Source: Teacher Development, Vol. 16, No. 3, August 2012, 285–302.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The development of the Master's of Teaching and Learning (MTL) under the New Labour government followed the success of various new Master’s degrees in teaching developed in university departments of education.
These degrees were mostly aimed at early-career professionals and focused on the development of professional knowledge and understanding.
In this article, the authors explore the proposals set out in the government’s White Paper and what they have to say about professional learning, particularly at Master’s level, and how this contrasts with the approach currently adopted at our own institution.
The authors wanted to find out more about student teachers’ understandings of Master’s-level work in relation to teacher education.
The emphasis on students’ attitudes was intended to illuminate whether the value that the authors perceived Master’s-level work was having on their professional learning was also being experienced by the students themselves.
In addition, they wanted to discover if working at Master’s level during the course of their PGCE changed their perceptions of its value at all.
The authors therefore decided to survey the students about their experiences during the PGCE year.
The cohort of BEE, English, Geography and Science PGCE students were surveyed twice during the year – near the start of their PGCE course (two months into the programme), and in the Spring term as they were moving from their first placement school to their final placement.
The student teachers in this sample were a disparate group whose attitudes to teaching, to the PGCE, and to the issue of continuing their participation in a Master’s degree differed markedly.
Though there might be some relationship between these attitudes and the students’ subject orientations, any such variations did not emerge strongly from the analysis of the data.
The data also show that the theory/practice divide that dominates the discussion in policy and scholarship circles is also endemic at practitioner level.
Whilst some of the student teachers surveyed were starting to develop a sense of the ‘constitutive knowledge’ outlined at the start of this paper, this was certainly not the case for everyone.
The data show that for some the PGCE is seen as an opportunity for the development of ‘teaching skills’, the view supported in the White Paper.
The data also show that this is a view that can dominate some of the discussions about academic work that take place in schools.
However, there was a clear sense from the student teachers themselves about the value of the work they were undertaking in their own professional development.
The most surprising result was the emphasis on the social dimensions of learning and the emphasis placed on continuity of experience between the PGCE and subsequent study, particularly when this involves dialogic exchanges among peers.
Studying at higher level such as a Master’s degree is often seen as a solitary occupation. However, teaching is a social profession, grounded in relationships between teachers and pupils and between peers.
Whilst the articulation of the practices of professional learning emphasises the end result, it is the process of professional learning that would appear to have been the most influential for the students.
The authors conclude that they focused on the processes of understanding teaching and learning, which are most effective when the collaborative and social dimensions of professional learning are developed with the skills of critical reflection and research literacy.
This combination enables teachers to problematise their learning contexts and develop complex understandings of teaching and learning.