I’ve had the genuine pleasure of marking ITT assignments for a couple of years now and am currently studying myself, so am in the position to be both giving and receiving regular feedback at Master’s level. As such, I see a lot of common mistakes made by ITT students whilst writing their assignments – and probably make many myself too. With the aim of helping those about to undertake an ITT in the new academic year, I have put together some ideas based on my experiences to act as a guide. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t claim to be an expert, I will probably have to reread this myself, but in my opinion assignments (and your experiences of writing them) are ultimately better by following these words of advice:
1. Picking your topic
You will be writing around two assignments as a trainee teacher and they will take up a lot of your time, so it is important to choose something that you are genuinely interested in. Whilst it might be tempting to write your essay on an area of practice because there is a lot of literature for you to read, or because you think it sounds good, in the end you are going to get bored and not do your best. Conversely, don’t make things too hard for yourself by picking a topic that is so obscure that very few people have written about it – save this for your doctorate! Genuine interest is at the heart of an effective inquiry. As the purpose of these assignments is to help you develop your practice through an inquiry process, if you’re just picking something for the sake of it then you’re turning what could have been a fascinating journey of self-discovery into a tick box exercise.
2. Don’t leave me in suspense!
Your assignment is not a whodunnit novel where the twist and answer to the mystery comes at the end. An introduction is intended to outline the purpose and processes you went through, but this does not mean that you can’t explain your overall opinion and conclusions. ‘I will explore…’ ‘I will seek to find’ sentences are all well and good, but this study has already taken place, your assignment is your write up so you can let us know what you found. Even better, tell us what you found out and why this is important for you and your development.
3. Use the first person and write assertively
Yes, I know, this feels weird. Up until this point in your education you’ve been told that talking in the first person is uncouth and poor form. It isn’t. You conducted this study. You have conclusions to share with your reader. You, as a teacher and researcher, have created an assignment worth reading, so say I. Writing in an assertive voice is not something that comes easily to us all, but reread your work and remove any passive phrases. ‘It could be argued that…’ – well is it or isn’t it? If it is, then who says so and why? Put words and phrases such as ‘potentially this shows’, ‘you could argue that’ etc. in the bin. You will reduce your word count, leaving you more space for interesting ideas and will strengthen your line of argument in the process.
4. If it isn’t a reputable or relevant source, don’t use it
One of the most frustrating things I’ve found whilst marking assignments so far is when there are just random references in there for no reason. When I check these references (and yes, the people marking your work do check!) it’s frustrating as you’ve just put in this quote because it says something you want to say. A random website with a vaguely useful sentence is NOT going to strengthen your argument – if anything it diminishes it as it makes it look as though you aren’t able to evaluate the credibility of the sources you are using. If it’s completely irrelevant, it just makes it look as your research process is to google something and use the first website you find.
5. Distinguish between teacher bloggers and academic texts
There are many excellent and useful practitioner blogs out there for you to use. I am so jealous as this just wasn’t a thing when I was training! The ideas of teachers in so many different types of school and career stage are now available so readily on Twitter. Using these ideas in your classroom and indeed your assignments can be incredibly interesting. However, when writing an assignment, it is important to remember that this source of information is not the same as an academic piece written in journals, edited volumes etc. Blogs and teacher-based ideas are usually opinion based and centred on their classroom or experiences. The very best examples are where teachers have gone through the same process you are going through now; attempting to solve problems through the application of theory in their classroom with the blog acting as a means of reflection. These is absolutely great, but I’d say that these sources of information can be used to spark your interest, to create a hypothesis from which you can work - this worked for them, will it work for me? Academic literature can then be used to support or counterargue these ideas using the robust evidence or peer-reviewed theory they contain. I’d go as far as to explicitly explain this in your writing. ‘Smith, a teacher exploring the use of questioning in the primary classroom found this… this is backed up in the academic literature by Patel and Jones (researchers), who say that…’.
Now, I’m a fine one to talk, but careful planning and proof reading are essential. Reading your introduction and conclusion together help you to see how effectively you have outlined your aims and reviewed your research process. Word has a ‘read aloud’ tool that helps you to go through your assignment and pick up on overly long sentences and grammatical errors. Feeling tired and under pressure is a common experience for ITT students whilst juggling the writing of assignments alongside their placements (not to mention the pandemic, but let’s not go there…), so make sure to go over the sections you’ve written quickly or when tired.
7. How will this process impact your practice?
As an ITT student, don’t feel as though you have to have created some new, adventurous way of teaching (although, maybe you have, who knows?!). It is, however, important to explain the impact that your small-scale piece of research/literature review has had on how you think and how you will adapt your practice in the future as a consequence. These assignments are designed to help you explore your practice, really reflecting on the impact of your actions. This is a gift and something you’ll wish you have more time for in the future so make sure you have this in mind through the process.