The second week of our four-week Virtual Practicum was designed to focus on developing tasks for learning.

The week’s activities drew on and linked to previous work on curriculum and inclusion as part of the wider PGDE Primary programme and provided an opportunity for students to apply their new knowledge around pedagogy.

I have broken this blog into three sections: Plan, Do and Review. This is a familiar refrain to many involved in education and reflected both the approaches to task planning we explored together and the student experience over the week.

Plan. Understanding, Unpicking and Up-levelling.

As outlined in the Virtual Practicum overview blog the core theme of the second week was designing tasks for learning.

We wanted students across the week to be able to explore key elements involved in successfully planning and assessing effective learning tasks. To make this meaningful it was important to include an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge, understanding, skills and creativity to design and present a task. As this is a ‘virtual’ practicum, a scenario for a fictional Primary 5 class was provided as a starting point.

Students had initial inputs on the thinking behind what makes a successful task, focusing primarily on building on prior learning, clarity of purpose in terms of learning and formative assessment and the structure and development of a task. Once the basics had been explored and the planning process unpicked,  students had the opportunity to progressively deepen and build their understanding of what a task involves and the constant process of adaptation involved.

There were varied approaches to engaging with thinking around Curriculum and how this supports the development of engaging and meaningful tasks. Students could participate through drop-in sessions and live inputs focusing on both subject areas and broader pedagogical approaches such as Interdisciplinary learning (IDL). Further challenge was added as students began to consider the process of adaptation to develop an inclusive task, focusing attention at this stage on English as an Additional Language (EAL) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

As in Week 1, students worked in small teams to learn with and from each other. Recordings and discussion sessions were built in throughout the week to support and allow students to see others’ thinking. There were opportunities to engage with video recordings focusing on the structure of tasks and formative assessment, a sample of a child’s work to apply skills of assessment and feedback, examples of planning for IDL and suggestion of approaches to assessment of language for children with English as an additional language. With each new layer of learning, students were asked to revisit and develop their plan based on their developing thinking about the diverse needs in a class; this mirrored the process involved in planning in a real class where adaptation based on new evidence is a constant feature of good practice.

Do. Developing and sharing the task.

Over the week, students were asked to work together to develop a task based on a class scenario. The scenario outlined a diverse range of needs, provided a brief overview of available resources in terms of support for learning and gave further details on the needs and interests of one child in the class. This was the starting point for thinking about the task.

The next step was to begin to generate ideas and taking the opportunity to construct a shared understanding of diverse needs and how to support these through tasks. Students were given the choice of what curricular area to focus on and what the learning was to be. This required them to agree on what assumptions they would make about the children’s existing knowledge, skills, understanding and attitudes, as effective planning needs to start from the child.

Having determined a starting point for the learning task, students had to draw on the week’s inputs to build, adapt and finalise their presentation. Working together in this way reflects the collegiate approach often found in schools where colleagues discuss understanding, children’s needs and ideas for planning and support each other’s professional development – this also involves critical analysis and reflection on practice, something that we were delighted to see in the questions around presentations on the final day of week 2.

Students used the Collaborate space on MyAberdeen to present their thinking to a wider group and their LinC support tutor. LinC groups provide a support mechanism for students while on placement, and this was an opportunity to discuss developing understanding, question assumptions and thinking and learn from each other.

Review: How did it go?

In the space of an already very busy week, the students succeeded in planning and discussing a wide range of tasks that reflected creativity alongside a growing understanding of the learning and teaching process and how to plan for it at this early stage in their development. A real strength of their presentations was that they conveyed an awareness of their role in meeting all children’s needs – an excellent starting point for planning to meet the needs of children when they assume responsibility for their own classes.

Feedback from LinC tutors was overwhelmingly positive, they felt that students presented “a variety of lessons and were so supportive of each other”, “valued each other’s work” and “gave consideration to providing appropriate challenge for all learners”.

Feedback

At the end of the week we set up a Google Form to review how the week had gone. The confidence of students that they understood task design grew significantly, with 93% expressing a positive opinion, compared with 7% who were confident at the start of the week. They particularly valued live lectures, which does underscore the value of these as part of our blended approach.  Students welcomed the constructive feedback they received from their tutors following their presentations.

One area that students would have welcomed more support in was in helping them to develop good etiquette and skills in working collaboratively online, something we can build into learning over this year. We could make clearer what work is optional and which is required, this is something that can be reflected across all programmes and courses as we develop our blended approach to learning. The students valued each other’s work so we need to ensure there is a structure in place to allow them to share what they do and learn from each other, as they would do on campus.

Summary

At a point when we are unable to allow students to physically be in a school, the second week of the Virtual Practicum nonetheless allowed them to begin to understand and experience the process of planning for learning and assessment through tasks. Often this is a tricky aspect of practice to get to grips with but with the support of peers our students managed to live the experience of sharing ideas, reviewing them in light of new information and reflecting on the process – all core professional skills that should stand them in good stead for the next year.

Blogpost by Mhairi Freeman, University of Aberdeen