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Felicity Beck

Warminster School
Church Street
Warminster
Wilts BA12 9PJ

Formerly of

John of Gaunt School
Wingfield Road
Trowbridge
Wilts BA14 9EH

 

BEST PRACTICE RESEARCH No. S 687

ORIGINAL AIMS

This piece of research was conducted in the belief that post 16 students learn and have improved recall if their learning includes a variety of experiences that take them out of the classroom environment, accessing an extended range of learning styles held by students.

Specifically, one major difficulty found in Design and Technology is that students find it very difficult to demonstrate an adequate level of knowledge as required by the exam board regarding industrial techniques and their application.

The aim was to increase this understanding by arranging off site visits to a variety of industrial sites and incoming visits from experts working in industry and commerce, in the expectation that learning would improve as a result.

IN WHAT WAY WERE AIMS REFINED?

The first and unsolicited finding was that students were not as effective independent learners as expected; without guidance they were unable to take advantage of novel situations.

Before looking at the end results i.e. any effect on understanding, learning and retention, it was necessary to review student's preparation before entering these situations, with the aim of enabling them to benefit from the experience. Therefore the first aim became to enable students to enter new situations with confidence.

Instruction and role playing scenarios were set up to improve understanding and confidence. It also involved question preparation, practice question and answer sessions to enable the students to gain the information that was sought as well as to increase self assurance and reduce anxiety. This was found to be absolutely essential as very little was gained from visits without thorough preparation.

WHICH RESEARCH PROCESSES DID I FIND HELPFUL?

The fact that this was a piece of action research was extremely beneficial. It meant that although there were expected outcomes, I was able to use findings as they occurred to shape the research process. One of the most helpful processes was the reviewing of student's acquisition of knowledge at an earlier stage than would usually have taken place. This enabled the structure of sessions to be altered in order to improve student's ability to access information.

As with all pieces of research, it was also a learning process for me, endowing me with a sense of affinity with the students and what they were experiencing, understanding what they might find intimidating, making it a collaborative process, resulting in mutually beneficial development.

WHICH RESEARCH PROCESSES DID STUDENTS FIND HELPFUL?

The fact that this was an interactive piece of research benefited the students in that they undertook their own research into their investigative skills. They were then able to take advantage of feedback given on how they had improved - i.e. when writing up relevant industrial visits - which enabled them to validate their own research. Students were able to view this development as a life skill, useful as personal progression as well as in other areas of the curriculum.

WHAT WERE THE LEARNING POINTS GAINED FROM UNDERTAKING THE RESEARCH AND SUBSEQUENT FINDINGS?

After instruction and practise, students were able to make more effective use of opportunities such as industrial visits or visiting experts, and the realism and novelty of these situations did improve recall.

A very small cohort of students was studied here, so findings could be put down to individual differences, however, having discussed the findings with other teachers of post 16 students, I think it is safe to conclude that expected key skills are lower than expected, and need to be consolidated before benefits from the variety of learning experiences will become evident.

Overall, the experience has increased my awareness of learning opportunities and the barriers that exist making them inaccessible to students. This has made me more flexible in my approach to teaching which I hope has improved the learning environment that I create.

WHAT EVIDENCE RELATES TO THIS LEARNING AND YOUR FINDINGS?

Students were interviewed and also filled in evaluation sheets as part of the process for recording evidence. Specifically, coursework sections relating to industry were more effectively completed and received a higher proportion of marks than in previous years. Students had established much better working relationships with industrial mentors than had previously occurred, again resulting in more effective evaluative comments throughout their coursework as a whole.

WHAT ARE THE QUESTIONS FOR YOUR FUTURE PRACTICE?

This process was very labour intensive and could only be undertaken with small group sizes, so the question would be how to maintain this in larger group sizes and across subject areas. Some possible tools have been identified:

· One of the tools used during sessions with students was a video camera. Initial unease at filming and being filmed soon passed and students were able to review and evaluate their own actions and improve their confidence before entering a new situation. This enabled them to take full use of opportunities presented; extremely useful as many of these were 'one off' situations. This is definitely an underused tool in the classroom situation and one for further development.

· Tape recording was identified as another inexpensive way of self and peer evaluation. Students (all female in this case) tended to be very self critical, this was useful for identifying what was done well in order to improve self-esteem, before targeting what could be improved.

· Usefulness of learning partners was also established; despite planning and good intentions, without the commitment of another being involved students were often unable to take work forward.

WHAT ARE THE QUESTIONS FOR YOUR SCHOOL?

Specifically relating to post 16 students, one of the questions raised is whether KS 5 students are being equipped with the skills to become and remain effective independent learners in the future? Evidence would suggest that students are acquiring skills but do not have the ability to see how these transfer to other areas of their life, be that other academic subjects, social situations or work placements. One possibility is that we could encourage this adaptability if as KS 5 teachers we communicated more ourselves across subject areas, identifying areas of commonality that students find difficult. Despite the many meetings that take place, there is not one that encompasses all KS5 teachers!

ARE THERE ANY QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH?

What are the true aims? Is it improved grades in our individual subject areas or is it to create students enthusiastic about learning; autonomous learners, better equipped to face their future as life-long learners? By making the learning experience as exciting and interactive as possible, equipping students with key skills, will improved academic results occur as a by-product? Is the correlation causal or incidental?

Can all students benefit in the same way? Is it possible to improve or enable the success of the more able at the same time as the less able? Do male and female students benefit from different learning experiences?

DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS

· Initial findings were discussed with other teachers within the research group. (This was particularly helpful as it directed the research in progress!)

· Summary sent to B Mackereth at John of Gaunt

· 6th form Centre, Warminster School

· Presentation planned

· WISEnet

· Clips of student interaction demonstrating some of the activities are available for perusal and evaluation.

 

 

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