What the resource is:
This is a report describing a small scale study and its findings, from the Oxfordshire Effective Teachers of Able Pupils Project. The report outlines the setting up and development of the study clearly, before reaching ‘tentative' conclusions. It is divided into nine main sections, following a brief preface and introduction, and ends with a page of useful references. The author uses a variety of sources to illustrate the issues raised, such as ‘points for consideration', questions, pupils' work, quotations from the teacher researchers, and reference to literature and research.
The aims of the resource:
The main purpose of the study was to find out what makes a good teacher of able pupils. The researchers wished to establish whether all ‘good teachers' are also effective teachers of able pupils, or whether there are elements of practice which are specific to the teaching of more able pupils. The study therefore focused on developing a methodology which would enable the researchers to "deconstruct the practice of five successful teachers of able pupils" (p5). In this way, the researchers hoped to be able to identify indicators which could, due to their commonality across the sample, be further investigated in future projects.
Key findings or focus:
The conclusion starts with reiterating the purpose of the study, and suggests that the outcomes collected do provide some indicators which could be usefully followed up in later, larger studies.
Here also the author includes eleven indicators of effective teaching of able pupils, although it is not clear whether these were found to be present in the practice of all five of the teachers examined in the study or not. The conclusions offered are that:
- all of the teachers in the study were good teachers, BUT they also demonstrated a range of approaches which were particularly suited to providing for able pupils;
- all of the teachers were aware of the particular educational needs of able pupils;
- the elements of their teaching which made them effective teachers of able pupils was a complex mix of classroom climate, task design, and teacher/pupil interaction; all underpinned by a secure set of professional beliefs regarding children and their learning;
- the exact mix of elements differed from classroom to classroom, taking account of teacher personality, the pupil cohort and school;
- a variety of personality types could be effective teachers of able pupils;
- effective teachers of able pupils were confident professionals with highly developed views about how children learn;
- effective teachers of able pupils established a classroom climate which was positive, pacey and purposeful with a focus on hard work, fun and recognition of individual effort and achievement;
- effective teachers of able pupils were confident task planners with a good knowledge of differentiation strategies and a firm understanding of what might constitute cognitive challenge;
- effective teachers of able pupils valued individuality and established a dialogue with their pupils that fore-grounded critical reflection and interrogation of ideas;
- effective teachers of able pupils were avid learners themselves who maintained an intellectual engagement throughout their career and shared their passion for learning with their pupils;
- effective teachers of able pupils see teaching the able as part of their responsibility to meeting the individual needs of all pupils.
(pages 26 - 27)
In summary the study found that effective teachers of able pupils:
- shared similar thoughts about learning and the need for meeting the individual needs of all pupils in a class/school;
- understood the needs (emotional, social and academic) of able pupils and valued individual relationships with pupils;
- created a secure and enjoyable classroom environment where there were: high expectations; praise and encouragement; humour and fun.
These teachers also valued and loved being involved in learning themselves and thus were able to share this passion with their pupils.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:
It is a very accessible and readable report which does provide information and tentative conclusions from a research study, as well as a number of issues for discussion and reflection.
There are a number of interesting findings which could be extremely helpful for ITE when considering how to provide for the able and talented pupils in classrooms. The author of the report, for example, provides helpful examples of pupils' work, of higher order thinking tasks, of developing questioning skills (both teacher and pupil), helpful classroom strategies for able pupils and also literature evidence. These examples are helpful tools and resources for ITE. Also the university researchers and the project manager involved in the study have had long term involvement in the field of gifted and talented provision and are nationally and internationally recognised for their expertise.
However, the researchers themselves state that the findings can only, at best, be considered as ‘tentative', because of the size of the research sample. Also, only ‘snapshots' of the actual data collected from the study is included in the report. The inclusion of transcripts, for example, would have been extremely helpful as the analysis of the study is non-explicit, thus the credibility of the study's findings is limited in this regard.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
The report could be used by tutors and mentors to introduce and discuss specific strategies and tasks for working with able pupils. A case study or task could be set for school practice around areas such as higher order thinking tasks and questioning. It could also be helpful for considering what characteristics a successful teacher may have and how important a classroom environment is to enable pupils positively and happily engage in learning.
The report could also be utilised for debating purposes. There are queries raised within this report and the original study, about topics such as ‘inclusion' and ‘inclusive education'. Also, are the eleven indicators suggested in the conclusion only demonstrated by effective teachers of able pupils? Are they really specific to effective teaching for able pupils or not? A number of similar questions can be explored and engaged with, especially with regard to inclusion and personalised learning.
The relevance to ITE students:
Most importantly, this report introduces ITE students to the education of the able pupil in a positive and inclusive manner. Therefore, it could be a useful tool for encouraging ITE students to really reflect on and develop their own views on subjects such as:
- inclusion and inclusive education
- personalised learning
- effective characteristics of ‘good' teachers
- life-long learning
- classroom organisation and management
- able, gifted and talented pupils
It also illustrates what a ‘good/effective teacher' may look like. By using the ‘voices' of the teachers, the report provides ITE students with a ‘realistic' and actual insight into what experienced teachers have found out works and why. There are also a couple of useful 'how to' tables. The examples of able pupils' work can show ITE students what can be achieved if able pupils are appropriately provided for in a classroom.
Tsui, Amy, P.M. (2009) "Distinctive Qualities of Expert Teachers", Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, v.15, n4, p.421-431
White, K., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Ridley, K. (2003) What works for gifted and talented pupils - a review of recent research. London: NFER