Primary Education staff: Mark Taylor

I was a terrible student. I think I went to only one lecture in my whole second year of my Physics degree course. But I was always curious and took modules in history of art and philosophy much to the consternation of my Physics professors. So I have some sympathy for students who want to take ownership of their own learning and be independent. I am more interested in learning than teaching.

After university I went to drama school and spent the next seven years working in theatre and theatre in education. As a result I suppose I can’t help seeing teaching as a performance-probably not a good thing overall but being an actor has given me some useful transferable skills.

I trained as a secondary science teacher but quickly moved to primary teaching. I realised I was more interested in teaching children than teaching science- the more holistic relationship with the learners in primary appealed more. Nonetheless I was a pretty rubbish teacher and it took me a long time to develop my skills, I was lucky in every school I worked in to have superb colleagues who showed me what good teaching looked like. I think it was my own difficult journey to becoming a teacher that made me so interested in teacher training.

Rather surprisingly to me I realised I was actually getting pretty good at teaching but shortly afterwards I also realised I was stagnating and needed new challenge. I had started teaching on a school based teacher training course for one day a week and this led me to move from primary teacher to become a university lecturer in primary science education. Once again excellent colleagues supported the transition. Alan Mortiboys was inspirational in showing the role or emotional intelligence in teaching, Paul Adams taught me the courage to genuinely adopt constructivist approaches and let learners find their own way. Being paid to really reflect and think deeply about the process of learning and the nature of teaching as part of my job was very satisfying.  I went on to become a course director for a small primary school based route delivering M-level PGCE. This was quite an intense experience and the small cohorts meant individual success was as much down to building relationships and supporting people as delivering content. It is only recently that I have come back to university and started once again teaching large undergraduate programmes.

This year my daughter has started a degree at Manchester university – seeing the world of university through her eyes has made me far more sensitive to the experiences of our first year undergraduates.

I remain fascinated by what learning means for the individual and how knowledge is constructed and mediated.

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Early Childhood Studies staff: Paola Pedrelli

I have worked as a volunteer, paid member of staff, lead service provision and lectured in Early Years, Children and Family Services for the last 30 years both internationally and within the United Kingdom. I am very interested in lifelong learning and the importance of empowerment. I strongly believe that a holistic approach needs to be taken and no aspect of our lives can be segmented. Therefore my personal and professional identity influences, the way I interact and work with students and colleagues. The same is true for the students, they bring their personal and previous educational experiences to university. The interest in being part of this research is how can  we engage with the students so that it is a mutually beneficial relationship and at the same time, it helps me reflect on my practice and continue to be a reflective professional and improve my practice.

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Early Childhood Studies staff: Zoe Lewis

Zoe Lewis Profile Photo

As a mature undergraduate student, my own experiences of teaching and learning were very different to those of my fellow students. As a result, I understand the need to balance home commitments with the demands of further study and the role that confidence and self-belief play in our ability to learn, but I also feel that I had the opportunity to really engage in the course and immerse myself in my subject in ways that I might not have done as an eighteen-year-old. I have found a love of learning that has underpinned my career as an early years teacher and led me to continue with my own postgraduate study. This love of learning is something that I hope to develop in my own students and in each session that I teach, I aim to nurture independence, resilience and a sense of professionalism that is so important in early years work.  I think that personal reflection is the most important method of professional learning and when there is an opportunity to share this reflection with a team of colleagues there is real potential to bring about positive change in the lives of students, young children and their families.

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Early Childhood Studies staff Zoe Lewis’s Cycle 1 observation experience

Being invited to join the project was exciting and we were keen to learn more about how the students viewed the programme, the lectures and the activities that we asked them to engage in. However, having received other types of feedback from the NSS and observations in my teaching career, I was a little nervous about the responses that we might receive and the potential for being judged negatively by the students. The training that both staff and students received went some way towards allaying these fears and it was good to know that this was intended to be a more open dialogic experience in which staff and students are able to learn from each other. My overall experience of cycle 1 has shown this to be the case and when I came to teach the observed lesson I found that I was not nervous in the way that I might have been during a traditional teaching observation in the past.

The first meeting with my teaching colleague and the researcher was a helpful opportunity to reflect on our aims as lecturers and what we were hoping to achieve in the first year of the degree programme. I learned more about my colleague’s philosophy and the ways in which our different approaches to learning and teaching were based on very similar values and beliefs. This has been an important guide for the rest of the project because personal circumstances meant that I had to complete the rest of cycle 1 on my own.

The two students were self-selected and this enabled different voices to be heard rather than those of the students who are already involved in other feedback forums etc. I think this has been an important factor in the findings from cycle 1 because these students are more representative of the cohort as a whole and they were able to offer some interesting insights.

Having completed their training the students were very keen to attend the first meeting and they had prepared a lengthy series of questions for me to answer. I was happy to follow their lead and their questions provided the structure for our discussion, although it was difficult to arrive at a focus for the first observation. They seemed to be more interested in me and my teaching rather than their learning or the activities that they were being asked to complete. As a result, I returned to the discussion that I had with my teaching colleague and ask them to focus their observation on the previous directed task and group discussion that was intended to be an opportunity for reflection on their prior reading.

The observation itself took place in a week that had particularly poor attendance from this year group across all of the modules and students has just been reminded of the importance of engagement for their future success on the programme. As a result, the attendance for my session was much higher than usual with a number of students who were there after several weeks of absence. Therefore, these issues of engagement were at the forefront of many students’ minds when the activities were taking place.

During the lecture, I was aware that the two students were observing and making notes, but I felt that it did not really impact on my teaching. This seemed to make the observation a more authentic record of the event, particularly as their fellow students were unaware that the observation was taking place. However, it does raise some ethical questions about those people who were included in the research without their consent and it would be helpful to address these issues in the meetings that take place before cycle 2.

The post observation meeting took much longer than planned because the students had prepared another lengthy set of questions for me. This felt rather like an interview, partly because my teaching partner was unable to join us, and the dynamics of the relationship were affected by the imbalance. However, both students were keen to find out about the ways in which I managed challenging behaviour and encouraged group members to engage in discussion. This topic of engagement and managing relationships within the teaching and learning context became the main focus and it fitted well with the original focus for cycle 1. The students were able to contribute some helpful suggestions about the best ways to encourage their peers to undertake directed tasks and wider reading. They highlighted the importance of their own relationships with their fellow students and the ways that these can impact on their learning. This helped me to reflect on the ways in which we might build a more active community of learners within the programme by concentrating more effort on those students who, like these two, are keen to engage and develop as effective practitioners.

After the meeting, I reflected on the positive relationships that I had built with these two students and the ways in which they felt that they had contributed to the teaching and learning on the programme. This was a rewarding experience and I am keen to develop it further during cycle 2. However, I am also aware that these students have now submitted work which will not be assessed anonymously and I am conscious of the ways in which my role on the project could potentially influence my opinions as I approach the marking task. It will be important to seek the support of my colleagues to manage this imbalance and ensure that I am fair and consistent with all of the students as their assessor.

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Early Childhood Studies student research Burhana Khanum cycle 1 observation reflection

During this observation cycle I have gained a better understanding about the teaching at Birmingham City University and the amount of effort and work which goes into it. I am appreciative for having this opportunity to carry out observations and getting to know a lot more behind the scenes actions, of the planning processes of our lecture and seminar sessions.

Taking part in this project enabled me to grasp a better insight about my lecturer and the planning and ideas, which she brings together in order to make our learning experiences fun at University. A better relationship was built throughout this project cycle, which allowed me to get to know her a lot more and put myself in her shoe as a lecturer. From this, I learnt that being a lecturer is not easy and planning for all students can be quite tricky, due to the diverse range of personalities. Therefore, considering all needs and abilities of students is vital whilst planning lectures and seminars.

By working closely to my lecturer I have seen that a lot of emotion is put in when planning sessions and sometimes the way certain students respond can affect both lecturers and students. As a student myself, it made me open my own eyes and made me a lot more considerate towards my education. It also encourages me to take part in more projects like this, in order to influence other students like me to do the same and appreciate education and learning just a little more.

Although I have observed before as part of my course, taking part in this project enabled me to pick up new techniques whilst observing, some things which I was not completely aware of. The training sessions beforehand was very useful in doing this. For instance in the past I focused only on the individual and I had a list of things I was looking for in my observations.  This created restrictions because I was not able to give my complete judgements and opinions. However, this project enabled me to be freer whilst observing, as there was not any specific targets, set which I had to reach during the observations. I think this was a great idea because it enabled me and the other students in this project to explore our own minds and give only our individual thoughts and opinions.

Comparing the observations with a peer from the same course was part of the project. This was very interesting because it allowed us both to compare similarities and differences we gathered. I learnt that sometimes studying the same course can build in the same thoughts amongst ourselves and have the exact same view about the teaching and learning in sessions. However, there were also some points which were completely different and as a result made me learn a lot more about my peer and her view about the teaching as a whole.

This I believe is significant because the whole aim is to improve the teaching and learning at Birmingham City University. Therefore, by gathering information from a range of students who have different views and personalities, will allow us to see everything in a bigger picture and from all angles. This will make the process easier in improving the learning and teaching at BCU.

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