most part the students did not engage with the content of the scheme and struggled to create quality pieces of drama in most tasks as well as in the assessment which surprised me. To that end I made amendments to the scheme in order to make it more successful not only in terms of quality of work but also to encourage a greater level of pupil engagement. As well as the restrictive assessment framework I altered the AF Truth Model to set the narrative in the 21st century in order to establish whether a more recent series of events would enable to students to be more engaged in the scheme.

Version B of the scheme was set during the War in Iraq with John being killed in action during the battle of Kabul. As in Version A of the scheme I changed John and David’s surname to Bolton so that the pupils did not know I was related to them as I felt this would alter their responses. I was conscious that if the pupils knew I was connected to John and David they may be more withheld and restrained with their responses in discussion and practical work as they would perhaps have been trying to suggest things that I would approve of, rather than having complete creative ownership over their work.

As with Version A of the scheme the pupils responded well during the debate surrounding the key question and, again, struggled with describing the differences between fictional and factual narratives in Drama. Despite providing more scaffolded questions the pupils’ responses were mostly linked to fictional and non-fictional literature. As this situation occurred with both versions of the scheme so far, I adapted this session to be more didactic in the final incarnation of the scheme. When debating the key question, I reinforced the idea that there were no wrong answers more heavily than in Version A of the scheme which led to pupils being slightly more candid in their responses, leading to a much more varied debate.

The way I set up the timeline tasks was also much more structured to ensure pupils understood what was being asked of them, which led to a slightly higher number of positive responses such as ‘goes into John’s room and finds the war application slip for war and starts crying,’ and ‘goes to the battlefields trip aged 14.’ The pupils also seemed more engaged with the narrative due to the fact that it took place within their lifetime however, there were still unrelated responses such as ‘David walked on the road holding a gun and gets shot thinking that he is going to cause trouble. People said that the police was racist and there is a riot aged 12.’ This made me consider the way the task was managed; perhaps because the pupils’ responses were anonymous they felt no pressure to take the task seriously.

The end of unit assessment task for Version B was also adapted to allow more creative freedom for the students compared to Version A. Students were again working in groups of their own choice but were required to focus on either David or John’s timeline, show the 3 key moments we had focussed on in lesson time as well incorporating 2 further unseen moments of their own creation. Although this allowed the pupils to use the context of the timeline moments we had focussed on in lessons to structure their own devised scenes, on reflection I was asking the students to create a large volume of work within a relatively short space of time. This led to groups either performing unfinished work or work that lacked the detail it otherwise might have had if the groups had a more extended rehearsal time period.

Although the pupils were more engaged with the narrative as it was placed in a contemporary setting, the class’s engagement throughout the course of the scheme fluctuated as did the quality of their work. Despite the fact that they were extremely successful when participating in debates the pupils were often immature when asked to undertake certain character tasks, particularly anything to do with displaying emotion.

As this was the final time I taught the scheme, Version C was radically different to the two previous versions. The changes I made were also, in part, as a result of the class I taught; despite being mixed ability there had been a large number of major behaviour management issues within the class during their previous unit due to the social mix of the students. I therefore decided to change John and David’s surnames back to Baskeyfield so the pupils knew from the outset that they were connected to me in some way. Aside from this the narrative was almost identical to the one used in Version B.

After slightly more scaffolding the pupils were able to engage in the debate around the key question very well, as in previous versions of the scheme. Unlike in Versions A and B I posed the initial question as to the differences between fiction and true stories in Drama however, after taking a few responses from pupils, I was more didactic in my approach and told the students the answers.  This became the theme for the rest of the unit as I was a much more controlling force within the classroom; partly to manage behaviour but also in an attempt to push the successes of the scheme.

There were a higher number of positive responses during the timeline tasks compared to the previous two versions of the scheme with a majority of the suggestions being valid such as ‘makes friends with the cool kids who bully his brother aged 12’ and ‘first day of high school he missed the bus and got to school late.’ Although the responses were still anonymous I informed the students that I would be reading their responses as they placed them on the wall to reinforce the fact that they needed to think carefully about their contributions. This approach was more successful than in previous incarnations of the scheme.

I also altered the assessment requirements for the final version of the scheme so that the pupils, again working in groups of their own choice, had to choose either John or David as their focal point, recreate one of the key moments from their timeline and the pupils had to create 2 new unseen moments. This dramatically reduced the workload of the groups which enabled work of a slightly higher quality to be produced. During the rehearsals process I was also more involved in directing the groups in order to ensure the pupils were focussed throughout to minimise behaviour management issues. This was successful as can be seen from the more carefully considered assessment plans in Appendix iii.

Although there were more positive results with regards to pupil responses from Version C of the scheme the pupils were no more engaged in the work than they were with Version B, and my enjoyment as a teacher was greatly reduced. The more didactic method of teaching the unit may have produced better results however my aim for the scheme was for the pupils to be engaged and enthused by the tasks. This led me to question what I wanted to achieve with the scheme and what I was looking for in terms of a completely successful version of the scheme.

 

The critical incident I am analysing as part of my reflection on my personal practice is Version C of my scheme of work; this is the version I altered the most and is the one I feel I learned the most from in terms of my professional practice. Bassey (1999) states that education research, meaning research undertaken by educators, “is the kind of value-laden research that should have immediate relevance to teachers and policy makers” (Bassey 1999:39) therefore I wanted to ensure my research directly informed and influenced my teaching practice. As this scheme of work was something far-removed from the schemes I had created and delivered in my placements schools and in my first term as an NQT this was the first real opportunity I had, as a professional, to consider my core values as a teacher.

Simon Hoult stresses the importance of values as they determine our actions as teachers and are supported by our core beliefs. Not only this but “on a wider scale, the values that underpin a profession are important for it to develop and to have a credible voice” (Hoult 2005:8). At a time where the future of Drama within schools is uncertain, the value of Drama is something which is being heavily discussed. As Drama teacher the value of Drama is inherent in our practice, but education research is a method by which these values can be made more explicit to those questioning them.

After having taught Version C of the scheme I questioned myself as to why I chose to create and teach the ‘Brothers in Arms’ scheme in the first place. In his article The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity Stephen Ball recounts feedback from many teachers who feel disillusioned with the profession and the battle between teacher wellbeing and professional integrity, and the pressures of policy, performance management and performativity. Ball criticises this and states “The ground of such struggles is often highly personal […] The struggles are often internalised and set the care of the self against duty to others” (Ball 2003:216). I disagree with this for the most part; I think that teacher wellbeing directly impacts on pupils’ wellbeing. During my PGCE I was told, and from my experience in the classroom I can attest to the fact that, pupils match the energy of the teacher; something which can be used as an effective behaviour management technique. If a teacher is highly engaged in the content of the lesson the pupils will reflect this engagement. I wanted to use John and David’s stories in a scheme because it was highly engaging to me but, based on my observations in the classroom, had I set my interests above the interests of the pupils as Ball described?

As well as engaging my own interest it was my intention to engage the pupils as well through the creation of an engaging narrative. I presumed that the pupils’ lack of engagement in Version A of the scheme was because it was too distant for them to be able to connect with; as MacGilchrist, Meyers and Reed observed “for a significant number, when faced with […] a curriculum that appears to have no relevance to their lives, they are more likely to ‘switch-off,’ truant or be disruptive” (MacGilchrist, Myers & Reed 2004:153). However, despite the time period being more recent for Version C the pupils were not fully engaged throughout. It could be that as well as time period being a unit of distance between the pupils and the learning, context can also be a barrier which prevents pupils from engaging with the work. The narrative was relevant to me as I am related to John and David, I am from a military family and I have an interest in history but for my pupils there might have been too little for them to engage with, particularly on a more personal level. Why was I insisting that the pupils have an emotional reaction to something they probably felt no connection to and why, by telling the pupils the John and David were Baskeyfields, was I implying that my circumstances are more important than theirs?

When it comes to selecting a Drama curriculum Jonothan Neelands points out that there is wealth of possibilities to choose from, and the inherent problems in making selections that isolate, rather than include, pupils; “what message does it send to pupils from cultures that have living performance traditions that are different? What does it tell pupils whose social and cultural history is different from that of the middle-class theatre audience?” (Neelands 2004:1-2) My reasons for changing John and David’s surnames to Bolton for the first two versions of the scheme were to allow the pupils to have more creative freedom without feeling held to account in any way. With Version C of the scheme I told the students at the very start that John and David were related to me and I utilised this fact as a sword of Damocles in the guise of behaviour management, when in reality I was making the students feel guilty in order to force them into behaving. Linking back to MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed, if my pupils had been engaged and interested in the work in the first place as they had a genuine connection to narrative then there would be little need for me to employ behaviour management techniques.

As well as questioning my motivation for creating the scheme I also questioned my method of teaching the scheme. A majority of the tasks were based around improvisation, devising and role-play. As the principle thing the pupils were being required to do was create dialogue to fit a given scenario this created limited results; Michael Fleming describes the nature of this work as more immediate gratification rather than ‘making.’ Fleming suggests an alternative view; ” A fruitful way of thinking about dramatic art, then, is not to see it as merely replicating experience but to be aware of its potential to explore and examine experience in ways which would otherwise be denied to us in real life” (Fleming 1997:4). Despite the fact that at the time I believed I was providing the pupils with opportunities to contribute lots of new material, the structure of the tasks were, in reality, considerably more limiting. David Greig argues that theatre demands audiences to consider what it would be like to experience different things; in the case of Sarah Kane’s Blasted “theatre can ask audiences to imagine the unimaginable” (Nicholson 2009:48). On reflection if I had included a greater range of tasks and ways for the pupils to engage with the narrative the quality of work may have been higher and the pupils may also have been more engaged.

This prescribed method of teaching was too limiting for the pupils to be able to invest in the source material and understand what they were learning. With this scheme of work perhaps a more pupil-centred approach may have worked better as by relinquishing my control over the lessons the pupils would be able to take ownership of their own learning. Gipps and Murphy (1994) as mentioned in MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed (2004) point out “how important it is that learners should have a sense of ownership over what they are learning. They need to feel that what they are being taught is relevant to their purposes of learning” (MacGilchrist, Myers & Reed 2004:54). Although potentially high-risk I perhaps should have explored the possibility of giving the pupils autonomous control as to how the scheme developed in order to provide opportunities for metacognition, or perhaps more significantly for this unit meta-learning.

Another thing to consider is whether the pupils, and myself as a teacher, were experienced enough to experiment with this scheme of work. In terms of ability Boaler and William (2001) state that “ability grouping is believed to create greater homogeneity amongst students and enable more whole-class teaching” (Boaler & WIlliam in Dillon & Maguire 2001:175) I am uncertain as to whether this would have had in impact on the outcomes of Version C of the scheme. The scheme relied more on pupils’ emotional intelligence rather than their intellectual intelligence, perhaps this was too much to ask of pupils in Year 8; “Children tend to be concerned with the real immediate world. In adolescence an interest in abstract notions develops” (Head in Dillon and Maguire 2001:138). As pupils in Year 8 are on the cusp of this transition it might have been more pertinent to have used the scheme with older pupils or indeed pupils in Year 7 to obtain different outcomes. Maguire and Dillon suggest that teachers new to the profession go through a period of “transitional incompetence” (Maguire and Dillion 2001:7) where they are expected to make errors in their teaching. As I created this scheme of work within the first term of my teaching career perhaps, although a condescending idea, I was not experienced enough to attempt such an abstract scheme.

One of the overall challenges of this module was the dilemma of being conflicted in my identity as a researcher and teacher. As the basis for the scheme was my own personal history I often felt unable to distance myself fully from what was going on in the classroom and reflect objectively about how the students were engaging in the work. In my role as both a researcher and a teacher I was an insider in terms of my connection to the source material however, I was also an outsider as I relinquished my claim over the narrative and allowed the students to have creative freedom. As Stanfield views it “what is at least implicit in the insider/outsider researcher debate is that autobiographies, cultures, and historical contexts of researchers matter; these determine what researchers see and do not see, as well as their ability to analyse data and disseminate knowledge adequately” (Stanfield II, JH 1994:176 in Zeng 1998:22). This led me to question the validity of my research; as I was so invested in the success of the scheme not only on a personal level but also a professional level (the levels pupils achieved in their end of unit assessments were used to monitor progress) I questioned how could I remain objective as a teacher and researcher, and whether my account of the outcomes of the scheme could be utilised.

As I was the only Drama specialist in my previous school I discussed these critical incidents with a Drama teacher from another school; this afforded me a more objective opinion on my experiences and led to some significant changes within my professional practice. They suggested that although it was natural for me to feel frustrated and disappointed with the responses from the pupils at times, I needed to develop my ability to distance myself from the personal connections I have with the narrative in order to better fulfil my obligations as a teacher. It was also suggested that I try to include opportunities to use flipped learning in order for the pupils to be able to lead tasks and take more ownership of their work. In addition, it was suggested that I consider removing the formal assessment aspect of the unit in order for the scheme to centre more around process Drama rather than working towards a performance which might enable the pupils to become more invested in the tasks.

 

One of the primary outcomes affecting my professional practice as a result of this research is the dichotomy between the pupils needs and my needs as a teacher. Although Ball (2010) argues that a teacher’s struggle between meeting the professional demands of the job should take precedence over a teacher’s sense of creativity within the classroom, I feel that a healthy balance can be struck between the two and this is what I am striving for in my teaching practice. In order encourage the best outcomes for pupils I believe that teachers being able to enable their students to make progress as well as facilitating their engagement and enjoyment of the subject is key to the gratification of both the pupils and the teacher. With the ‘Brothers in Arms’ scheme of work my original intentions were too closely motivated by my own engagement in the narrative rather than taking the pupil’s needs into account.

The extent to which I was involved in the critical incidents could also have affected my findings, as Zeng (1998) observes; “the researcher and the researched are intertwined and it is necessary to take account of the researcher’s background and experiences, in order to understand and appreciate fully the research context and findings” (Zeng 1998:21). By using my family history, writing the scheme of work myself, teaching it and making observations at the same time I question is I was too involved in the process to be able to make any objective observations and, as a result, manipulated my own findings. As I taught Version C of the scheme in particular I was doctoring my own research to obtain my desired outcomes however, in reality, this process had the opposite effect and I was more disappointed with the outcomes from Version C of the scheme than by any of the other incarnations. I am therefore considering relinquishing more control over the unit and allowing the students to take more ownership of the progress of the scheme and their work.

Something I am interested in exploring in the future is the concept of fostering meta-learning and metacognition within my classroom; “metacognition refers to a second-order form of thinking: thinking about thinking” (MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed 2004:54) whereas meta-learning “is much broader and includes an awareness of goals, feelings, social relations and the context of learning” (MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed 2004:54). By enabling pupils to have more ownership and contribute more to their own learning I aim to encourage pupils to be more independent and self-aware when it comes to identifying their strengths, weaknesses and learning strategies.

One of the driving forces behind the tasks I incorporated into the scheme of work was influenced by the fact that, after I had taught all three versions of the scheme, it was taught to another Year 8 class by a non-specialist teacher. Due to the fact that I was the only Drama teacher in my previous school 4 of the classes were either taught exclusively by, or shared with, non-specialist teachers. This had an impact on how I planned my schemes of work in order to enable consistency across the year groups. I was extremely conscious of the fact that the other teachers would not necessarily have the same technical knowledge, or feel as confident with spontaneous changes to the scheme as myself. On reflection it may have been more pertinent to create the scheme as an opportunity for collaborative learning as I had originally intended, then create an alternate scheme of work to assign to the non-specialist teachers.

An alternative approach to the scheme could be to create a more collaborative unit of work that encouraged teacher and pupils to share stories of their past to develop the narrative. The pupils’ responses during the debate based around the key question for the scheme were so positive that it may be a way of approaching aspects of critical thinking. Despite the fact that Brandom (2001) warns of the potential dangers of this “to engage pupils’ thinking capabilities is to allow them to question, and if you allow them to question they will begin to interrogate the autonomy they are permitted in school, the will challenge the status quo and they will perhaps lobby for change” (Brandom 2001:236), I think that allowing pupils to contribute their own personal histories may enable them to become more engaged and invested in the scheme. Although this is a potentially high-risk strategy, managing my own reactions to the pupils’ responses to my history was manageable this may be more challenging with a class full of pupils potentially revealing personal information to their peers, the way the lessons would be structured and the creation of a safe space within which pupils could feel able to contribute would be essential.

Evaluating these critical incidents caused me to think about how, and when, I reflect on my teaching practice. Although this is something I did regularly during my PGCE and even in my initial teaching practice, I rarely find opportunities to reflect on my practice now that I am entering my third year of teaching. During my NQT year I felt as though I was making improvements through operant conditioning; “trying things out and seeing what happens” (Monk 2001: 144) whereas now into my third year of teaching I am progressing more through the Kemmis and McTaggart (1988:14 in MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed 2004:61) Action Research Spiral. This process of continual reflection and adaption of my practice is enabling me to refine my teaching practice. In the future I plan to teach the ‘Brothers in Arms’ scheme again making it more accessible and engaging for the pupils by opening it up to include suggestions and contributions from the pupils themselves. I am undecided as to whether the scheme should culminate in a practical assessment or whether a less formal assessment should take place throughout the course of the scheme; this is something that I will judge during the course of the scheme by gauging the pupils’ engagement in the work and whether they require additional motivation.

 

5114 words

 

References

Ball, S. (2010). The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity. Journal of Educational Policy. 18 (2), p215-228.

Bassey, M (1999). Case Study Research in Educational Settings. UK: Open University Press.

Boaler, J & William, D. (2001). Setting, Streaming and Mixed Ability Teaching. In: Dillon, J & Maguire, M Becoming a Teacher: Issues in Secondary Teaching. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Brandom, A. (2001). Citizenship: What Does it Mean to be a Good Citizen?. In: Dillon, J & Maguire, M A Fair Test? Assessment, Achievement and Equity. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Head, J. (2001). Adolescence. In: Dillon, J & Maguire, M Becoming a Teacher: Issues in Secondary Teaching. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Hoult, S (2005). Achieving QTS: Reflective Reader: Secondary Professional Studies. UK: Learning Matters Ltd.

MacGilchrist, B, Myers, K and Reed, J (2004). The Intelligent School. 2nd ed. London: Sage Publications.

Maguire, M & Dillon, J. (2001). Developing as a Student Teacher. In: Dillon, J & Maguire, M Becoming a Teacher: Issues in Secondary Teaching. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Monk, M. (2001). Learning in the Classroom. In: Dillon, J & Maguire, M Becoming a Teacher: Issues in Secondary Teaching. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Neelands, J (2009). Beginning Drama: 11-14. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Nicholson, H (2009). Theatre & Education. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zeng, J. (1998). Race, Cultural Identity and Gender: The Researcher in the Research Process. British Educational Research Association Newsletter. 64, p21-25.

Bibliography

Ghaye, T. (2010) Teaching and Learning through Reflective Practice. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis

Gipps, C.V & Murphy, P (1994). A Fair Test? Assessment, Achievement and Equity. Unknown: Open University Press.

Hopkins, D (2014). A Teacher’s Guide to Classroom Research. 5th ed. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Le Gallais, T. (2008). Wherever I go there I am: Reflections on Reflexivity and the Research Stance. Reflective Practice . 9 (2), p145-155.

McAteer, M., Hallett and F. Murtagh, L. (2010) Achieving your Masters in Teaching and Learning. Exeter: Learning Matters

Poulson, L., Wallace, M. (2004) Learning to read critically in teaching and learning. SAGE Publications.

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One thought on “Reflecting on Professional Practice

  1. Many thanks for this, Katie. I really enjoyed hearing about this work at the event last July and look forward to hearing more about this really interesting approach to your practice as your third year investigation continues

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