«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Constructivist notions of knowledge and learning have also been at the heart of child-centred approaches to teaching and learning in the primary school characterised by autonomy and flexibility based on the needs of individual children (McCulloch, 1997). As discussed in chapter 2, such working practices of primary school teachers were endorsed by government policy, with the Plowden Report (Central Advisory Council for Education, 1967) providing a ‘protective cocoon’ (Giddens, 1991, p.3) for teachers who believed in centring teaching on individual learning needs rather than being led by a prescribed, subject-led curriculum.
Giddens (1991) explains that this approach ensured that teachers’ self and social identities were satisfactorily aligned through the government’s endorsement of primary teachers’ commitment to ‘holism’ and ‘vocationalism’ (Woods & Jeffrey, 2002). Such approaches have been said to be at odds with subsequent government policy implemented from 1990 onwards which has repeatedly attempted to transform the way in which teachers work (Nixon, Martin, McKeown & Ranson., 1997; Exworthy & Halford, 1999; Menter & Muschamp, 1999;
Mahony & Hextall, 2000; Sachs, 2001; Smith, 2007). In ITT, the new model became centred on a detailed prescription of teacher knowledge and professional standards which are thought by some researchers to restrict imaginative, inspirational and intuitive teaching (Lunn & Bishop, 2003).
The changes made to the structures of ITT and to working practices in schools have implications for trainee teachers, particularly during school-based elements of their course.
Where trainee teachers were previously socialised into a child-centred, holistic model of primary education, they are now required to aspire to compliance with the standards for QTS and the delivery of subjects within government-led strategy frameworks. It is also possible, however, that more recent Government initiatives such as the Every Child Matters agenda (DfES, 2003a) have reinvigorated a holistic view of primary education. Such policies appear more developmentally concerned than prevailing curriculum frameworks and show interest for the individual learner, for activity and discovery and for curriculum integration (Surgue, 1998). The emergence of such policies and the reaction to such by teachers and teacher educators during the time frame of this research add to the complex range of contextual influences at play within trainee teacher development and provide additional reference points for each trainee during the ITT experience.
The development of teachers’ subject knowledge has been promoted by the government as a means through which educational practice can be improved. Reforms have ensured that the ‘acquisition and development of specific subject knowledge is at the centre of ITT’ (Poulson, 2001, p. 40). As a consequence of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies (DfEE, 1997 and DfEE, 1999) and subject focus of the NC for Key Stages 1 and 2 (DfES, 1999), an increased emphasis has been placed on developing what teachers know in the belief that this will improve teaching. Bennett (1993) and Brown, Collins & Duguid (1998) explain that such a ‘deficit model’ of teacher development has an inherent assumption that teachers can only teach what they know, even though quantifying effective primary teachers’ knowledge is highly problematic (Askew et al., 1997). This is particularly worrying where the literature suggests that many primary teachers lack confidence (borne out of perceived low levels of subject knowledge) in PE. The prevailing national curriculum for PE, based on activity areas may be, at least for some trainees, a conceptualisation of PE knowledge that is perceived as unattainable.
The influence of others Despite a Government-encouraged uniformity of approach, trainee primary teachers will interact and work alongside a number of professionals during ITT who may model alternative approaches to practice. Teachers are thought to interpret policy in different ways, according to their own concerns, beliefs and practices (Bowe, Ball & Gold, 1992; Helsby & McCulloch, 1997); they work as ‘creative mediators’ (Osborne, Croll, Broadfoot, Pollard, McNess & Triggs, 1997, p. 53) to view and interpret policy and experiences from a personal perspective.
Individual teachers are thought to assess policy in relation to their own beliefs and experiences and present a personalised version of official policy in their day to day practices (Burnett, 2006). Trainee teachers’ interactions with practising teachers in the school placement context provide relevant opportunities for the observation of real world practice, to observe how others have developed teaching strategies and to learn what approaches are deemed to be effective.
Trainee teachers in primary schools have a range of influences and mediators that go beyond compliance with centrally imposed frameworks and policies; it has been suggested that relationships with pupils, fellow trainees, colleagues in placement schools, family members and peers play a central role in the experiences of ITT trainees ( Lortie, 1975; McNally, Cope, Inglis & Stronach, 1997; Oberski, Ford, Higgins & Fisher, 1999 ; Williams & Soares, 2002;
Malderez et al., 2007). Despite the Government focus on subject knowledge discussed in chapter 2, trainee teachers are still thought most likely to base their practice on observations of the supervising teacher, resource book ideas and recollections from their own school days (Calderhead, 1988; Maynard, 1997). Whilst there is potential for trainee teachers to view the prescribed curriculum as an end in itself (Twiselton, 2000), trainee teachers are also thought to retain a sense of altruism and a desire to work in the best interests of the child (Hayes, 2001;
Thornton, Bricheno & Reid, 2002).
Some theorists conceptualise teaching identity as being produced through a lived experience within ‘communities of practice’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998), whereby the acquisition of competence within the teaching community and interaction with other community members leads to identity formation. In the case of trainee teachers, this induction into a community of practice may result in certain behaviours which align the individual with that group. There is also the possibility that newcomers may not ‘fit in’ with the established norm of the community (Colley, James, Tedder & Diment, 2003; Bathmaker & Avis, 2005) and therefore be excluded. Freeman (1999, p. 140) suggests, however, that although new teachers belong to a community of practice, they also belong to different ‘communities of explanation’, through which their practices can be interpreted and explained in different ways.
It is also possible for individuals to experience tension if they are members of different and distinctive communities of practice, or where particular communities of practice are more significant for identity development at any specific moment in time. This tension results in an on-going ‘reconciliation’ process, which may be the most significant challenge for learners moving from one community to another (Smith, 2007), such as the move from university based ITT components to school practice situations. As Britzman (2003, p. 19) points out, ‘a great deal of the story of learning to teach concerns learning what not to become’. This relationship between teacher identity, the professional context and the influence of other people is of significant interest to this research.
The context in which trainees learn to teach is thought therefore to affect teaching outcomes, or at least trainee teachers’ perceived confidence and competence to teach. This active engagement is presupposed by a positive ‘teaching self’ (Bullough, Knowles & Crow, 1991), seen to be a judgement on ‘fit-to-situation conception of self as teacher’ at a given moment in
time (Tang, 2004). During school based experiences in ITT, trainee teachers work towards a:
satisfactory level of security and belonging, respect and self-esteem, and a sense of personal competence (Bullough et al., 1991, p.77).
Such a framing process takes place during university-based ITT programmes and during school based experiences, which are further defined as the action context (Eraut, 1994), the socio-professional context (McNally et al., 1997), and the supervisory context (Slick, 1998), within which the university supervisor or school mentor’s role in professional learning is significant.
The ITT context (particularly the experiences provided in school-based settings) is thought to play a key role in framing and reframing personal conceptions and in the construction of new professional identities (Coldron & Smith, 1999). Some ITT programmes, however, appear not to break down prior conceptions of what it is to be a teacher (Zeichner & Gore, 1990) and, where this is matched with unsatisfactory school-based experiences, the trainee teacher will potentially learn very little. School based experience is at the heart of trainee teachers’ professional development (Ben-Peretz, 1995), yet concerns have been frequently raised about the quality of trainees’ experiences in school settings (Beck & Kosnik, 2002; Clark, 2002;
LaBoskey & Richert, 2002). Central to these concerns has been the belief that trainee teachers’ experiences in school may expose them to types of knowledge that run counter to the discourse in university and/or Government policy. Although theory and practice are closely intertwined, a trainee teacher can be subjected to both ‘theories in use’ and ‘espoused theories’ (Argyris & Schon, 1974). Trainee teachers’ practical experiences in school are therefore likely to be shaped by the multiple discourses they encounter and this has implications for the way knowledge is conceived (Burnett, 2006).
School based experiences during ITT provide a unique opportunity for the development and consolidation of a significant variety of knowledge and skills. Individual trainees actively engage with teaching and practice situations, providing clear opportunities for reflection.
Consideration may be given to the general organisational principles of the teaching and learning process (and the procedures that sustain effective teaching), to the culture, principles and values that guide the school institution and the teachers in their different roles, assignments and responsibilities (Schulman, 1986; McNally et al., 1997). Within this context, the role of mentor is important, guiding, supporting, advising and engaging through a discourse with the trainee teacher. However, as most mentors have been identified as effective practitioners and good role models, until they can make their practice and the rationale underpinning that practice accessible, they are unlikely to succeed as mentors (Corrigan & Peace, 1996, p. 25). The extent to which the development of primary trainees as teachers of PE is a specific focus within mentoring during school practice is currently unknown. School based experiences constitute what many researchers agree to be a crucial element of the ITT process, yet surprisingly little is known about subject specific mentoring in this context.
Most researchers view the relationship between mentors and trainee teachers as complex (Edwards & Collison, 1996; Malderez & Bodoczky, 1999), not least placing additional administrative and planning burdens on the teacher-mentor. Maderez et al. (2007) suggest that there is generally a considerable amount of variation in mentors’ understanding of their role and a need for more effective development opportunities, and the development of supportive relationships with mentors in school is thought to impact on trainees’ experiences and levels of enjoyment (McNally, Cope, Inglis & Stronach, 1994; McNally et al.,1997; Spear, Gould & Lee,. 1999). In relation to primary PE, Ashy and Humphries (2000) highlight the positive influence of field-based experiences during ITT for trainee class teachers although Xiang et al.
(2002) argue that experiences during school practice can have a detrimental impact on trainees’ motivation to teach PE. The importance of school based experiences and the relationship between trainee and class teacher/mentor in this context is therefore of interest to this investigation, particularly as a detailed understanding of how these contextual and social factors impact on the development of trainee primary teachers as teachers of PE is currently unclear.
The model of partnership between schools and training institutions may also present trainee
Situated learning contexts which are not only diverse but also have potentially disparate if not overtly conflicting discourses and agenda’ (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989, p. 301).
Trainee teachers could, it is argued, experience a lack of consistency in messages and styles of teaching between school-based experiences and university-based lectures. Situated learning experiences are highly important means through which trainees develop practical teaching knowledge and confidence, although where a lack of practical teaching experience in school is apparent, little may be done to modify preconceptions and existing beliefs (Hennessy, Rolfe & Chedzoy, 2001). This is particularly worrying where trainees do not see or support the teaching of PE during school based experiences because of alternative staffing arrangements (such as a specialist coach visiting the school during class teacher’s PPA time) or low curriculum priority being given to the subject. It is important, therefore, that the significance of school-based experiences during the ITT process, a realm of ITT that has significantly expanded through the increased emphasis on partnerships between schools and HEIs (Price & Willett, 2006), is not overlooked. The teacher development literature suggests the need for taught sessions to be followed up by high quality practical learning episodes in school settings within which trainees receive support and guidance by a trained and supported professional mentor.
Summary This chapter has identified key aspects of the critical literature relevant to teacher development, highlighting the complex, highly individualised factors and relationships at play.