Outcomes for continuing learning
Does the educational experience lead to development in knowledge, concepts, skills and attitudes?
Education is always, in a sense, about the tension between ‘what is’ and ‘what might be’. The role of the teacher is to support learners in moving forward to higher and higher levels of attainment.
Ensuring progression in the educational experiences provided for pupils is therefore vital. Only through new challenges can they deepen and broaden their knowledge. However, the ultimate educational goal is to support the development of self-motivated and resilient learners who are not only knowledgeable but capable of taking control of their own learning. Through encouragement to achieve personal learning goals at school, we sow the seeds of commitment to lifelong learning.
Reflective processes provide ways of marrying such ambitions, of reconciling what is and what might be. They enable teachers to monitor their own performance, both reflexively and in collaboration with others, and thus to stimulate their own continuing professional development.
Progression: does the curriculum-as-delivered provide an appropriate sequence and depth of learning experiences?
Teaching which consistently achieves cumulative progression for learners requires high levels of subject knowledge, three components of which were identified by Schulman (1986). ‘Content knowledge’ is fundamental. Teachers in full command of the raw material of their subject are better able to support, extend and deepen the learning of their pupils. However, teachers must also understand how to use such knowledge in their teaching. Such ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ enables expert teachers to connect the subject to the learner. The teacher understands the best way of explaining key points, of framing particular tasks, of using examples for their subject. One TLRP project studied ways of teaching secondary science (Millar et al, 2006). Another investigated ‘threshold concepts’ – big ideas without which further understanding in a field is blocked (Land et al, 2006).
The third and final form of subject expertise is ‘curricular knowledge’. This concerns understanding the way subject material is ordered, structured and assessed by national requirements, institutional policies or other circumstances.
Reflection: is classroom practice based on incremental, evidence-informed and collaborative improvement strategies?
This concept represents a commitment to continuing and principled professional improvement. Reflective practice is based on open-minded enquiry and a willingness to use evidence to challenge one’s own provision. This might be based on external evidence of school or pupil performance, on reading research findings, on small-scale personal enquiries or observations, on discussions or collaborative activities with colleagues. There are many possibilities but, in all cases, evidence is used to generate re-appraisal. In this way, taken-for-granted thinking is challenged and professional judgement is refined. Working with colleagues in a department, school or network provides additional support and professional enrichment.
Reflective enquiry may be focused on particular problems or issues and is best carried out in systematic ways and for specific purposes. Understanding then becomes embedded in teacher expertise and enables decision-making at other times. Reflective teaching is supported in a comprehensive handbook (Pollard, 2008), collection of readings (Pollard, 2002) and a website (www.reflectiveteaching.co.uk) incorporating many TLRP findings.
Development: does formative feedback and support enable learners to achieve personal learning goals?
Physical, cognitive, social and emotional development all influence and are influenced by educational experiences. This, we know, is an enduring process (see for instance, Blyth, 1984). Resilient and resourceful learners develop when teaching combines appropriate challenge and support – ‘building learning power’, as Claxton puts it (2002).
Assessment for Learning aims to involve pupils in their own assessment so that they can reflect on where they are, where they need to go next and how to get there (Assessment Reform Group, 2002). This requires an understanding of desired outcomes and of appropriate processes of learning, as well as the opportunity and commitment to act on such knowledge. Such self-regulated approaches to learning can be nurtured by encouraging students to set personal learning goals and by providing supportive feedback. Long-term developmental outcomes concern pupils’ beliefs in themselves as learners, their skills in diagnosing learning challenges and their capacity for personal development in the future.