Foreword by Moira Laidlaw It is with great pleasure and a sense of fulfilment that I introduce the second part of this publication. It should already be clear from the Guide itself that Justine and I worked closely together in the academic year 1991-1992 and that both of us derived a great deal from the exchange of ideas and insights. It was decided quite late in the year for the Guide to be adapted to include the processes which led to her Final Report: when Jack Whitehead and I read what she had produced we were aware that here was something of real value to the educational world as a whole. Although it was obvious that Justine herself had gained a great deal from the writing of this Report (and her account gives us a full explanation of that truth), I found myself more and more convinced that her insights and conclusions could be of real significance to others engaging in their own enquiries and meeting the kinds of contextual, personal, professional and developmental challenges that Justine encounters. Her insights and conclusions are unique of course, but this Report stands as a testament to the kinds of work possible within the professional life of a new teacher. With all the above in mind I rewrote the Guide with the result that there is now a symbiotic relationship between the two. In other words one is enhanced by the other and understood best in conjunction with it.
I think it is vital as I have said before, for us to share our work in education, to break away from the idea that we are isolated technicists, carrying out individually instructions from on high. Justine shows us vividly how she comes to her understanding and the uses she makes of that understanding. She shows us a commitment to those elements I mentioned in the Epilogue of the Guide: a critical self-knowledge leading to good practice.
In particular I draw the reader’s attention to the way that she has attempted to combine her telling of the narrative with the insights of others - pupils, colleagues, tutors, and academic writers. She exemplifies the notion that Action Research is at its most emancipatory as a methodology and philosophy when it develops collaboratively.
I hope that in reading her account you are as struck as I am by Justine’s aspiration towards achieving in practice the value of respecting the other, of social justice, of learning for pleasure as well as instruction, and the importance of, in her own words, ‘moving the students to a better world’.
The Dream “Good Morning, Year Ten! I hope you all managed to have a little think about the work we were doing yesterday...”
I was interrupted by Laura putting her hand up. She seemed to have something very important to say and so I let her take the floor.
“Ma’am, I had this ideas yesterday about how we might made this topic seem more real and relevant to us, so I discussed it with some of the others and if you don’t mind, we would like to take over for a little while.
As she paused from her excited outburst I had time to think. Could I trust Laura and co. to take over the lesson? Well it was certainly worth giving it a go.
“How do the rest of you feel about this?”
There seemed to be general murmurs of approval and no dissenting voices stood out. I decided to hand over to them and hope for the best.
What then happened was wonderful. It would seem that not only had Laura had an idea, but she had also thought it through with the co-operation of others. They proceeded to enact a scene where Jewish families were victimised for no other reason than their race, and they cleverly drew other members of the class into their sensitive empathy exercise. I sat back and watched in awe as the class became caught under a spell of enjoyment. They were enjoying what was happening. Sometimes a few got a little carried away, but this was soon sorted out deftly by another member of what now seemed a family rather than a class. I looked at my watch and realized that it was time to clear away before the bell went. I was loathe to break the spell and so sat tight. The bell went and no one made a move. The lesson went on into break and then finally at the end of break, like the Wicked Witch of the West, I shattered the spell and thanked them for a wonderful time and asked them to go to their next lesson.
The next lesson I had with Year Ten I approached with trepidation. How could I follow that? I need not have feared. The class realized that that lesson was pretty special and couldn’t be repeated. I moved on to the next part of the topic and was greeted with openness and enthusiasm. Questions were fired and thoughts voiced. Again it was a real shame when the lesson ended.
And this was the dream...the dream was to promote enthusiasm and joy in learning in my classroom.
I fell asleep that night thinking of my Year Ten class and awoke to realize that it had all in fact been a dream. Laura had not volunteered to direct the class. They did not work through the bell. There was not a love affair between learning and my Year Ten class going on. It was all a dream.
Introduction I am about to embark on the biggest piece of writing of my life. The general attitude amongst colleagues is that the idea of sitting down to write a special study is a chore. I, however, am looking forward to the prospect of attempting to explain my school experience to show how I have moved forward in my understanding of what I believe Education is all about. I feel that the writing of a special study is the natural corollary to a nine week teaching practice. However, I do acknowledge that this is only the case when you are writing about something relevant. The subject of relevancy would seem to be at the heart of this analysis of my relationship with a certain Year 10 class. In attempting to address the question:
“How can I help year 10 enjoy gaining an understanding of Nazi Germany?” I discovered that I was in fact beginning the process of realizing what I felt was important in the classroom. Or, put another way, I was discovering my educational values. In attempting to motivate the pupils to enjoy their lessons I realize that I was making huge assumptions about the atmosphere I wanted in the classroom and why I felt this atmosphere was important. When I first met this class I noticed that the group were resigned and apathetic. I felt that it was imperative to eradicate this lethargy before any meaningful learning could take place. The various techniques I employed and the emerging relationship with one particular student illuminated for me, that I was expressing values in the classroom. This in itself is a major landmark. I recall a conversation with Moira on 31.10.91, when I said:
“Your advantage is that you’re so much more aware of your values..............whereas I’m still not sure of mine..............Maybe more what I should have said, then, is that you maybe know the issues that you want to develop your values through, whereas I’m not even sure at the moment what the issues are that I could discover the values about. “ I went on to comment:
“So that’s why I wonder ‘what is all this about?’ .........some days it’s clearer than others. Some days it’s I don’t know . I’ve only been here six weeks. What do I know? What am I really thinking about these issues?” These extracts from the conversation with Moira clearly show how confused I was before the beginning of my first teaching practice. I felt that I had no clear understanding of what it really meant to be in the classroom. The theoretical discussions of values had left me floundering. I was struggling to understand how in the classroom my own values would emerge. What indeed were values? Would I walk into the classroom on my first lesson and there would be a crash of thunder, a bolt of lightning and a puff of blue smoke and the wise sorcerer of Educational Philosophy would appear and hand me a leather bound manuscript with the words:
“Justine’s Educational Values”
engraved upon it. This was the extent of my incomprehension.
Now, seven months on, the issues are certainly clearer. No sorcerer appeared and yet, through my first teaching practice and through various incidents on my second teaching practice, my own beliefs and values are surfacing. In this paper I would like to attempt to show how my work with one year 10 G.C.S.E History group, and the development of a special relationship with one particular pupil has helped me to discover some of my values, and I would like to try to show how my teaching (with the emergence of these values) has helped me to enhance the learning of this group.
The style in which I have chosen to write this explanation is one which I feel is relevant to me. In the first assignment I wrote for this course I identified the importance of finding the right level for a group as what I felt one of the keys to successful teaching to be. By this I meant finding a style and level that would be relevant to a class. This point about relevance in the classroom is also pertinent to relevancy in writing about experiences in the classroom. In the assignment I wrote:
“the key element seems to be the ability to strike the right note - or reach the right level - with each particular age group. By this I mean achieving the right balance of lecturing, discussion, participation. document work and so forth. If the right language is used and the right examples chosen to emphasize a topic, success is far more likely.” 1 I still agree that finding the right note and level is absolutely crucial to successful teaching. However, I would now go further and say that it is not just the age group that it is important but it is each individual class and all the characters that make up that class which is important. One approach and level that may be appropriate to one Year 10 class might not be successful and appropriate for another Year 10 class. This can be taken to its logical conclusion that the right particular note for one individual within a class of the same age range, will not necessarily be, and probably won’t be, what is right for the next personality. I came up against this with my Year 10 group. This is, for me, what makes being in the classroom so much fun. It is an opportunity to get to know everyone, and attempt to suss out what ‘makes them tick’. Not only is it fascinating to discover the mazes of personalities in a room and the best way to find the path to the centre of the maze, it is also fulfilling to give the clearest and best possible instructions to those personalities so that they can make it easily to the centre of the teacher maze. Perhaps it is wrong to call the teacher a maze. Ideally the teacher should not be seen as anything so complex or inaccessible as a maze. So what should the teacher be? Obviously not a mountain, and not even a hill. Perhaps the teacher should in fact be some sort of travelling companion who is also trying to find the centre of the same maze. Therefore, I think that I am describing the learning process as a journey that is made together between pupil and teacher. Or should I say pupil and grown-up pupil? This then leads to all sorts of questions about what the role of a teacher is, and how can a teacher be the best possible guide. Hopefully I will begin to answer some of these questions throughout this paper.
The journey itself is an enjoyable experience, and I have now come to believe that this is the only way that I can begin to promote learning in the classroom. I am aware that I have just articulated a value that I hold. In fact, not just one value but several. It would seem that the wise sorcerer of Educational philosophy has been generous with his gifts at last! Throughout this study I hope to show how I have attempted to live out some of these values.
Therefore, getting back to the original point of working in a style that is relevant, I am attempting to explain my educational progress in reference to my work with year 10 I am writing in a style that is relevant to me.
Why write this Special Study? Why indeed? At this point in time I am not totally sure of all the reasons for writing this study. The real question is, what is the value in writing this study? There are two reasons that are clearly apparent to me. Firstly, by writing this study it will help me to consolidate all that I have learnt this year as shown to me through my work with year 10. I will be able to enunciate my values and show where I have and have not lived them out. By doing this I should hopefully be able to move my own teaching practice forward in the future. Secondly, I will be able to show others, and here I think I mean my colleagues and tutors what has occurred in my educational experience. Now I need to consider whether I feel that the sharing has any value beyond that small world. Lee Shulman advocates the use of action research case studies as a way of making sense of education. He compares educational case studies to Law case studies. He comments that:
“We have these great ideas, we teach, and they flop! And then we try to figure out what happened and we work from there. One of the things about case studies like these is that students can learn how to read those cases, much as Law students learn how to read legal cases........It’s a way of framing and organising the landscape of their experience in terms of that kind of syntax.” 2
I originally struggled with the idea that an explanation of what has happened in my classroom will help anyone else. This is because I fervently believe that every school is different, every class is different, all the individuals that make up that class are different and of course each teacher is different, just as every day is different. How could my experience therefore be relevant to anyone else? In a discussion with Moira on 31.5.92 she compared the case study to the practical exposition of a map of a landscape, the landscape being education. The value of this was made clear to me when Moira asked me if reading such a study would have proved useful back in October when I was unable to expound my values in an educational context. I then realized that if I had read such a study I could probably start to ask myself questions about the issues and values that were emerging. Shulman asks the question:
“How do we develop a strategy for developing what I am going to call a syntax of cases so that as you criss-cross this landscape you have a sense that there’s a structure there?” I suppose that his answer to this is that we systematically document our experiences in the classroom to provide this “syntax of cases” that “criss-cross this landscape”. In my capacity of student teacher I am struggling to appreciate that I have a contribution to make here. Maybe as I progress with writing my special study this will all become clearer.
I fully appreciate a remark made by Walker and quoted by McNiff:
“What is changed most by research is the researcher - it is almost always the researcher who learns the most, changes most, has most commitment to the project and most at stake if it fails.” 3
The Question After a week on my second teaching practice, there seemed to be two main areas of concern emerging from the sea of questions. The first was a concern with my Upper 6th form group. I was very conscious of my own bias and specifically political bias that was emerging in our lessons. This greatly concerned me because I felt that I was not dealing with the issue ‘properly’. I was constantly reminded of my ‘A’ Level Political Studies teacher, who professed to be politically motivated and indeed active within local party politics. Throughout the two year course, the ‘A’ Level group, myself included, were unable to discover her political affiliations. This to me is a great testament to her objectivity and impartiality. I struggled inwardly to find a way to handle my own bias and opinions. I could not decide if it would be best to ‘come clean’ and admit my political persuasions or try to be impartial, objective and non-partisan at all times. I feel that this is an important area to look at particularly when teaching History. However, this appeared to be very problematic to tackle because I would have to rely heavily upon feedback from the students. This group were feeling the pressures of the rapidly approaching ‘A’ Level examinations and I did not feel that it was appropriate to ask for more of their time to carry out collaborative research. This shows a value that was to emerge again later. In fact a value that often reared its contentious head throughout my action research enquiry. This is the issue of whether I have the right to ‘use’ students in collecting data and evidence. The whole prospect of ‘using’ students is anathema to me. It is a delicate situation that has to be carefully approached whilst constantly evaluating motives and methods as well as outcomes. The subject of bias is one that I hope to look at in the future, when it would seem fairer to involve the students and ask for their cooperation.
The second area of concern was regarding my Year 10 mixed ability G.C.S.E History group.
Enter Year 10 Why did I choose to work with Year 10? There was quite obviously a need to help motivate this group. On my preliminary visit before teaching practice began I observed the lesson whilst talking to the regular teacher. Even at this stage I could detect the negative atmosphere in the classroom. I didn’t fully develop or crystallize these thoughts consciously at the time, however, at some level I must have acknowledged that there was a problem because in a conversation with Moira after my preliminary visit but before teaching practice actually began I seemed to be admitting that there was something that was concerning me about this class. My thoughts were vague at this stage but I did manage to intonate that there was the potential for an enquiry with this class. The conversation on 28.2.92 with Moira evolved thus :
“Moira:Is there anything that about your teaching practice that you want to, in terms of looking at it within the action research questioning, whether you’ve got some idea of the area that you might be looking at.
Justine: It’s very general. All I can say is, I think the area will be something to do with my actual relationship with the class rather than actually conveying certain things but in a way, I think it would be easier to look at a question of how can I make Hitler’s Germany come to life for a fourth year. I think in a way that’s an easier question than to say how can I get on better with the fourth years so that they enjoy my lessons more. In general, but that seems to me to be harder, harder to quantify at the end.
Moira: And if you get to know a particular class, your relationship with them has got to be an integral part of it, hasn’t it?
Justine: Yeah.” I think what this conversation shows is that at this stage I was still not fully appreciating the significance of the relationship between teacher and pupil. I believe that I was getting there, and do implicitly acknowledge the importance of having a good relationship with the class to be conducive to learning. However, it is Moira really that spells out the symbiotic nature of a good relationship with a class and the promotion of learning (with enjoyment). Obviously by my lacklustre response at the time (“yeah” !) I had not fully taken on board this idea. I now realize that this is central and crucial. I think that I think that the two issues are really in fact the same issue. That is, improving motivation in a class and having a good relationship with them are mutually inclusive.
Why, therefore, do I think that this particular class had problems? The class had had many interruptions due to teacher absence for several weeks. As I have already commented, when I first observed this class I felt that there was some apathy in the classroom. It made a stark contrast to year 10 on my first teaching practice. Last time I was teaching the Wild West and if there was ever any apathy over that topic I found it a little easier to understand (I appreciate that that is a loaded and totally biased statement!) However, this time with the topic being Nazi Germany I found it very difficult to understand why there was so little interest. This could be me being blinded by my own passion for this era of history, but I still believe that this is a topic that has alot of potential to be interesting and stimulating to all ages. To this puzzle of why there was no enthusiasm, I can now identify several possible factors:
1. There was unease in the class because their teacher had missed a lot of lessons. There was no continuity and not a lot of interest had been sparked because the students were sometimes left to work alone and so it was difficult to bring the subject alive.
2. The class itself contains some difficult characters and also the class is very fragmented into distinct cliques. This made the class seem made up of various little competing groups.
It therefore seemed necessary to do something drastic to try and win this class over and to motivate them a little. The topic seemed to be out of their grasp and understanding and I wanted to do something to bring it all alive. Hence the emergence of the question.
The topic of Nazi Germany is a very exciting one, but this excitement was not apparent in the classroom. It therefore seemed that the challenge was on!
What were my aims? Fundamentally I wanted to encourage real learning in this subject through empathy and enjoyment. I wanted the class to start to motivate themselves with the realization (consciously or subconsciously) that learning could be fun. The atmosphere I strived for was one in which learning was not a chore but an adventure.
Carl Rogers comments that there are two types of learning:
'Learning, I believe, can be divided into two general types, along a continuum of meaning. At the one end of the scale is................the learning of nonsense syllables............In contrast there is such a thing as significant, meaningful, experiential learning.” 4 It is this kind of “experiential” learning that I hoped to promote in my classroom. Carl Rogers goes on to say that :
“Nearly every student finds that large portions of his curriculum are for him, meaningless. Thus education for him becomes the futile attempt to learn material that has no personal meaning.” 5 I would like to believe that I was constantly striving to address this problem of relevance to the students. I can appreciate from my own school experience that if an issue or subject had little obvious relevance to my own life I found it hard to get interested in a subject and hence learning was impaired. This presumes that a student must be interested before learning can take place.
Real learning, or perhaps a better word is understanding, will only take place when the student is genuinely interested. This is not to say that superficial learning (or indeed, recall) will not take place in the disinterested student, but this is not the real learning and understanding that will have a lasting and profound influence. Of this superficial learning, Carl Rogers says:
“Such learning involves the mind only. It is a learning that takes place ‘from the neck up”. It does not involve feelings or personal meanings; it has no relevance for the whole person.” 6 I believe that it is important to look at what various academic theorists have said on the subject of learning and empathy, because it is all relevant (and that after all, is one of my aims for myself as well as the classroom).
I believe that empathy is an important skill and asset which can be developed through History lessons. It is also an effective way to achieve deep learning. Carl Rogers uses the illustration of a toddler, who touches a warm radiator, will learn and remember what the word ‘hot’ means. Marshall McLuhan cites the example:
“If a five-year-old child is moved to a foreign country and allowed to play freely for hours with her new companions, with no language instruction at all, she will learn the new language in a few months and will acquire the proper accent too.”’ 7 He explains that this is