New for 2018/19, this will be the space where PD North members and some special guest Bloggers will share ideas and experiences. Watch this space and, if you would like to write a Blog for us, on the topic of further / adult community education and skills, please contact Chloë at email@example.com
WORD: 300 – 1,000 words. Keep it short and engaging. Something folks can read in their break, on the bus or in the staffroom when they have a spare moment.
STYLE: Flexible. We’re interested in: Voices from the classroom/staffroom. Resource explorations. Reviews of books, blogs and events. Think pieces. Descriptions of PDNorth exchange activity. Critical thoughts.
REFERENCES: If you choose to mention other people’s work, events, videos, resources etc please reference them and give them the kudos they deserve.
Cathy Clarkson from our CPD exchange (Yorkshire & Humberside) talks about the impact practitioner research has had on her own continual professional development.
I’m no stranger to practitioner research. It’s formed a
valuable part of my CPD throughout my career, with the support of organisations
such as the NRDC, LSIS, SUNCETT, EMCETT and the ETF*.
I was involved in a few of the NRDC projects. I really am a
child of the Skills for Life agenda and it seems crazy how critical we were of
it at the time. My first foray into practitioner research was with the ICT Effective Practice study. I was
one of the nine practitioner researchers, working with the fabulous people at
the Institute of Education. Whatever happened to webquests?
Just one of those technologies that comes and goes, although the underlying
principle of guiding students through the complexities of the internet seems
even more relevant today.
I took this model of collaborative action research to my MA
dissertation, which I was fortunate to piggy back with an NRDC practitioner-research
grant. The Lancaster University tutors were amazing, and the mentoring I
got from tutors at Leeds Mets and the Institute of Education was invaluable.
The Action Research Network is still viewed through the rose tinted glasses of
nostalgia by the Dewsbury College gang. With the MA under my belt, I managed
the application for the college to become a Cambridge-approved centre offering
both the CELTA
and the full DTE(E)LLS – the only place outside of London offer the ESOL
subject specialism. Because of this, I managed to secure a grant through the
Creative Routes project and with this money bought a set of iPads to be used by
our DE(E)LLTS trainees to support their CPD. The highlight of this project was
a trip to Morocco to run a workshop for IATEFL
and MATE where the post-it notes we’d brought were more novel that the
With the demise of NRDC, LSIS picked up the baton of
supporting practitioner research. With support from the SUNCETT team, the theme
of emerging technologies continued in my practitioner research as I looked at
what we could find out about
iPads by working collaboratively with tutors and students from different
curriculums. I learnt that I couldn’t answer the
question about how to use this emerging mobile technology in the classroom,
because I had been focusing on how the technology supported independent study
out of the classroom. This led me to
apply for an EMCETT grant to explore the question of mobile technology in the
classroom. I brought my (now aging) iPads together into a class set and I
worked with my beginner ESOL group to find out what this technology had to
offer in the classroom. We explored ESOL apps of varying quality and I got some insight
into the differing opinions on what 16-18 year olds thought were good or poor
apps. My next project, once again supported by EMCETT, broadened this question
into other curriculums. I worked with other tutors, who worked with their
explore how a class set of iPads could be used effectively.
It may be no surprise reading this, by the end of the year I was pretty tired, I needed a break from practitioner research and I needed to get a little more control of my work/life balance. It’s one thing to get the grants and the college to promise the time, but the reality is that practitioner research eats in to your life. Of course this doesn’t mean that I stopped trying new things. Not at all. It just meant I stopped writing about it, I cut back on blogging and Tweeting although I still ran some sessions for NATECLA for a short time.
In the summer of 2018 something changed. The universe
realigned and the stars pointed me to an EdD, which is basically a taught PhD.
This has given me over a year since I started the course to get a feel for what
I want to study, and today I have submitted my proposal. I am also dong an
OTLAEnglish project, funded through the ETF. It is very interesting doing these
projects simultaneously. It feels very different doing a doctorate to doing any
other practitioner research. I am both intrigued
and scared by the philosophical nature of research. It has taken me about
the same amount of time to write my EdD proposal as it has to do the entire
OTLAEnglish project. But the start/finish notion of these projects is
deceiving. The EdD isn’t just starting, it has started and I can already feel
the messiness of engaging in action research. The OTLA project isn’t finished,
the report may be written but the activity continues.
Without funding from organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, and ETF I’m not sure that I would be taking my EdD now. I certainly could not have done these projects without the support of the people working with the organisations who provide the funding. The money is of course always welcome, but as we found out in the Action Research network, a group of willing tutors with a rota of baking, can create the time and space needed to be able to reflect on changes made in the classroom. I would recommend anyone to look for funding opportunities, particularly through the ETF. Twitter is a fabulous place to find out about these things and there is a growing base of FE tutors chatting and sharing. Going to conferences is also useful, look out for a local teachmeet, FEbrewed and the upcoming ReimagineFE conference heading into its fifth year. There are also the regional Professional Exchange Networks (PEN). Internally you could hunt out your Advanced Practitioner, who I am sure will be more than happy to support you in developing your own practitioner research project or find some like-minded colleagues to create a Research Space to talk about your practice – don’t forget the cake.
CELTA – Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults
EMCETT – East Midland Centre of Excellence in teacher training
NATECLA – National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults
by Susanna Brandon, PDNorth Northwest TLA exchange
As part of the PDNorth TLA (Teaching, Learning & Assessment) professional exchange, our Myerscough Director of Quality and procedures Sue Keenan facilitated an afternoon showcase of our latest digital skills projects and teaching tips delivered by members of the Myerscough digital skills team and selected teaching staff with the aim of building further collaborative opportunities to share good practice and really drive the project forward.
At Myerscough, we have a dedicated digital skills team who have been generating some fantastic training opportunities for staff to develop their digital skills and also working on new projects funded by the Education & Training Foundation (ETF) to further embed and use technology, such as Virtual Reality (VR) to bridge skills gaps between training and employment.
Over 20 delegates from colleges and University centres around the North West attended on the day. The afternoon events started with an overview of the Myerscough developed Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Spiral, by Sandy Hunter. Then for the majority of the afternoon the visitors attended five short showcases where they had the opportunity to immerse themselves in some of the VR programmes; including milking at the farm, buying fresh flowers at the wholesaler and also the use of VR to stimulate creativity in creative writing. There was also the opportunity for the attendees to access a range of free Apps that tutors at Myerscough have successfully utilised within their own teaching.
One of my remits as ATP is to liaise with the digital skills team in trialing new technology in my own teaching and then sharing with my team. The digital skills fair allowed the extension of this approach beyond Myerscough and into the wider teaching community.
The close of the session was delivered by Punam, who shared more technology in her briefing in the form of her (Mentimeter) presentation, which linked to the ETF professional standards and also the proposed method of communication (Zoom) to allow all attendees to stay in touch, share experiences and generally support each other in developing outstanding teaching, learning and assessment.
Some of the comments taken from the day included;
‘It’s been great, I just wanted to stay and play!’
‘…feel more confident about encouraging staff.’
‘Great for my own CPD and how I can share my work with others.’
As you can see from the comments, the afternoon proved a great success. Hopefully the energy from the room will continue to filter through all of the educational settings and we have lots to discuss when we next meet. Monthly Zoom meetings have been scheduled to keep everyone on track and we look forward to hosting again in July 2020 when the attendees come back to Myerscough to share the impact of their individual projects.
Susanna Brandon is the Advanced Teaching Practitioner (ATP) for Greenspace and Creative studies at Myerscough College.
Robert Broome, a practitioner from our online action research exchange, explores how language and context matters when embedding Functional Skills.
My name is Robert Broome. I’m a level 1 course team leader in professional
cookery at North Hertfordshire College and I am also completing my PGCE
teaching degree at Bedford college. As part of my course I was asked to
complete an action research project of my choice. Because I teach on a
vocational course, I decided to see whether adding contextualised examples of
maths and English work within my cookery sessions could help students with
their maths and English studies. This has been of interest to me not only within
my profession but because, I too at 28 years old struggle with English in a general
sense (e.g. reading, spelling and breaking down of text).
A report from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills,
Department for Education, and The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP (published 2 July 2014)
‘Many students have problems in maths and English all the way through the progressing
to adult life. “40% of pupils do not get GCSE grades A* to C in English and
maths by age 16. Worse still, 90% of those who don’t reach this basic standard
by 16, don’t achieve it by age 19” (dept. of education, 2018).
Another interesting study made by the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD), states that older generations tend to
perform better in maths and English based tasks than younger learners.
I researched into these claims by the government by conducting my own experiment
with a few of my level 1 professional cookery students. I asked a few GCSE
standard maths and English questions and the average score out of 13 was 7-8,
which works out to be 57% of the mark. I then asked the same questions to adult
learners, all of whom were over the age of 40. The average score for the older
learners was 11-12 out of 13, which is 88% of the mark.’
After compiling data whereby I had
asked students GCSE standard questions in both Maths and English, I then used their
knowledge of Professional cookery to help them progress and challenge them in
these areas. In order to do this I took the GCSE questions and “re-worded” them
with terminology based around catering and hospitality. I also gave students
visual aids to help them around the kitchen classroom. This process was much
the same with maths; my aim was to get students to think of maths in the
hospitality industry as opposed to working from a textbook. My hope was that
this approach would help learners:
See the relevance of maths and English skills within professional cookery;
encourage a subconscious style of learning, helping students learn through
experience and by what they saw and heard in the kitchens.
encourage reluctant students to learn important maths and English skills,
without these needing to be explicitly taught.
Help close the maths and English skills gap I noticed between younger
learners, and adult learners.
Following this period of embedded and contextualised maths and English
work, I then asked students the GCSE standard questions again and cross
referenced their answers with the previous ones to see if there were any
improvements, big or small. With each group of learners there were slight
improvements, with most learners scoring at least one point more than they had
during the first test. The graph below shows the differences in learners’
scores, before and after they had accessed contextualised English and maths
Whilst the gains in learners’ test
results initially seem quite small, perhaps more telling was their improved
spelling of contextualised vocabulary. One example I did of this was when I
asked the students how to spell ‘Tagliatelle’. Initially, only 1 student out of
15 got it correct. I then posted around the two kitchens a glossary of types of
pasta where Tagliatelle was on this. A couple of days later I asked the class
to spell Tagliatelle again. The number of students who spelt it correctly grew
from 1 to 3. Not a huge leap but then an additional 4 students were only 1 or 2
letters off the correct spelling, a huge improvement in such a short period of
If I was to sum up my research it
would be that vocational courses can have an impact on a students’ maths and
English skills in both a positive and a negative way. The positives are clearly
seen in my research, if teachers keep pushing maths and English in their
lessons then students will progress. The negative however is that I noticed a
lot of my students didn’t realise how important Maths and English is to vocational
courses and professions. The mentality is for most was once they have finished
maths and English at GCSE then they don’t need to think about it again. This is
where students can slip on their skills in Maths and English over the two to
three years they are in vocational courses at colleges. This potential for
slippage adds to employers’ concerns that college leavers do not always have
the maths and English skills they require for the working world. I believe that
by constantly reminding students on vocational courses how important Maths and
English is in the working world, alongside constantly embedding and
contextualising maths and English work (to the point where students may not
realise that’s what they are doing) vocational teachers can make a massive
impact upon students’ motivation, engagement and success in maths and English,
during their time at college and in the future.
I also think it’s vital for tutors to
keep up to date on their own Maths and English, so we can help students and so
we can improve our own confidence to teach these essential skills.