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Preparing to teach literacy

2. Learning and teaching

2.1 Overview of learning and teaching

2.1.1 The review revealed that the nature of learning and teaching in relation to the pedagogy of literacy was broadly similar across the programmes reviewed. It is, therefore, possible to summarise strengths and possible issues for consideration.

2.1.2 The overall quality of teaching and tutoring of student teachers by both HEI and school partners observed during the review was at least good and often very good in all the programmes. Student teachers were very positive about their learning experiences both in the HEI and on school placements. They had identified personal qualities among HEI staff, which contributed greatly to the quality of their experiences. Many student teachers across the range of programmes referred to staff being approachable, experienced, hard working, committed, enthusiastic and, in some cases, inspirational. Student teachers were also generally very positive about the experience and teaching skills of headteachers and other staff who had supported their work.

2.2 Learning and teaching in the HEIs and on school placements

Learning and teaching in the HEIs

2.2.1 In all programmes, HEI staff dealing specifically with language and literacy engaged student teachers in a wide range of effective learning activities during their time in the institution. These activities included lectures and tutorials with clear exposition of themes and issues and printed summaries of key points. Where the staff to student teacher ratio permitted close interaction, student teachers were frequently involved directly in discussions with the lecturer/tutor and the whole group. These situations also allowed for small group or paired activities and collaborative work, such as planning classwork for a particular school stage, and matching learning and teaching to pupils' needs. Particularly strong features of student teacher experience in almost all the programmes were:

The methodology was much less student teacher centred when the class groups were large. Lecturers/tutors in these cases made strenuous attempts to involve students. Despite these efforts, there were often limited opportunities for extended discussions/workshops to address the needs of individual student teachers or encourage them to contribute their own experience and expertise.

2.2.2 In most cases, HEI staff, particularly programme tutors dealing specifically with language and literacy, were highly skilled in relating practical classroom work to learning theory, research findings and the principles of the teaching of reading and writing. There was a strong emphasis in almost all programmes on encouraging student teachers to be reflective about the principles of effective teaching of reading and writing and how to implement them. Student teachers were made aware of typical resources available in schools but were encouraged to develop professional independence by making their own evaluations of the appropriateness of particular resources. Questioning by staff during workshops and discussions contributed well to the promotion of this independence, often challenging student teachers and sometimes raising issues for them to investigate on their own. In most cases, formal assessment assignments required student teachers to relate principles to practical classroom work and so reinforced professional understanding. Lecturers/tutors also gave student teachers good feedback and support as they carried out group tasks.

2.2.3 Despite the generally careful attention given by lecturers and tutors to explaining links between principles and practice, many student teachers were not confident about drawing on their knowledge of theory and research to devise practical reading and writing activities for pupils. Some student teachers perceived the problem to be a lack of applicability of theory and research to practical teaching. They were inclined not to value the reflective, professional approach but to regard teaching as the effective use of tried and tested resources. HEIs have given a lot of attention to this matter over many years, and it is recognised that some student teachers will only see the relevance of some of what they learn in the HEI as they grow in experience. HEIs should share their expertise to devise effective ways of demonstrating to student teachers that good theory and good practice are inextricably inter-related.

2.2.4 The pace of work during teaching and learning activities in the HEIs was usually brisk and well judged to make best use of the time available. In PGCE programmes, both primary and secondary, the pace was often challenging for the student teachers, because of the pressure of time, but it was generally well managed.

2.2.5 Staff's teaching to raise student teachers' awareness of literacy across the curriculum and the importance of language in learning was very good in some cases. Several institutions had developed a carefully planned approach to informing student teachers about principles of teaching reading and writing and some ensured that staff who were not language specialists were given useful support. In these cases, student teachers became involved in discussion of the importance of reading and writing for learning in various subjects and subject tutors provided models and demonstrations of effective teaching. In some HEIs, there was need to ensure more overt and consistent attention to helping student teachers develop their understanding of the role of language in learning their subject and effective ways of teaching pupils to read and write within it. Opportunities were sometimes missed to help student teachers see how significant language dimensions in activities and assessment assignments were related to effective teaching in a subject.

2.2.6 Almost all student teachers taking each programme were highly motivated and engaged very positively with their work. In discussions and workshops, many showed very good insight into learning and teaching and literacy issues, making lively and reflective contributions.

2.2.7 Some of the learning and teaching did not match the generally high standards observed. Examples included activities dominated by lecturers or tutors, where student teachers had little opportunity for interaction; and discussions where the group of student teachers was too large to allow all to take an active part.

Learning and teaching on school placements

2.2.8 Student teachers' experiences on placement in schools varied, but in general school staff made effective contributions to their development as teachers, in accordance with the partnership agreement between the school and the HEI. Most school staff provided student teachers with good models of teaching, gave them good practical advice, offered access to a wide range of resources and involved them in school and department activities as fellow professionals. In some schools, the quality of support for student teachers from both the school management team and primary class teachers or secondary department staff was very high. Visits from HEI staff to student teachers on placement were also very valuable. Generally, student teachers felt that tutors gave very helpful feedback following classroom observations, though there were occasions when a tutor did not offer constructive advice on improvement of teaching approaches or techniques where this would have been relevant. Tutors also commented helpfully on student teachers' plans, records of work and evaluations of the success of their teaching during the placement. In most cases, discussion of these personal records with tutors were very effective in helping student teachers to develop a professional attitude towards self-evaluation.

2.2.9 For a few student teachers, the quality of professional interaction with school staff was only fair. In some of these cases, student teachers felt inhibited about implementing principles and good practice learned in the HEI. This problem often arose where school staff had little knowledge of what the HEI was aiming to deliver through its programmes. It also emerged where school practice differed significantly from the model taught to student teachers in the HEI. One example was where the school placed more emphasis on the use of workbooks to develop pupils' writing and less on encouraging extended writing within purposeful contexts. School staff who were very good practitioners themselves, and up to date with national advice and research on literacy, felt that they and the student teachers would benefit if the HEI could provide succinct, clear statements of the key aims and principles of the programme. Schools did have good guidance on their basic partner role in student teachers' programmes and HEIs were anxious to avoid overloading them with documentation. However, this issue was raised by enough school staff with experience of supporting student teachers to suggest that the HEIs should consider how best to meet the need for more detailed information, possibly using print materials and/or web site facilities.

Support for student teachers' learning

2.2.10 All the HEIs had some form of support system for student teachers who had literacy difficulties of their own and HEI staff typically provided good formal or informal support. In some cases, support included handbooks about grammar and other aspects of language. However, in several institutions there were student teachers whose own command of language was limited. These students needed more proactive guidance and support from the HEI on where and how to find help. A more general issue about support for student teachers' own learning relates to the independent study tasks undertaken in all the programmes as a significant part of the programme. Many student teachers, including graduate student teachers taking PGCE programmes, needed more guidance on effective use of personal study time, on the use of a research literature review to construct an argument and on how to undertake assignments such as evaluation of teaching or other types of action research.

2.3 Summary

Strengths of effective learning and teaching for student teachers in HEIs and on school placement

Learning and teaching issues and action points

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