If at first you don't succeed ..

10th April 2009 at 01:00
Traumatic school placements are avoided, thanks to unique 'microteaching'

Stirling university students are being spared the deep end of classroom teaching - by inviting pupils to their place of learning instead.

The "microteaching" scheme, in which local pupils are bussed in and divided into small "classes", allows students to build up their confidence and teaching expertise long before they are sent on lengthy school placements.

It takes place in the spring term of second year, before which secondary students have only had one three-week placement consisting mostly of observation.

The scheme requires undergraduates to work through a mock timetable of half-hour lessons for seven weeks, with S1 groups of up to eight which change each week (PE students work with younger groups of up to 15). Each session is recorded by a classmate, allowing students to pick out their own bad habits and mannerisms. "It's a non-threatening environment," said microteaching co-ordinator Lorele Mackie, adding that "even if it all goes horribly wrong, they don't see the same class next week".

She believes the scheme's encouragement of good practice and autonomy, largely without the distraction of behaviour management, minimises the chance of traumatic school placements when students do go into schools toward the end of third year. Staff also say it encourages good habits of self-evaluation.

Students believe the scheme allows them to hone their lessons without making big mistakes in a school. History and modern studies student teachers Ashley Scott and Ellen Lambie, both 19, said the half-hour format challenged them to distil complex topics, such as the Irish potato famine, down to essentials.

The scheme is unique in Scotland to Stirling University, where it is believed to have existed in some form since the early 1970s. The university's small number of student teachers - it has a quota of 122 secondary and 50 primary students this year - has allowed it to innovate in a way unfeasible in larger education faculties.

"I am unaware of any other institution which uses microteaching," said Peter Cope, who has been at Stirling University since 1988. "This is probably because it is very resource-intensive and logistically problematic, but our own evaluations consistently show that students and former students regard it as a critical part of their training at Stirling."

It is popular with pupils, who appreciate the novelty of learning in a different place and in small groups. Danielle Airlie and Sophie McMeekin, 12-year-old pupils from St Modan's High in Stirling, told The TESS that a geography lesson on rainforests was interesting because they had never done this before.

The student teachers like that they can try something ambitious, and if it fails to work, they can adapt the lesson for a new batch of pupils the next week.

"It was hard deciding what to teach them," said David Connell, 19, who taught Danielle and Sophie. "I didn't really know what they knew - a lot of the kids haven't done geography yet."

But the girls said it felt like a normal school class and Mr Connell didn't seem different from their usual teachers.

Microteaching is followed by a similar seven-week scheme in the autumn term of third year, called link practice. It differs in that students work with the same class week after week, this time P7s. Having learnt to avoid many elementary pitfalls of teaching, they now have to build up a series of lessons.

The scheme has also helped form good relationships with local schools, further strengthened by the use of "teacher fellows". These are working teachers seconded for one day a week to the university who show students how educational theory translates into the classroom and give feedback on their lessons. The fellows may also undertake their own research.

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