2. How do student teachers learn about behaviour for learning?
At the Eastern Regional Seminar on Behaviour for Learning in November 2007, Terry Haydn from the Faculty of Education at the University of East Anglia spoke of ‘impact’ approaches to teaching student teachers about behaviour for learning. Feedback gathered from student teachers at the end of their PGCE or GTP courses often suggests that they would have preferred to have had more input on behaviour management strategies. But Haydn suggests that this is not simply a matter of increasing the number of sessions explicitly focused on managing pupils’ behaviour; rather, he says that teacher educators need to think carefully about which resources, activities and experiences are actually going to have the most impact on student teachers’ learning about behaviour management. In other words, it’s not about the number of sessions explicitly devoted to behaviour for learning, but rather about the impact of each session.
A survey carried out with a cohort of student teachers at the UEA at the end of the first term of their PGCE course ranked the following factors in order of the importance attached to them by student teachers in terms of being helpful in enabling them to improve their ability to manage learning in the classroom:
- ‘Doing it’ – your own experience of teaching in the classroom
- Observing – watching experienced teachers in the classroom
- Advice – comments from and conversations with your subject mentor, link tutor, university tutor
- Teaching sessions – formal seminars/lectures or workshops, either at school or at the university
- Reading – either prescribed reading, reading for assignments or casual reading of the TES, education articles in newspapers
- Talking – with fellow student teachers, in school, at the university or socially
(Haydn, 2007 p. 28)
A group of student teachers on the PGCE English course at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education suggested the following subject-specific examples of things that had helped them to develop their confidence in managing pupils’ behaviour in English lessons:
- after a lesson in which her Year 8 class were supposed to have been working in small groups on ‘The Lady of Shalott’ but had been very poorly behaved, a student teacher was advised by her mentor to plan a much more teacher-led lesson for the next day, in order to re-establish herself with the group, before setting them up to work in small groups on a much more structured task in the following lesson
- a student teacher had discovered the motivational value of providing pupils with the opportunity to create good quality work for display by observing another English teacher encouraging his class to make kites as part of their study of The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean. This encouraged her to build postcard-writing into her planning for teaching descriptive writing, with the whole class contributing to a wall display of postcards, which helped to motivate and engage a very challenging class
- evaluating a lesson with his mentor enabled a student teacher to see that the off-task behaviour of his Year 10 class occurred as a result of him pitching the content of the lesson too high for the majority of the pupils in the class. He then adjusted his plans for the next few lessons, organising the pupils into ability groups with each team being responsible for creating the front page of a newspaper, and ensuring that the task was set up in a more accessible way. He showed his lesson plans to his mentor before the next two lessons in order to ensure that he had pitched them at a more appropriate level for the group
- being shown a range of approaches to teaching Shakespeare at the Faculty of Education had helped a student teacher to feel confident about selecting particular approaches to suit particular classes, times of day, stages in pupils’ understanding etc.
Other approaches to teaching student teachers about behaviour for learning include:
- Student teachers having a very clear focus when being observed
- Shadowing pupils for a day
- Discussion with pupils about behaviour for learning
- Student teachers watching video footage of themselves teaching
In training institutions:
- Watching and discussing video clips e.g. Teachers’ TV
- Watching and discussing video clips of other student teachers teaching
- Writing assignments
Experienced mentors and teacher educators usually find that at the beginning of the course many student teachers, anxious about classroom management issues, want a universal formula for managing pupils’ behaviour, or at least a checklist of things they definitely should and should not do. I remember a heated debate several years ago when I was doing my own PGCE about whether or not it was acceptable to smile before Christmas! It’s important to communicate to student teachers that, while advice from experienced teachers and from books such as You Know the Fair Rule (Rogers, 1997) and Getting the Buggers to Behave (Cowley, 2006) is invaluable, behaviour for learning is not about there being just one correct way of doing things. In Managing Pupil Behaviour, Haydn (2007 p. 83) writes that ‘Several teacher educators suggested that one of the differences between student teachers who develop towards excellence in this facet of teaching and those who make less progress is partly a question of “open-mindedness”’. Creating a culture of ‘open-mindedness’, in which student teachers are encouraged to say ‘It depends…’ and to ask questions of themselves and of each other is vital if they are to develop their thinking in this area.
This becomes even more important when student teachers are on placement in school. Here, they will encounter a range of English teachers with very different approaches to behaviour for learning. They might also encounter an experienced teacher with a particularly idiosyncratic way of managing pupils’ behaviour. Student teachers need to be encouraged think critically about what they observe, to ask questions, and to find a style of teaching which suits them as individuals, rather than making themselves clones of a particular teacher whose style seems to ‘work’.
What makes a good English teacher?
Early on in the PGCE English course, just after they have spent a week observing in a primary school and then just over a week observing in their secondary first placement school, student teachers at the Cambridge University Faculty of Education are encouraged to reflect on what they have seen in schools by working in small groups to draw and label a picture of a good English teacher. What’s most useful here is the discussion generated by working on these pictures and their accompanying labels, rather than the end product. Invariably, student teachers will bring to the discussion not only the English teachers they have recently observed but also those who inspired them when they were at school. While there always tend to be some qualities that most student teachers will agree on, the discussions get most interesting when student teachers start disagreeing, or finding examples that disprove theories others have come up with. It’s a very good way of establishing the sort of enquiring, open-minded, reflective culture that helps student teachers to develop their thinking about behaviour for learning. If the pictures can be displayed or at least saved and then referred to later on during the course, they can be a very helpful reference point for student teachers as they develop their thinking about the sorts of English teachers they would like to become.
Q7, Q8, Q9, Q32, Q10, Q29