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Twenty years in FE: How Practitioner Research has shaped my professional development.

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*.

iPad set up and storage (screenshot: click to see video)

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 mobile technology.

iPads in a maths class

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 students, to 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.

English apps in class, at home and on the bus (screenshot: click to see video)

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.

Playing games helps English (screenshot: click to see video)

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.

Acronym Key

  • 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
  • ETF – The Education and Training Foundation.
  • LSIS – Learning and Skills Improvement Service
  • OTLA – Outstanding Teaching, Learning & Assessment programme (ETF)
  • PEN – Professional Exchange Networks
  • MATE – Moroccan Association for Teachers of English
  • NRDC – National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy
  • SUNCETT – University of Sunderland Centre of Excellence for teacher training
  • AP – Advanced Practitioner
  • CPD – Continual Professional Development

Showcasing Digital: Inspiring others to #HaveAGo

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.’

‘Very inspiring.’

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.

Power of the Network

by Gail Lydon, newly appointed PDNorth Regional Lead for Yorkshire & Humberside

 

My goodness – nothing stays the same for very long, but it all looks so familiar!  That’s what it feels like working in post 16 learning.  Constant change, but we feel we have seen it in another guise before.  There is something comforting about the familiar though and when I was asked to lead on the Professional Exchange Networks (PENs) in Yorkshire and Humber I heard myself saying yes.  Why did I do that!??   Well one reason is my previous experience of networks and how much I have learned from them.

 

I have been teaching since 1996 and some of the most important learning opportunities I have had have been through networking of some kind or another.   Working with my colleagues on projects; safely discussing what was happening in my classroom and carrying out peer observations to develop my practice.  Although much is familiar (funding and learner motivation to name but two), I think we could argue that the restraints we work under are tighter than ever.  But we love teaching and care for our learners so what to do?

 

My husband is a massive music fan and Jimi Hendrix is a favourite.  One quote of his (Jimi’s not my husbands) is “in order to change the world, you have to get your head together first” (if I haven’t got the quote quite right I hope both of them will forgive me).  I get my head together by talking to my colleagues and friends.  Refreshing and challenging my thinking and it is fun.   It doesn’t mean I always get it right but having the opportunity to discuss issues with colleagues is always a powerful learning experience.  But so many of us don’t get the opportunity to network.  Many of us are now working remotely and can feel isolated.  This can also be true even when working inhouse because there just aren’t the structures to support face to face time with colleagues.  Staff rooms have often disappeared and lunch times staggered.  Networks allow us to interface with colleagues in other organisations too.

 

I guess you will want to know what the PENs are all about before you sign up?  These Networks are about enabling teachers and middle managers to not only share their knowledge and skills but to develop those skills further.  PENs are there to support you to investigate some aspect of your practice and perhaps try something new; add something to your toolbox of skills.  There is plenty of online support between sessions: Twitter chats, screencasts (just ask) and other CPD opportunities.  The four meetings are facilitated by a lead from PDNorth but the focus is driven by the members of the Network.  Your membership, your participation is what will drive the Network. What would you like to share?  What would you like to investigate further?

 

I do hope you will get involved with the PENs, come with us and share your expertise, the sector needs you.

FAB – Opening the Arms

Summer Reading

by Lou Mycroft (PDNorth Digital Lead & Dancing Princess)

I’m only a year out of teaching in a college and I think it will take a lot longer than that to forget the brief elation then abject exhaustion I used to feel at the end of the academic year. I worked in a specialist college which basically offered community learning, so we ran the year round but there’s still that point at which you can take a breath and head off to the beach, the garden, the airport…wherever.

And before the new academic year starts to loom large, there’s usually a little bit of time for reading. I love a good thriller as much as the next Scandi obsessed person, but I usually have a few ‘work books’ on the go, too, year round. I’m studying in a very roundabout way for an education doctorate and there’s an expectation of this but I’ve come to really love it. I celebrate my ADHD ‘label’ for the energy and creativity it brings to my life, but despite my occasional drift into hyperfocus, I do find it hard to knuckle down to ‘difficult’ reading. The rewards, in terms of my self-belief and professional self-confidence, are immense. I’ve come a long way from the person who used to say to a close colleague, ‘Read this for me and tell me what it says…’!

Here are some guidelines I’ve come to adopt, which might interest you. At the end of the blog is a snapshot of what I’m reading this summer.

 

Diversify. A few years ago I realised I was only reading books by middle-class white people; most of them men. Of course, there’s a whole argument that ‘the canon’ was established at a time when only white men got published (have a look at Kay Sidebottom’s occasional blog Seeking Lost Women to find out how central Helen Parkhurst was to the work we think of as John Dewey’s). Things are different now, and there are some excitingly diverse writers out there. If you’ve a passion for teaching and you’ve not yet found bell hooks, you’ll love her!

 

Read two or three books at once, a chapter a day in rotation. Yes it takes ages to finish them all, but what happens is that you draw unexpected connections between them. I got this idea from Peter Shukie, one of the most creative and erudite educators I know. It also means I take time to reflect and process what I’m reading.

 

Mix up your media. ‘Reading’ doesn’t just mean books or journals. Watch a Ted Talk on YouTube or rest your eyes completely with a podcast. I love the Philosophy Bites series. You can even play them in the car on long journeys if the kids are asleep and you fancy a change from Peppa Pig.

 

Make notes. Whilst I’ll read a thriller on Kindle, or listen via the Audible app, I love a proper book when it comes to stuff I don’t find so easy to absorb. I use a nice set of coloured pens (really helps me focus) and I’ve learned to be quite sparing with what I highlight. I write notes in the margins too, and I always date when I got the book – and where. It’s lovely to pick it up again and remember being on a beach in Norfolk, or wherever.

 

Read with others. This doesn’t have to be a formal book club (though it could be). You could start a Twitter thread, or set up a googledoc or Padlet where a few of you could make notes and get into a dialogue. I always see deeper meaning diffracted through others’ perspectives.

Above all, enjoy it. It took me years to get into a reading mindset (apart from those Scandi thrillers) and it’s brought a new dimension to my life and work. I definitely tune more into the world around me and I have loads more new ideas. It makes me feel good about myself, to challenge and refine my thinking. It’s food for the soul.

 

Have a lovely rest, and I’ll look forward to hearing what you’re reading – please do tag me in on Twitter @PDNorth1720 I’m always up for hearing about great new thrillers too!

 

What’s in the pile for me this summer: