When Teacher Educators ‘Walk the Talk’ – Evidence-informed teaching and learning in Higher Education

Introduction

The UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) (Advance HE, 2020) offers a structure and helps to guide those responsible for teaching and learning in higher education (HE). A ‘benchmark of standards’ provides minimum expectations and allows for the critical analysis and quality assurance of teaching and learning experiences. This helps to ensure that all students have access to high-quality education. This essay will critically review my engagement with and incorporation of two of the five ‘Areas of Activity’ from the UKPSF (ibid): ‘Teach and/or support learning [A2], and ‘Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance’ [A4]. Additionally, I will provide evidence of how I have implemented the UKPSF aspects of ‘Core Knowledge’ and ‘Professional Values’ to strengthen my practice (Advance HE, 2020). Furthermore, I will explore how application of the UKPSF professional values can improve my teaching practice, particularly the ‘use of evidence-informed practice… and continuing professional development’ [A5, V3].

This essay identifies how evidence-informed practice from within school settings might transfer into HE, both in terms of teaching and supporting learning [A2] and how to develop effective learning environments [A4]. In teacher education, there is an expectation to model a variety of pedagogical approaches regularly and consistently to trainee teachers, providing concrete examples of what research might look like in practice. However, when not explicitly modelling, how often as teacher educators do we practice what we preach? How feasible is evidence-informed pedagogy from school classrooms applied to the lecture theatre, with larger group numbers and longer durations? Through reflection and analysis of these questions, it is expected that there will be an illumination of the approaches that work and those that do not. Moreover, I expect that approaches to teaching and learning that are specific to HE and not applicable in school settings may be identified and further explored [V3].

As a successful teacher and leader of physical education (PE) with ten years of experience in the UK, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and China, I felt ready to accept the challenge of transitioning from teacher to teacher educator in September 2021. There are several tensions I have encountered upon starting this new role, most notably the disparity between what a lesson could and should look like in secondary schools, compared to that of a lecture or seminar in HE. The planning, structure, and organisation require different considerations, and this instilled a feeling of regression, anxiety, and the need for constant reassurance [V4]. As a teacher educator on both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, I have experienced a range of lecture durations and structures. In some, I felt comfortable due to the nature and duration; for example, a 90-minute practical lecture with 25 trainee PE teachers. However, there have been lectures that have pushed me outside of my comfort zone. For example, a three-hour lecture slot with 80+ postgraduate trainees from all subjects on creativity in education. The first example allowed me to draw from my previous experiences, to use familiar pedagogical methods, and to trust my subject knowledge [K1, K2]. The latter provided a real challenge; how will I engage such a large group for such a long period of time? How will I ensure that I am appropriately challenging all? What type of learning experience can I provide the students? This was coupled with the fear of the lecture going wrong and the worry that someone in the room might know more than me.

My lack of experience and the discomfort felt when planning and teaching these lectures has led me to this reflective question and enquiry. First, what (if any) best practice from schools can be implemented effectively in HE lectures? Secondly, how often as teacher educators do we practice the methods we teach? If the aim is to equip teachers with pedagogical tools to use in schools, should we not be role modelling these tools when we are teaching them, no matter the size or duration of the lecture? This essay sets out to explore the apparent disparity between best practice and pedagogies at both levels of education and whether one can learn from another to effectively improve teaching and learning. In turn, raising the engagement and outcomes of the students, thus linking area [A2, A4] and values [V1, V2] of the UKPSF framework together (Advance HE, 2020).

In HE, there still appears to be traditional structures in place when concerning lecture styles. Placing the lecturer as the expert, lectures are didactic in nature and content heavy. Students are passive listeners, mostly taking notes and it is debated whether they are actively engaged in learning [V3] (Covill, 2011; Mazer & Hess, 2017; Miller et al., 2013). This is not the case in every institution and there is significant research to suggest many are moving away from a traditional lecture to an active learning approach, utilising digital technologies and flipping the classroom [V3] (Costouros, 2020; Dalsgaard & Godsk, 2007; Johnson & Johnson, 2018; Zappe et al., 2009).

Within the modules I have taught this year, a traditional lecture format is still being used by other colleagues and the three-hour sessions have been allocated to my timetable. Therefore, it is important that I utilise the time provided to offer the best learning experience possible for all students. This made me consider methods that I might be able to borrow from my previous teaching experiences. Furthermore, unpacking current educational research and applying different approaches within lectures. My initial thoughts were focussed on exploring methods of questioning and discussion; introducing more active tasks and cooperative learning through group work; providing opportunities to include student voice and autonomy; and scaffolding tasks to meet the needs of all learners; [A1, A2, A4, K2, K3]. It is my intention to explore these thoughts in greater depth within the next sections.

[A2] Teach and/or support learning

Questioning and discussions

A primary consideration for attempting to create a more active learning environment was to find a balance between the amount of time spent talking and the time allocated for student interaction. There is adequate research to suggest that students become bored and disengaged when lectures consist of long episodes of talking, tedious presentations and, quite simply, nothing to do (Clark, 2008; Mann & Robinson, 2009; Schmidt et al., 2015). Research has investigated the attention span of students whilst in lectures and the data shows a range between 8-15 minutes (Benjamin, 2002; McKeachie & Svinicki, 2006; Wankat, 2002). Alternatively, other authors have suggested that these studies lack validity and argue that the delivery style of the lecturer is pivotal in maintaining student engagement (Bradbury, 2016; Rosengrant et al., 2021; Wilson & Horn, 2007). There is arguably a time and place for a keynote or TED Talk style lecture as some students respond well to an interactive, well-presented format. Research from Cerbin (2018) implies that a focus on public speaking skills can help to provide more coherent, stimulating, and lively learning experiences. That said, my social-constructivist philosophy favours opportunities for students to build knowledge together through active involvement and social interactions [A2, V3] (Adams, 2006; Kalina & Powell, 2009; Pritchard & Woollard, 2013). Therefore, I felt it beneficial to spend more time posing questions and having purposeful discussions within lectures of a longer duration, so I have experimented with a variety of strategies of questioning and discussion [K2, K3].

Currently in secondary schools, ‘cold calling’ has become a popular approach to questioning (Appendix A) [K1, K2]. This method of questioning has been promoted strongly by Lemov (2021) and Sherrington and Caviglioli (2020), who illustrate key reasons as to why cold calling can work well. Firstly, it requires everyone to think and everyone to have an answer. Willingham (2009, p. 79) explains that ‘we remember what we think about, memory is the residue thought’. Therefore, if students do not think, they will not learn. Furthermore, it promotes a culture of inclusion and that everyone’s contributions matter [V2] (Dallimore et al., 2019; Sherrington, 2021). In lectures of a shorter duration with smaller cohorts, I have had success with this method. However, I found in a busy lecture theatre, under the spotlight, sometimes students have not responded well to this approach. This could stem from social anxiety, a fear of embarrassment, or lack of confidence (Cohen et al., 2019; Downing et al., 2020). There are certainly aspects of cold calling that can improve teaching and learning in lectures, but first the learning environment must be positive and supportive, and expectations should be clear [V3]. It is also important to consider that cold calling does not work alone. It should be used in tandem with other forms of questioning, particularly when looking to delve deeper or to prompt further discussion (Lemov, 2021; Sherrington, 2021).

I have found using other methods of questioning such as: think-pair-share, snowballing, and phone-a-friend are strategies that have worked well (Appendix B) [A2, K2, K3, V3]. I believe this is because of the choice to use support if required, this approach means students do not feel so isolated but have the option to contribute if they would like to. However, there are still tensions present for those students with social anxiety as students are often required to share their knowledge with colleagues outside of their friendship group (Cohen et al., 2019). In some lectures, the contributions from students have created incredibly rich conversations that would not have occurred without the dedicated time for these interactions [V1, V2].

Furthermore, I have experimented with the use of digital technologies to support student interaction with questions [K4]. I have used Mentimeter (Appendix C) as a platform to allow for anonymous, digital replies to a set question, all of the responses are shown on the display for the group to read [K2, K3, K4]. This was positively received and also an effective way to start lectures, giving students something to reflect on as soon as they arrive [A2]. I also explored the use of FlipGrid (Appendix D), which is an application that allows individuals to film a response to a question [K2, K3, K4]. Students enjoyed this experience, as they appreciated the innovative and engaging technique [A2, V3].

The inclusion of effective questioning, opportunities for discussion, and active learning help to address the issues with a traditional lecture format by encouraging students to engage, think, interact, and share. Whilst there are criticisms of this approach and there is no panacea for the implementation, I believe that an active learning (Hyun et al., 2017; Saichaie, 2016) and student-centred approach (McCabe & O’Connor, 2014) is in congruence with my philosophy. Therefore, I will continue to plan, teach, and reflect on my use of questioning and discussion in lectures of larger numbers and longer durations [A2, K2, V2, V3].

Group work and cooperative learning

Group work in school settings has become quite the contentious issue. Some authors (Darling-Hammond et al., 2014; Pedersen & Digby, 2014; Slavin, 2014; Webb, 2008), believe that group work and cooperative learning has the potential to meet the wider holistic aims of the National Curriculum (Department for Education, 2014) and it can promote the development of 21st Century Life Skills (Stauffer, 2020), whilst having purpose and impact on learning outcomes. However, more recent work suggests that group work is often overused at the expense of direct instruction of knowledge, whilst causing behaviour issues and creating environments in which the learners look busy but are not learning (Didau, 2015; Hallahan, 2018). A similarity amongst the conflicting research is that teachers and students are not taught well enough to manage group work, and that often students are just placed in groups and expected to collaborate without guidance (Mercer et al., 2018). Thus, careful planning and considerations of structure, roles and expectations are critical when choosing to implement group work within lectures (Mercer et al., 2018, Slavin, 2014) [K1, K2].

In previous experiences as a PE teacher, group work and cooperative learning have always been an integral part of my pedagogy. This is perhaps due to the fact certain subjects lend themselves well to group work because of the nature of the content and the required outcomes (Sherrington, 2014). With the outcomes of PE in particular marrying well with the principles of cooperative learning and group work (Casey & Goodyear, 2015; Dyson, 2001; Kirk, 2013). Johnson and Johnson (2014) define cooperative learning as ‘…the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning’. Through cooperative learning in small groups students have the opportunity to experience; group processing, human and technical skills, individual responsibility, interaction, and positive interdependence (Álvarez Ariza, 2016). In the previous section, I described the use of think, pair, share questioning; this technique is an example of cooperative learning. My intention is to continue to research cooperative learning practices and to utilise them effectively [A2, K3].

Cooperative learning has long been prevalent in primary and secondary schools and, within recent years, higher education. However, empirical evidence of the impact of cooperative learning at the university level is still limited (Herrmann, 2013). There is much research surrounding student-centred learning and active learning and this has gained traction within the past two decades (Baeten et al., 2010; Hyun et al., 2017; Lea et al., 2003; McCabe & O’Connor, 2014). Machemar and Crawford (2007, p. 11) assert that ‘if active learning is doing, then cooperative learning is doing with others’. Consequently, when planning my lectures, I have used previous experiences of group work and cooperative learning, alongside research, to provide active learning experiences for all students. As previously mentioned, towards the beginning of my new role in teacher education, I was provided with the opportunity to lecture the whole cohort of secondary PGCE and School Direct trainees. This included a three hour slot, approximately 80 students on campus, with the learning outcome centred around creativity in education [A2, K2, V1].

Alongside my target of including more questioning and opportunities for discussion (Appendix C & D), I planned to include a cooperative learning task with a focus on creativity (Appendix E) [A2]. I planned a simple, creative task that required everyone’s contribution: creating a paper plane. The focus was on the individuals creative characteristics; however, each member of the group had a different role and responsibility [V1, V2]. This is an idea I have borrowed from a PE pedagogical model called ‘Sport Education’ (Siedentop et al., 2019) [V3]. The responsibilities were construction designer – how to build the plane; graphic designer – what the plane looks like; resource manager – sourcing and control of equipment; PR officer – to explain to others the decisions the group have made; and group assessor – to peer assess each group member against the set criteria (Appendix F) [A2, K3]. Providing each group with the same task but adding different roles and responsibilities helped to give each member accountability, purpose, and value within their group (Herrmann, 2021). This meant that most were on task and motivated to complete the challenge well as a group [K2, K3]. There are potential tensions with this approach as some students might not take their role seriously or may not enjoy the role they have been given (Ghaith, 2018). To counter this, it is important to move around the room to monitor and interact with the groups to ensure the expectations are being met.

The inclusion of the group assessor role provided an opportunity to model an example of peer-assessment, a form of assessment for learning that is regularly used in schools (Black et al., 2003; Fautley & Savage, 2008; Wiliam, 2011) [K1]. Whenever there is an opportunity to do so, modelling practice as a teacher educator is significantly beneficial for trainee teacher development (Korthagen et al., 2005; Loughran, 2006). With the topic of the lecture surrounding creativity, I felt it was important to experiment with a different approach and on reflection, I feel it went very well. This was also an example of a teacher educator modelling expected professional standards of innovation, using evidence to inform practice and reflection (Lunenberg et al., 2007). It is not only important to model pedagogy in action, but to be a role model of standards and behaviours expected of good teachers [V1, V2]. The lecture was positively received by many of the students, which resulted in positive feedback via email and Twitter (Appendix G & H) [A2, V3].

Through investigating the ways in which I teach and support learning, there has been a consistent thread running throughout, that thread being strong links to active learning, student-centred approaches, and cooperative learning. I feel this is partly because of my social-constructivist philosophy and my experiences of teaching a physically-active subject like PE. Exploring appropriate strategies that can transform a traditional lecture format to a more active and student-centred experience has been challenging. Despite that, this is something I will continue to explore and develop moving forward [A2, K2, V2, V3].

[A4] Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance

Student voice and choice

If curriculum and programme design is seen as a process, then the interactions between teachers (lecturers) and students are crucial. Student voice, as a way of integrating the ideas of young people into primary and secondary schools has re-emerged over the last 25 years (Bron & Veugelers, 2014; Bovill, 2013; Thiesen & Cook-Sather, 2007). Regardless of the method used, responding to student voice involves more than simply listening to their opinions, their voice should have an impact. Cook-Sather (2020) postulates that for student voice to be effective, a shift in power is required. Students should be recognised as those with essential perspective on learning, thus power and responsibility between teacher and student should be shared (Cook-Sather, 2006; Mayes et al., 2017).

By sharing power with students, by listening to them and seeking to follow their advice, we have learned that educators, researchers and policy makers are more likely to promote contexts through which the voiceless have voice, the powerless have power and from such spaces hope can emerge.
(Freire, 1994, p. 491).

Further research suggests that student voice has the potential to produce and support more ‘socially just’ school environments (Salisbury et al., 2019), whilst helping to ensure that ‘disenfranchised youth’ are included in curriculum design and decision-making (Cammarota & Romero, 2011; Salisbury et al., 2019). Although the research contains many positives, the apparent tensions concern the feasibility and logistics of listening to every voice, how best to collect the data, finding appropriate time to convene, and the restrictive nature of policy and curriculum (Mayes et al., 2017; Morrison, 2008). Educational decision-making and curriculum design are rather grandiose concepts that require significant time, planning, and justification. That said, much of the information gathered from a student voice perspective is usually aligned with this bigger picture, rather than day to day learning experiences (Baroutsis et al., 2016).

It is important to consider student voice from a more granular perspective, each lesson. Student voice and choice can be implemented into lessons where there is an increased chance for autonomy and agency by incorporating choice of task, equipment, working groups, and challenge, amongst others (Beni et al., 2017; How et al., 2013). Enabling opportunities for choice in lessons is likely to produce self-determined learners (Beymer & Thomson, 2015). Whilst providing students with an autonomy-supportive environment can help to increase intrinsic motivation and, in turn, confidence and competence (Deci & Ryan, 2012) [K1, K2]. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect teachers to provide an option that motivates every learner. Moreover, research suggests that too many options can lead to students feeling overwhelmed and the lesson can become fragmented and unmanageable (Beymer & Thomson, 2015).

Within HE settings, the same challenges are faced when considering the implementation of the student voice. The Advance HE (2022) considers students as partners, and they declare that student voice is invaluable. There are additional pressures on universities due to the current tuition fee structure, and a large body of research identifying the importance of student voice (Blair et al., 2014; Brooman et al., 2015; Healy et al., 2016; McLeod, 2011; Seale, 2009). Subsequently, the question stands: how effectively are universities listening to the voices of all students? How effective are the methods used to collect this data? Finally, what impact is student voice having on teaching and learning experiences? [V1]

Feedback from students is significant and important to consider, as viewing practice through the perspective of our learners is an essential component in meeting the needs of all students (Bassot, 2020; Brooman et al., 2015). However, students often hold unconscious bias, preconceptions, or stereotypical views that are illustrated during the process of feedback, these can often be misleading (Peterson et al., 2019; Rivera & Tilcski, 2019). Students are regularly offered the opportunity to express their voice through mid-module evaluations, Staff Trainee/Student Liaison Committee (STLC/SSLC), the NSS (National Student Survey), student evaluation of teaching procedures, and student experience surveys [V1]. The challenge faced here concerns student engagement with these forms of feedback. Unfortunately, mid-module evaluations and other feedback forms can frequently have few responses or a lack of depth. We must be careful in attempting to respond to student voice. If every voice is not represented, there is the potential to have a detrimental effect through silencing the views of the minority (Cook-Sather, 2020; Ferguson et al., 2011). Another factor to consider is that much of the student feedback received is in retrospect; it is engaged with after the completion of modules. Therefore, it cannot be used to inform the pedagogy and decision making for the current cohort, with many of the issues on modules being addressed for the following years students.

New methods are required to allow student voice to impact teaching and learning at present, enhancing the experience of current cohorts. Healey et al. (2014) indicate that the co-creation of learning and teaching by staff and students is one of the most important issues in HE. Keeping this in focus and borrowing from school-based research surrounding pupil consultation (Morgan, 2011; Robinson, 2017; Scarparolo & MacKinnon, 2022), I have explored a range of methods that have allowed me to use student voice to improve my teaching. The first technique was to introduce a feedback wall. During lectures, I provided students with blank post-it notes, and I asked the students to comment anonymously on ‘what went well’ (WWW) and ‘even better if’ (EBI) [A2, A4, K2, V1]. These comments were placed onto the feedback wall before the end of the lecture. Collating the comments, I was able to identify some takeaway points that I have used to improve my practice. The WWW and EBI terminology are consistent with the evaluation processes that our trainee teachers use whilst on teaching placements. Therefore, this was a pertinent opportunity to model the practices I expect to see. I have also asked students to collaborate and send a reflective email that shares the opinions of the whole group, with a focus on developing my practice [V1]. An example of this was included in the previous reflective journal and peer-review process. As a reflective practitioner, I have used Brookfield’s (2017) lenses to help guide my thoughts, and a core part of this model is the perspective of the student [A5, K5, V3]. I believe that the critical reflection of my practice using this model is an effective way of allowing the student voice to impact teaching and learning, whilst also advocating the principles of a student-centred approach (Gravett et al., 2020) [V1].

Planning to meet the needs of all learners (Scaffolding, Task Constraints, Challenge)

To become a qualified teacher in England, trainees must be able to provide evidence of meeting and maintaining the Teachers’ Standards set by the Department for Education (Department for Education (DfE), 2011). They are standards that set the minimum requirement for teachers’ practice and conduct, and they define the minimum level of practice for trainees and teachers to achieve qualified teacher status. Teachers’ Standard 5 (TS5) states ‘A teacher must adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils’ (DfE, 2011). Each standard has a set of sub-points that explain the expectations in further detail (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Department for Education (2011) Teachers’ Standards – TS5

TS5 mentions a requirement and knowledge of how to differentiate appropriately; this requires adaptation and scaffolding of tasks to ensure all learners have the opportunity for success and progress. Furthermore, stating that teachers should have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils and be able to use and evaluate distinctive approaches to engage and support all (DfE, 2011). This standard is closely linked to the UKPSF (Advance HE, 2020) Area of Activity [A4], Core Knowledge [K2, K3] and Professional Values [V1, V2].

In 2014, the Department for Education commissioned a two-year study to assess progress towards an evidence-informed teaching system. This study led to schools being required to provide evidence of the research that underpins their approach to teaching and learning. Following this, various forms of research have proven popular and have been implemented in schools across the United Kingdom. Examples of the omnipresent research are Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (2012); Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion (2021); Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli’s Teaching WalkThrus (2020); and John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers (2012) [K1, K2]. Much of the aforementioned research provides strategies that teachers can use to ensure the strengths and needs of all learners are met. A frequently mentioned strategy nestled within this research is the concept of scaffolding and modelling.

‘Scaffolds’ are temporary supports used to support learners, which should be gradually removed as students gain confidence and competence. Modelling can function as a form of scaffolding, as can methods such as the teacher thinking aloud. ‘Thinking aloud’ is a type of scaffolding where a teacher illustrates their thought-processes as they undertake a task that students need to perform themselves (Beale, 2020; Sherrington & Caviglioli, 2020). Modelling helps learning by enabling students see how to solve problems, for example, how to structure an essay. Modelling can be carried out through the use of ‘worked examples’: a form of modelling where a teacher provides a step-by-step demonstration of how to perform a task or how to solve a problem. Rosenshine (2012) argues that the most effective teaching involves many worked examples alongside well-planned forms of scaffolding [A2, A4, K1, K2].

Through observations, I have recognised that many lectures are linear in design. Meaning that, if an activity is included within the lecture, there is usually one task for all students to complete, with no opportunity for scaffolding, differentiation, or adaptation (Murtagh & Webster, 2010). Information regarding current attainment and the learning needs of the students are used inconsistently in the lecture planning process. Subsequently, a one-size fits all approach to lecture design is used (Roberts, 2019). There is significant research that stresses the importance of using the data provided by students who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or learning disabilities to shape practice (Black et al., 2015; Moriña, 2017; Yssel et al., 2016). In turn, ensuring that all students have access to module content through an inclusive and supportive learning environment. However, there is less research that recognises the importance of using the students current attainment level to inform planning (Doyle, 2018). For example, separating a cohort into three different groups depending on their attainment or competence, three variations of the task with differing levels of support (scaffolding) could be applied. This would provide adequate challenge for all learners whilst working towards the same learning outcomes. This is an inclusive technique that many secondary school teachers will be familiar with.

When attempting to apply this approach to lectures with larger cohorts, I faced some challenges and struggled to achieve the desired impact. I was able to access information about students who have disclosed specific learning disabilities and I was able to cater for their needs when planning (font sizes, colours, seat position, etc) [V1]. However, using student data to construct a variety of scaffolded tasks for a group of this size, was a real challenge. I resorted to designing three different tasks that were pitched at low, middle, and high achieving students, and on reflection this was far too generic to be personalised [K1, K2].

Conclusion

Mapping against the UKPSF Areas of Activity [A2, A4], Core Knowledge and Professional Values, I have explored and presented examples of my engagement and application (Advance HE, 2020). Throughout the essay, I have analysed the use of questioning and discussion; group work and cooperative learning; student voice and choice; and planning to meet the needs of all learners [K1, K2, K3, V1, V2]. This process has allowed for the strengthening of my social-constructivist philosophy by bolstering my confidence in the use of a student-centred approach with active learning opportunities like group work and cooperative learning. The strengths and criticisms provided by the research, alongside practical application within my lectures, has provided some key considerations for my developing practice [V3, V4]. A variety of techniques that are regularly used in secondary schools have been analysed with some proving to have a positive impact, and others deemed less effective. That said, context is key. Within this essay, a large cohort lecture was key to the reflections. Therefore, further work is required to identify how these approaches might work in lectures or seminars with smaller groups. As a teacher educator, I have identified that modelling practice is more authentic and beneficial when the group size is similar to that of a school class. However, when appropriate, I will continue to apply and reflect on the pedagogies that our trainee teachers are taught to use in schools. Thus, modelling professional behaviours and expectations, as well as the use of evidence-based approaches to teaching [A1. A2, A4, K1, K2, V3].

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Another reflection – from PE Teaching to PE Teacher Education

It is my intention within this reflective learning journal to illustrate aspects of my new beginning in education. Reflective models will support the critical evaluation of my knowledge, understanding, and teaching practice. Additionally, reference will be made to a peer-review process, and I will explore the suggestions made by reviewers with a particular focus on how I can improve practice and student experience. Throughout this reflection, I will identify links to the areas of Activity, Core Knowledge, and Professional Values that are outlined in the UK Professional Standards Framework [UKPSF] (Advance HE, Guild HE and Universities UK, 2011). The process of critical reflection will provide an opportunity to identify areas for future development, to cultivate good habits in terms of self-evaluation (McNamara & O’Hara, 2008), and to continue to improve my knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning in Higher Education (HE) [A5, V3, V4].

When we embark on something new, such as a new job or course, there are almost always obstacles to overcome along the way (Bassot, 2020). Change can be both exciting and disconcerting at the same time, even when the change is something we have been looking forward to (Rudisill et al., 2010). I have long aspired to transition from teacher to teacher educator and, in September 2021, I was afforded the opportunity to start my journey in HE, commencing employment as a lecturer of Physical Education (PE) and Teacher Education. This transition was incredibly exciting and an opportunity for significant growth for me; however, it was equally as daunting.

Bridges (2004) presents a useful model of transition which suggests that all transitions start with endings and conclude with new beginnings. The first stage, described as ‘endings’, represents the process of letting go of what is behind us. This feeling is shared by many, as most of us prefer what we already know compared to the new and unknown (Bassot, 2020). Casey & Fletcher (2012) discuss the tensions felt during this phase and describe the notion of ‘un-learning’, suggesting it is important to try and unlearn previous pedagogical approaches in order to try and understand how the new environment works (Casey, 2010; Casey & Fletcher, 2012). Subsequently, stage two is recognised as ‘the neutral zone’, this is often an uncomfortable position where we begin to feel anxious about what lies ahead. This is an emotion I have been familiar with since my employment commenced with phases of significant imposter syndrome (Bothello & Roulet, 2018) and periods of low self-confidence (Sadler, 2013). However, Bridges (2004) argues that we must spend time in the neutral zone in order to discover what to do next. Throughout my experiences in this zone, I have been able to collaborate with and observe expert colleagues which has helped my development. For example, focussed observations and professional conversations have helped to shape my developing practice. Furthermore, enrolling on the Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education has provided me with clear focus and direction. The final stage of the Bridges (2004) model is ‘new beginnings’, this depicts the next stage of our career as we move forward with purpose. New beginnings encompass new understandings, values, and attitudes. Well-managed transitions allow individuals to establish new roles with an awareness of their purpose, the part they play, and how to contribute most effectively. This reflective journal will therefore illustrate some of the trials and tribulations of my new beginning as a teacher educator.

It is possible that my teaching philosophy may transform as I shift from teaching in school settings into Higher Education. I have developed an everchanging philosophy throughout my experiences of teaching, which is currently encapsulated as: through building positive relationships and creating fun, engaging, and safe learning environments, I strive to provide meaningful experiences for all in PE. My tendency is to draw from a range of learning theories to inform my practice; however, I adopt a predominantly social constructivist approach (Vygotsky, 1962; Adams, 2006) strongly supported by humanism (Combs, 1981; Kolb, 1984) and behaviourism (Thorndike, 1913; Pavlov, 1927; Macdonald, 2013).

Creating a safe and positive learning environment is key to my practice as I consider this pivotal in encouraging learners to be confident, curious, and creative. Eliminating the fear of failure, encouraging deeper thinking, and promoting innovation are key themes that have always been a golden thread woven through my teaching practice (Martin, 2010). A safe, supportive, and structured learning environment helps to ensure that learners are emotionally ready to learn, and this is something I value highly (humanism) (Shernoff & Csikszentmihalyi, 2009; Veugelers, 2011). For learners to find purpose and meaning in learning, it is essential that we provide them with opportunities for agency and autonomy (Kann et al., 2018; Leisterer & Jekauc, 2020). Teacher instruction is key in this process; for example, providing clear and concise learning objectives, effective modelling, and higher-order questioning (Rosenshine, 2012; Sherrington, 2020). However, providing learners with greater choice and reflecting on student voice to optimise challenge are powerful tools to engage learners (behaviourism) (Hastie et al., 2013). This is an approach I have used within my previous teaching roles underpinned by the research surrounding meaningful experiences by Kretchmar (2006) and Ennis (2017). I have found success in using these approaches with children aged 5-18, therefore I am curious to see whether my philosophy and pedagogy may change as I begin teaching adults and experiencing the ‘dual role’ nature of teacher education (Korthagen et al., 2005).

Critical Reflection

In previous teaching experiences, I have been able to improve my practice through the use of reflective models (Kolb, 1984; Gibbs, 1988). Reflection, as part of my professional role and own development, was encouraged by my colleagues. This usually took place after taught episodes or lessons, as a form of reflection-on-action. However, through developed confidence my ability to critically reflect was extended through Schön’s notion of reflection-in-action (Schön, 1983). With experience, I began to think about what I was doing whilst I was doing it. This adaptive teaching approach is beneficial due to the diverse and organic nature of teaching and learning (Luttenberg et al., 2017; Westwood, 2018) [K5, V3]. Within this reflective learning journal, I have adopted two models to help guide my thoughts and to structure my response. For the peer-review process, Brookfield’s Four Lenses model (1995; 2017) will be applied and when identifying my next steps, reference will be made to the ‘What, So What, Now What?’ model developed by Rolfe et al. (2001).

The ‘Four Lens Model’ (Brookfield, 1995) was designed as a model for teachers who want to develop and improve their practice through critical reflections. The model illustrates that reflecting on practice at a deeper level requires the perspectives of others. Brookfield (1995) uses the lenses as a metaphor to highlight the importance of noticing things from different viewpoints. These perspectives are; self-reflection, students’ feedback, colleagues’ experience, and theoretical literature (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Brookfield’s Four Lenses Model (1995, 2017)

Self-reflection can sometimes be the least respected lens due to its subjective and anecdotal nature (Bassot, 2020). It is good practice to self-reflect; however, we all self-reflect differently and at different levels (Sun & Van Beveren, 2018). We could potentially limit our growth by listening to our own voice alone, it is therefore suggested imperative to listen to the opinions and perspectives of others (Fisher, 2003; Brockbank & McGill, 2007). That said, our own experiences can encourage us to explore our deeply held values and assumptions about practice, so that we can begin to question them.

Our colleagues’ experience is an important perspective yet receiving feedback can be quite challenging and intimidating for some individuals (Scales, 2017). Engaging in a feedback process can help us see things within practice that we were not previously aware of, whilst nurturing stronger professional conversations and relationships (Greguras et al., 2001; Piggot-Irvine, 2003; Yiend et al., 2014). In this case, a peer-review process was utilised to gain the perspectives of my experienced colleagues. Peer observations are known to be an effective developmental tool for lecturers, particularly when the process is supportive and based on collaboration and mutual respect (Hatzipanagos & Lygo-Baker, 2006; Taylor, 2009; Bright et al., 2021).

Feedback from our students is of paramount consideration, as viewing practice through the eyes of our learners is vital for meeting the needs of all (Brooman et al., 2015; Bassot, 2020). Yet, like many of us, students unconsciously hold preconceptions or stereotypical opinions that are represented during the process of feedback, and these can be misleading (Peterson et al., 2019; Rivera & Tilcski, 2019). Student feedback can be used to guide practice and provide focus for further reflection. There is significant research that highlights the impact and benefit of listening to the students’ voice to improve practice and course design (Seale, 2009; McLeod, 2011; Blair et al., 2014; Brooman et al., 2015).

The fourth and last lens of Brookfield’s model is that of scholarship.  He recognises that learning from those who have written about professional practice is an essential aspect of reflection. The model also notes that the use of literature surrounding theoretical viewpoints is instrumental in critical reflection (Scales, 2017; Bassot, 2020).  Research, and the critical analysis of research, has been a cornerstone for the professional development of teachers for decades (Berliner, 1980; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1990; McNiff, 2006). Kember (2000), Williams (2014), and Putman and Rock (2016) concur and note that professionals who wish to continuously develop will need to consistently review and implement current literature.

Alternatively, Rolfe et al. (2001) introduced a framework for Reflexive Learning, this model was a product of adaptations made to Borton’s Reflective Framework (1970). Rolfe et al.’s model is based on three questions: What? So What? Now What? These questions are repeated at three levels with increasingly deeper reflections at each, the levels are: descriptive, theoretical, and action-orientated (Rolfe et al., 2001). Working through the same questions at different levels can be used to move from novice to expert (Bassot, 2020; Scales, 2017). Through critical reflection and analysing the themes that manifested through my peer-review observation, I will use Rolfe et al.’s model to set clear targets for the development of my teaching practice moving forward.

Peer Review

The reflections within this section refer to a formal observation that took place in January 2022. The session I asked to be reviewed was a practical lecture that introduced the concept of ‘Active Starters & Plenaries’ as a pedagogical tool for consideration when teaching PE lessons. The intended learning objective was to build on students’ prior knowledge of starters and plenaries, and to provide opportunities for application within a practical setting (Appendix A). The session was designed for BEd (Hons) Physical Education – Secondary Education students, with accompanied resources accessible through Canvas (the universities online learning platform).

As a focus for the peer review, I invited general feedback regarding my competency against the UKPSF framework (Advance HE, Guild HE and Universities UK, 2011). However, I also requested specific advice about a question I have been asking myself since embarking on my new beginning. This question was: ‘I often feel like I am wearing two caps [as a teacher educator] – the lecturer of students (1) but also modelling the secondary school teacher (2). Are there any effective ways of doing this? (Appendix A).’ My curiosity arose because I have found achieving the right balance challenging. Therefore, this peer observation proved a good opportunity to use Brookfield’s Lenses (1995, 2017) to gather the perspectives of others, in an attempt to clarify my thoughts around this question [A2, A4]. Within this section, my reflections are closely aligned with the UKPSF’s Areas of Activity; [A2] ‘teach and/or support learning’, and [A4] ‘develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance’.

Peers

After my peer-reviewed lecture, I had a debrief meeting with the observer, during this meeting I was provided feedback through a professional conversation alongside written comments (Appendix A). Many positives were identified with particular strengths in planning, strong relationships and professionalism, managing layers of cognate activities, and incorporating digital technologies (Appendix C & D) [A2, A4]. There were also numerous areas for further consideration such as the variety of content and utilising different verbs when writing learning objectives. However, there was one particular aspect from the feedback that I would like to focus on. The reviewer suggested:

I have chosen to reflect upon this particular statement because there is a striking similarity between this comment, the feedback received from students in attendance, and my reflections.

Students

Immediately after the lecture, the students were asked if they could construct a collaborative email as a form of feedback for my reflection. Gratefully, the students agreed and sent through a response that contained many positive comments. Most notably, the students said they were engaged from start to finish, that they enjoyed the modelling of practice and felt my subject knowledge was excellent [A2, A4] (Appendix B). In terms of improving the lecture, I would like to focus on one point they raised, collectively the students commented:

This point is in congruence with the comments made by the peer reviewer around pace and the culture I might impress on my students. Therefore, key questions might be: how long did I spend modelling practice in contrast to the time given to students for applying their knowledge and understanding? Upon reflection, in this lecture, perhaps too long.

Self

From a personal perspective, I was happy with the teaching and learning that happened in my peer-reviewed lecture. I felt that students made good progress in line with the learning objectives, they were suitably challenged, and they had the opportunity to explore and apply the content introduced in the lecture [A2, A4]. However, on reflection, I also agree that more time should have been given for the students to consider, question and apply the pedagogy of starters and plenaries. I believe I may have implicitly modelled for too long, almost presenting a PE lesson rather than a lecture for trainee PE teachers looking to develop their pedagogy. This links to the point made about showing a bias towards a particular way that PE lessons should be taught. I also felt that a large part of my modelling within the lesson had two flaws. First, my modelling was mostly implicit, meaning my focus was to demonstrate practice rather than justifying my reasons and allowing for critique. Secondly, my modelling could perhaps suggest to the students that this is the way I expect to see things taught, which certainly is not my aim.

Scholarship

Teaching about teaching should not be confused with simply modelling teaching practice. Teacher education goes beyond the traditional concept of modelling, it involves unpacking methods in ways that gives students access to the pedagogical reasoning, doubts and predicaments of practice that are inherent in understanding teaching (Loughran, 2006). During their education, doctors do not serve as role models for the actual practice of the profession i.e., they do not treat their students. Teacher educators, on the other hand, educate their students as well as teach about teaching. It is this dual role that so complicates teaching and learning in teacher education (Korthagen et al., 2005).

One way of considering modelling in teacher education is as an appetiser to the ideas and underpinnings of practice so that opportunity can be provided to break down, analyse and then reconstruct methods and approaches to pedagogy. Although modelling is a means for demonstrating practice, modelling alone is not sufficient for learning about practice (Korthagen et al., 2005; Lunenberg et al., 2007). One of the intents of modelling is to offer trainee teachers an opportunity to not only grasp a deeper understanding of how to use particular teaching procedures but see the value in developing an understanding of why to use them. This is a stark contrast to the misconception that modelling is a faux teaching demonstration or an implicit call for trainee teachers to teach like me (Loughran, 2006; Lunenberg et al., 2007)

Lunenberg et al. (2007) posit an important distinction between implicit and explicit modelling of teacher education practices. Implicit modelling appears when teacher educators show the practices that they wish their trainees to consider as a part of their pedagogy. Explicit modelling requires teacher educators both to use the practices that they wish to promote and to think aloud whilst doing so (Loughran, 1996). The effectiveness of implicitly modelling practice is questionable at best (Lunenberg et al., 2007). My developing pedagogy of teacher education has taught me the value of learning from, and collaborating with, trainee teachers. I have discovered that I must place more focus on explicitly modelling my pedagogy, rather than assuming that trainees can recognise and understand what I am aiming to do.

Depending on the students’ stage of learning, my approach to modelling might change. For example, a conscious effort to be more explicit with year one undergraduates in comparison to adopted approaches used with PGCE PE students. I have noticed that 3rd year trainee teachers and PGCE students are more likely to be curious about and question my decision-making, and my choice of pedagogy when modelling. Whereas, 1st year undergraduates tend to take my practice at face-value with less questioning, discussion, and critique. It is not my intention to create carbon-copy versions of me as a teacher, but to guide trainees in the development of their own teaching philosophy.

As a PE teacher, I regularly strived to teach high energy lessons that challenged the learners through active and engaging tasks (Fletcher et al., 2021). I feel that, although there is certainly a place for this, I may need to slow the pace of my teaching and activities to allow opportunity for the trainees to learn, consider, and apply practice themselves. My high-paced and energetic lessons certainly fit a narrative and perhaps impress a particular culture of what a PE teacher should do and what PE lessons should look like (Casey & Fletcher, 2012). However, one approach to teaching is not a panacea for effective learning, a combination of alternative approaches is often required (Campbell et al., 2001; Scales, 2017). Teachers and Teacher Educators must have an awareness of their own values-based positions, regarding teaching and content they teach (Faria, 2015). Therefore, it is important that I explicitly model a range of approaches regularly, rather than resorting to particular forms of pedagogy that I believe in and have comfort in using.

Moving Forward – What, So What, Now What?

This reflective journal and the peer review process has highlighted strengths in my practice, I am able to support the learning of my students and I can create effective learning environments [A2, A4]. However, it has identified an aspect that I would like to investigate further moving forward. I want to find the right balance of modelling teaching practice, analysing pedagogy, and providing opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and understanding.

The literature suggest that explicit modelling is an effective pedagogy to use with trainee teachers, as the sharing of good practice and vocalising thought processes can allow students to analyse pedagogy for themselves (Loughran, 2006; Lunenberg et al., 2007). Planning carefully for a balance of explicit modelling and physically active and challenging tasks is now my focus moving forward.

I will continue to critically reflect on my practice using Brookfield’s lenses (1995, 2017) as I have enjoyed the process of evaluating my teaching and philosophy from different perspectives. I endeavour to gather and analyse regular feedback from my students, alongside focussed observations of experienced colleagues, asking for advice and ideas when possible. Finally, I will read current and appropriate literature to support my practice, turning to reflective journaling (Watson, 2010) and self-study methodology (LaBoskey, 2004) to further investigate my teaching practice and identity as a teacher educator.

Reference List

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From PE to PETE – my new beginning.

It has taken a while to get round to this, and I haven’t blogged for some time but felt this is a poignant opportunity to reflect on my new beginning.

I am very happy in my new role; a lecturer of Physical Education and a Teacher Educator. It was a mission that I long-aspired to embark on and, as much as it is full of challenges, I am thoroughly enjoying the job. When I knew that I was making the move from PE to PETE I was anxious, excited, and curious. These emotions lead to lots of questions and lots of reading; I turned to an article written by Tim Fletcher and Ashley Casey in 2012, ‘Trading Places: From Physical Education Teachers to Teacher Educators’ – in hope that this would give me a heads up and answer some of my questions. Within the paper Ashley and Tim highlight the notion of ‘unlearning’ and the tensions felt when having to put previous pedagogy behind in order to learn what works best in the new setting. This is something that resonates with me currently as I adapt to suit my new role.

My PE teaching philosophy is settled, although I’ve tweaked it along the way, it is stable now and it describes my moral compass and my why: “I endeavour to build positive
relationships and to create fun, safe, and autonomy-supportive learning environments, in order to provide meaningful experiences for all in PE
”. I’ve now realised that I am no longer looking to change this, but to start to form my philosophy as a teacher educator, I am starting with a blank page, though my existing philosophy will have influence and will be nested within my new philosophy. I am genuinely looking forward to seeing how this develops in the future. But for now there are a few things that I am prioritising: to allow trainee teachers the opportunity to build their own philosophy, to provide a range of pedagogical tools that can be critiqued, amended and applied, and to be an effective mentor that can coach, guide and support trainees on their journey in becoming a teacher.

I do miss working with children and young adults in schools; I am trying to keep my ‘hand in’ by maintaining youth football coaching, making the most of my time when on school visits and ensuring I stay up-to-date with current practice. That said, each day I go to work and talk about PE, Sport, Teaching and Learning with people who are passionate about these topics, this is something I have enjoyed thus far. The feeling I used to get when pupils made progress and overcame challenge now happens when trainees develop confidence and make their own progress in line with our curriculum aims and subsequently QTS.

It has taken some time to get used to having a timetable/schedule that is not as concrete as a school timetable. Having to manage my own diary and having lectures that change days, timings and durations has required flexibility and a new type of organisation. This flexibility is quite refreshing and I have found having more control over managing my workload to be quite beneficial. Even if the workload at points can be quite significant (to say the least). At certain points throughout the year, workload can become quite intense with teaching, marking, school visits alongside self-study, organising conferences, open days and interviews. But the work intensity follows a peaks and troughs pattern, even more so than those that happen in secondary schools and further education.

I am currently experimenting with finding the right amount of modelling (showing trainees how particular pedagogy might look like in practice), opportunities for peer and micro-teaching (students teaching each other followed by reflection) and lectures that unpack teaching, learning and assessment. There is a ‘dual role’ nature in teacher education in which we often wear two hats – the modelling teacher and the critical lecturer; I am still trying to get my head around how often I should wear these hats in lectures/practicals/seminars and I am hoping to have more clarity with practise and experience. Our first year undergraduates enjoy the lectures in which I have modelled ideas and strategies, whereas our PGCE PE trainees have appreciated more time to unpick, critique and apply the discussed methods, perhaps my approach will change depending on the stage of the learner? Perhaps experienced colleagues will point me in the right direction.

Anyway, I didn’t want this to be a heavy read and for me, I just wanted to get something down. Hopefully, I will be able to continue to reflect and ask questions about my new beginning in PETE, and as always – your thoughts and opinions are gratefully appreciated.

Ref:

Casey, A., & Fletcher, T. (2012). Trading Places: From Physical Education Teacher to Teacher Educator. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 31, 362-380.

8 Steps to Success in PE by Nathan Walker

It’s been a while since I posted this infographic, and with the launch of the new site I thought I would repost this. These are what I genuinely believe are the 8 essential ingredients that combine to make truly emphatic and profound learning experiences in physical education.

  1. Promote innovation and creativity
  2. Maximise activity and enjoyment
  3. Eliminate the fear of failure
  4. Encourage thinking time
  5. Advocate a love for movement
  6. Instil self-challenge and discipline
  7. Set and maintain high expectations
  8. Be a role model and inspiration

My personal belief is that if we stick to these 8 elements we will be more likely in providing young children with the physical education experience that they deserve. We must create meaningful experiences in PE that our students will reflect upon, remember and learn from. As PE teachers our primary focus is to empower young children in becoming confident in movement, as well as increasing participation in recreational and competitive sport. All of this equating to hopefully an enriched quality of life, short term and long term.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Nathan – nathanwalkerphysed.com – @nwalkerpe

Using Sport Education to teach IGCSE Physical Education

I had the wonderful opportunity to work alongside Dr Gary Kinchin (Senior Lecturer at the University of Southampton) and I started some active research, with an aim to see whether Sport Education could be a successful pedagogical method to facilitate learning and development in IGCSE PE (examination PE). I was very fortunate to have my research published in the Association for PE’s PE Matters journal. If you’re interested, have a read. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Nathan – nathanwalkerphysed.com

The potential ‘New Normal’ for Physical Education

I’ve spent some time recently considering the possible implications, hurdles and challenges that may appear post-COVID19 for Physical Education. Whilst contemplating these, it is also important to focus on the positive and future opportunities for the subject. See below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Take care and stay safe!

Nathan – nathanwalkerphysed.com