Reflection is the understanding of an event that
‘moves a learner from one experience into the next with deeper
understanding.  It is the thread that
makes continuity of learning possible, and ensures the progress of the
individual’ (Rodgers, 2002, p.845). Reflection is a useful tool that can be
adopted by teachers as either an on-going process that happens during a lesson (in-action)
or as a process that takes place after the lesson (on-action) Schon (1983). Reflecting
whilst teaching allows continuous monitoring of the lesson, giving teachers the
flexibility to change the current situation. Additionally, reflection after
teaching gives teachers the opportunity to further reflect on the lesson, which
can be used to inform future planning and teaching.

 

Reflection is regarded as an important part of teaching (Clarà, 2015). Being
reflective can be used as an effective strategy when developing professional
practice as it allows teachers to think about current methods of teaching and
how these could be adapted to further meet pupils’ specific needs (Brookfield,
1995; Galea, 2012). Being at the
beginning of my teaching career, it is imperative that I reflect on my teaching
to learn and develop my professional practice and to ensure that my teaching
caters to the needs of all children. In this essay, I will discuss a range of
methods used to ensure that progress is being made, reflecting on my current
practice and using research literature to progress my understanding.

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Differentiation

 

Differentiation
can be defined as ‘the process by which curriculum objectives, teaching
methods, assessment methods, resources and learning activities are planned to
cater for the needs of individual pupils’ (Norwich, 1994, p.290). Differentiation
can be implemented through many methods, including the given task,
instructions, questions used and grouping of pupils. Differentiation allows
teachers to accommodate a wide range of academic abilities, providing teaching
that is child-centered and personalised to the needs of different children.
When teaching, I use a variety of differentiation techniques. The type of
differentiation I choose varies depending on the children I am teaching and the
tasks the children need to complete.

One
method of differentiation I use is grouping children based on their ability. Reflecting
on their previous learning and understanding gives me the opportunity to group
them accordingly. Organising the classroom so that
children are in groups of similar abilities ensures that the tasks children are
given are at the correct level of difficulty for them. Research has shown that
grouping children with others of a similar ability improves children’s academic
achievement (Rogers, 2004). If children are given a task that is too easy or
too difficult for them, it is likely they will become demotivated and will not
achieve the expected result (Winebrenner, 2001). Moreover, grouping children
together of a similar ability enables teachers to provide a task that meets
children’s specific needs. If children are all given the same task, regardless
of their ability, a high proportion of children’s needs would not be met
(Haager and Klingner, 2005) and therefore it would be unlikely that all
children would make progress.

Bloom’s Taxonomy
model supports the need to differentiate the curriculum, so all children can take
part in the same content during a lesson. The model allows the teacher to
accommodate a variety of pupils needs by applying the appropriate questions and
activities for children so that they may equally participate in the lesson. For
example, when we were writing instructions in year one, I tried to develop
activities at each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy to involve pupils related to their
assessed needs and abilities. The model allows a lower ability pupil to respond
to one set of questions and activities, while higher ability students are
responding to another set of questions and activities which are all related to
the same topic of study.

 

In some
situations, however, grouping children of a similar ability is not the most
beneficial method to ensure that all children make progress. In some lessons,
for example when doing group work, putting children into mixed-ability groups
is more valuable. Using mixed-ability groups allows students of a higher ability
to support their peers of a lower ability (Linchevski and Kutscher, 1998). When
children are in mixed-ability groups, differentiation can still occur using
questioning. Although this is perhaps a less obvious form of differentiation,
it can be used as an effective differentiation method.

 

Differentiating
through questioning involves teachers thinking about the types of questions
that will be asked of different children, allowing teachers to assess
children’s prior knowledge by giving children the opportunities to show what
they know and allowing children’s learning to progress (Rock et al., 2008).
Having a good understanding of children’s abilities allows teachers to ask
questions that give all children the opportunity to engage in the lesson and to
make progress. For example, for students that struggle to retain information
and have difficulty learning new information, asking questions that include
prompts allows children to focus on the relevant information they need to
consider in order to reach the correct answer (Scruggs and Mastropieri, 2000).
Furthermore, using open-ended questions allows children to respond to questions
in a more detailed manner, giving them the opportunity to engage further by
exploring the question in different ways.

 

It is
clear that differentiation can take many forms in the classroom. The way that
children are grouped and the questioning techniques that teachers use are just
two forms of differentiation. Focusing on these two types of differentiation,
having a good understanding of the specific needs of children within the class
and the strategies that enable most progress are essential for successful
differentiation to occur.

 

 

Assessment

 

Assessment
is important for tracking progress, planning next steps, reporting to and
involving parents, children and young people in learning. Assessment for learning (AFL) is an approach to teaching and
learning that creates feedback which is then used to improve students’
performance. Teachers need to know about their pupils’ progress and
difficulties with learning so that they can adapt their work to meet their
needs, the needs which vary from one pupil to another.  Pupils need to have higher order thinking
skills which are transferable within and across subjects. When teaching
I use formative assessment to inform me of where the pupils are and what I need
to do to move learning forward and make progress. I use questioning and
feedback during lessons to assess understanding and as a result have had to
adapt lessons or incorporate mini plenaries to address misconceptions. Using
the in-action model is beneficial as misconceptions can be addressed instantly
and the impact can be seen immediately. Robin Alexander (2004) uses the idea of
‘dialogic talk’ and ‘dialogic teaching’ where he argues that talk is an
essential part of learning in the classroom where all pupils should have a
voice. Using effective questioning and talk partners promotes thinking,
discussion and deepening of pupil understanding.

The on-action model is
used when the children’s work is marked, and I have time to reflect on the
lesson, I feel it then gives me the opportunity to plan the subsequent lesson. Children
are given an opportunity for teacher and peer feedback where we focus on recognizing
success and improvements (we use 2 stars and a wish). It is important to
discuss what excellence consists of and how best to meet it – not just the
meeting of success criteria.

 

Research by Black and Williams indicates that improving learning through
assessment depends on these deceptively simple factors:

·       
The provision of effective
feedback to students.

·       
The active involvement of
students in their own learning.

·       
Adjusting teaching to consider
results of assessment.

·       
A recognition of the profound influence
assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of students.

·       
The need for students to be able
to self-assess themselves and understand how to improve.

However,
some argue that strategies and techniques have minor impact if the culture of
the classroom does not support the philosophy or ethos of the key principles
(Clarke, 2008, p.18). In short Dweck argues that what impacts motivation the
most is having a ‘Fixed’ mindset or ‘growth’ mindset (cited in Active learning
through Formative Assessment,2008, p.19). Pupils with a fixed mindset need to
constantly prove their ability whereas pupils with a growth mindset believe
intelligence can be developed and are willing to have a go.

 

Assessment takes the
form of summative and formative, when using formative assessment effectively it
must consist of some quite specific techniques while at the same time allowing
for experimentation and development. Instead of formative assessment being done
to the children, it is important for teachers and children to collaborate.

 

 

 

Impact of
TAs on children’s progress

 

The Good
Practice Guide (DfES, 2000a) highlights the important role that TAs play
supporting children within the classroom, suggesting that if successfully
trained, TAs can improve academic standards within schools. This was
complemented by training materials to encourage schools to ensure that TAs are
well trained and supported (DfES, 2000b). In line with this, a report in 2002
from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) also acknowledged the
crucial role that TAs play, suggesting that when this support is present in the
classroom, teaching is improved compared to when it is absent. The evidence
from both the government and Ofsted reports supports the opinion that the
presence of TAs within primary classrooms can help to improve children’s
academic achievements. When planning
lessons, I plan an activity/intervention for the TA, this might be with the
higher ability to extend their learning or the lower ability to help
consolidate their learning depending on the lesson. I have noticed that when
given effective extra support, children can make considerable progress, but it is important to brief the TA
with how you expect them to support the children. Studies show that TAs
tend to have a direct positive impact on pupil progress when they are prepared
and trained, and have support and direction from teachers.

 

 

Indeed,
Lee (2002), Butt and Lance (2005) and Alborz et al., (2009) also support the
view that TA presence within primary classrooms improves children’s progress.
Alborz and colleagues’ review in 2009 of a number of studies concluded that,
when working on a one-to-one basis or with a small group, TAs can help children
to make significant progress with literacy. However, there is substantial
research concluding that the increased presence of TAs within primary
classrooms has no influence on children’s academic progress (e.g. Balshaw,
2010; Fletcher-Campbell, 2010) and in some cases can be detrimental
(Blatchford, Russell and Webster, 2012).

 

 

 

 

Behaviour for Learning

 

Behaviour
for learning (BfL) is the relationship between a child’s behaviour and their
learning (Powell and Tod, 2004). More specifically it is ‘about creating
behaviour that is conducive of learning’ (Scales, 2012, p.226). In their book,
‘Behaviour for Learning’ (2009), Ellis and Tod build on the work by McNally et
al. (2005) by abandoning the assumption that managing children’s behaviour and
promoting learning are mutually exclusive tasks. They use the conceptual
framework of behaviour for learning (Powell and Tod, 2004) to derive strategies
to best implement the concept but highlight the extensive time required to do
so most effectively.

 

I have
developed several Behaviour for learning approaches, discussed below, when
teaching, that I hope support children to become successful learners.
Developing these approaches has allowed me to become aware of how my response
to a child’s behaviour can influence the behaviour choices they make and how
encouraging positive behaviour can benefit children’s learning. It is important
that I continue to develop a range of techniques depending on which children I
am teaching as some approaches are more effective than others in certain
situations (Scales, 2012).

 

One Behaviour
for learning approach that I have developed is the use of positive
communication. Research suggests that the brain is more responsive when
processing positive, as opposed to negative, information (Adams, 2009). When
teaching, I try to tell children what I would like them to do as opposed to
telling them what not to do as I find that this is a more effective approach.
Luiselli and colleagues (2005) found that following an intervention in which
positive behaviour was reinforced, disruptive behaviour dropped and academic
attainment significantly increased. These findings are supported by earlier
research which found that positively reinforcing expected behaviour improved
both pupils’ levels of behaviour and their attitude towards learning (Reid et
al., 1999).

 

A second
Behaviour for learning approach I have developed is the use of non-verbal
communication. The use of non-verbal strategies can influence the behaviour of
children as effectively as verbal communication (Capel and Leask, 2013). For
instance, if a child is not displaying expected behaviour, looking at them for
longer than normal can show that you are aware of their behaviour. Verbal
communication is not needed here as the non-verbal signal allows the child to
become aware of what is expected and gives them the opportunity to change their
behaviour. Furthermore, encouraging children to establish eye contact to show
they are listening and paying attention to the lesson can work effectively as a
Behaviour for learning approach (Gower and Walters, 1983). Ensuring that all
children are aware of such expectations ensures that Behaviour for learning
approaches work successfully in the classroom. Establishing eye contact is not
only beneficial to ensure children are listening but is also useful when
assessing understanding. If children are making eye contact with the teacher
and display a confused look, the teacher instantly becomes aware of a lack of
understanding and can repeat or re-explain (Ledbury et al., 2004). 

 

Whilst
there are many Behaviour for learning approaches that can be used in the
classroom, it is important that those adopted work successfully for the
children being taught. To find strategies that are successful in the classroom,
the conceptual framework derived by Powell and Tod (2004) should be taken into
account. Teachers need to be aware of how children’s learning behaviour is
linked to the relationship they have with themselves, the curriculum and other
people to achieve successful Behaviour for learning approaches. Within this,
teachers need to be aware that not all Behaviour for learning approaches will
work for every child and a flexible approach needs to be taken which allows
approaches to be changed if necessary.

 

 

Conclusion

Reflecting takes many forms in the classroom, and it is an essential and
necessary part of education. Teachers reflect on their daily practice and tweak
their lessons, interactions, and attitudes, both on- action and in-action. To develop as a teacher, it is important
that I reflect on the teaching strategies I have adopted. Analysing different
areas within teaching and discussing relevant research has helped inform my developing practice. Looking at
differentiation specifically, the type of differentiation that I choose needs
to depend on the task chosen and the children I am teaching. I need to ensure
that I include differentiation in my lessons but in a variety of forms, to
enable children to make the most progress. When assessing the
children, it important to know the ability of the children from which you can
target questions during formative assessment. Allowing the children to have a
voice through talk partners, peer assessing, and discussions encourages
thinking and motivation giving all pupils an opportunity to think and talk
rather than the few confident children. Most importantly the range of questions
need to be adapted to ability and be effective. I also need to encourage a
growth mindset within the classroom setting, which should help with progress. I also need to consider the way in which I deploy the TA,
much research shows that TAs can help support children’s learning. To gain the
most efficient impact it is imperative the TA is briefed and has a clear
understanding of what is expected of them. In terms of Behaviour for learning
approaches, thinking more carefully about the relationship children have with
their learning and their peers and how this is linked with their behaviour,
will allow me to implement successful Behaviour for learning strategies.

In conclusion when planning and
teaching, it is important to remember that not one approach will work
successfully for every child. Being aware that different strategies, whether
that is for differentiation, assessment, impact of TA or Behaviour for learning,
will be more beneficial for some than for others, will enable me to develop my
professional practice. To achieve this, I need to ensure that I have a flexible
approach and am prepared to change existing strategies if necessary.