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  • Rachel Shaw

Spaced Out!

It is a curious feature of professional development in education that teachers are frequently exposed to supposedly essential or useful information only once and are then expected to absorb and retain it - or even to be able to put it into practice.

Worse still, that information is often presented on powerpoint, read verbatim to the assembled educators over a period of between 1 and 3 hours. Even new IT systems have been 'demonstrated' to teachers sat in assembly halls (or on zoom) with no opportunity for those teachers to try and practice the new skills for themselves.

And yet we expect no such miracles from the students we teach.

A good deal of attention has been given in recent years to insights from cognitive scientists and psychologists into what has been termed 'retrieval practice'. Nearly a decade ago, Carpenter et al. (2012, Educational Psychology Review) demonstrated through longitudinal studies that '..any form of spacing—whether it is fixed or expanding—appears to promote learning.'

At least 3 attempts are needed for knowledge to be integrated - and possibly many more when it comes to the application of new pedagogical approaches. Such extensions to normal practice require the teacher to experiment with how to apply a new approach or technique, develop new resources and evaluate the impact on the student body - before refining their approach. None of this is surprising - so what remains surprising is how little schools do to try and support teachers on this journey.

Berliner has also observed that a school will contain teachers at many stages of their careers - who may or may not have engaged with pedagogical development programmes before. His suggestion that '...preservice education may not be the most appropriate place to teach some things, and therefore we rani have to extend our programs of teacher education for some time after our students have entered practice.' has been taken on board to some extent with the creation of the ''RQT' (recently qualified teacher) year - but this does not address how to introduce teachers who might have qualified 20 or 30 years ago to new ideas and approaches - much less how to support a teacher changing teaching environments, subjects or age ranges. Nor indeed, does it recognise that an experienced teacher might be ready for a different type of development than a newly qualified teacher. As he observes, 'extensive experience is fundamental to development, but we certainly ought to help nurture those willing to undertake the journey by providing training and evaluation appropriate for their level of development.'

Too many times have I seen colleagues completely 'spaced out' after being subjected to overly-long or inappropriately targeted, so-called CPD sessions. It is not that I have no sympathy for the staff member assigned the responsibility of organising such sessions in amongst their multiple other duties. It might feel good to hire a speaker - but the fact remains that too many of these sessions do too little good. Such resources as exist need to be allocated carefully and the importance of subject-based pedagogical development not overlooked.

In the age of consultancy, we need a new model - one designed to support the leadership team in the organisation and delivery of CPD - and one that results in personalised, spaced learning - rather than spaced-out teachers.

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