Do I encourage progression?

After talking about the difference between working in primary education and higher education last week, my thoughts this week have turned to something which I have been thinking about for a long time – so long that I’m not sure whether I have already written a waffle about it. If I already have then I apologise because I feel the need for speed…I meant to waffle about it again – how do I ensure progression within my sessions.


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As I worked my way through my every increasing list of article from my RSS feed, I came across this “How I learned to differentiate”. Although the emphasis of the article was on differentiation, there was some discussion about whether this had promoted progression or whether it had just provided the opportunity for different tasks. After trying to sort out an issue with my levelling up game involving the Captain Up software – more about this saga later on in the week! – I thought that this was the week to tackle whether I provide the opportunity for all learners to progress within higher education. While appraising lessons within primary school, the key criteria for the judgement of the lesson lies with the overall progression that the children have made. When completing a mock OFSTED, I had my own teaching observed at university and reported back on. This, and my own commitment to learning, made me want to focus on ensuring that all the students had progressed with their learning. But how can or should I ensure this progression occurs?

  • Students or Tutors? – I hope you have come to realise that I am passionate about teaching and learning and I consider that I am lucky to be working at an institution which I always considered to be focused on learning. I always considered that the definition of a university would include the verb to learn although this is not actually the case – “A high-level educational institution in which students study for degrees and academic research is done” (Oxford Dictionary). I suppose that the words ‘educational’, ‘study’ and ‘research’ encompass learning – although this might be a waffle for another time! However – back to my point. For me, anyone attending or working a university is probably dedicated to learning and wants to increase their understanding of a range of disciplines either by attending sessions or completing individual or collaborative research. Within my sessions who should, if at all, be ensuring/encouraging progression? Throughout the education system the emphasis for progression has been firmly in the hands of the practitioners/teacher/facilitators. But when venturing into higher education, I consider that the emphasis is moved away from the tutor and more onto the learner. If this is the case, then it is probably more my job, as a tutor within sessions to provide the opportunities for this ‘choice’ or independence to occur in order to contribute or allow all students to progress. If this is the case, then how can this be achieved?

  • Progression within sessions– There is always the ‘core’ learning within a session. This is essentially those learning objectives – yes I do have these within my university sessions although I call them ‘What we are learning today’ and on the next slide – ‘Why we are learning this’. In order for all learners to progress some might need additional support to understand this learning which is provided within sessions through discussion (both with peers and tutors) and additional support through tutorials. The opportunity for questions are key within every session and learners can use these and the answers to consolidate their understanding of the topic. But what about the learners who already understand the learning or do so very quickly – is there differentiation for these to ‘progress’ further? When interacting within the discussions – groups or whole class – there is always the opportunity to present questions or statements which can start to extend student’s learning. Although these questions have an educational term, I like to refer to them as my Matrix questions. These reflect the scene within the movie when Morpheus is battling Neo (corrected after comment – see below) within the virtual sparring programme. As Neo is losing, Morpheus turns to him and, in an attempt to challenge his thinking about the concept, says – “Is that air you are breathing?”. These are the sort of questions I pose – questions or statements that can not readily to be answered without some thought and, while thinking, the challenge is presented resulting in further progression. This is not some supported research of mine and sometimes learners can just respond with the statement- ‘that makes my head hurt!’

  • Progression beyond the session – Do you remember the bell at secondary school which announced the end of the lesson? As soon as you heard it you started to pack your bags up ready to move on while the teacher spoke over the growing rumpus stating those immortal words of – ‘The bell is a signal for me that the lesson needs to end!” – or something similar. Within my sessions we have something known as Supported Open Learning (SOL task) which is the work which is compulsory between sessions. As the slide appears which is titled ‘SOL Task’ bags are opened and the rumpus starts. Just out of interest, I now put the SOL task as the second slide in the sessions in an attempt to promote involvement with it. Sandwiched between the SOL task and the slide with all the references on them is the further reading and independent activities slide. Even if I focus the group, the amount of focussed attention on these slides is limited – it is amazing how students can pack their bags almost blindfolded as they face the front and look in my direction (not complaining about this – it is a great skill to have :)). These two slides do, however, provide further opportunities for progression – especially for those learners who are interesting in progressing their own learning further. I know that these slides are available to interact with later – but I sometimes want to discuss the points in the books and articles further in order to maybe, just maybe, encourage engagement. Maybe I need to leave more time for engagement with these slides in order to improve my own practice. Coupled with this is the acknowledgement of this engagement. I often consider setting up a group which meets once a week to discuss these topics/key points which were the focus of the further reading. Not to check up on the engagement, but to provide the opportunity for learners who have engaged with it to discuss the points further – almost like a ‘further reading group’. Although the idea seems a good to me, I have to consider whether the practicality or attendance would be viable.

  • Technology could, and should, play an important part in providing for this progression. I am currently completing my ethics proposal for some research into the use of discussion forums which could provide the opportunity for further engagement with the learning. In a similar way, Google Hangouts and Skype could provide the opportunity for discussion away from the actual university. Tweet Chats work in a similar way and this will be one of the technologies which I will engage with throughout my current mathematics module.

    In conclusion (this sounds like an assignment) I consider that everyone has a joint responsibility for progression and its impact on learning. As a tutor I will be providing opportunities from questions and discussions to recommending further activities and reading to engage with. However the actually engagement with these opportunities, I think, lies with the learners – and I do include myself within this group as well.

    I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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