ChemEdCarnival – 2

Last month, Dr Katherine Haxton re-introduced the concept of the blog carnival (link), where the host thinks of a topic, bloggers write about it and then on carnival day, the host publishes a blogpost with links to all the posts. This month, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Chemical Education Research Group (CERG) are hosting the carnival. The topic the CERG have chosen is (link):

What education research has most influenced your practice?

As a trainee teacher of chemistry, it is rather difficult to fully answer the question as I have had limited experience in putting education research into my teaching practice. However, I can offer my perspectives on a few research articles that I have found very interesting and I have tried to implement the research findings into my lessons, with varied amounts of success.

I have read some education research journal articles as a first point of call when I am trying to get my head around the vague essay titles for my PGCE course, such as Chemistry Education Research and Practice, Journal of Chemical Education, International Journal of Science Education and Science Education. However, I often find myself asking the following questions, “…how can I implement the findings from the research…?” and “…how applicable is the research to my current placement school…?”. If the ultimate goal of education research is to improve teaching practice for the benefit of the students in our classes, surely the articles need to be written in such a way that is easily accessible to all. As a trainee teacher in secondary education, I know of a handful of established teachers that actively read eduction research and even fewer in my current teacher training cohort.

Whilst researching for the second of many PGCE essays, entitled “Assessment Practices in the Scientific Subjects” (link), I wrote about the use of Scaffold Assessments as a form of effective assessment practice. Introduced by Gipps in 1994,  who suggested moving away from the idea of ‘static’ assessment, i.e., end of topic exams, and towards a more ‘interactive model’. Gipps suggested that this interactive model could enable learners to succeed and make personal progress no matter their ability (or even their disability).

As an example, structuring in-class verbal questioning that allows students who perhaps suffer from low self or subject confidence, or, indeed those who are struggling to grasp the learning concepts of the course, to simply recall information is, perhaps, a good starting point. The complexity of the questions, and the type of answers needed to be verbalised, increases as the student builds confidence. This approach can allow these students to begin to feel that they are accessing the material and consequently building their confidence in the learning objectives. From a teaching point of view, asking these simple recall style of questioning can help to build a positive rapport with the student and can also facilitate the giving of immediate feedback from the teacher to the student to assist with their learning.

I tired to implement this type of assessment in most of my classes at my previous school as a handful of students were somewhat lacking in confidence in engaging with my lesson. My mentor at the school suggested an idea to me in which to ask simple questions that require only a few words in response. When the student answered the question correctly, ensure that I have them lots of praise. This would then be followed up by asking a slightly more challenging / demanding question to another student. Conversely, if the weaker student didn’t answer it correctly (or answered the question partly correctly), it would give me time to provide immediate feedback to their answer.

One of the issues with scaffolding assessment is that it is primarily, but not always, verbally based, which means that any answer given by the learner is highly subjective owing to the teacher listening to the answer and providing feedback to the learner. Another problem with this type of assessment practice is that it may lack the ability for the learner(s) to access the higher levels of questioning and learning as verbal-based questioning can sometimes rely on the learner providing short responses. By the very nature of this type of questioning, it can perhaps only be regarded as an alternative form of formative assessment.

Implementing this type of questioning over the course of a few lessons at my first placement, it was hoped that the students would increase their confidence and start to engage more in my lessons. However, my placement came to an end before I was able to see any long-term impact. Perhaps in my NQT year I could reintroduce this again and see how much of an effect it can have.

Gipps, C. and Murphy, P., 1994. A fair test? Assessment, Achievement and Equity. Buckingham: Open University Press.

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