Lisa Crosswood describes the benefits of a modular Masters degree in Education.

Why did I get involved in an MEd? Good question! Originally many rhetorical questions posed themselves –   seeking a challenge? Personal satisfaction?  Wanting to pursue an interest with more directed purpose? Having experienced many changes in education and clientele, did I want to avoid a downward spiral?  Perhaps, like climbing Mount Everest, ‘just because.’  

At the outset, having just completed a Best Practice Scholarship, I thought that I would undertake the first module and see how it went. The MEd consists of three modules, each awarded for its own sake, and there is no external pressure to complete the next stage. Each of my modules evolved from work that I was already undertaking, out of personal interest, although it was not always main subject-based (I have taught languages in Cornwall since 1979). In that respect it did not involve any research outside my chosen field of professional development.

Module one was concerned with my experience of training staff at schools in my area, together with the  effect of the programme on staff CPD. I had always been interested in the development of ICT and had pursued qualifications to teach it many years ago during maternity leave. Relieved at having submitted the module I was soon alarmed to discover that the whole system was in the process of change (Why was I so surprised, working in education?) and a paper offered for an award of 30 points was now going to have to stand scrutiny for 60. However, I overcame that hurdle and in dizzy euphoria proceeded to the next diploma stage.

Raising achievement

The second module looked at how boys’ achievement in MFL could be raised through ICT. With falling interest in Key Stage 4 languages, it was important to try and measure the impact of a tool such as ICT in maintaining students’ interest and enthusiasm.

Two parallel Year 7 mixed ability French classes were monitored closely over a period of time. Both classes contained disaffected boys who were already showing signs of being low achievers in French. Consistent use of ICT with a particular group led to evidence of improved interest and achievement amongst the boys.

Research has shown that in the ‘normal’ classroom situation, girls are less reticent in taking an active part in a language lesson. However, boys demonstrated more ‘risk-taking’ when not faced with an audience, that is when working in a ‘one-to-one’ situation with the computer screen. The benefits of these findings were useful in my approach to future planning.

An honest look at experience

Module three, the main dissertation of approximately 20,000 words, researched the effectiveness of the contribution mentoring made to an MFL trainee on a GTP programme. Having mentored language trainees on a variety of training programmes for over a decade, in my opinion, the more recently-introduced GTP programme probably makes the most demands on both trainee and mentor. In brief, findings showed that the mentor’s contribution was essential for a trainee to make effective progress, particularly within the time constraints of the training programme.

Documenting the process was certainly cathartic and proved to be a useful record (by means of the case-study working diary) of how emotional such a programme can be for the person involved and how reliant the effectiveness of the process is on promoting a good working relationship between trainee and mentor. Through the mentor’s log and the trainee’s working diary there evolved an honest look at personal experiences that will prove useful for future practice.

New lines of enquiry

If you want to examine the effect of your methodology on your students, put yourself through the same process and take an exam in a subject not totally familiar to you. This worked for me in pursuing a 12-month Spanish GCSE course this year. I survived, gained good street-cred with my own Year 11 students and now have considerably more sympathy with Key Stage 4 stragglers. Conducting a piece of research can lead to a variety of lines of enquiry, all of which will probably prove useful in the future.

Fresh enthusiasm

Having completed the MEd what has been its effect on my thinking and classroom practice? The benefit of developing thinking skills and thought processes once more was quite refreshing. I also felt relieved that perhaps not all the brain cells were dead after all! A fresh injection of enthusiasm comes from the realisation of the wider impact on teaching and learning that can result from researching humdrum classroom practices.  The importance of maintaining the ‘What if……?’ enquiry involved in planning and methodology.

How arduous was the whole process?  This has been my only personal experience of a modular approach as a student. I have always followed more traditional methods, in gaining qualifications, so I was pleasantly surprised to find how straightforward such an approach could be. Juggling time commitments with family life was the bigger challenge; most of the ‘writing-up’ was drafted and re-drafted during the holidays. My school was very supportive in allowing me sufficient time to meet my mentors throughout the whole three-to-four year process. This was vital and grateful thanks go to my two excellent mentors Richard Jenkin and Jim Christophers who supported me throughout.

The value of research

I would definitely recommend following this route, particularly if you have a clear idea of research possibilities arising from something you are already involved in on a daily basis. Pursuing an interest to this level, connected with daily work, can bring a great deal of personal satisfaction, if no monetary gain!

I would recommend a forthright approach: request support, a mentor, a meeting – the onus is on the researcher and you control the pace of progress. Carrying out research is certainly good for self-reflection, as anyone working as a mentor will recognise. Any close examination of an aspect of methodology will result in careful reflection, questioning and justification, which can only benefit the end process. 

What next? Who knows? Perhaps further research, perhaps branching off on a new track in the years left before retirement, depending on which opportunities present themselves. There’s always the ‘What if…’.