Saturday, March 23, 2013

Guided practice in the workshop

I am writing this post for the first assignment for one of the papers in my diploma in tertiary learning and teaching. The brief was to investigate an active learning approach and then create an online resource that my classmates can access from our course moodle site. It's overdue. Half my problem was choosing a presentation method: I vacillated between voice-threads and videos, I felt pressure to produce a PowerPoint or a Prezi. Now, a couple of weeks overdue, I have decided to just blast out a blog post on the subject of

Guided Practice in the Workshop 

At the moment I'm taking a class of high school aged students through a course in hanging and finishing plasterboard. While there is a theory component to the course (calculating quantities, knowledge of materials available) the main aim is for students develop manual skills with tools and measuring equipment and to gain hands-on knowledge of what people in the industry do with their day. This is the focus for the first few weeks of the program and students develop that knowledge and manual skill in the environment pictured above.

Each student is assigned a cubicle of their own measuring 900 x 1200 x 2400mm with a window, simulated wiring and a pipe penetration in which to hang and stop their own plasterboard to a paint finish. The cubicles are designed so that students are exposed to each of the basic skills a plasterboard worker uses daily - measuring, cutting, nailing, allowing openings for services, plastering flat joins, and finishing internal and external angles. Once they have been exposed to these skills early in the course it should be easier to engage them in the theory related to plasterboard as they have some prior knowledge to which to attach the concepts we are encouraging them to learn.

Guided practice 

From the resources I have found online, guided practice is described as the part of a lesson where students are set free to actively use the knowledge presented to them earlier in the lesson with support from the teacher. It is the stage of the lesson which falls between the presentation of new material and independent practice. It is also where students begin to take accountability for their learning of the day's content.

In a maths lesson, students may work together or individually on a problem requiring use of the day's concept while the teacher oversees them as required.

In my context, for example, after I have demonstrated running paper tape into internal corners, students then disperse to their own cubicles to try and to practice running their own tapes in. I am likely to talk them through the first one step by step, keeping an eye out for obvious misunderstanding while I do so, before encouraging them to complete the rest of their tapes at their own pace. Once they are working independently I am able to circulate through the workshop and give feedback and further instruction to individuals directly where I see it is required.

Practising the skill immediately after it has been presented gives students the chance to apply new knowledge while it is fresh in their minds. 

 Rich learning experiences

The educational theorist we have been particularly exposed to as part of my studies in teaching and learning is L. Dee Fink. According to Fink, a rich learning experience will happen where the three pictured ingredients combine:

Information combined with an experience may mean little without an ensuing reflective dialogue.
Reflective dialogue following new information will be of little help if one has not experienced applying that new information in some way.

The guided practice section of a lesson is an excellent way to create the required experience following new information. Some reflective dialogue will occur when the teacher is giving guidance: I often find myself saying things like "that one is perfect, that one not so much, what did you do differently?" and a discussion follows from there. At other times reflection is done in the classroom, away from the completed task.

Supporting students through guided practice 

When my students are first practising a new skill it is vital that I circulate efficiently and give feedback and further instruction wherever it is required.  This is the time to correct misunderstandings and coach students toward success with the new skill. Without this support the practice becomes independent practice rather than guided practice.

Using the example of running in tapes for internal corners, I am checking for

  • motivation to do the task
  • correct use of tools
  • use of correct tools
  • that students are not ignoring problems that need remedied first, like protruding nails that just need hammered in
  • that tape is folded correctly
  • that enough plaster is being used
So, in short, I am

  • providing encouragement
  • checking for understanding, and re-teaching where necessary
  • modelling good practice.
As each student becomes more proficient with the task, as with most scaffolding type teaching methods, I gradually offer less support and move them towards independent practice of the skill.


The following online resources were helpful in preparing this blog:

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