Lessons in learning

Professor Julie Allan and Dr John I'Anson invited a group of young people to talk to student teachers about the qualities they value in a teacher.

Listening to children and young people is something we have always regarded as important in our research. It rewards us with insights into learning processes, inclusion and children's rights.

We constantly urge student teachers at Stirling University to listen to children and young people. We took this a step further by inviting an S4 Standard Grade Religious Studies class from Shawlands Academy to the University to meet with teacher education students.

Before they arrived the pupils were asked to:

  • consider the qualities they most enjoy/benefit from
  • think about how teachers might best support pupils
  • prepare a protocol detailing how they would conduct themselves at the event

How can teachers help me learn?

We invited both the young people and the students to write on flipcharts any questions or issues they wished to discuss within the framework of "how can teachers help me learn?".

Responses were grouped into common themes and posted as discussion groups. Topics included:

  • individuality
  • respect
  • teachers' attitudes
  • support for pupils
  • particular subjects
  • what pupils should learn

The results

It was soon clear that both groups felt the experience to be an immensely rewarding one, with the students learning a great deal from the pupils, and vice versa.

After much discussion and reflection, the results of the flipcharts and comments made were presented to the student teachers. The students revealed a number of ways in which their teaching practice will change, including:

  • be more aware of, and responsive to, pupils' perspectives
  • use more interactive teaching - e.g. groupwork and discussion
  • be more consistent and cautious with regard to discipline
  • admit when they are in the wrong
  • discuss subject choices with pupils
  • be aware of the significance of teachers' and pupils' expectations
  • treat pupils with respect and as people
  • listen, listen, listen!

Although there was some student negativity, the vast majority displayed a willingness to change their teaching.

For many it was a reinforcement of the centrality of values in teaching such as humour, approachability and fairness. As one teacher said: "It made me realise how much we can learn by listening and talking to pupils."

The last word goes to the young people:

"There was a chance for us to hear future teachers' opinions, which is rare. Some answers made it easy to predict who was going to make a good teacher in the future . . . everyone learned something, whether they were an adult or pupil."