July’s ended, and it’s already the summer holiday. By the time autumn comes, you’ll have heard countless times how the PGCE year is an emotional roller coaster. People will talk about the thrill of being in the classroom, subject knowledge, pedagogy, planning, differentiation and behaviour management. Yet for some reason, less attention is given to the assignments you’ll be required to write as part of your studies. They are one of the most important formalities of your PGCE, and you’ll need to pass them to successfully complete the course.
The PGCE is a recognised academic qualification which carries 60 credits at Master’s level (one third of a Masters degree). These credits are usually broken down into two or three separate assignments, typically totalling 12,000 words. They are generally scheduled after half terms, so you have a chunk of time to work on them. Expect deadlines around November, February and May.
The first assignment will be the broadest of the three, requiring you to explore one key aspect of teaching: “teaching, learning and assessment for learning (AFL)” or “an investigation of a key issue in a school setting”. By the time the second assignment comes around, you will have spent a reasonable amount of time on your school placement, so the title will require you to reflect on your developing professional practice: “How can we ensure pupils make progress in a sequence of lessons?” The final assignment will be the most specialised, highlighting areas such as inclusion and special educational needs, or requiring a case study of a specific child.
You’re aiming to score 70% to get those coveted Masters credits. But don’t panic — if you fail to achieve a grade of 50% or more, there will be opportunities to re-write assignments. Ultimately, your course provider wants you to succeed, and there will be tons of support available. Many people embark on teacher training after a significant period away from academia. There is an increasing focus on attracting teachers from within specific industries: for example, the new Taking Teaching Further programme aims to draw and retrain experts from technical sectors such as engineering and computing. Consequently, for many trainee teachers, the assignments present a huge learning curve.
Here are our top 5 tips for tackling your PGCE assignments.
- Pace yourself (part one). Don’t try and second-guess the essay titles and start researching over the summer holiday (you’d be surprised how many people do!). Your assignment deadlines are scheduled at intervals in your training, so you have some classroom experience on which to draw. Allow yourself the time to embrace your training and enjoy learning what it means to be a teacher. Don’t let the assignments hang over you like a dark cloud.
2. Pace yourself (part two). Don’t leave your assignments to the last minute, either. They require background reading and careful consideration of your own teaching practice. If you snub the deadline and decide to make a start on them two days before they’re due, you’re going to fail. If the deadline falls after a half term break, don’t assume you can research and write 4000 words in the space of that week. Use that time for writing. Start reading and making notes at least 4 weeks before the due date.
3. When you come to do your research, read widely. No PGCE assignment will score the hallowed 70% if it’s based on the reading of a single text. Grab a journal article related to your essay title and look at the bibliography. Consider how many different authors have been examined, cross-examined, criticised, etc. That’s what you’re aiming for. The days of “Johnson said this, and Livingstone said that” are behind you. Now you’re in “Johnson said this, and he’s wrong, because…” territory.
4. Make notes. Lots of notes. As a bare minimum, find specific viewpoints from different authors. If you can find conflicting viewpoints, so much the better. You can use these to structure and validate your arguments. While we’re talking about making notes, here’s a bonus tip: don’t copy and paste. Ever. In an age where most of your reading will be online and in PDF format, it’s easy to copy and paste a salient quote. Don’t do it. Avoid quotes like the plague, and make sure you put 100% of your notes 100% in your own words. Why? When you eventually sit down to write your assignment and find yourself with pages of notes that you can formulate directly into your writing without the need to re-phrase a single word — you’ll thank me.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As well as the support offered by your provider, there are lots of ways to network with other trainee teachers. These include Facebook groups, dedicated education websites, etc. Do some Googling and you’ll be surprised how many people are in the same boat as you.
Hopefully these tips will be of help to you. Remember that your assignments are there for a reason. They teach you how to reflect on your own teaching practice and how view what you do through a wider pedagogic lens. With due care and consideration, they’ll be a meaningful part of your training year and not something to be feared.
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Written by John Bolton, Education writer — passionate about promoting Internet safety, encouraging girls into STEM, and supporting trainee teachers through their PGCE coursework. Self-taught bad piano player. Basset owner.
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