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111 Town Square Pl, Jersey City, NJ 07310, U.S.

“Assumptions give meaning and purpose to who we are and what we do. Becoming aware of the implicit assumptions that frame how we think and act is one of the most puzzling intellectual challenges we face in our lives. It is also something we instinctively resist, for fear of what we might discover”, Brookfield (1995). In this essay, I have identified an assumption that I uncovered while on school placement and I will explain how this assumption has informed my practice as a student teacher. I will do this with the assistance of the four lenses through which Brookfield (1995) outlines where we can examine our practice. The first lens is our autobiographical experiences of learning. This involves analysing our experiences and memories from post primary school and looking at how this has influenced us as teachers and how it perhaps has embedded certain beliefs and assumptions that influence our practice. The second lens that informs our teaching is peer observation and this is where we get a colleague to observe our teaching and then give feedback on areas of improvements. The third way to find out about how students are experiencing learning and our teaching in the classroom is by using the critical incident questionnaire which was devised by Brookfield (1995). This gives the students perspective and by using their insight, it can help shape our understanding of the way we teach. And finally the use of theoretical literature is used to help inform and make sense of issues that can emerge in our practice.
According to Stephen Brookfield, critical reflection is important because it helps us take informed actions, develop a rationale for practice, avoid self-laceration, grounds us emotionally, enlivens our classroom and increases our democratic trust as we make a difference in the world. “One reason why the habit of critical reflection is crucial for teacher’s survival. Without a critical reflective stance towards what we do we tend to accept the blame for problems that are not of our own making. Critically reflective stance towards our teaching helps us avoid these traps of demoralisation and self-laceration”. (Brookfield, 1995)
Critical reflection is necessary as we hunt for and uncover assumptions and then make sense of them to inform our actions. These assumptions are hegemonic. Critical reflection also focuses on ways in which the dynamics of power invade and distort educational processes. The assumption that I uncovered while on school placement was that in order for effective teaching to take place, students need to be sitting down quietly, with heads up and listening to what the teacher has to say. From the surface this assumption looks ideal for the teacher and students. Looking on, the teacher appears to have a well-managed classroom with no disruption and students sitting down quietly and listening. The assumption is made that learning is taking place for the students. During my placement I realised that this is not the case and this assumption is not true. I uncovered this as I researched through reflecting on my practice with the aid of the four interpretive lenses outlined by Brookfield (1995).
In the early days of my school placement experience I was concerned about class management, student behaviour and discipline. I was venturing into the unknown thinking that having a quite classroom was the main ingredient and me the teacher giving the students the information for the learning to take place. But was there effective teaching occurring? My cooperating teacher observed my classes at the beginning of my placement, his input in these early days was of great benefit. The most important advice I received from him was to engage the pupils themselves in the activities which I was demonstrating. This challenged the assumption that I had, that students learned as they sat quietly and listened. I took on board the knowledge from my experienced cooperating teacher who knew the students and the best methods and teaching approaches that work with them. I began to introduce this into my teaching and my lessons shifted from a teacher led lesson to a more pupil centred approached where the teaching was more task orientated so that the students had the opportunity to apply what they had learned. My initial thoughts were worrying. By including them in the activities or tasks during the lesson, would the discipline and class management be affected? Kyriacou states in his book ‘Essential Teaching Skills’ that “it must be recognised that a certain level of noise is, of course, acceptable and desirable, and that enthusiastic and excited contributions by pupils need to be harnessed to good effect rather than squashed. Clearly, a balance that ensures sufficient order is what is needed” (Kyriacou. C 2007 pg. 65). I soon realised that they engaged much better for me when they were actively involved in the tasks during the lesson.
There was another student teacher on placement in the same school, I got him to observe one of my classes. He gave me feedback which highlighted areas for improvement. He noted that I should spend more time on recapping and questions, in order to get class discussions going. “It is particularly important to remember that one of the prime reasons for having classroom discussion is to give pupils the opportunity to develop and express their ideas” Kyriacou. C (2007) pg. 41. Is there a naivety here again with me assuming that a quite classroom will result in effective teaching? “Many experts on education and including many experienced teachers consider verbal questioning to be one of the teachers most potent tools” Petty. G (2010) pg. 190. On reflection of using more question time as a technique for learning, a positive classroom environment can be established through verbal interaction between teachers and students. When this is done in the right way it will encourage thought among the students, it can be motivational for students, it is a form of assessment for the teacher as it gives them instant feedback and it allows the students to learn from one another. The teacher can create an environment whereby ‘giving the wrong answer’ is acceptable and where through further questioning by the teacher, the students will find the solution. I can now see that by using different teaching techniques in the classroom, not only benefits student learning but also makes the lessons more enjoyable and motivates the students.
To investigate how my students were experiencing their learning and my teaching, I introduced The Critical Questionnaire to them at the end of a week’s teaching. I used this to help me see my practice through the student’s eyes. I analysed the responses looking for problems or confusions, especially if they were caused by my actions. It was soon evident from the responses that the students enjoyed doing the activities and various tasks in the lessons. In the Technical Graphics class, I introduced making 3D objects and brought in some real life objects which got their attention and helped great in the teaching and understanding of the topic. It was clear from this that the students learn more effectively by being actively involved in their own learning. The majority of the group noted that they found it helpful when I helped them individually with a question. I regularly circulated the room during a class and would help individual students- ‘I would show them where to look but not what to see’. This interaction between student and teacher is important for a good classroom atmosphere. Teachers need to be approachable and have a good rapport with a student by encouraging them and helping them. In the Critical Incident Questionnaire, there was one particular reply from a student that felt most engaged with what was happening when there was talking in the lesson. This student obviously prefers the verbal interaction between the teacher and all the students. Again this goes against my assumption where most effective learning occurs when the students are quite and listening to the teacher. This highlighted for me also that there is a mixture in the class with some preferring the verbal and others the doing, again my assumption only caters for one type of student, the student that will learn by listening to the teacher and sitting quietly at their desk, with little or no interaction through verbal questioning or activities. All students are different and as a result the teacher must cater for this. “It is crucial for motivation that the level of work is such that each student feels they have accomplished something of value in your lesson, and gets recognition for these accomplishments” Petty. G (2009) pg. 41.
In my learner autobiography, I questioned whether the teacher was at fault for not getting the quite student (like myself when in secondary school) involved in question time. Although it made the teachers life easier, did it help the student learn? This probably shaped my assumption that by having a quite class there will be effective learning. I know now that this is not true and effective learning needs to involve all students in their own learning, either through questioning or activities. During my days at school, I had a good relationship and rapport with my teachers and I see how important this is in the classroom today. “The type of classroom climate generally considered to best facilitate pupil learning is one that is described as being purposeful, task-oriented, relaxed, warm, supportive and has a sense of order” Kyriacou. C (2007) pg. 68. According to Petty “Good teacher–student relationships are based on mutual respect. The student respects the teacher for his or her teaching skills, personal qualities, knowledge and professionalism; and the teacher respects each student as an individual, and that student’s attempts to learn”. Petty. G (2009) pg. 98
My assumption where the students sits passively and listens to the teacher relates to the Banking Concept of Education as outlined by Paulo Freire in the book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’. Paulo Freire describes this teaching method with the teacher narrating the lesson and the student memorising the information. Is this the way to teach? The student banks the information without questioning it. “This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits”, “The more completely they the students accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is” Freire. P (2000). I recognise now that approaching teaching using many different strategies is not only effective but it will also make the lesson more enjoyable for everyone and create a positive classroom environment.
Before I began my school placement I assumed that students learned best when sitting quietly at their desk and listening to the teacher but now I have discovered that this is not the case for effective teaching to take place. By challenging my assumption and critically reflecting on my practices, I am now aware that students learn more effectively when they are actively involved in their own learning, through activities and verbal questioning. I have also established that by having rapport with the students, the teacher becomes more approachable for them and therefore promoting effective learning in the classroom. Especially for new teachers, a positive classroom environment is essential setting rules and establishing a routine from day one. “Rapport requires that you develop the respect of your students. You will achieve this by being professional about preparation, timekeeping, dress, and so on, and by showing that you respect your students as individuals”. Petty, G. (2009) Pg. 82
By using the four Brookfield’s lenses I was able to uncover and synthesise the assumption I had about learning and teaching. My cooperating teacher and my fellow student teacher helped me to challenge this assumption, by giving me feedback on my teaching methods. The theoretical literature lens was very beneficial as I used it to back up and make sense of the issues. As a result of challenging my assumption through critical reflection, I have changed my views and improved my practice as a teacher.
So generally speaking, our assumptions come from unexamined beliefs around us that we make about our students and they can have a negative impact on teaching. By critically reflecting on these beliefs that create our assumptions, we can create an atmosphere of curiosity, respect and learning in the classroom.

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