|The Effectiveness of Teacher Resource Centre Strategy - Education research paper No. 34 (DFID, 1999, 257 p.)|
|CHAPTER TWO : The British Teachers' Centre - Its Rise and Fall: A Review of the Literature|
1.9.1 Professional development or teacher training.
The problems with how to evaluate inSET lead researchers to explore a range" of questions which are probably helpful in considering the general nature and usefulness of teachers' centres. One aspect looked at was the nature of inSET, whether it was more effective to provide teachers with 'education' so that they developed professional skills, or whether 'training' was needed to help them to master particular classroom practices or the use of specific curriculum materials. It was generally felt by those in the teachers' centre movement that professional development was essential for effective teaching (Kahn 1984) and that this required a much wider knowledge base than simple 'training' could provide. The use of the word "education" rather than "training" in the title of the NCTCL journal reflects their belief that training is only one part of teacher education (Lee 1997).
Looking to the teacher, Taylor (1980: 338) speaks strongly of 'professional responsibility' and suggests that all types of training and study experiences would be useless if the individual teacher did not feel committed to professional growth (p.336). He believed that if teacher education could 'establish, maintain and enhance' such a commitment, teachers would be able to make use of, and compensate for any gaps or deficiencies available resources ways 'that have favourable outcomes for student learning in the classroom'. Each teacher would need to use 'all means available to become a better-educated person, to develop judgments and skills and to keep in touch with ideas and innovations his or her own cognate fields'(p.337). Dadds (1997: 33) also discusses the importance of professional responsibility and defines it as nurturing within oneself 'inner wisdom and critical judgment about what can be provided for each child in each situation'. She sees the theories and methods provided by 'experts' only as 'supportive resources' (p.34).
The aims of the providers of inSET are seen as indicators of their beliefs about the professional nature of teaching. Dadds (1997) analyses the attitudes of teacher educators and criticises those who believe that teachers, who work so closely with children, ' should have their thinking about the nature of good practice arranged for them by those outside schools'. While she asserts that 'it cannot be the best interests of our children to be educated by teachers whose intellect and professionalism are viewed in this way', she maintains that 'professional development based on the cultivation of informed understanding, judgment and "voice" can help to counteract the more obvious failings of the worst delivery models'. She suggests achieving professional development through inSET courses by asking teachers to reflect on their own experiences and by nurturing a belief themselves as 'potential experts'.
Though "reflection", (Schon 1983), as a general approach to post-experience education has wide acceptance, Lee (1997: 11) notes, in his survey of research into the development of inSET, that there is no 'clearly articulated and agreed concept of teacher development' available. Judge (1980: 340), investigating the validity that teaching can claim to be a 'profession', also points out that there has never been a 'universally recognised pattern of education and training' for the "profession" nor has there been agreement about the 'necessary' content of such training. Chambers (1977: 93) claims 'there are as many variants in interpretation as to the role and significance attached to "inSET" as there are people taking part in the discussions'. He particularly notes the difficulty of distinguishing between the training and educative aspects of inSET. This lack of clarity makes it difficult to assess how effectively teachers' centres can achieve the aims of developing teachers as professionals rather than, as Dadds sees the alternative, 'the uncritical implementers of outside policies' (1997: 32).
The notion of teaching being a profession has lead to considerable debate over the years with implications for training. Judge (ibid) is rather circumspect about the idea of teachers' professionalism. He points out that teaching unlike other professions is a 'mass profession', that it is performed by 'an embarrassingly wide range of practitioners approaching the task with different assumptions, intentions, intellectual equipment and qualifications'. When answering questionnaires about what they felt they needed most from teachers' centres or inSET, a fairly large proportion of teachers seem to reliably plump for courses which provide ideas which are immediately applicable to their teaching. Bradley, Rood and Padfield (1974: 44) found that, while there had been an increase in the number of teachers interested in some form of curriculum development work at the teachers' centre, many of the teachers in their survey still wanted 'bread and butter activities' which could be 'related easily with the classroom situation and to which they (could) be directly transferred'. In the Bristol 'SITE' project, reported by Bolem (1983: 16), it was found that 40% claimed they attended in-service courses to improve professional knowledge while 21% wanted to improve their teaching.
1.9.2 Selecting effective training methods.
The question of which methods of teacher education were effective in the long term was also perceived as very pertinent. From his survey of evaluation outcomes, Henderson (1977: 4) felt trainers 'would like to be able to identify the formats and techniques which were most appropriate and effective in specific situations'. As mentioned above, many of the early writers claimed that involvement in curriculum development, even if this meant 're-inventing the wheel', was the most effective way of improving teaching. However, Richards (1972: 31) questions whether, primary teachers at least, really got very far 'with defining new objectives of their own, devising their own experimental procedures or developing their own mini curricula' the way Schools Council Working Paper 10 suggested they should. He feels that the Schools Council greatly underestimated the 'complexities of local curriculum development'. He maintains that good teaching is 'largely intuitive' while 'teasing out the underlying rationale of good practice, formulating it for others to try out and then evaluating it in a wider setting are very difficult procedures, calling for much expert help and entailing far more time and effort than the vast majority of teachers can reasonably expend'.
Weindling et al's finding (1983) that this kind of involvement in curriculum work only reached a small number of teachers. Lee (1997) asserts that the national projects which were developing curriculum during the 1960s and early 1970s did not have significant effects on teaching. It therefore seems likely, as Richards implies, that however much the curriculum developers got out of the experience and however good the materials were that they produced, this type of professional development through involvement with curriculum development, as organised at the centres, was never going to be influential enough to have widespread and lasting effects.
Trying to establish the way in which different types of training, resources, experiences and government directives influence what happens the classroom is seen as an important precursor to planning effective in-service. Stanton (1990) points out, referring to Wragg's (1987) findings, that teachers develop set patterns of working which they 'successfully rehearse on many occasions'. For their skills to develop these 'self-perpetuating routines' need to be changed in some way. Maxwell (1992: 174) suggests that for effective training an in-service regime needs to have models 'that make it more likely that, as a result of attendance at an in-service, changes in teacher attitudes and behaviour will occur'. Wragg believed that such changes needed to be well structured and supported or they would be too stressful (cited Stanton op.cit).
In the eighties researchers looked more closely at the ways different types of inSET impacted on teacher behaviour. Bolem (1981) points out the need to recognise that teachers are adult learners, though Topping and Brindle (1978) note that techniques of teaching teachers are far less well developed than have been techniques of teaching children. They looked at the teachers context and pointed out that they usually have neither the supervision nor the attention, recognition and approval which other learners often receive. 'Teachers are supposed to be self motivating and work for subtle individual satisfactions and long-term, deferred goals like promotion' (p.50). Wood and Thompson (1980: 375) point out that 'most' inSET focuses on 'information assimilation' which they claim does not 'fit into what we know about adults and adult learning'. They identify this as a 'major flaw' in teacher development programmes (ibid).
Little research has been undertaken into the implications for approaches to training of the way adults learn. Several writers mention the work of Joyce and Showers (1980) who attempted to inform inSET regimes by looking at the way teachers acquired skills and strategies. They differentiated quite clearly between the goals of 'fine tuning existing approaches' and 'mastering and implementing new ones' and noted how much easier the former is to achieve than the latter (p.380). They identified four levels of impact to classify the outcomes of training - awareness; concepts and organised knowledge; principles and skills; and application and problem solving. They maintained that awareness of the importance of an area and the understanding of relevant knowledge are likely to have little impact in the classroom if they are not supported by the acquisition of the skills needed to apply what has been learnt and to adapt it to new circumstances, and the ability to integrate the new strategy into a teaching repertoire. The advisory teachers providing classroom support in the survey by Kinder and Harland (1991) found that little progress could be made with some teachers in the areas the project was trying to focus attention on because more fundamental skills in general classroom practices and organisation were lacking.
Regarding the training strategies able to achieve these outcomes, Kinder and Harland found that, in the studies they examined, certain main training components were made use of:
· presentation of theory or description of skill or strategy;
· modeling or demonstration of skills or models of teaching;
· practice in simulated and classroom settings;
· structured and open feedback (giving information about performance);
· coaching for application (hands-on, in-classroom assistance with the transfer of skills and strategies to the classroom) (p. 3 80).
They suggest that, while all of these were useful training strategies, when used together they each have far more power than when used alone. They also believe that there is no point looking for impact on student learning until the fourth 'outcome' has been achieved.
A much more detailed framework of outcomes was developed by Kinder and Harland (1991). They used Joyce and Showers training outcomes but expanded this to include motivation and value-orientated changes because they found the nature of outcomes to be more complex and broad ranging.
Several studies have looked at how radical change teachers' classroom behaviour and style can be achieved and have concluded that long term in-service programmes are necessary. Each stresses the importance of the teacher receiving on-going classroom support. English (1995) reports that Fullan (1982) identifies seven key features of the change process and stresses that change is both incremental and developmental. Eraut et al (1988) found that in-service would need to last at least a year. In the light of such hypotheses, Bolem (1983) points out that 'pedagogically inSET is frequently badly planned and implemented.....modeling practice and feedback are rare; on the job coaching is even rarer', (p. 16)
It is probable that teachers' centres, their traditional approach to inSET, could only contribute to a limited part of such a framework of training strategies. Morant (1978: 202) felt that, 'while the majority of general purpose centres regard in-service work as their chief function', at that time, they had not actually 'progressed beyond the "instructional course" phase their institutional development'.
1.9.3 Individual or staff development.
A third aspect studies began to look at was whether it was more effective for inSET to work with individual teachers or to target a staff as a whole. Traditionally the teachers' centre had treated the teacher as an individual, both terms of curriculum development and of in-service education. The SITE project in Bristol found that only 4% of teachers in their sample considered whether a particular course might be beneficial to the needs of the school when they selected a course to attend (Bolem 1983).
With increasing concern about school effectiveness and value for money, this practice began to be questioned. From the end of the seventies, there had been a growing feeling that individual teacher development away from the school did not necessarily provide tangible benefits for the school. In Henderson's evaluation (1977: 15) he comes to the general conclusion that in-service training was more likely to be effective if it was designed 'to involve the school as a system rather than the teacher as an individual'.
Midwinter (1974: 14) pointed to 'the truism that teachers operate groups and are institution bound'. He said that teachers' centres needed to take more cognizance of these facts and suggested that it was school staff as a unit which have to be energized and mobilized. Eighty percent of teachers in the SITE Project were found to be in favour of each school having a clear inSET policy linked to school goals, although only 13% said they already had such a policy (Bolem 1983). Bolem suggests his findings show that teachers were interested in job or school related inSET, which in turn seems to suggest they were not convinced of the efficacy of individual professional development. He mentions a number of surveys undertaken at the time. The main finding was the need for 'in-service work to be school-orientated or focused,...it was important to relate in-service programmes to the curriculum and life of the school' (op.cit p.35).
Bolem points out that school focused inSET increases the potential for the type of on the job training and coaching advocated by Joyce and Showers'. Gough (1997: 25) in his survey of articles about teachers' centres notes that 'in the 1980s accounts of staff development were becoming more common'. In response to government initiatives to improve the teaching of primary science, Calderdale LEA mounted a number of central courses. They found that while these successfully did what they intended to do, i.e. demonstrate what science education could involve, they only reached 1/3 of the primary teachers and seemed to be preaching to the converted. To tackle this problem they began to experiment with school based courses and found these more successful (Kinder and Harland (1991).
The issues surrounding training and professionalism continue to provoke discussion. The point of view taken seems to reflect the way the teaching force is regarded: whether it is seen as a body of 'professionals with a measure of autonomy over the work they do' or as 'vocational workers implementing learning programmes designed by others' (Lee 1997: 18). This opinion in turn seems to be influenced by current educational policy and the imperatives for training this has created. This can be seen England at the moment where, after a decade of teachers being seen as a members of 'a staff in a regime of increased central control, there has been a shift back to talk of teachers as individual 'professionals' in the latest white paper (1997).
It appears that the question of whether professional development or more focused, rigorous training is appropriate depends on where the teaching body stands in relationship to major curriculum and methodological change. English (1995) suggests that, regarding educational change, the aims of inSET may in the past have been inappropriate. He quotes Fullan's suggestion that the ultimate aim of inSET, as far as courses are concerned, should be 'less to implement a specific innovation or policy and more to create individual and organisational habits and structures that make continuous learning a valued and endemic part of the culture of schools and teaching.' Henderson (1976) concludes from his findings that inSET 'intensified, focused or enabled existing predilections for change rather than initiating it'. It is possibly more appropriate to give concerns about 'professional development' more time, space and money once major change has become fairly well established. At such a point, in-service education at teachers' centres could be more concerned with the development of any new curriculum initiatives, and the 'fine tuning' of competence, rather than with trying to help teachers to take on board completely new ways of teaching. Thus teachers' centres could concentrate on what in the early 1970s they are thought to be best at; giving support to teachers who were responsible for their own professional development. This government is resurrecting the idea of a General Teaching Council and the possibility of professional centres. However, it is too early to know what form these would take or what they will have learnt from the experiences of 'teachers' centres'.