Essay, Pages 12 (2834 words)
Learning for Life and Work: Personal Development – often referred to as Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education (PSHE) in England – is a fascinating subject domain. Within education, it has existed since the 1970s. Originally content was delivered within pastoral elements of the hidden curriculum (Blackburn, 1975; Hamblin, 1978; Button, 1980 and Goddard et. al. 2013) however it has now become an independent area within education.
Personal Development encompasses a range of areas, be it the safety of pupils (online and offline), their physical health, identifying risk-taking behavior, mental health issues, emotional well-being and financial education.
Goddard et. al. (2013) considers the subject ‘a vehicle through which meaningful debate about essential issues can be brought into children’s lives’. According to MacDonald (2009) it should ultimately present opportunities for pupils to learn about a range of personal issues that affect them daily, equipping them with ‘a range of skills to promote health, wellbeing, safety, positive relationships and productivity’. Yet Formby et. al. (2011) and Morris (2015) both express concerns that the subject lacks a cohesive rationale, and is often used as a ‘catch-all’ subject to address society’s ills.
This essay will evaluate the importance of Personal Development, and subsequent subject strands, within the Revised Northern Ireland Curriculum (RNIC) at Key Stage 3 (KS3). Furthermore, it explores the factors that have influenced the subject’s inclusion. It will then justify the underlying concepts that support Personal Development and its delivery in a classroom context.
A definition of Personal Development
In Northern Ireland, Personal Development is at the core of the RNIC (CCEA, 2007:3) and is a statutory requirement of the curriculum from Foundation and available up to Key Stage 4.
Contained within LLW, the subject of Personal Development encompasses social, physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual aspects of an individual’s health. CCEA (2007:1) define it as: ‘Encouraging each child to become personally, emotionally, socially and physically effective, to lead healthy, safe and fulfilled lives and to become confident, independent and responsible citizens, making informed and responsible choices and decisions throughout their lives’
The Importance of the Subject
In 1981, the authors of “Life skills Teaching Programmes”, Hopson and Scally (1981:6) explained that individuals would soon ‘need to be adaptable, flexible, and more personally competent than at any other time in our history’. Further research by Lang (1988:7) concluded, ‘personal and social education is acknowledged as important but not really thought about’. Exploration by Popovic (2002) identified education, focused on the individual, as a necessity. The author continued to note that young people are presented with a range of opportunities to study traditional subjects, however – at the time – the education system failed to recognize the holistic needs of the child (as noted by Skinner and Epstein, 1982) and pupils were unable to ‘learn about themselves and the ways they experience and relate to their environment’ (Popovic, 2002:12).
In 1999 a fundamental review of the Northern Ireland curriculum titled “A Call to Action” was produced. This documented inflexibility as a barrier to pupil development (Purvis, 2001). Prior to the introduction of the RNIC, the curriculum in Northern Ireland had too much emphasis on content and too little emphasis on emotional, social, cultural, and moral development (Harland, et. al., 2002). Smith and Montgomery (1997) also indicated a need to develop these values within education.
Echoing the thoughts of Hopson and Scally (1981:ibid), the PSHE Association (2017:5) inform us that pupils are ‘living in the most rapidly changing period in our history, and will face a number of challenges concerning lifestyle, relationships, and career’. School, and education in general, play a fundamental role in a child’s development (Eccles and Roeser, 1999; Masten, et. al., 2008:1). For the most part, however, these institutions have been considered an environment for evaluating academic ability, instead of promoting personal growth (Masten, et. al. 2008:7). Popovic (2002:13) explains that schools seem the best-qualified places to offer balanced and comprehensive personal education for the diverse and changing society we live in. This is supported by a YouGov survey (PSHE Association, 2017), in which 90% of parents agree that children should receive lessons in school to prepare them for life and support their emotional well-being.
In 2007, CCEA (2007a) developed a child-centered ‘Big Picture’ statutory framework at KS3 level. Its overarching aim: ‘to empower young people to achieve their potential and to make informed and responsible decisions throughout their lives.’ Detailed within that, the primary objective was to develop the young person as an individual – both cognitively and emotionally. Embedding Personal Development within the curriculum, therefore, allows for a set of interrelated concepts, skills, attitudes, and values that – as well as integrating with other aspects of school life – promote the overall development of the pupil (CCEA, 2007b).
Through the study of Personal Development CCEA suggest pupils should become cognisant of three key concepts; self-awareness, personal health and relationships. There should also be opportunities to develop an understanding of how to sustain their own health and wellbeing; reflect on their concept of self as well as manage emotions and reactions to life experiences; recognize and manage risk in a range of real-life contexts; develop an understanding of relationships and sexuality; understand the roles and responsibilities of parenting, and become educated as consumers in preparation for independent living.
A draft Programme for Government (NIA, 2016) recognizes that health and well-being are shaped by many factors and that education can support a child’s development. The aim, therefore, of Personal Development is not to solve existing problems individuals are experiencing – that is a fallacy and unachievable. Instead, it offers to empower the learner, providing a range of coping skills to deal with life’s many challenges (Popovic, 2002:14) that may not be developed, or delivered, in other curricular areas (PSHE, 2017:2). Furthermore, research by Langford et. al. (2014) documents that efforts to promote health and well-being within an educational environment had a considerable effect on a range of personal issues. There is considerable evidence by Charlton (1988:69); Durlak et. al. (2011); Gutman and Vorhaus (2012) and PSHE Association (2017) to suggest that personal empowerment has a significant impact on academic attainment and adjustment. White (1989:10) also mentions promoting personal well-being can also encourage the well-being of others, key elements of the ‘Big Picture’ (CCEA, 2007a).
Palmer and Doyle (2004:106) argue that education is not just learning knowledge and skills, but instead the development of an individual’s learning capacity. Black and Wiliam (1998:1) also suggest that learning is driven by what teachers and pupils do within the classroom, with teachers ultimately having an obligation to support this (Peter, 1998:169).
The subject of Personal Development has rightfully been awarded a dominant position within the Northern Ireland curriculum and its statutory status suggests its significance. It allows teachers and pupils to explore social, moral, and political ideals whilst engaging with individual values, experience, attitude, and emotion (PSHE, 2017:3).
Unfortunately, a lack of a defined structure – especially at Key Stage 3 – can result in a less than meaningful experience for some pupils. The rationale that underpins the curriculum often emphasizes the role of the teacher and the learner in a collaborative process of exploration yet, during SE1, teaching staff verbally expressed concerns about the allocated time to deliver the subject: typically, 35 minutes per week. Furthermore, staff indicated little, or no, training in the subject area – a direct contradiction to the recommendations by Leitch et. al. (2005:6) who explain teaching staff should have the opportunity to explore and examine themselves before facilitating the process with their pupils (ibid:56).
From the study it would appear the RNIC is designed in such a way to offer flexibility in regard to the delivery method and specific content of the curriculum, however, it is open to considerable interpretation – which has been reflected in the various degrees of success of the subject (Hale et. al. 2011:5). It could be argued that the task of ‘supporting the development of the young person as an individual’ could be superficial, as very little time is given to foster a child’s ability or understanding in such an important subject area. Sharing similar opinions as NCC (1990:Point 10), the inclusion of Personal Development on the curriculum should not be left to chance but needs to be explicitly coordinated as part of the whole curriculum – inside and outside the formal timetable. Pring (1982:136) explains this will always be an area of concern, and doing so is difficult to co-ordinate and organize but CCEA, unlike their English counterparts, are making valid attempts to do so.
PSHE Association (2007:3) discusses the benefits of studying the subject, explaining ‘what is learned… can have an immediate application in the lives of children and young people.’ They also note that delivery can also be challenging and exciting for teachers. This is supported by comments made by Hale et. al. (2011:43) who conclude, ‘there is a growing recognition of the importance of the subject… life-skills, social-emotional learning and prevention programs can work…it offers a promising opportunity to contribute to the health, wellbeing and safety of adolescents both now and in the future.’ However, OFSTED (2013) indicated a range of major improvements required, identifying a lack of teacher confidence as an area for concern.
According to Masten, et. al. (2008:4) the most effective preventative measure is to address problems before they occur. Heckman (2006) defines this as ‘return on investment’ in early child development. Systematic reviews of school-based interventions have shown significant effects for social and emotional wellbeing (Blank et. al., 2009) but there are a number of challenges for educators. Hale et. al. (2011:1) are concerned about the provision of evidence-based content. This, coupled with program limitations – whether it be self-contained curriculum or cross-curricular approaches (Weare, 2000) – have significant ramifications to the delivery of education, as mentioned above.
For educators to facilitate the successful delivery of Personal Development, Leitch et. al. (2005) believe a range of teacher qualities, and teaching strategies are required. These include, but are not limited to, a genuine commitment to the values and principles of the subject alongside a valid interest and level of engagement with the pupils, as well as the ability to accommodate age-specific needs. Most importantly, however, the PSHE Association (2017:20) emphasize subject delivery by appropriately trained teachers is essential, an area already addressed within this essay.
A recent QCDA report (2010) remarked “If young people are to be prepared for the future, they need to develop essential skills and qualities for learning, life and employment”. From a review of literature and personal experience on SE1, I believe LLW: Personal Development addresses those essential areas and it is a subject I am very excited to teach.
The importance of Personal Development within the classroom
DfES/QCA (2004) acknowledges that a pupil’s personal and social development should be at the center of any educative process. With this in mind, as already alluded to within this essay, and according to CCEA (2007:6), the teacher’s role is to encourage and develop the emotional intelligence of their pupils. The Chief Inspector’s Report (ETI, 2016:16) and research by Vandeweyer (2016) identify resilience and emotional intelligence as core qualities young people should have. A report commissioned by DfE (Gutman and Vorhaus, 2012) also indicates that pupils with higher levels of emotional well-being have higher levels of academic success.
For the purpose of this essay, a two-phase lesson plan on stress management will be presented. Its delivery will also be analyzed. Effective education in school, coupled with positive school experiences, has often been implicated for influencing resilience yet Unicef (2007) has suggested that the UK has particularly low levels of childhood resilience and wellbeing. From discussion with KS4 pupils during SE1, stress and the pressure of school life is a concern for many. In 2002, the BBC (2002) reported that over 90% of children to suffer school-related stress. This coupled with an alarming statement by Busby (2018) that ‘constant pressure… leaves pupils feeling demoralized and disillusioned by education’ indicates an area that needs to be addressed. It is essential that educators nurture competence and help shape the fundamental adaptive systems of their pupils (Masten, et. al. 2008) but also instil a sense of pride and allow pupils to understand the benefits of education.
The effects of stress have been well documented. In particular, Bellhouse et. al. (2004) would suggest stress has a greater impact on adolescents – with indications of poorer cognitive performance due to increased activity in the limbic system. There is also considerable research to suggest that stress impedes an individual’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioral capabilities (The Stress Management Society, 2017). Therefore, it should be a beneficial subject area, presented within the ‘Personal Health and Well-Being’ category of Personal Development (CCEA, 2017:13).
As documented by Boddington, et. al. (2014:25) many teaching and learning methodologies in Personal Development are based on a blend of behaviorist, constructivist and social constructivist approaches, with effective teaching strategies often requiring participative learning (PSHE, 2017:5). The subject allows for a practical approach to lessons, more so than other traditional subjects. Delivery should be interactive and engaging – providing pupils with the opportunity to express their feelings and opinions (National Children’s Bureau, 2006). Multiple learning styles can easily be catered for (Levy, 2008; Boddington, et. al. 2014:27) whilst also encouraging collaboration and inquiry.
PSHE Association (2017:19) recommend the use of a ‘spiral curriculum’ within the delivery of Personal Development, revisiting core themes, and building on pupils’ previous knowledge and understanding. According to McLeod (2018) ensuring complex ideas can be simplified for teaching, before being revisited at a later stage, ultimately results in children becoming self-sufficient problem solvers.
According to CCEA (2007:3) the principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL) aid in self-management, the promotion of positive and respectful relationships between teachers and pupils, and work to create a positive environment that can enhance mental health and well-being. This is essential within a Personal Development classroom.
Prior to the lesson pupils will have already participated in Personal Development classes. They would be aware of the environment fostered and understand levels of engagement within the class. Most of the activities conducted would be considered Active Learning, however, one must be mindful that it is not the activity that is important but the learning that occurs from it. Capelet. al. (2003:252) explains ‘unless the work that pupils do is seen to be important to them and to have purpose… little benefit will be learned’.
The lesson would commence with a brief Think, Pair, Share exercise. Pupils would be asked to get into small groups and discuss what stress means to them. This would then be shared with the whole class. Following this activity, the teacher would present a formal definition and pose a question, “is stress good or bad?”. After a brief discussion, complemented by some PowerPoint slides, pupils would be split into tables to identify and record examples of good or bad stress. After eustress and distress has been explored, pupils would work in groups of 4 to draw where they could feel stress in their body using different shapes and colors. These examples would then be projected via Apple TV for the class to see prior to the introduction of one effective way to manage the physiological and psychological symptoms of stress called 7/11 breathing. Pupils would be given a one-page guide and be presented with an opportunity to practice the technique. They would be encouraged to practice it at home to reinforce learning and it would be revisited in the next lesson.
Effective, almost provocative, questioning would play a pivotal role of formative assessment within the class. It would be encouraged as the second lesson commenced (Appendix One), with pupils recalling prior learning intentions and success criteria. Following research by Black et. al. (2004:12) I would extend and challenge pupils’ thinking by asking them a range of questions based on Blooms Taxonomy. The intent is that pupils would be able to explain what stress is, how it affects the body/mind, and ways to cope. Pupils would be invited to talk about other personal coping strategies before getting into the lesson. A short video from the BBC on stress would be played as pupils individually recorded keywords and details. Following that, a PowerPoint presentation and discussion would take place about the science behind stress – i.e. the role of the amygdala, the limbic system, and the hippocampus. Pupils would be introduced to a range of smartphone Apps that can help manage stress. To conclude the lesson, the class would be invited to submit anonymous key elements they’ve learned to AnswerGarden. Peer and self-assessment would be achieved through reference to success criteria, the evaluation of group contributions, and individual contributions to AnswerGarden. As Gibbs (2010) explains pupils also learn effectively by taking on the role of the teacher and examiner of others.
Following these two lessons on stress management pupils would be able to identify stress, know the role of the amygdala, and engage in practical exercises to reduce the symptoms of stress.