Category Archives: Education

Are behaviour management skills needed in higher education?

My reply to this question is yes, in readiness for unanticipated behaviours. Knowledge of behaviour management approaches and skills in reinforcing positive behaviour are valuable additions to the competencies of university teaching practitioners, not only school teachers. This conclusion is based on my experience of assisting a department at a British university that was faced with student behavioural issues. Read on for the full story…

While working as an educational developer in a Centre for Learning and Teaching, I made an intervention at the behest of the university’s International Foundation Programme (IFP).

The IFP at that university is a well-established alternative route onto degree programmes. In recent times, however, lecturers on the programme had reported an increase in behavioural issues amongst students. The IFP leadership team contacted my Centre for assistance. Since I had previous experience in the secondary education sector, in which classroom behaviour management (CBM) has a long heritage, I was the educational developer nominated to provide support.

My first step was to familiarise with the IFP itself. These are its characteristics:

  • It provides a pathway to undergraduate degree courses for students without GCE A Levels;
  • the 1-year programme includes subject studies, academic English, statistics and study skills;
  • students are globally recruited
  • lecturers are mostly drawn from relevant faculties; and,
  • it is often students’ first experience of living away from home.

I met programme managers to negotiate the objectives of my support and a way forward that was agreeable to them. We also discussed their initial ideas on the severity of the issue and probable causes. This was speculative though, so better data was needed. Together we worked out a process by which managers could identify the types and seriousness of problems, I could inform the teaching team of alternatives in behaviour management, and a concerted and consistent way forward could be devised and implemented that would align with relevant university policies.

This is the process that was agreed upon:

  1. Workshop 1: Approaches to classroom behaviour management
  2. Needs analysis: Staff survey of behavioural issues and their perceived relative severity
  3. Workshop 2: Interactive demonstration of behaviour management techniques
  4. Compilation and distribution of university regulations and a CBM reading list
  5. Workshop 3: Long term planning
  6. Consolidation and review

The intended outcome of Workshop 1 was for IFP colleagues to be able to articulate the various established approaches to CBM according to educational literature. For Workshop 2, it was for IFP colleagues to evaluate and select reactive techniques to modify student behaviour “live” during lectures and seminars. For Workshop 3, it was for the whole IFC team to identify and plan preventative longer-term measures in an integrated, consensual approach.

In Workshop 1, I presented four CBM approaches: systemic, psychodynamic, behavioural and humanistic (Hart, 2010).

One of the managers created a staff survey on types of problematic behaviour and their perceived relative seriousness. This survey was administered between Workshops 1 and 2 with a very high response rate. The results are presented in the chart below.

To achieve the main aim of Workshop 2, I made use of my network across the university to invite a guest presenter, a professor from the faculty of education. She has expertise in CBM and agreed to demonstrate a selection of techniques that may be employed when students transgress classroom rules. This was performed as a role play with IFC lecturers performing the parts of students who displayed problematic behaviours. It was a memorable, hilarious experience with a serious point, and evaluative discussion on the techniques following the role play was lively and interesting.

I also summarised University policies on student conduct and supplied links to reference documents and key readings on behaviour management.

Workshop 3 was the culmination of my intervention. It was a longer session using group discussion and flipcharts to negotiate and generate a set of preventative measures, standards and guidelines, aligned to institutional policy, that would be administered consistently by all teaching staff in future.

Consolidation after Workshop 3 was undertaken by the IFC leadership team. They compiled the decisions and presented everything formally in time for implementation in the next academic year. The new CBM approach and strategies would be evaluated later.

I will next provide a rationale for addressing the IFP’s request for assistance in the manner that I did.

Educational developers perform a range of roles. One of them is to respond to ad hoc requests for support such as the one from IFP that I have described. In this kind of situation, I believe it is important to offer a bespoke service that meets needs in that specific learning-teaching environment.

Conducting learning needs diagnoses was already embedded in my practice during my earlier career as a teacher of English for Academic Purposes and as an educational consultant in the secondary sector. It has carried over into my work as an educational developer. I am aware of a range of ways to gather information prior to interventions or facilitations. In the case of IFP, it was through a meeting with the management team and a staff survey.

The first workshop was an opportunity to show IFP lecturers that there is a body of work on the topic of behaviour management. The fact that there are several approaches and a range of strategies available reassured them to some extent. It was also an opportunity for me to learn their current responses to perceived behaviour issues, which it transpired were diverse and not consistent between staff members.

Knowing that the final outcomes of the intervention would only start to bear fruit in the following academic year, I considered it important to introduce a range of classroom techniques to the lecturers to help them reinforce appropriate behaviours in the short term. Such techniques are reactive in nature and do not address underlying causes of the behaviours. However, they could enable teachers to partially re-establish more productive learning environments to the benefit of those students who were eager to study and who were being distracted by less cooperative learners. To this end, Workshop 2 demonstrated those techniques and invited IFP lecturers to select those techniques that they thought were viable for use.

Workshop 3 only took place after IFP staff had had ample time to read and absorb the provided policy documents, academic readings and staff survey results.  Thus informed, there was an efficiency about the final session and in a short time, planning documents were created that summarised the intended direction and the measures to be taken in readiness for behaviour management of the next cohort.

In hindsight, it seems that my intervention had a significant limitation. I was focused more on staff perspectives rather than students’. A more comprehensive approach on my part would have included investigation into the reasons for, or causes of, learners’ conduct during lessons. There may have been many factors affecting their behaviours related to, e.g., programme quality, lecturers’ demeanours, cultural backgrounds, personal external factors, homesickness, etc. Saying this, it is feasible that students joining the IFP in the following academic year would have dissimilar behaviours and influences on behaviour. Any conclusions drawn by asking current learners may not have been that applicable to future learners. Still, I think it was an omission, and I encouraged IFP managers to pay close attention not only to student feedback on the quality of course provision, but also to conduct confidential interviews to gain insight into learners’ attitudes and circumstances.

Below is the list of references that I recommended to IFP lecturers and managers:

Bennet, T. (2010). The behaviour guru: behaviour management solutions for teachers. Continuum.

Brown, S., Armstrong, S. & Thompson, G. (1998). Motivating students. Kogan Page.

Canter, L. (2010). Assertive discipline: Positive behaviour management for today’s classroom. Solution Tree Press.

Cowley, S. (2010). Getting the buggers to behave. Continuum.

Cox, S. & Heames, R. (1999). Managing the pressures in teaching. Falmer Press.

Department for Education and Science [DfES] (1989). Discipline in schools. The Elton report. London: HMSO.

Hart, R. (2010). Classroom behaviour management: educational psychologists’ views on effective practice. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, Vol. 15, No. 4, 353-371.

Rogers, B. (2011). Classroom behaviour: A practical guide to effective teaching, behaviour management and colleague support. Sage.

Secrets of the teenage brain: A psychologist’s guide for teachers https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/dec/09/teenage-brain-psychologist-guide-teachers-classroom

Sprick, R.S. (2013). Discipline in the secondary classroom: A positive approach to behaviour management. John Wiley & Sons.

Teaching Philosophy for Children online – how and why?

  • With a shorter attention span, kids may find it difficult to sit through a lesson in front of a computer screen. What are some tips on keeping students engaged and involved?

Poorly designed virtual lessons that leave learners passive for long periods invite students to become distracted. Young learners’ chances of remaining focused are higher when lesson topics are intriguing yet relatable to their world experience, when learning tasks are challenging yet achievable with guidance, and when they are on task for a high proportion of the lessons.

To make sure of the latter, my lessons at Young Philosophers are divided into short phases which are all active in nature. Even when the philosophical topic is first introduced through a short, animated story or other kind of stimulus, I make it an interactive presentation by posing questions to involve learners and ensure comprehension. After analysing the stimulus, students brainstorm more abstract questions and vote for the questions that will be discussed deeply. This element of choice is also important to keep them motivated and interested.

As students become more comfortable with my P4C (Philosophy for Children) lesson framework, I intervene more selectively to prompt higher quality discussion between learners and provide quality feedback on thinking skills development. So again, the emphasis is on them having ownership of the process. I want to encourage them to feel like partners in learning.

  • Interaction can be a challenge in virtual settings. How can teachers help and make sure students understand the concepts taught in lessons? 

That the lessons are virtual actually has an advantage in that I can listen in to discussions more easily, particularly when students are in break-out groups. It also helps that class size is limited to six students. There are enough learners to have a range of perspectives in discussions but few enough for me to monitor and help individuals if they have miscomprehensions that are barriers to learning.

This is Philosophy, mind you, so the primary activity is exploring complex concepts more deeply through dialogue and reflection. Concepts like ‘personal identity’ do not have universally agreed definitions, which is why they have been debated for centuries. If I were to simply explain such a concept and then test for a ‘correct’ understanding, this would not help learners to develop their rationality and imagination.

However, when discussing a concept such as ‘identity’, learners may unintentionally equivocate, i.e. shift between definitions of the term, which causes confusion in discussions. In this situation, I highlight what is happening and underline the importance of agreeing on which meaning is being examined. This is an example of me equipping them with philosophical tools.  

  • What are some essential elements of effective virtual learning? 

As with face-to-face teaching, it is crucial for teachers to know learners well enough to tailor learning experiences. For this reason, I welcome all new students in a one-to-one online session to understand more about them as people and the reasons for their interest in Philosophy.

I also provide a balance between more guided learning and independent exploration. Some virtual learning takes place real time in my online lessons using a webinar application, and some takes place asynchronously with students exploring recommended online resources or completing individual tasks at their own pace before or after lessons.

There are numerous methods or recipes for eLearning and indeed I follow a framework derived from inquiry-based learning. However, the success of any method’s implementation depends on the skills of the tutor. As a trained teacher with thirty years’ experience, I am able to apply my P4C framework expertly, but I am also confident enough to diverge from it according to learners’ responses in lessons. This reactive style is a hallmark of professional teaching.

  • Why is learning philosophical skills important for children today?

There is research evidence that P4C courses have a positive impact on analytical skills, creativity, and even language ability and maths. By learning philosophical skills in their pre-teens, learners can be better prepared for the challenges of upper secondary school studies.

Less pragmatically, students have a chance to apply these skills to explore concepts of interest to all human beings, for example Fairness, Happiness, or Beauty. These topics are not commonly addressed directly in upper primary or lower secondary school curricula but, as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

  • How does philosophical thinking help prepare students for today’s world?

By following my courses, students can develop their capacity for calm and rational discussion which, in my opinion, is much needed in today’s world. An example of a disposition that is expected in Young Philosophers is the willingness to change opinions when it becomes clear that another student’s viewpoint is more logical and better evidenced.

I hope this shows that Philosophy is not the same as arguing or debating. It is not meant to be adversarial. Instead, it is cooperating with others so that all parties can move towards clearer understandings of complex ideas.

Young Philosophers seeks to nurture reasonableness, in all its meanings.  

An investigation into Lesson Study’s potential to augment reflective practice and to foster self-efficacy for novice academic teaching staff

This is my latest research proposal for which I am seeking collaborators and an HE environment in which to situate the study and collect the data. Please contact me if this interests you.

Lesson Study is a collaborative approach to teacher development that originated in the Japanese school sector but has since spread internationally. Online there are numerous descriptions of this systematic mode of professional learning for teachers but a commendably clear one is available at SCITT Lesson Study.

My motivation to carry out a formal study on the viability of Lesson Study is primarily to find ways to build lecturers’ reflection and decision-making capacities. My other objectives are to strengthen relationships between academic developers and novice lecturers, to stimulate lecturers’ self-efficacy and ultimately to promote higher quality instruction.  My hope is that this study will produce results of interest and value to the wider community of academic developers and inform decisions on methodology for the professionalisation of teaching in higher education. The outcomes of my investigation into Lesson Study may highlight the case for more learner-centred, deeply contextualised, process-oriented models of initial teaching development programmes in higher education. If the model that I develop and test is perceived as relevant by participating lecturers to their professional needs and challenges, it may indicate the occurrence of differentiation, which the taught programmes that I was involved with struggled to address. Furthermore, part of this study is a revaluation of the roles of educational developers. In my Lesson Study model, I intend that academic developers act more like Problem-Based Learning facilitators by assisting the reflective process, asking questions to provoke deeper enquiry into pedagogical matters, and providing input only on a need-to-know basis. My expectation is that this could prove a more comfortable and appreciated role than the current one of taught programme convener.

The programmes to which I contributed in Singapore and the UK were accredited by the Staff and Educational Development Association and Advance HE (formerly Higher Education Academy) respectively. As such they were scholarly, underpinned by principles with wide acceptance in the contemporary field of learning and teaching in higher education. Both programmes, for example, pledged allegiance to a (social) constructivist view of learning. They were also influenced by Ramsden (2003) and Biggs (1991) who shared the conviction that lecturers should seek understanding of student learning to inform decisions about teaching. A case for learner-centredness on the programmes was strengthened by Prosser and Trigwell’s (1999) research findings about relations between attitudes to teaching and depth of learning. In 2008, Hanbury, Prosser and Rickinson reported that, in the UK, teaching development programmes were successfully influencing participants to be more student-focused.

Therefore, it seemed appropriate that the approach adopted in the two programmes to which I contributed was not direct training of teaching skills. By contrast, participants engaged in a variety of session types that included interactive and collaborative tasks on topics in learning and teaching. They then applied independently whatever they found valuable from the sessions to their teaching situations. Evidence of transferral of concepts and strategies was collected in the form of assessed reflective written accounts. Participants were guided to compose reflections on their teaching experience through Brookfield’s (2005) four lenses: self, student, peer and literature.

I marked numerous reflective accounts and provided summative feedback on them. However rich and interesting these were, I felt unease that I had not observed the teaching sessions first-hand and could not remark on decisions that had been made “live” during those sessions, comparing what I had witnessed with what had been written.  This appeared to me as a less than optimal way to support the development of reflective practitioners. (My perspective on reflective practice is influenced by Cowan (1998) who followed Schön (1983) by incorporating reflection-in-practice and reflection-for-practice.)

Conscious of my limitations as an observer, as is the case for all academic developers, that I am not expert in all academic disciplines, I aimed instead to provide structure for more rigorous and predominantly peer-assisted development of reflective practice. Therefore, I looked to Lesson Study as an alternative to both the existing model in the two tertiary institutions and to the model of a teaching practicum. The role of academic developer as reflective facilitator in Lesson Study would also be explored in this study.

Is Lesson Study a credible alternative? It has a long heritage in Japan where it is a popular model of professional learning for teachers. It has also been adapted to other national contexts. A review of nine studies on Lesson Study’s impact by Cheung and Wong (2014) indicated that it is “a powerful tool to help teachers examine their practices”. Wood and Cajkler (2018) issued a Lesson Study in higher education ‘call to arms’, seeing the framework as a catalyst for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  At this stage, I believe that Lesson Study has enough potential to merit experimentation in the context I describe. These are my research questions:

  1. Does my observation about theory and practice in two initial teaching development programmes apply more broadly across the higher education sector?
  2. Are my concerns legitimate? Is there a basis for this study?
  3. What is the evidence base for the impact of Lesson Study?
  4. Is Lesson Study transferable to higher education? What adjustments to the model may need to be made? Is there a valid role for academic developers in Lesson Study?
  5. Does Lesson Study promote reflection-in-action and judicious decision-making during teaching sessions?
  6. What are perceived advantages and disadvantages of Lesson Study according to early career lecturers?
  7. Would Lesson Study be practicable compared with existing programmes?

In order to answer question (1) above, I would scrutinise teaching development programme descriptions in higher education institutions. Research question (2) is a matter of discussion of educational literature about reflective practice and the means by which it can be inculcated in early career teaching staff. For question (3) I would distil findings from the substantial literature on Lesson Study. Given its heavily contextualised nature, conclusions about the efficacy of Lesson Study will be relatable rather than generalisable. Nevertheless, I would still hope to discover insights and indicators of Lesson Study’s potential for my purposes. This would help to answer research question (4) partially, but I would also like to confer with other academic developers on my customisation of Lesson Study and the role specification of reflective facilitator. The main experimental phase of this study could then commence. Lesson Study would take place with volunteer groups of lecturers using its established processes in the interest of raising learning quality. Qualitative methods, possibly phenomenographic, would be applied to address question (5). As a follow-up to Lesson Study, I would conduct focus groups to gauge the reactions of lecturers to the model. This part of the investigation is needed to appreciate the likelihood of acceptance of a Lesson Study model, i.e. to answer question (6). For the final research question (7), I would need to consider programme design and provision from a wider perspective, including logistical, social and political factors in higher education institutions. A separate body of literature would need to be examined; interviews with senior management would also be beneficial.

References

Biggs, J. (1991). Teaching for quality learning at university. Open University Press. [1st Edition]

Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. Jossey Bass. [1st Edition]

Cowan, J. (1998). On becoming an innovative university teacher. Open University Press.

Cheung, W.M. and Wong, W.Y. (2014). Does Lesson Study work? International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, 3(2), 137-149.

Hanbury, A., Prosser, M. and Rickinson, M. (2008). The differential impact of UK accredited teaching development programmes on academics’ approaches to teaching. Studies in Higher Education, 33(4), 469-483.

Prosser, M. and Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding learning and teaching: The experience in higher education. Open University Press.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Basic Books.

Wood, P. and Cajkler, W. (2018). Lesson Study: A collaborative approach to scholarship for teaching and learning in higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42(3), 313-326.