Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices
Sue Davidoff and Owen van den Berg (1990) suggest four steps for action research: plan, teach/ act, observe and reflect. The project used this as a basis to develop tutors’ own action research, helping them take responsibility for their own development, CPD needs and planning. Critical friendships and peer observations were also encouraged; valuable opportunities for tutors to analyse and learn from one another’s practice.
Tutors used learner feedback to assess what learners would like more of, using this feedback to select active learning techniques. Challenges around gathering learner feedback included: difficulties accessing online questionnaires; time constraints; learners having the confidence and analytical skills to communicate what they wanted. Such challenges demanded contextualised approaches so learners could fully participate.
For example, one tutor used translation to overcome low levels of English with their pre-entry class. Learner feedback was often not what was expected too. For instance, some learners, when asked how they liked to learn, stated they would like more input from the tutor. At times, tutors also observed learners feeling uncomfortable providing feedback about teaching strategies:
“Student’s didn’t want to fill in anything from ‘Stop’ part of activity. Found it uncomfortable.”
The examples above illuminate important cultural considerations, for participatory research and regarding learner reception to active learning strategies.
Nevertheless, the results from engaging with what learners want more of and trialling the active learning strategies were overwhelmingly positive. Tutors used a range of active learning strategies and developed a series of innovative resources, including: a chant for spelling based on phonics, discussion storyboards, spelling strategy PowerPoints, learner question and answer review sessions, peer assessment tools).
Feedback from tutors included:
On using a chant for spelling based on phonics:
“This exercise helps students to be much more independent when studying a new word. They learn how to practise, to check and correct the word by themselves, and not with the help of the teacher as usual. This is a huge step, especially for pre-entry ESOL students.”
On using grammar self-access material to accelerate learner progress:
“I started it a bit late into term. Starting from the beginning of the term would have given me more time to plan and the learners more time to practise the skill.”
On using a spelling strategy game:
“In this short game learners really had to work with their memory and find techniques to ‘fix’ the spelling in their minds – and put the strategies we had talked about into practice. There was a noticeable improvement after just three attempts – you could see learners really trying to look for clues in each word. Before this they would rely on writing the word down and assuming that by writing it, they would remember it. This game helped train them into thinking about the spellings, which is a crucial stage in remembering them for the next time they need to use them. The learners also enjoyed it – especially as the formula began to feel ‘familiar.’
Towards the end of the project, team participants described, summarised and evaluated their participation and identified changes in their teaching, learning and assessment practices. Tutors recognised the value of using more active learning techniques with their learners and developing their own skills. Learners felt more engaged and had a role in steering sessions, often becoming the tutor. Pre-entry learners worked on their own to practise their spelling without being dependent on the tutor.
Tutors recognised that using active learning techniques leads to a role of facilitator rather than knowledge giver. This correlates with the theory of participatory ESOL (Reflect ESOL, 2012) that stems from the work of Paulo Freire (Freire Institute, 2020), a need to move away from a fixed ‘knowledge giving’ model to one which empowers learners.
Tutors need to see themselves as part of the learning process, and as learners themselves; learning becomes an active dialogue between tutor and learner. Freire advocated a critical pedagogy, where learners were transformed and empowered by the learning, they were involved in.