What was your best professional development course this year?

1st June 2007 at 01:00
When Douglas Blane asked teachers what made a good CPD course, he got a variety of answers. Illustration Phil Wrigglesworth

Muriel Smith Class teacher, Keith Primary, Moray

I attended a course on reciprocal reading that made a real difference to my teaching. It tied in well with formative assessment, a course delivered by Moray's Marion Davidson. I always thought there had to be more than just getting kids to read or listen to someone else reading. I did try talking to them about the text, but I didn't have the structure that this course gave me.

It began with an explanation of how the brain processes information when you're reading, and how children's brains learn to do it. Then she talked about four different activities - predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising.

It's called reciprocal reading because the kids work with a partner or in groups. It's about bouncing ideas off each other. So one of them might be the word detective and do the clarifying, while another was thinking up questions to ask the group, and a third had the job of summarising.

I got a lot out of this course. It inspired me, made me reassess what I was doing, and gave me a toolkit to use in the classroom.

Hazel Blane Class teacher, Insch Primary, Aberdeenshire

I went on an excellent in-service course recently. It was about enterprise education, which I've been keen on since the Schools Enterprise Programme trained us a few years ago.

There is something about enterprise education that works - more so than anything else, I find - with all the kids. The shy ones don't get left out as they sometimes can. They gain confidence from the kind of tasks you get them doing.

That was also one of the things I liked about this course. Teachers can sometimes be hesitant about getting involved in group activities with people they don't know. But I found it easy on this course. After icebreaker activities, they got us working individually, then coming together as a group. You could contribute if you wanted to, when you wanted to.

It was partly a matter of how the course was delivered, by Ian Hendry for Aberdeenshire. He got us doing enterprise activities that we would be getting the kids to do back in class. That encouraged us to participate.

But it was also because it was enterprise education. This is something that, in my experience, works well with kids and teachers. I would happily bring some kind of enterprise education into every project I do with my pupils.

Karen Doherty Primary teacher, enterprise development officer, Fife

I went on a one-day course that made a dramatic difference in my classroom.

The authority had two speakers, Tim Feeney and Mark Ylvisaker, who had been highly successful in the United States, helping children with brain injuries to rehabilitate. They discovered that their methods were also successful with children on the autistic spectrum - particularly those with Asperger's.

What they were doing was providing scripts and structures, because kids with brain injuries had to re-learn virtually everything. These repetitive scripts were helping them to socialise and manage unfamiliar environments.

The idea is that the scripts provide a scaffold for the kids' thinking and give them a sense of security. So you give them an instruction that leads to no danger, pain or confusion. That means you're building trust - the more often you do it, the deeper the trust becomes.

I was fascinated by this, and I started using some of the techniques. I was overwhelmed by the results. I was able to develop strong bonds with pupils that would not have existed before.

For me, the best CPD makes you reflect on your own practice and offers you practical ways of developing your skills. This course was highly successful. It stands out in my memory.

* www.kipbs.orgLibraryCommTBIMarkKatie.aspx

Lorraine McDermott Teacher, Kersland School, Renfrewshire

I would pick the Certificate in Special Educational Needs, which I've been doing part-time for a couple of years. A highlight was a recent week of talks and discussions with professionals at Strathclyde University. It was a nice forum to get together with people, help each other out, share ideas, exchange resources. You can't beat hands-on experience.

I've also learned a lot of theory that was new to me. We had a great introduction to Vygotsky - getting us to think about what children know, what they've still to learn and how you bridge that gap. It's a simple idea, but makes a big difference with the kids, especially in a special school like ours, where we know them better and can take a more child-centred approach.

I have found the theory about learning and teaching valuable, but I've decided to stick with the certificate rather than doing another two years for the diploma. I'm a practical person with a particular interest in ICT.

I have lots of ideas.

Carol Fletcher Pupil support assistant, Barrhead Secondary, East Renfrewshire

The head of our behaviour support department ran a valuable course on strategies for kids with behaviour problems. It was aimed at our newly qualified teachers. As pupil support assistants in the department, we took part. It brought people and experiences together from different schools and teaching environments. It had a clear structure, with presentations of strategies and videos from experts, but there was also a lot of discussion and sharing.

We were getting new ideas that we could try in the classroom. Then we'd come back the following week and relate how they had worked out. Getting everybody's ideas and experiences in the melting-pot worked well. You learned a lot in a short time.

I enjoy learning that way, with everybody having an input rather than somebody talking at you. It's relaxed and informal. It holds your interest.

If there's one thing I've learned about improving kids'

behaviour from courses like this and from my experience, it's to work on raising their self-confidence. It's not always easy to figure out what lies behind kids' behaviour. But it is worth making the effort, because you can make a difference.

Joan Frampton Home economics teacher, Tain Royal Academy, Highland

Last October I had two days working as a butler - they don't call them waitresses - at Skibo Castle in Sutherland. This was a placement for Excellence in Education through Business Links, organised by Careers Scotland.

It was good to be a learner again, to get out of my comfort zone. I was nervous about making a mistake - which is exactly how kids feel, particularly the first-years, when they come to home economics for the first time.

I've been reading about emotional intelligence recently, and how feelings can affect kids' learning. This course brought it home to me.

There's also the fact that we are teaching hospitality. I was in food product development before I became a teacher. I wanted to find out what excellence in hospitality is - which is what I'm looking for in my pupils.

Another nice thing is that I can talk to the fourth-years who are doing work experience, share ideas with them, discuss if it would be a good career. I can also tell them what the industry is looking for, beyond subject knowledge and specific skills - such as enthusiasm, appearance, confidence - the things that A Curriculum for Excellence is aiming to produce in our children.

Ollie Bray Geography teacher and acting depute head, Mussel-burgh Grammar, East Lothian

My best continuing professional development was an event called TeachMeet at the Scottish Learning Festival in September. This was a series of short presentations organised by the people who took part.

We used a wiki (software that allows you to create your own website). So everybody brought ideas and resources - somebody supplied the Macs, someone else the interactive whiteboards; another the sound system. Added value came from a load of hyperlinks people included in the wiki, which meant you could easily research topics you were interested in.

The event lasted two hours, with each person having seven minutes for a presentation on their chosen technology in education topic, and three minutes for questions.

I took more away from those two hours than from any other CPD I've been on - or from the rest of the festival. There were a variety of topics, from using virtual worlds to sharing images online. Presen-tations were short, snappy and hands-on. They gave me things I could use in the classroom.

That's what makes good CPD. If a speaker talks about things you already know, you have an hour to sit through. Here, in 10 minutes, you were on to something else. It's a great model for continuing professional development, and we will be using it again at this year's Scottish Learning Festival.

Deborah Aitken Chemistry teacher, acting depute head, Inverkeithing High, Fife

Eighteen months ago I went on a residential course for new science faculty heads run by John Richardson of the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre. I had never been on a course like that. You met and shared practice with people from around Scotland. Sharing, discussing, teachers talking about what they've done, what has impacted on teaching and learning - these are the most powerful things.

The course had a lot of that. It also gave us leadership strategies and structures, like schedules, quality assurance calendars, how to motivate people. Faculty head is a different job from principal teacher - more proactive, more about driving forward new initiatives. The people on this course all had a positive attitude to change.

The organisers got Jack Jackson in to give us the HMIE perspective, which was really useful. I kept in mind what he had told us when I was preparing for our recent inspection: "It is all about relationships and values." They had team-building activities, which were fun and got everybody talking, and we came away with an action research project, which we had to do in class and present when we came together again later in the year.

A lot of courses talk to you about what you should be doing. This one actually showed you.

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