Patterns and Reflections

Patterns and Reflections

Tricia Millar

Research Group Lead

Anthology of Practitioner Action Research Reports 2020-21

For many educators, this has been a year of just getting things done in the chaos and inconvenience of ever-changing circumstances. Yet, in the midst of it all, OTLA teacher-researchers have found time to be creative, take risks and listen to their learners – three themes thrown up by the end of project reports. Following are some anonymised quotes from the reports. You might use them as a treasure hunt through the reports or you might use them along with my further questions as thinking points for your own reflective journal.

One-to-one: expensive or priceless?

One-to-one learning is often seen as impossibly expensive but three organisations used OTLA 7 as an opportunity to explore the effects of oneto- one lessons in either non-accredited courses or alongside regular classes with learners who were stuck in either their literacy or their maths. The results were unanimous that vulnerable learners benefited and that the confidence built by low stakes one-to-one sessions is not just a feeling but a solid platform from which to launch into accredited learning.

We will continue with a 6-week non-accredited programme in the classroom for low level learners to engage and build confidence.

The learners were enthusiastic about their one-to-one sessions and could see the value of the project. There was only one instance of absence over thirty-six sessions and the learner was quick to rearrange a new session.

Was it the one-to-one that made all the difference?
Was it the strategies offered that made the difference?
Was it a combination?
Is it worth reconfiguring teaching time to include one-to-one?

Teachers as learners

It is always a joy to read about how teachers learn and refashion their fundamental professional practice throughout an OTLA project and these quotes spotlight some of those experiences.

We learnt that no one is ever too old or has been teaching too long to try new things.

Having the freedom to explore created a safety net against the perceived risks of creativity in our pedagogy.

The takeaway has been unlearning everything I had been trying with these learners.

[CPD] must be done through planned, regular, on-going support similar to that which has paid dividends with our learners.

How far am I willing to risk changing the way I’ve always taught?
What do I think of as risky in teaching?
Do I want my thinking changed?
Are we as a department or organisation willing to invest time and energy to make sure all teachers feel as supported as our learners?

Learners as collaborators

The following insights from five very different projects could act as the jumping-off point for OTLA projects in years to come. They create a great opportunity for reflecting on how much we listen to our learners about what they both need and want.

There was a real emphasis on digging deep to discover what the learners needed rather than having a pre-conceived recipe for success.

[They] want to learn. Do they want to learn what we are teaching them?

[This] can be useful in building collaborative relationships with learners so that they see the teacher as supporting both their learning and independence in learning…

This approach proved so popular that learners asked for it to be applied to other resources.

We were moving from ‘here’s everything you don’t know for your grade’ to ‘here is where you are on your journey’.

What are the ‘yes, but’ questions?
How do I ‘dig deep’?
What’s the difference between a course and a journey?
How does my teaching support independence in learning?


This year has tested every teacher’s resilience and not one project succeeded without overcoming considerable challenges. Resilience is so ubiquitous a concern that it is almost not worth mentioning; however, we finish this OTLA 7 conscious that learners also rose above many challenges to continue their education. Therefore, it seems fitting to leave the last word to learners. (This is also a reminder to seek out and explore the appendices of the projects you find interesting! These appendices can be found at the end of each online report).

I think I finally get where I’m going wrong and what I can do about it. A Poem by NL: No Matter what happens / I will never complain / No matter who stands on m way / A day always starts again

At home I help my mam, who is dyslexic, and my younger brothers who didn’t understand their phonics homework.

I used to feel quite lost but now I actually do understand [Functional Skills maths questions]. I feel that if I saw them in an exam, I would get the answer; whereas before I didn’t.

I’m going to give it a go and smash it.