Subject-specific CPD

{Scales, Pickering, & Senior, 2011. Continuing Professional Development in the Lifelong Learning Sector.}

My professional values, knowledge, understanding, and practice standards for specialist learning and teaching are based on LLUK Professional Standards Domain C. I am committed to

CS1 Understanding, and keeping up to date with current knowledge concerning (my specialist area) positive growth and flourishing. 

CS2 Enthusing and motivating learners in (my specialist area) positive growth and flourishing. 

CS3 Fulfilling the statutory responsibilities associated with (my specialist teaching area) facilitating positive growth and flourishing.  

CS4 Developing good practice in teaching (my specialist area) positive growth and flourishing. 

Subjects are artificial constructs whose boundaries are marked, but in reality, they overlap and merge. In the real world, knowledge and skills are not compartmentalized rigidly. Our task is to help learners succeed in their learning and progress to the next stage or a related area of work or study. Subject specialists should know the progression routes and the levels at which their subject is available.

Engage in this activity to map the territory of your specialism:

What precisely do you teach? Is it a single subject, such as biology, or a wider general area, such as health and social care?

Is it a subject or a bundle of knowledge and skills? If the latter, what are the constituents of this bundle?

Can you produce a map or visual representation of your specialism?

Is there a clearly defined syllabus or specification, or can you define or negotiate the content?

How easy is it to define and explain your subject to a non-specialist?

What are the main areas of your specialism?

What are the most recent developments in your subject specialism?

What are study levels available within your subject specialism? What are the progression routes open to learners in that specialism?

As a next step in planning CPD, audit your own and your team’s skills, knowledge, experience, and abilities. Notice the gaps between what course specifications require and what you know and can do.

Models of CPD provide a framework ranging from transmission models to transformative models; each has its merit.

With the training model, CPD is delivered to teachers by experts who determine the scope and content of the training. It can be an effective means of introducing new knowledge.

With the award-bearing model, the transmitting of information is similar to the training model, with some form of accreditation or award from an external body.

With the deficit model, the notion of deficit and rectifying weakness is the starting point, which can become demotivating and lead to blame the teacher mentality.

With the cascade model, teachers attending an event may disseminate the newly acquired information and ideas to colleagues. This can be an efficient way to share new information depending on the content of the original event but overlooks the possibility that the event’s context, participation, and collaboration can’t necessarily be replicated in any meaningful sense.

With the standards-based model, the primary purpose is the meeting of standards. One benefit is providing a common language, opening possibilities for dialogue about professional practice.

The coaching-mentoring model has an effective one-to-one relationship at the heart of it.

With the community of practice model, new learning and development result from the members’ interaction rather than pre-planned objectives or outcomes prescribed before the group’s activity. Some essential processes in a community of practice are  evolving forms of mutual engagement; understanding and tuning their enterprise; and developing their repertoire, styles, and discourse.

The action research model is based within a particular setting and involves the practitioners improving the quality of action within it.

The transformative model combines practices and conditions that support a transformative process.

Subject-specific mentoring

A coach is someone you learn with; a mentor is someone you learn from. Coaching is a way to help someone grow, discover their talents, and improve performance; mentoring is concerned with learning from a more experienced practitioner. Mentoring supports one person’s learning through the guidance of another person who is more skilled, knowledgeable and experienced in the learning context.

The key responsibilities of a mentor are: to model good practice, to contribute to the assessment of mentee practice, and to support and assess the mentee’s grasp of subject knowledge concerning presentation to learners.

A good and effective mentor must have or develop skills to support their mentee, including: planning, liaising, demonstrating, facilitating, observing, assessing, guiding, questioning, listening, reflecting; patience as they guide and support the mentee as they learn, empathy for the new practitioner in their struggle and challenge.

Relevance of the subject to the wider context

A task for the subject specialist is to consider positive selling points of the subject to four separate audiences, namely, learners, employers and businesses, people concerned about the environment and sustainability, people wanting to develop social inclusion, and community. What can the subject offer to directly or indirectly benefit the four audiences? Helping learners see the subject’s relevance and making links with the wider social, economic, and environmental context are a way of motivating and exploring opportunities.

Another important task for the teacher is to invite learners into their subject, to become familiar with the content and skills, to develop ways to think and talk about it, and to understand it at a deeper level. Students will easier get into a subject if they can see its relevance. How does it relate to real life? How does it relate to their previous experience and learning, and can teachers help them to make connections?

Supplying reasons and context for learning from the outset increase motivation and reduce confusion and demotivation due to seemingly unconnected bits of theory and unusual terminology. Relevance can be established by using real-life examples, drawing cases from current issues, giving local examples, or relating theory to practice.

We begin with the familiar and use it as a way into the subject and its discourse. The first step is to capture students’ attention and establish a common focus for understanding and meaning-making. A case study may be introduced, and an everyday, common-sense discussion of the real-life scenario may ensue.

Key issues can be highlighted. Then, new subject-specific language and concepts may be introduced, leading from the familiar to specialist discourse by discussion and questioning. Students can develop critical thinking skills as they move from common-sense understandings and opinions to more rigorous and objective academic understandings.

Threshold concepts

These are transformative, irreversible, and integrative in their impact on the learner upon coming to grips with this knowledge. Transformative in the sense that they make a difference in who we are and how we perceive the world. They change our ways of understanding. Irreversible; once understood, they are unlikely to be forgotten. This feature makes it difficult to recall a time when you didn’t understand these concepts; therefore, you may find it difficult to empathize with students who are struggling with them. They are integrative in that they help students make connections that were hitherto hidden from view.

Some threshold concepts from specialist disciplines: Sociology – socialization, ideology. Economics – opportunity cost, elasticity. Pure mathematics – complex numbers, limits. Electrical engineering – frequency response. Statistics – sampling distribution. Computer science – object-oriented programming. Law – precedence. Motor mechanics – horsepower, torque.