This is an odd time of the year in colleges. While many classes in schools continue, in college, the picture is much more varied, consisting of lectures, assessments and planning for the coming year. Often, though, thinking about teaching for September is not top of the agenda. Yet this is just the right time to review and develop options for next year. Here are four ways you can get a head start for the academic year ahead.
Get to know what you’ll be teaching
Full-time staff have an advantage; they should have a very good idea of what they will be teaching. This applies especially to technical lecturers, with a particular focus on their area of, say, apprenticeship training. Even lecturers who teach more broadly across the curriculum should have a good sense of what next year will bring. True, there may be changes resulting from recruitment and so forth, but these are very likely to be limited. For those lecturers who do ultimately end up teaching another subject for at least part of coming year, preparation completed now will still be useful and should bear fruit in future years.
Review the syllabus
Have you noticed how much easier it is to compose a scheme of work after you have taught a course for a whole year? Unfortunately, it is necessary for teachers to produce the scheme of work before teaching any course for the first time.
Given that, now is the time to go through a scheme of work that is inherited or acquired (today, there are many options for obtaining schemes of work – either for free or at modest cost). In the best-case scenario, the scheme will have been devised personally at the beginning of last year or previous years.
When looking through a scheme of work, we often find that we could have made more use of some materials that, initially, we only used modestly.
Additionally, new resources will now be available. We can incorporate both good resources discovered later and factor new ones more fully into future plans.
How about the links between student activities, learning and the learning outcomes? Were those learning outcomes met satisfactorily? Is it possible to improve on satisfactory? How might alternative activities better promote learning?
Further resources may offer a helpful background to planning. Changes to syllabuses, in particular, may result in a range of new materials from assessment boards, perhaps with associated books being available.
Otherwise, subject associations are a sound means of updating content, perhaps with some indication of teaching methods, too. In terms of general CPD, there will be options: some of these will be obvious. Educational organisations are a good source, but you may find that the unions also provide options.
Get your head around external requirements
There are many external demands for teachers to consider when planning. The most obvious is an imposed syllabus for courses such as A levels.
There are requirements for vocational courses, too; for example, there may be a need to conform to the requirements of an external body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Those teaching university-level options may appear relatively free in determining the shape of what they teach. However, there will almost certainly be syllabus restrictions imposed by a validating university. The university itself will not be entirely free, either; it will be expected to conform to benchmarks from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).
But external links may prove helpful. For individual colleges, local businesses or organisations may give an indication of any developments that would be welcomed locally. These, together with links with educational organisations, may suggest future opportunities for lecturers.
Reflect on your teaching practice
While responding to demands from elsewhere can form a basis for making lecturing more effective, we have the opportunity to go further in ways that will help both us and our students.
As we go through our teaching careers we do develop certain preferences. True, these are not set in stone, and they relate to the students we meet. Then again, the students vary from one year to the next. If you have ever taught the same material to different groups in one year, they vary, too – some will be more interested; others will be less easy to engage.
Based on previous experience (ideally with more than one group but focusing on last year as you will recall it more fully), reflect on some of the following questions: which sessions went well? Do we know why? Can the answers influence decisions in relation to later activities, even whole sessions?
Graham Fowler is an education consultant, researcher and writer