I did an observation of someone's else's lesson today and it got me thinking about "practice". We often hear the phrase "Practice Makes Perfect". But it doesn't necessarily ... Practice makes Permanent and is only Perfect if it is Perfect Practice: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect (and permanent)!. So what am I trying to say? When we are learning we need to know the right thing to do and then we need to practice that so that we remember how to do it when the time comes. If we don't learn it correctly but it is near enough and that is what we practice then we will reproduce the near enough result, but it won't get any better than that. That is why we need to reflect on our own practice (teaching practice now) ... we plan and then do. If we don't review and adjust we could end up doing the same "do" again making that more permanent but still possibly flawed. So we review, make changes and do again with differences until we are happy and then we can practice that perfect session time and time. Life is of course not that simple and nothing is ever the same again ... different learners with different needs, different day etc.  Perhaps that is a good thing as it gives use variation and surely that helps our practice as well to adapt.

In maths or sport where we are practising one element then making sure what we practice is right is important if we are going to practice repeatedly. As a teacher we need to make sure a student has got it before we ask for repeated practice otherwise later when that student recalls that element they will recall the one they practised. How many times have you pressed the wrong key on a keyboard when typing or misspelt the same word repeatedly. Perhaps in a earlier life you we not corrected early enough and so revert back to old ways. (This leads onto the theory of memory ... but not today!). We get into bad habits!

Practice can be done in a number of ways:

Block Practice or Constant Practice: repeated practice of exactly the same thing in blocks of 10 say, with no change to any of the variables
Bilateral Practice: repeating the activity on both sides - perhaps throwing with alternate hands or paddling on both sides. Most sports are bilateral. Does this apply to academic subjects?
Varied Practice: practising the same skill in different ways by varying elements of the practice. This is used lots for all kinds of teaching. In maths we can set different problems to solve using the same technique or using different games to practice it.
Random Practice: practising different skills one after the other to mix it up a bit. Maybe the skills are not related at all.
Ref: McMorris & Hale (2006; 97) devote a whole chapter to practice and explain that 

"Practice is essential if learning is to take place. To cognitivists, practice follows instruction. It is the key factor in the immediate and autonomous stages of Fitts and Posner, while Anderson would see it as being when we move from declarative knowledge (knowing what to do) to procedural knowledge (developing the ability to perform the task). To the dynamical systems theorists, practice is learning."

There is some evidence that these types of practice have different effects depending on the level of the learner in the first place and also that random practice can help develop longer lasting skills of better quality in the long term. Generally these definitions are applied to motor-skills, but I believe they are relevant to intellectual skills as well such as maths and English. By including varied practice of skills within sessions, we keep the interest of our students by offering different mini-sessions, we make sure we are covering all our learning types as well but offering varied practice as each mini-session can be aimed at different learners possibly. But do we include Random Practice? I wonder whether by doing a bit of this and a bit of that (maybe not obviously related) and then something else ... it may be confusing to begin with, but perhaps in the long term it will all come together. and could be repeated on another occasion. I am not sure how easy this would be to include in a lesson, but I do think it would be interesting to try - perhaps by introducing a new skill that lesson, but going back to old ones randomly and then coming back to the new one again?

In the sessions we run we often bring in things to a session which we know we will refer to again in another session. It is not necessarily one of that session main outcomes, but a by-product perhaps. In a sense it may be a bit random, and unlikely to sink in then. But when that is referred back to on another session where it is the main outcome, you know as a teacher that they already have some experience of that particular thing. For example: in teaching canoe coaching we teach VAK. In lesson 1 when we are teaching a safety brief we mention "show, tell, do" in the capsize drill. We have used non-technical words which indicate a need to show a move, tell or explain the move in words and then get people to do the move. In the next session we work on a teaching style which incorporates VAK: that of IDEAS (Intro, Demo, Explanation, Activity & Summary) and we are able to refer back to the "show-tell-do" activity of the previous session. This makes the learning steps to a complex teaching framework of IDEAS understandable. We are also re-enforcing the concept of IDEAS within our own teaching of the entire course, as we have an intro to the course and lessons, a physical demonstration of the kind of session we expect the students to be able to deliver by the end of the course, we explain how the theory works and the framework etc and then we ask the students to do their own (practice more than once) and then summarise. This is a good basic framework for any lesson or even series of lessons.

 
 
On Monday I delivered a micro-teach session. I was trying to use a group activity based session to develop students thoughts about their learning styles and how (if at all) that might affect their our teaching styles. I did it by wrapping a session inside a session and judging by the feedback sheets that our tutor asked everyone to complete I think I actually succeeded.
When everyone was asked to give me verbal feedback I got a lot of feedback about the group activity which was interesting for me because I thought perhaps they had missed the main point that was learning styles - after all that part of the session was set out deliberately so each person would take on the most comfortable role in the group (which they did). I had created a focus of learning styles for them to consider during the session and it would seem that that did work as I had hoped because of the debate that followed and the comments on my feedback.
One of the points in the feedback was being clear on outcomes and that they wanted to know what the outcomes were. I am intrigued by this - I did tell them to consider learning styles and I pulled that together at the end. You don't tell a student that you are working on their confidence as an outcome, but you may well set achievable tasks so that internally they feel good and so confidence grows. You might at the end of the session praise them that what they have done has shown good confidence. They may still not be aware that one of your outcomes was increasing their confidence! In the Level 3 coach training I received we had a lot of coaching techniques which created intrinsic feedback so the learner can work out whether they have got it or improved. So I suppose with the confidence issue a tutor might ask a question about it, e.g "How confident did you feel when completing those tasks?". Should I have created a longer list of questions to start the debate going regarding learning styles and hoped that they drew out the conclusion that they affect teaching preference? This would have taken much longer than I had ... so I gave them the answer I wanted.
However, I do need to be able to score my students against some thought out level, so that as a teacher I can demonstrate outcomes that have been achieved. When I look at the answers to the questions I set I do have some evidence that they were thinking about learning styles (but were the questions leading?). Whether I have created a longer term thinking process or awareness I cannot know, but if I were to follow up this session we could explore further the theory of learning styles and then get students to device a simple teaching task in using different teaching styles individually and them deliver them. Each student could then consider which they found easy to deliver and which were harder and how the change their own sessions to include the harder learning styles.
So in conclusion I think my micro-teach session worked well and achieved what I wanted, but was just the start. I should work on finding ways to measure outcomes and write that down against student names. I also find it really difficult to create debate or discussion - perhaps I should have gone around the room asking each person for their opinion - I will check out the Active Learning booklet to see if there are some ideas there that can help. I suppose a white board and a bit more time there would have been good.
 
 
I've been reading:
Cotton, J. (1995) The Theory of Assessment An Introduction. London: Kogan Page Ltd.

Cotton (1995: 5) writes about the difference between assessment and evaluation as the former being "the process of judging individual learners" and the latter is "the process of judging learning programmes, including teacher performance". The "same tools can be used for each process". It is important that we recognise that both processes are important to allow progress. If assessment of our learners helps determine what they know and so we can see progression, we should also be evaluating our own abilities to achieve this very process.

I have also been reading about effective learning and teaching:
Jarvis, M. (2005) The Psychology of Effective Learning and Teaching. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes Ltd.

Jarvis (2005: 74) defines learning style, learning strategy and cognitive style. I have heard of learning styles before. Jarvis (2005:74) defines learning styles is how we process information. This will depend on out cognitive style (the way people think which is probably hard wired from birth or culturally) and learning strategy which an adaptation to learning tasks which will be affected by habits, experience, motivation and practical constraints as well as our cognitive style. It would appear that there are loads of models of learning styles which Jarvis (2005:80) discusses and references. I have heard of Honey & Mumford's 4 types of learners as we use this to help paddlesport coaches at Level 2
Honey, P. and Mumford, A. (1992) The manual of learning styles. Revised Edition. Maidenhead: Peter Honey

There are other models including Felder and Silverman's pan-theoretical model and Riding's two robust dimensions. I can see that there are some similarities across these models and that each one could be useful. It is important to remember that they are only models (not the real world) and so are useful tools for us to recognise that we are all different and see the world differently. Clearly some testing has been done on the models to assess their usefulness. What I notice is that different learning styles may well be associated with different subjects, e.g. Jarvis (2005: 86) quotes that for cooperative learning is better liked by "wholistic imagers and least in analytic verbalisers". Also

"Achievement in different subjects can also be understood by reference to the two dimensions of the CSA (Riding's model called Cognitive Styles Analysis). Analytic verbalisers do best in English whereas wholist imagers do best in maths and science. ... Understanding the learning dimensions underlying achievement in different subjects and success in studying in different ways opens up the way to improving achievement. For example, increasing the image content in English and the verbal content in maths and science should help compensate for the natural weaknesses of students who often underachieve in these areas."

I am going to develop my micro teach to try to use a practical active group session to highlight that learning styles may effect our own teaching styles and hence the success of our students. Well I only have half an hour so maybe I just create some debate! I believe that we have to recognise our own strengths and weaknesses as teachers to make sure that we are inclusive in our teaching techniques. Not everything we do will work for everyone, but we should include a range of teaching activities/styles to include everyone and maybe we also increase the experience for everyone and so improve people's learning strategies. When teaching adults we will get what the compulsory sector has helped create and so we will have to open their minds to receive the information that previously they have found hard or impossible, for example maths, English and ICT!  By integrating post compulsory with compulsory educators we will learn from each other and realise that as teachers we can grow and students will benefit too.
 
 
So I have been thinking about why active lessons are better for learning and what it is about them that means they work. Do they work for everyone?
I am comparing two sessions:
A. an active session where the task set was to match information to questions or within a known formatted document.
B. a quiz style question and answer session where information has been provided at some point and is expected to be recalled.

Both sessions are active and both are a form of assessment based activity and could be used by the teacher as formative or summative assessment depending on.how the feedback or answers are given.

What are the differences ...
In session A the content for learning is there in front of the students and it is a matter of putting each answer in the right place like a jigsaw. Students have an opportunity to self assess as they go through each answer to fit it into place, since they know that there is only one answer per question they can swap things about if time allows. This could be done individually or in groups depending on the needs and support required. The teacher is freed up to walk about the classroom to answer queries and check understanding, learning and knowledge. Since the answers are there the students are focussing on the correct knowledge. If in groups there may be some debate about the answers to create some understanding and this can also be guided by the teacher input. However if words or acronyms are used that are unknown to students this could provide some barriers to completing the task. The teacher would need to set the task at the appropriate level for the students, but at least has time in the lesson to check with observation.

In session B it is more like a test and is looking at whether students know the information, either collectively in a group or individually. If students lack confidence in their own answer (even if it is right) they may choose not to answer at all and so no judgement can be made as to whether the student knows the answer or not - the assumption is not. However if the answers are given at the end the student may feel more confident afterwards on hearing the answer, but there may not be evidence beforehand for the teacher. If this is done in a quiz like style then the teacher is occupied with reading out questions or controlling the power point and may not have the opportunity to check understanding on an individual basis. As a quiz or test it may be important for some students to come prepared, which could be done in the preceding part of the session with a clear indication that a test will be done. This could help students concentrate on the content beforehand or do some revision of the subject.

In both sessions the teacher can make formative assessments of the students by observation. The first session doesn't necessarily test knowledge, but is about teaching and opening up the thinking processes. I think in lesson A it is possible to increase confidence in individuals by support and guidance since the teacher has the time to go around the group. In session B the Q&A style quiz is about testing, rather than learning (although some learning will occur for some when the answers are read out) and is useful for both formative and summative assessments of knowledge. How the quiz is delivered may make a difference to how it is received. An exam is a type of quiz and is a useful method of assessment against criteria and will be treated as such. Students need preparation for this kind of thing. As a fun quiz, it could be a quick thing at the end to check and repeat words which need to be remembered perhaps. For those who perhaps cannot remember quickly in that competitive environment they may feel uncomfortable and it could undermine confidence & create barriers to learning.

So active sessions can provide motivation, but the structure needs to be right and the information needs to be available in some way. By being active it should free up the teacher to be able to support individuals where necessary. Active sessions need to be fun and where there is an idea as the teacher devising it, we need to consider the class in front of you. Barriers to learning can come in the form of lacking confidence rather than knowledge and we need to recognise and address this with individuals. Sometimes we need to create lessons where people can perform at their own pace and increase their confidence, so learning can actually take place. Test are always important for assessment, but even these can actually provide the answers in multiple choice questions as well as simply knowledge remembering.

Considering lacking confidence, in Sports Science there is something called the arousal model where as arousal increases performance can also increase until a point of "too high" arousal where performance just drops away to nothing! It takes a long time for a learner to recover from that point until they are ready to learn again.(UKCC L3 coach paddlesport course - Kim Bull). Petty (1998: 50) draws a diagram to show increased anxiety lowers performance as a curve and that this is a form of de-motivation. I am not sure that it is de-motivation so much as a barrier to learning in that the brain cannot cope with taking in information. I experienced a high arousal state once when I was trying out a new method of teaching canoeing (during my UKCC L3 training) where I used a guided discovery technique to teach lining - a technique to move a canoe upstream using ropes. One lady got frustrated and eventually was in tears because she got cross with herself for not doing it right! If I had not been practising "Guided Discovery" I would have intervened earlier to prevent it. Having said that it was a very good illustration of arousal going past the point of usefulness and performance completely disappearing! I had to leave the lady in question to sort herself out as she was totally incapable of joining in at that point! It showed me that there are subjects that need a mixture of teaching techniques to provide learning and the input of a command like "face the bow upstream" in this instance would have provided a quick fix and prevented the over-arousal of one student without interfering with other students learning experience. We do need to be working for all students in our class and devising methods which include the "lowest denominator" whatever that might be. The other students do not need to know that is why they are learning in that way, but we has teachers need to know it provides equal learning opportunities.

The multiple choice paper, where the right answer is actually there in front of you can give the student confidence in being tested and jog their memory. With a carefully designed paper a teacher can assess a students knowledge. This in itself would not necessarily be a teaching aid though ... a summative assessment after the knowledge has been taught. Unless the students get chance to discuss how they answered the test and where their knowledge lies. The test I did on Monday for literacy and numeracy was also good as there was no time limit (so you could consider the questions at your own pace) and it was sold as an individual test (i.e. against yourself only) to assess your ability for the college to offer help if needed. The result was also instant which means no worrying by the student. There were even calculators provided on some maths questions where the ability to use the right method was being sort rather than the ability to add up!! We were not discouraged from using paper if we wanted to either.

Some of my fellow PGCE students have talked about using active lessons with test papers, where their students are working in groups to discuss and devise the best answers based on a  marking scheme - this seems to me excellent as the students will have had a go at the paper already, so should know the content at some level, but by sharing thoughts and seeing how something is marked they can learn how to answer the questions on the test as well as gaining revision on the actual material - double outcomes!

 
 
I found this today ... someone else blog but saying lots of things that made sense .... "A man who carries a cat by the tail ..."

How we learn matters ...

There are lots of theories which I think are all relevant depending what you are looking at. We as human beings like to order our information so we can make sense of it and I guess that is why there are lots of theories! Petty (2009:4) introduces "three schools of learning".
A Cognitive School which links to Bloom's taxonomy of there being levels of learning skills from knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis to evaluation and these link to the depth of meaning and getting students to make connections, which aids memory & learning.
The second is Behaviourist School which talks about reward be-getting motivation be-getting success and so on. So learners can learn with reward (like animals do when positively trained to perform).
Humanistic School is about the need for learners to be self-directed and so choose what to learn. The theory being that being forced to learn things can be demoralising and so failure is likely. These emotional factors and a persons own growth and development are therefore paramount to learning.

I my mind all three link together and each simplifies the complex process of learning. We also have models such as the type of learner we are (hence the link above - not going to repeat something that has already been written so eloquently!). So Honey & Mumford (1997) theorist, activist, pragmatist and reflector approach. Then we have visual, audio, (thinker), kinaesthetic known as VA(R)K, Kolb's 4 stage cycle (mentioned on a earlier blog) etc. of which Honey & Mumford's approach may be considered a variation of.

So why does it matter how we learn, after all as teachers we need to accommodate everyone and so devise lessons that will cover all these different learning styles. We know as well that people's learning style changes with age, wisdom, what we are learning, the environment etc. That in itself is useful. We also know that particular types of people move into particular types of jobs (sure there must be some stats out there to show that!) ... so if you are teaching accountancy you expect most learners who will be successful to be theorists or reflectors maybe?

However my point is that we as teachers find it easier to teach using the style of learning we prefer .... because we get it! What kind of people are we? Well it depends what we teach I suspect. Coaches coaching canoeing are probably quite active, especially if they paddle well. Teachers are probably reflectors too with this plan do review process we are encouraged to do. Those teaching complex processes are probably theorists. I believe that we need to be very aware of our own learning style whatever that is and try to become better at the others, so we can better understand our variety of students.

I am a reflector & theorist, when it comes to learning new stuff and I think I am a dream to coach/teach, because I often get it. Perhaps that is why I want to be a coach and teacher!! But we aren't always teaching potential new teachers are we? And some learners won't be a dream to teach because they are pragmatists or just want to do it - activists maybe!! If we are ever fristrated by a learner then perhaps we need to consider th