Assessing prior learning, where your students are at, what they know already and what you can build on, is key....
If you were to launch into a lecture on medicine to a doctor, and you're a builder, would that make any sense? If you ask for car mechanic advice from a shoe salesman are you going to get quality information? If you teach university level philosophy to primary kids, will that work? What if you teach about horses to someone who already knows everything about horses, wouldn't that be a waste of time? If I can find out what someone knows about maths and just focus on what they don't know, wouldn't that be better than just teaching maths?
Assessing the prior learning of your students is critical. It makes sure no time or learning is lost, that you are not repeating anything they know, that they have the skills or the understanding or knowledge that is necessary to engage with the topic, that you understand who you are teaching and so on. It's also a vital part of differentiation; as most students will be at different places. You also can't make progress without knowing where we started. Therefore all lessons should have some sort of assessment or understanding of prior learning at the beginning. This can be where you are in the scheme of work, or can be some questioning of students in the beginning. There's lots of ways to do it, but it must be done!
But assessing your own prior learning is also vital. What do you know, who are you and what are your strengths? It's important because evaluation should be a constant duty of a teacher, including evaluating themselves. It's also a key part of CPD. For example, at the Institute of Education, you are asked to do a prior learning audit of yourself, before you start the course. Here is mine below! It's really important to do, to see what you learned, what you know and what you need to build on.
Prior Learning Experiences Audit for Andrew Yiallouros
I started working at the age of 8 years old where I would help around my parents clothes factory bagging and boxing blouse orders. This taught me the importance of time management as well as following orders and the importance of hard work. This was followed by a number of years working in their retail shops first as a watchman (which taught me the importance of manners, subtlety and discretion and gave me key observational skills as well as understanding when to act quickly), then as a retail sales assistant (which taught me customer service, communication skills, sales skills and organisational skills as well as negotiation (some sales were wholesale), basic accounting, knowledge of the world in general and the ability to talk to anyone regardless of age), retail sales assistant manager and finally retails sales manager at the age of 18. This final managerial role taught me much; from teamwork and cooperation to business skills and sense, to the ability to manage people, accounts, sales, marketing and business development. I also learned more communication skills, more accounting and other business management skills like handling and presenting data, meeting deadlines, problem solving, initiative and targets and responsibility. I also learnt key persuasion skills and how to elicit what I needed from unwilling counterparts.
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At the same time, in my school life, I excelled socially as well as academically and I learnt at school the benefit of friendships, teamwork and cooperation (through team games and societies), research and hard academic work (through my studies), responsibility and good behaviour (through the general ethos of the school). I also began to develop my love for RE and philosophy and humanities subjects and creativity. I took 9 GCSEs from classics to art to maths, English literature and science and 3 A-levels, one AS level followed by a further two A-levels which were entirely new to me but which I still completed and got As for in 3 months. My focus for these A-levels was history, ancient history and politics. I was a regular member at after school societies and by the first year of GCSE I had founded three of my own that are still in operation today. I was head of house (for which I received full house colours for being so good which was and still is a first for the school), school prefect, games captain, chapel monitor, library monitor and more. I stood for election as the Labour candidate during our mock elections and won despite being in a very much Tory school! I was also the team leader for the Duke of Edinburgh award and this taught me more leadership and organisational skills as well as the importance of teamwork and clear instructions. Also, I was both an excellent and a poor student and this has taught me the importance of understanding all perspectives within a class. Indeed, all these experiences at school taught me many many skills such as the skills of communication, leadership, organisation, teamwork, the importance of knowledge, the importance of being excellent and fair, marketing skills, technology skills, persuasion and much more. From my teachers I learnt many important things including good teaching and bad. I learnt the importance of manners and grammar and being active and keen and knowing when to listen.
At 15 years old I started my first job outside the family business when I became a waiter at a café, and through the bars, pubs and restaurants of the UK, it was to become a part time career over the next ten years. I went from waiter, silver service waiter, to bar-man, then head bar-man, to head waiter, assistant bar manager and so on. These experiences taught me hospitality skills, managing busy periods, teamwork, responsibility, managerial skills, cooperation, customer service, prioritising, organisation, persuasion, time keeping, cashier skills, etiquette and culture skills, and much more. At 16 I did some work experience for Estelle Morris MP and ITV, where I learned further research skills, communication and legal knowledge as well as knowledge of the British political system and other constituency based and media skills such as answering letters, interviewing politicians, searching for stories, responding to concerns and liaising with a large team. This was followed with some time in the House of Lords with Lord Janner of Braunstone and the Holocaust Education Trust, which taught me more office skills, initiative, spin doctoring and the media, problem solving, how to keep calm in very busy environments, organisation, time keeping, prioritisation and further introduced me to the way that the UK operates. It is fair to say that by 18 I had done much and learnt much. Being a very keen learner and always living with my eyes open, I learnt a lot more than it is possible to list here. This was further impacted by the fact that my parents loved to travel and from birth I visited nearly 3 different countries a year which taught me a great deal about different cultures, ways of life and what is “out there” in the world. I have also always been active so there are many other activities and past times I had taken part in by 18, which taught me many more skills. Some examples would be my time in Le Rose where I had 2 daily four hour lessons on subjects ranging from French to sailing, shooting, rock climbing and water skiing! A further example would be that I am able to speak to and get on well with anyone from any background or culture and that I not only have experience of much and so am a useful person to have around in many situations, but I am also knowledgeable in nearly the whole gamut of human activity, from leisure to work, since I believe, and try to live as though, you can be a jack of all trades and still a master of most! In short, this childhood taught me the importance of being world wise and what this meant.
My education at university included a degree in politics and philosophy which I later focussed onto politics and a Masters in political science with a speciality for ethics, philosophy and international relations. I learnt a lot at university, particularly in my Logic and philosophy classes, which were to become my main interest in life. I was also active on the university newspaper and the student-teacher organisational body. After university I was a financial consultant which taught me finance skills and further sales, organisational and office skills. I was also left to work alone and so this taught me more initiative, prioritising and management skills. After this I went into marketing and communications at a housing association and so this taught me not only more office skills, but also going the extra mile, caring for your client and compassion. I was in charge of many projects at the housing association and further learnt how to work as part of a team. This taught me project management skills, presentation skills, data collection and presentation, budget skills and much more. Here, I would present data to the Office of the Deputy Prime minister and be responsible for many important legally required jobs, communication drives (such as teaching the organisation about Ramadan) and projects (such as redesigning the whole organisations publicity material as well as knowing all the staff who worked there (no mean feet with over 1000 employees!)). It was also here that I first did some youth work, leaving aside the child minding I had done on and off for a number of years and which I still continue to do to this day. I then followed this with two years managing yoga centres and at one time was in charge of 70 staff and 2 very large multimillion pound turning, centres. My managerial and business skills were further heightened as were my other skills and knowledge. I also learnt the importance of making the sale and how to run and make a success of a large business. I also got heavily into yoga and would help in the yoga classes where I was needed. This taught me the importance of being and staying healthy and the role of a teacher.
After this I worked as an office administrator, background artist in films and TV and learnt about freelance working, the TV and film industry and further compounded my life skills, such as presentation, time keeping, communication, leadership, office skills, reading through the lines and knowing what to do when. I also learnt acting, being centre stage and being aware of your every movement and twitch. It was after this year that I decided I wanted to be a teacher and began to do work experience in a private primary and a state primary school, I went on a Taster Days for Teaching course and I got a job as a teaching assistant in a secondary school in Hendon. This experience taught me much about the British educational system as well as classroom management, teaching and other school based skills and knowledge. It was known that I wanted to be a teacher so the staff at the school were especially helpful in making sure this experience gave me a lot of information, knowledge and skills. I regularly visit museums and exhibitions, read the papers and magazine, browse the internet and watch the TV and cinema and generally live with my eyes wide open constantly seeking out knowledge! Most recently I visited Mount Athos in Greece and lived as a monk for a short period and I also completed an RE booster course which as taught me more about the subject of RE. I have also just completed doing a job as a Teaching assistant for three months and other work experience in schools as well as a course in Neuro-linguistic Programming. Finally, in my past-time I like to be active and see and do things as much as possible so this has added to my skills and knowledge considerably. From learning about philosophy and religion to knowing how to light a fire outside, I have so many skills and have learnt from my many experiences that it is easier for me to list what I do not know anything about, rather than listing all my prior learning experiences!
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