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Subject Planning and Teaching

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Subject Planning and Teaching

January 5th 2009

New teachers starting their initial training frequently say that they aim to “pass on their knowledge for the benefit of other” (Wood, K., 2000 cited in Davies and Brant, 2006; 7).  I have to agree with the statement made by Wood. I am a trainee teacher whose aim is to pass on my knowledge and understanding to other people so that they better understand the world in terms of Business and Economics.

During my placement at South Bromsgrove High School (SBHS) I was given the opportunity to do just that within a department that taught Business and Economics. There were four members of staff who shared the teaching within the department with two of the teaching staff specialising in Economics. The groups that I had the opportunity to teach ranged from a low ability Year 9 ICT class to Year 12 Economics class.

Very early into my placement I was provided with a ‘teacher’s tool kit’ (see, appendix 1) that I was able to use when planning lessons and was introduced to the idea of ‘Smiths accelerated learning cycle”. This is essentially a “means of helping teachers in classrooms raise students motivation and achievement by providing life long learning skills on understanding how we learn rather than an expedient preoccupation with what we learn” (Smith, 1998; 25). The framework used by the school meant that I knew that I had to include the following when planning my lessons:

Starters- An engaging activity which recaps previous learning or introduces the lesson content. Ensures students start today’s learning as soon as they enter the classroom

The big picture- Highlights the relevance of the lesson content to everyday life and how it fits into the unit of learning

Objective- Objectives are shared with the students and discussed, emphasising the learning language

Activity and demonstration of learning- A variety of challenging activities and opportunities to demonstrate learning through multiple intelligences supported by peer and self assessment

Revisit the objective- Designated time for students to review the lesson objectives and their personal targets

Review- A student centred plenary focusing on the lesson content or metacognitively reviewing how the learning has taken place.

Preview- A brief outline of the next lesson, how it relates to this lesson and how it fits into the unit of learning

When planning my lessons I ensured that I covered these points as best as I could as it was the schools philosophy to do so.  With this framework I was then able to consult with my mentor who gave me the scheme of work that he had been sent by the examining board ‘Edexcel’ (see, appendix 2).

The scheme of work was very explicit in telling me what I needed to teach, the difficulties I was likely to experience and the type of language that I should use within my lesson content i.e. handouts and PowerPoint’s. With the Smiths model and the Edexcel scheme of work I was able to start thinking about planning and delivering lessons.

The research that I undertook for my first assessment taught me that individuals learn in many different ways. “The work of Gardner (1983) and others leads us to take a very different view of intelligence” (Davies and Brant, 2006; 146) the fact that there are many forms of intelligence (see, appendix 3) and that these intelligences can be developed meant that lesson had to include a wide variety of tasks for a whole range of abilities and learning styles.

Once I had been introduced to my teaching group I was able to begin to building a picture of the different types of student ability and behaviour that I was likely to expect when teaching the class.                                      The class itself was a Year 11 Business Studies GCSE group which consisted of 18 boys and 11 girls, none of the students within the group were SEN registered and 55% of the students were predicted to achieve A*-C. With this type of class as with all classes came the issue of differentiation.                 Hart (1996) argues “that differentiation has a central part to play to ensure equal opportunities for all students” (Hart, 1996; 190). As a trainee teacher I am acutely aware of the difficult nature of differentiation, Brant and Davies (2006) suggest that “the difficulties in successfully differentiating between the needs of learners are frequently underestimated” (Brant and Davies, 2006; 191). In order to tackle this, I worked hard to create tasks that would appeal to a wide range of students; an example of such can be found in appendix 3. These worked really well as they appealed to visual, audio and kinaesthetic (VAK) learning styles.  

I was quick to appreciate the importance of differentiation within the class as it affected the planning of my lessons due to the fact that I had to design tasks that ensured all students were attentive (see, appendix 4).

  An example of two students from the class can be seen below:

         I have labelled the students as A and B for the purpose of anonymity. Student A was studying A Level accounting which meant that I needed to consider a task for him so that he remained attentive throughout the finance lessons (Profit and Loss) for this I took a case study from an A level Business Studies book (Marcousé et al, 2003; 170). The task was a revision exercise that the student could do during a balance sheet lesson as he had recently covered this during his extra curricula class.  I also had to be mindful that he wasn’t an issue in terms of behaviour management as he would be helping other students within the class. In stark contrast, student B had a ‘can’t be bothered attitude’ which meant that I had to create simplified tasks which took little effort so that she would understand the work that she was doing.

The example above is just two students from the class and I appreciate that my observations of them cannot be generalised from, I just aim to illustrate that there are many different learning styles and abilities within the class.

The first set of lessons that I taught were the cash flow lessons. Throughout the main part of the lesson I worked through the PowerPoint presentation with the students (see, appendix 5). I asked the students to do a number of tasks such as copying out the starter activity into their text books. I designed a task using the analogy of a bath without a plug to represent the inflows and outflows of a business. I felt that this was a good example of a task that worked really well. The students responded to the task as it appealed to a wide range of learning styles. For example, kinaesthetic learners had the opportunity to come to the front of the class and use the interactive white board to draw arrows to either inflows or outflows. The bath analogy also provided the students with an object by which they remember what they had been taught.

Once the basic theory of the cash flow statement had been explained I felt confident enough to introduce a worksheet which outlined the layout of a cash flow statement. There were a number of variables and the students were required to fill in the worksheet with my guidance. Behaviour theorists talk about this type of process as having “a high degree of support (scaffolding)” (Brant and Davis, 2006; 124). The disadvantage of this type of learning is that those students whose wish to work more independently are often held back. On reflection, I would approach this lesson with a different strategy. Firstly, I would introduce the theory of how a cash flow statement works and design a task that meant that all students could be involved a single/short task. From this I would be able to establish those students who would require a lesser degree of scaffolding and set tasks accordingly.  

 When setting tasks for the cash flow lessons I also referred to ‘levels of conceptual development’ (Brant and Davis, 2006; 149). Under this section, Piaget (1991), suggests that by the age of 12 (key stage 3), learners are able to form objects into ‘classes’ and manipulate these classes to form ‘concrete operations’ in addition to this, learners can also “reason through hypothesis (‘formal operations’)    (Piaget, 1991 cited in Brant and Davis, 2006; 149). This ‘Piagetian distinction between concrete and formal operations’ was demonstrated when the students completed the cash flow tasks that I had set them. I was confident that the students would be able to complete the tasks that I had set them as the information that they were processing was ‘concrete’ and therefore not complex. Tasks for future lessons such as the ratio analysis lessons would need to be well thought out as the skills required to complete the questions are high order skills due to the fact that the students would have to compare two types of data in order to get the correct outcome.

Following the cash flow lessons I helped plan a series of profit and loss lessons which were co-taught with my PGCE colleague. The first lesson introduced the trade account. To help the students understand what the ‘cost of sales’ section of the trade account was, cakes were brought into the class and the students were encouraged to think of the types of costs that the producer was likely to incur during the production process. Unsurprisingly, the response from the students was very encouraging. The students were able to think of many costs ranging from flour, eggs and sugar to more complex costs such as marketing costs and transport costs.

I feel that the students would not have been as receptive to learning had they not had the incentive of a slice of cake at the end of the lesson. This set the profit and loss lessons on the ‘right foot’ and the students were keen to learn.  

It was very important that the students understood the final figure of the trade account (gross profit) as this figure formed the basis for the following double lesson which introduced the profit and loss and appropriation accounts. I essentially required the students to link what they had learnt in the previous lesson and apply it to a different context i.e. use the figure from the trade account in the profit and loss account (see, appendix 6)  

 Bloom et al’s taxonomy discusses this process as a ‘progression of learning’ whereby students are required to build more complex connections between different pieces of knowledge. As a teacher I was aware that demanding too much from the students in a short space of time would lead to problems. Bloom et al (1956) also suggests that “If the cognitive demand is greater than the student’s capacity for learning then they will fail the task and the student’s motivation will become damaged”. This theory suggests that I, as a teacher, should aim to create tasks that stretch students so that are able to further their learning, but not overstretch them as this leads to motivation becoming damaged.  

For the first lesson, the tasks were kept relatively simple. The students were asked to complete a simple trade account in pairs with my help. Although this was a highly scaffolded process where the students were unable to work with a great amount of independence, I felt it was necessary as it was the first in a series of lessons and I needed to be sure that all the students understood the basic principles of the trade account. Had I have taken this stance for the rest of the profit and loss lessons I feel that some student would have become disinterested and un-attentive as many of the students within the class were good independent learners.

The profit and loss/appropriation account unit was taught over a double lesson. The starter activity didn’t work particularly well as it was very similar to the starter activity for the first lesson, although the students did provide me with the answers that I had been looking for so I was confident that learning had taken place, this meant that I could move onto the main part of the lesson. The feedback from my mentor highlighted the importance of incorporating many tasks into a finance lessons (see, appendix 7). In reflection, I would have designed a lesson which was more interactive. I have considered the idea of giving each student the option of creating a business that they can apply the profit and loss account to. This would personalise the learning process whilst contextualising it as students would have the chance to discuss what was happening within their own business rather than having to think about a company that has been given to them by me. My mentor also felt that I ‘over complicated’ depreciation as the students did not need to know it in any great detail, however, a positive message from the lesson was that I put depreciation into context using a good method. I got the students to think about how their goods devalue, e.g. their iPod is worth less now then it was last year. The students were able to make the link and therefore understood what was meant by depreciation.

During the profit and loss lessons I was able to take advantage of the ICT resource that the Business department had at its disposal. As a tool for teaching, it proved invaluable, I was able to set tasks for the students and they could work independently or in small groups. Students who excelled were set extension tasks while those students who struggled were give 1-2-1 help.  I feel that using ICT to improve teaching practice is a good quality to have as a trainee teacher. It opens the door to so many more ‘what ifs’ i.e. what happens if costs increase? What happens to retained profit if rent goes down and so on and so on… asking a student to manipulate data on an A4 sheet of paper can be difficult, but putting the information into a spreadsheet and providing ‘what if scenarios’ is great. Using this strategy also makes it easier to differentiate, for example, a student whose understanding of ICT and Business Studies is good, can be set a task which involves more input from the student. Students who struggle with either ICT or Business Studies can be given a simpler version of the task. I have used this method during my time at SBHS and found that it worked really well.

Overall, the profit and loss lessons and cash flow lessons worked really well. From the formal lesson observation that my mentor took, it was clear that learning had taken place and even when I personally felt that something had not worked so well, learning still took place.

The final set of lessons that I will briefly discuss are the Ratio Analysis lessons. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to deliver the lessons due to the nature of the timetable at the school, but I did plan them and run through them with my mentor. The verbal feedback that I received from my mentor was very encouraging and he said that he would use the plans to teach the lessons. Above I mentioned Blooms taxonomy and Piaget’s level of conceptual development. I understand that there are many other educational theorists that I could have used and I’m not discrediting what their research suggests but I have found Piaget's theory particularly useful. When planning tasks such as those that I planned for the ration analysis lessons, I had to consider the complex nature of what I was asking the students to do. When calculating the ratios students would need to look at many types of information which requires a higher order of thinking. During the presentation that I had created for the lesson, I had create many ‘mini tasks’ (see, appendix 8) that kept the students thinking such as a ‘cloze procedure’ task (Brant and Davies, 2006; 125) where I created a task with missing words that the students had to fill in. I am aware of the disadvantage of using ‘clozed procedure’ tasks for example, it reliance on the student to be fairly literate but was confident that the literacy skills of the class would be fine. Following this, I planned to set some students tasks that were pre-loaded on the intra net and set some tasks on flash cards (the result of this can be seen in appendix 8).

When planning the scheme of work with my PGCE colleague, we decided that we would set homework tasks (see, appendix 9) as a means by which we could track the progress of the students. The starter and plenary activities were also designed as an engaging activity which recapped previous learning while introducing the lesson content. The plenary acted as time for students to review the lesson objectives and their personal targets. This was in keeping with the ‘teacher tool kit’ and ensured that the students knew what to expect.

During my placement I have set an exam question for a Year 12 economics group (see, appendix 10). It was my responsibility to take the papers in a mark them. I decided to provide formative feedback for the students as I felt that this was the most effective way to give feedback to the students given the nature of the questions. In general the students demonstrated an understanding of some key points such as selecting/evaluating information in a case study while applying basic economic theory. However, the vast majority struggled with an answer that had required them to draw a diagram (16% of the class got the question right). From marking the question I was able to evaluate the results and plan a session that revised this area of the subject. Following this the students were asked to retake the question. Roughly 80% of the students answered the question well and the 20% were targeted for further revision/questioning. This is my experience of assessment and monitoring and it has highlighted its importance. “Assessment for Learning (AFL) practices such as target-setting, pupil self-assessment and peer assessment have been adopted by three quarter of schools” (Teacher net, 2008), highlighting that  constant assessment and monitoring of students as a vital tool which can be used to help students succeed. I have found that monitoring the work that students have completed helps students understand what they are doing right and wrong.

Overall, I feel that I have been able to demonstrate an understanding of what make good teaching practice. My time at SBHS has highlighted that I need to differentiate more and become aware of national strategies which will improve my teaching practice.

Word Count: 3,186


Brant and Davies (2006) Business, Economics and Enterprise- Teaching School Subjects 11-19, Routledge, London

Hart, S (1996) Differentiation and the Secondary Curriculum: Debates and Dilemmas, Routledge, 1996

Smith, A (1998) Accelerated Learning in Practice: Brain-based Methods for Accelerating Motivation and Achievement, Continuum International Publishing Group, 1998

Unknown Author (2008) Assessment of Pupils [internet] available from < www.teachernet.gov.uk/teachingandlearning/afl/+pupils+assessment&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=uk > [accessed] 05.12.2008

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