Liz Maidlow
Development Lead, Teach First

Trainee development – ‘10 things every teacher educator should know’

Find out how best to support your trainees' improvement with a structured developmental cycle in the seventh blog in our '10 things every teacher educator should know' series.

Trainees often base their experiences of teaching on their memories from childhood. Their teachers may have made teaching seem simple or straightforward, but a lesson is a complex construction designed to maximise student learning and outcomes. Because of this, Weston and Clay in Unleashing Great Teaching believe novices need to breakdown the process of teaching from a different point of view to the one they had as a child. 

Understanding vs achieving

Daisy Christodoulou suggests there’s a gap between novices knowing what good teaching looks like and being able to achieve it in the classroom. Trainees may be able to remember the individual elements of a good lesson or what the improvements look like from observing experienced teachers, but they can’t identify the steps to achieve these improvements. 

Huang and Li noted in their study the difference between expert and novice teacher observations of students’ learning. Expert teachers are able to see how children are learning, the planned development of concepts used by the teacher and the most important events in a lesson by ‘effectively recognising meaningful patterns and making sense of multiple events’. But novice teachers’ ‘pedagogical reasoning skills are less developed’ (Borko & Livingston, 1989) and so they’re more likely to notice the procedural aspects of the lesson, such as behaviour management strategies. 

Direct instruction vs partial guidance

In their article, Clark et al made a case for direct, specific instruction when teaching novices as it’s ‘more effective and more efficient than partial guidance’ (not that partial guidance isn’t useful for absorbing information and practicing after instruction). As each step becomes second nature, the trainee can move onto the next level or area they need to focus on. Over time, trainees become open and responsive to coaching and co-coaching as they are able to analyse their own and others’ practice. 

The traditional RPL vs the new RPL

Weston and Clay have created a variation of the Responsive Learning Cycle (RPL). As well as the simple assess-plan-do-review points of the cycle, they’ve added checks to the identifying and implementation phases. 

During the identifying phase, there’s an opportunity to check that the change being planned will impact on students and address the real barriers to learning, rather than the assumed issues. Once the professional(s) is happy that the correct focus has been chosen and has planned and executed the activity, evidence of impact can be analysed in the implementation phase to see whether the desired outcome has been achieved. To maximise the effectiveness of this cycle, Weston and Clay recommend using it in a group within a culture of professional learning guided by experienced practitioners. In the case of trainees, this will be a teacher educator, such as a mentor or tutor.

Graphic outlining the developmental cycle of a teacher trainee.

Stern criticism vs positive feedback

This research into teacher training reinforces much of what we already know: that the process of learning to teach is complex, and there are many aspects to consider when planning even the simplest of teaching episodes. We have to remember that trainee teachers are used to being academically successful and can become quickly demoralised and overwhelmed when faced with the demands of life in school. Weston and Clay suggest using a structured step-wise method with novice teachers to help them make small, positive changes to their practice. Over time this will transform their inflexible, procedure-led expertise into practice that can be adapted to the needs of any given situation.

As teacher educators we regularly observe trainee teachers in the classroom and follow this up with a conversation. During this feedback, we set targets to be achieved by some date in the future. But how often are these targets broken down into specific, manageable steps? For example, following a lesson where the trainee has ended a lesson mid-task due to lack of awareness of timing, a target such as ‘provide an opportunity for students to reflect on their learning at the end of the lesson’ might be set. Novice teachers know that this is good practice, but unless this feedback is the start of a process that is planned, it will be less effective. 

At Teach First, we ask our trainees to reflect on their week in school by writing a journal. By using reflective practice from the start of their careers, they improve their ability to consider actions and outcomes and begin a process of continuous learning. The level of analysis we expect helps them to value the importance of evaluating their practice as a habit. This piece is shared with their mentor, university tutor and Teach First staff so that they can all guide the novice through the process of learning to teach.

About the author

Liz Maidlow supports Teach First trainee teachers as a Development Lead in the South East of England. 

About this series

We train thousands of new teachers each year, but this is only around 5% of all new teachers. So we wanted to share some of the thinking behind our teacher education in this series of blogs. We hope these blogs will be helpful for the thousands of schools that support new trainee teachers each year, and act as a starting point for conversations with other teacher educators – so we can all keep learning and improving. 

This is our current thinking but we’re always reviewing and learning from research, other organisations and practice. We want your views and feedback: What do you agree with? Is there anything you disagree with? What have we missed? Let us know on twitter – you can chat to our teacher education leads @FayeCraster and @Reuben_Moore (and we’re on @TeachFirst

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