Working Paper: What is professional VET-teaching? Empirical evidence of high quality

Working Paper:
What is professional VET-teaching? Empirical evidence of high quality
VET-teaching in Denmark 2012 and the challenges to the teacher
profession
By:
PhD-student Arnt Vestergaard Louw
Associate professor Vibe Aarkrog
Center for Youth Research (CeFU)
Department of Education
Department of Education
Aarhus University (AU)
Aarhus University (AU)
Tuborgvej 164
Tuborgvej 164
2400 Copenhagen NV
2400 Copenhagen NV
Mail: [email protected]
Mail: [email protected]
Phone: (+45) 8716 3587
Phone: (+45) 8716 3915
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Introduction
This article deals with the profession of VET-teachers especially in the construction education and in a
wider sense, with the profession of VET-teachers as such in Denmark 2012. The motivation for the article is
two-fold:
1: Based on a research project conducted by the Center for Youth Research (Katznelson, Brown & Louw
2011) and Louw’s ongoing PhD-project both dealing with the VET-education primarily from the students’
perspectives an obvious but important finding presented itself and calls for further attention. Even though
both research projects focus on the VET-students’ aspirations, motivations and learning, it is increasingly
clear that the single most significant factor of influence on these matters is the teacher (ibid. p. 47ff; Louw
2012). This point has previously been convincingly made by Aarkrog in her study of the VET-students
benefits of the practice-related teaching (2007, p. 10), and is resonated by The National Centre for the
Development of Vocational Education and Training in Denmark highlighting the importance of ongoing
discussions of what we mean by professional VET-teachers and teaching and how to develop it (Jacobsen &
Lausch 2008, p. 10; Størner 2008, p. 14). In the Danish educational VET-research there has been a strong
focus on the student perspective the past 10-15 years (Juul 2004, p. 23f), and even though this research
perspective has brought important new insights, it also almost automatically allocate challenges,
possibilities, successes and failures in regards to quality of VET-education to the students. This is further
supported by the notion of the students as responsible for their own learning and as the planner of their
own education (Andersen & Christensen 2002), which formed a cornerstone in the reformation of VET in
2000 and has been a dominant pedagogical discourse in the Danish education system the past 10-20 years.
In contrast to this notion, the overall assumption made here supported by our findings is that it is the
teachers that are the ones in charge of the theoretical and practical knowledge and learning of the
students, and have the main responsibility for the students and their learning processes and progress.
But why is this seemingly trivial and theoretically well-established point necessary to make? The offset for
answering this question points to the second motivation for this article:
2: Being a teacher is very challenging. As a teacher you need in depth and up-to-date professional
knowledge and a high level of skills as well as deep insight in different peoples’ human nature and how to
steer it in the desired direction. This has always been the case and is, as pointed out by Cedefop in the
Handbook for practitioners, the core of the teacher profession (Volmari, Helakorpi & Frimodt (Eds) 2009, p.
19). But in recent years other tasks and demands have invaded the profession of teachers. As most other
European educational systems the past 10-20 years, the Danish educational system has increasingly
adopted itself to the logic of the free marked and neoliberalism, which makes it necessary and legitimate to
demand effective and economic accountable processes and procedures in and of the schools and the staff
in it (Biesta 2010). This economic –political neoliberal discourse has great impact on the day to day teaching
practice in the schools (ibid., p. 58), where the teachers dedicate a large part of their time and resources to
administrative tasks and keeping track of the students in different ways, rather than spending time
teaching and developing their teaching practice (Kristensen & Rasmussen 2009, p. 59ff). These new task of
economic-administrative, recording and evaluative nature are some of the invaders of the profession of
VET-teachers, and the increased workloads for VET-teachers that follows is significant not only in Denmark,
but in most European countries, leaving limited time for actual teaching (Volmari, Helakorpi & Frimodt
(Eds) 2009, p. 20ff).
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Another factor in line with this concerns the content of the role of the teacher. As pointed out above the
discourse of responsibility for owns own learning has been a dominant pedagogical discourse in Denmark,
and this has significantly challenged the identity of the teacher. As such, there has been a constant pressure
on the teacher-identity the last decade (Knudsen 2004, p. 98-100) and to bring matters to a head, teaching
sometimes seem almost disregarded in favor of the teacher as coach, consultant, facilitator and social
worker (Størner 2008, p. 19). Not all teachers feel competent in these new roles (Cort 2009).
In this article the role of the teacher is therefore the central point of interest. On the basis of
anthropological inspired empirical research in actual teaching-practices in the Danish VET-system, the role
of the teacher in regards to students learning and the central teacher competencies is addressed and
related to the new VET-teacher education in Denmark. But before we turn to the findings, let us look at
what we already know about these matters from past research and from a theoretical perspective.
The role and significance of the teacher to students’ achievement
First of all it is important to state that teaching and organizing learning processes for others is difficult. It is
not like following and recipe and the connection between teaching and learning is not and will never be
unambiguous (Illeris 2006, p. 14). Teaching is, as stated by Qvortrup & Qvortrup, a miracle (2006) or a black
box (Baartman & Bruijn 2011) and the miracle-maker is the teacher. But that does not mean anything goes
and that the role of the teacher cannot be professionalized. Reviewing 70 international research reports on
the influence of manifest teacher competence on pupil achievement published from 1998 to 2007 three
core competencies for the professional teacher are highlighted by The Danish Clearinghouse for
Educational Research: relational competence, rule management competence and didactic / professional
competences (Nordenbo et al. 2008, p. 73). And as John Hattie concludes on the basis of extensive analysis
of literature on students’ achievements, the single most important one might be the relational competence
of the teacher (2009). This is not surprising as learning involves moment of mental and physical stress and
great uncertainty as new ground is explored, new mental schematas are constructed and new motor skills
explored (Illeris 2006, p. 57ff, 76). This demand an atmosphere of trust and appreciative relations and the
teacher is in charge of creating this atmosphere. Even though other factors such as social background, past
learning experiences, class size, ethnicity, school management etc., impact the learning outcome of
students, it seems clear that the single most significant factor is the professionalism and quality of the
teacher (Hanushek 2002; 2010; Darling-Hammond & Brasford 2005; Grant et al. 2011). A statement further
backed by didactical theory (Dale 1999, p. 39ff; Meyer 2004, p. 23ff) outlining the development of reflexive
and didactical teaching skills in the school’s practical everyday life as the central moment of the teacher
profession and students learning outcome (see also Schön 1991).
Similar picture emerges when students themselves are asked about which factors impact their learning
outcome most. On the basis of analysis of connections between students’ assessments and grades in more
than 45.000 students’ respondents drawn from the pool of the student satisfactory survey conducted
yearly for the Danish Ministry of Children and Education with all students at the upper secondary education
level in Denmark it is evident that the teachers’ professional competences, their engagement and their
ability to disseminate are what affects the students’ graduation most (Romme-Mølby 2012). In regards to
VET the teachers crucial role to the students learning, especially the weaker students, is as mentioned
initially, highlighted in a number of Danish studies (Katznelson, Brown & Louw 2011; Louw 2012; Aarkrog
2007; Jacobsen & Lausch 2008; Størner 2008).
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Finally the problem can be viewed from an economic perspective. Building on the premise that the teacher
is the key element impacting students’ achievement in school and through complex calculation models
Hanushek substantiates that investments in quality teachers and teaching returns the money many times
over in student future earnings (2010). In line with this perspective, a group of Harvard economist has
demonstrated that skilled teachers have significant impact on the students’ probability to enter university
and their future earnings (Chetty, Friedman & Rockoff 2011).
This is by no means a comprehensive state-of-the art on the field of research on teacher significance to
students’ achievement, but it highlights the main findings and makes up the knowledge base for this article:
Teaching is a difficult and open-ended task. Teachers are the single most important aspect of students’
achievement. Quality teaching involves a balanced and reflexive execution of three key competences:
relational competence, rule management competence and didactic / professional competences. And both
in view of the students’ perspective and in an economic perspective it makes most sense to develop quality
teachers and teaching.
The theoretical frame – concepts on learning and didactics
The point of teaching is to create learning in and for others. As already stated by professor in lifelong
learning, Knud Illeris this is a difficult task and even though most learn a lot in school and everybody learns
something, there is no automatic connection between teaching and learning. Based on more than 40 years
of research on learning and learning processes, Illeris identifies two different processes which both need to
be active in order to lean something. One process is the interaction between the individual and its
environment and the other process is the individual psychological processing and acquisition (Illeris 2006,
p. 35). Learning is not only a social matter or only an individual matter of biology and neurons. Learning
involves both social processes and individual processes and as an organizer of learning for others it is
important to know about both processes and how to create a learning environment that takes both into
account in a balanced and reflexive manner.
Illeris also points to three dimensions of learning which relates to the two processes. The three dimensions
that also needs to be involved in order for learning to take place is motivation, which in Illeris’ terminology
is called drivers, content which relates to the individual acquisitions processes and the interaction
dimension, which relates to the social processes of learning. What is being learned is always driven by the
character of the mental engagement of the learner and this varies a lot if for example the learner is
engaged out of interest of in order to avoid being thrown out of school, just to put matters to a head.
Learning is also always learning about something and this ’something’ can be knowledge, attitudes,
understandings or skills. The latter is important to stress, as it captures the diversity of learning and
underline that the content of learning is not only about cognition, but also about developing motor skills.
The interaction dimension concerns how the individual interact with on the one hand the close social
relation in for example a classroom or a school and on the other hand the more general societal conditions
(Ibid., p. 38ff).
What Illeris points to by these two processes and three dimension of learning is among other things that as
a teacher dealing with organizing learning processes for others it is crucial to understand this and have
interest in finding out e.g. what the students already know and can do, which past learning experiences
they bring with them, how different groups of students can be best organized or how different content is
best presented to different to different students etc. Quality teachers do all this and much more – probably
without thinking too much about it. But in order to professionalize the teacher profession and develop it
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further, it is important to be able distinguish such elements, reflect upon them and discuss them with
colleagues (Hiim & Hippe 2003, p. 47, 156, 173; Jank & Meyer 2006, p. 13). In the words of the didactic
researcher Erling Lars Dale: “Rational renewal of education requires philosophical activities in the schools
everyday life in the form of thinking in concepts, interpretations, practical assessments and critical analyzes
of action situations (Dale 1999, p. 39, our translation). As stated above, the teacher is the most significant
factor to students’ achievement and is at the same time the central disseminator between curriculum and
the teaching activities. Illeris offers some insightful general concepts regarding learning, but it is in the
didactical toolbox, we find more operational concepts for teachers to use in their planning and carrying out
of teaching.
Didactic can broadly be defined as the theory and practice of teaching and learning (Jank & Meyer 2006, p.
17). The educational researcher Hilde Hiim and Else Hippe have worked extensively with developing a
professional didactic for VET-teachers and define didactic as: “Practical-theoretical planning, execution and
critical analysis of teaching and learning” (1997, p. 14). Hiim and Hippe have constructed the didactic
relational model which contains six didactical categories to help teachers to understand and critically
analyze their practice. There are many didactical models on the market, but this model is relatively simple,
easy to understand and use. The point is that all categories are important and interdependent. When
changes are made within one category it affects all the other categories (Hiim & Hippe 2003, p. 31). The six
categories are:
Students’ preconditions: What knowledge and skills do the students have already? What interest and
motivates them? Are there any special considerations to any of the students that need to be made? Are
there students with special resources that can be utilized etc.?
Frame: Factors that limits learning options or make learning possible such as equipment, tools, time,
location, the teachers own knowledge and skills etc.
Objective: What is the point of the teaching - knowledge, understanding, skills, or attitudes? Are the
objectives long or short term? Who defines the objectives? Are the objectives made explicit to the students
and if so how?
Professional content: what is the content of the teaching? How is it selected and disseminated? How is the
progression of the content planned and carried out?
Learning process: How is the process of learning? How is the activities organized? What are the students
expected to do and how are they to work? How are the activities initiated and what kinds of instructions
are given to whom and when? Who takes charge of what? How are the activities motivated?
Assessment: When is what assessed – the learning process, the objectives or the learning outcome? How is
the elements of feed-back and feed-forward implemented? Is the assessment individual or group-based?
How is the link between the teaching activities and the assessments deployed? (Hiim & Hippe 2003, p. 28ff;
1997, p. 73 & 276ff).
In order to professionalize and develop teaching practice, it is essential to be able to reflect upon such
elements and participate in discussions with colleagues about them. Teaching is an open-ended task and
over time elements in all categories will undergo changes and what worked yesterday, might not work
tomorrow without adjustments. In relation to this article, both Illeris more general concepts on learning
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and the didactical concepts will be included in identifying quality VET-teaching in Denmark 2012 and what
might challenge it.
Method of investigation
Access to the field of VET-teaching has been on the basis of an anthropological inspired field study (Geertz
1973) where Louw was enrolled as a VET-student in the first five weeks of a foundational course for
construction, participating in the teaching activities alongside the rest of the new students. All the teachers
and students knew about the nature of Louw’s presence. During these five weeks many small in-context
interview with the students and teachers also took place. Field notes were constructed out of memory at
the end of each day, as the active participation in the teaching activities as a VET-student did not allow for
field notes being written during the day. A week of more classic observations (Spradley 1980) took place six
months later.
In a Danish context the anthropologist Kathrine Hasse used similar approach in her study of a first year class
of physics students at the Niels Bohr Institute (Hasse 2009). In relation to VET-research the approach is
used by PhD-student Louise Grønborg (2011) and PhD Rasmus Præstmann Hansen (2009) in their study of
the education to become mechanics.
Methodological reflections and scientific value of the findings
As mentioned, this methodological approach is inspired by anthropology. The approach is particular well
suited when it comes to investigating relations between people, gaining in-depth insight into other
cultures or social contexts, distant or near, and the construction of meaning, significance and social
relations that constitute that culture or social context (Geertz 1973, p. v; Hasse 2009, p. 20).
Unlike the object of classic anthropological studies of faraway native tribes (Malinowski 1967) the object of
anthropological inspired educational studies are more often than not, social context and cultural norms and
values of settings that are close to the researcher’s own lived world, as in this study of an educational
setting at a VET-school in Zeeland. The purpose of conducting such qualitative studies is as mentioned to
gain knowledge and insights in depth as opposed to knowledge and insights across the field, as generated
in e.g. surveys (Repstad 2007, p 17). Another purpose is to try to have a look at what might at first glance
be familiar, ordinary or commonsense, but with the privileged alienating view from somewhere (Harraway
1988) of the anthropologist becomes new, extraordinary or surprising, thereby offering new insights into
the familiar (Hasse 2009, p. 23, 40). That calls for the researcher to get close to the settings being studied in
order to get the thick enough descriptions (Geertz 1973, p. 20) that can provide for such insights.
The questions remain however, how it is possible to utter anything scientific about a part of someone else’s
world, when access to this world goes through the researcher’s own participation in that world and hence
through his or her preconceptions (Hasse 2009, p. 30). This is of course a relevant epistemological question
to pose and the answer depends on which type of knowledge you wish to provide. In this case it is not
exact knowledge of regularities, repeatable in controlled experiments, which would be hard to validate
using this method, but knowledge of interpersonal relationships, the construction of meaning and
significance (Geertz 1973, p. 5; Garfinkel 1967, p. 11), and the processes of learning as it unfolds in concrete
and specific teaching settings at a VET-school in Zeeland, Denmark. The validation of the knowledge
provided must instead be based on criteria such as fairness in the analysis, openness to interpretation and
the production of new insights and understandings that seem legitimate on the basis of the empirical
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examples provided (Søndergaard & Heningsen 2000, p. 35). Bearing this in mind we now turn to the
findings of the empirical study.
Findings - analysis
The VET-course followed by Louw was as mentioned a foundational course for construction. All the app. 25
VET-students at the course was looking to become carpenters. The objects of teaching of this course
alternates between working on different wooden construction in the workshop guided and instructed by
the teacher and create 3D drawings of models for construction in the computer lab. When working on the
3D drawings the object seem more abstract and some of the students asked for the sense of the activity. In
the workshop the object of the teaching is concrete as the different constructions are tangible. It gives the
students hands-on experience and practical knowledge and skills and it is precisely what many VETstudents look for, when choosing VET. The episodes outlined in the following represents neither of the
above settings, but seemed more like lectures given by the VET-teacher to the whole group of students.
The episodes are from the one-week observations conducted six month after the initial field work and are
chosen because the teaching seem quite unusual for VET in Denmark and because of the apparent success
of the teaching, which at first puzzled:
The teaching this morning takes place in a large workshop room mainly used for shorter continuing
education and training programs for already fully trained carpenters. In the room there are three wooden
roof structures and they make up the object of the lecture. The students are spread around in the room,
some lean up against the structures and some sit on them. The teacher, Martin is visible to us all and
lectures 1 ½ hour without manuscript about roof structures, vapor barriers, tie beams etc., all the time
relating the explanations to the roof structures. Along the way Martin involves different students with
checkup question sometime based on information just given in the lecture and sometime based on teaching
of the rest of the foundational course. During the lecture Martin tells small anecdotes from his own life as a
self-employed carpenter and outline the economic consequences of planning such constructions right from
the start – or not. At the end of the lesson several students approach Martin with follow-up questions to the
lecture.
Next day Martin takes us all on a little walk in the city close to the VET-school. We halt by each of the first
four houses on the street and Martin uses the houses to teach different roof construction techniques and
the professional names of the different things. Martin also relates the different roof structures to the huts
the students currently construct in the workshop. At each house Martin takes his time going through the
relevant professional content of the roofs and continuously involve different students with checkup
questions randomly. Martin also explains which processes of such roof constructions calls for
interdisciplinary cooperation and coordination. All in all the city-walk last 1 ½ hour.
For a large part of the students that chose VET and particular traditional crafts such as carpentry the handson dimension is a central driver. In both examples however it is not so much hands-on activities or
development of motor skill that are the object of the teaching and learning but more cognitive
competencies of developing the right professional language, identifying key-elements of roof-constructions
and being able to reflect upon general aspects of the crafts such as interdisciplinary elements and economic
aspects related to overview over constructions processes. The question that initially puzzled when
observing these situations was: Why does it work so well? Why do the VET-students seem so engaged and
despite their relatively passive role and the length of the lectures, participate in the teaching activity when
given the chance and otherwise pay attention? There was of course some chatter among the students and
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occasionally Martin had to address this, but overall the impression is suddenly not concurrent with the
predominant picture of VET-student as mentioned in the introduction to this article. Let us try to break it
down.
First of all it is apparent that Martin is the central figure in these teaching activities. There is not so much
responsibility for the situations put on the students’ shoulders. Martin initiates the activities and the
communication. What is put on the students’ shoulders however is the responsibility to pay attention and
to try to answer Martins random questions. This is perhaps not so much different than other ‘lecture’
settings that may not work so well, so there must something else at play. In the first episode Martin uses
his own background as a self-employed carpenter to establish a professional position that the students
seem to respect. In this sense he positions himself almost as a role model. This is not to say, that in order to
be a quality carpenter teacher, you must have been self-employed, but it underlines how important the
students seem to value up to date and in-depth knowledge on the part of the teacher. Martins’
professional authority is recognized by the students and this gives the trust in Martin when he disseminates
seemingly abstract content of the profession. Furthermore one obvious but important aspect of the
episodes needs to be emphasized. Martin is present throughout the lessons. Maybe this seem trivial, but in
many cases students experience absent teachers in the VET-system (Louw 2012, Katznelson, Brown & Louw
2011) and this leads to lack of motivation and engagement on the part of the students. During these
episodes and on many other occasions Martin was approached with many questions to different aspects of
the craft and the profession because he was always present and available and not once was Martin not able
to give an immediate and relevant response. As pointed out elsewhere (Louw 2012) there are in fact many
VET students that are eager to learn a craft and want to complete their VET-program. As part of the answer
to ‘why does it work’ Martins’ professional authority and physical presence in the activities is suggested.
Another element concerns the content of the activities. As mentioned a central driver to VET-students is
the hands-on aspect of the education. Even though the episode does not involve hands-on activities in a
traditional way, the content of the teaching is still very real and present in the form of the roof structures
and the real roofs of the city houses. The teaching content of the roof structures – the learning of a
professional vocabulary - is made relevant on several levels of the profession of carpentry and it is further
more related to the students’ activities in the workshop where they are currently constructing huts, which
involves both roof structures as well as aspects of vapour considerations. The teaching in the examples
seems to work, because it makes sense to the students and that sense-making is framed and made explicit
by using the schools existing facilities and the city next to the school. On a general level, it seems that the
possibility of anchoring the teaching in physical elements is a special feature and strength of many VETprogrammes and contains great potential for development and for interplay between school and real-life.
The city-walk is just one example of such interplay which gives a sense of real-life relevance and connects
the teaching activities of the 3D drawings and the activities of the workshop.
When it comes to the students preconditions Martins uses checkup questions that are based on a common
frame of reference as he formulates his questions on the basis of the teaching he is giving and the teaching
he has been giving previous in the course. One might say, that this is a very old-fashion learning style that
resonates back to container-pedagogic as Martin in this way can be said to check if what he has put on the
tank (poured into the heads of the students) is still in there, but it seem to work in at least two ways. It
gives the students a sense of fair chance of room for participating as it is not (only) based on pre-school
knowledge, and the random and continuously mode of questioning drives the students to stay alert and
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attentive. Of course this teaching technique must be supplemented by other variations, but in this case,
with this special objective and these particular frames it seems to be working.
The last didactical aspect attached to this analysis of ‘why does it work’ concerns the learning process.
During a VET-program there are many different skills the students need to acquire. If the students e.g. are
learning how to carve out tongue and groove in order to join together a window frame it is not likely that
Martin would have success in organizing the learning process from the same manuscript as the episodes
above. But as mentioned the object of the activities in the episodes is mainly cognitive skills and rather
than asking the students to read about it in a book, Martin makes it come alive by organizing the learning
process as he does, placing himself in the center of the activity with responsibility for the process and with
explicit expectations to the students as to how to participate and the point of the activity.
Touching briefly on Illeris’ more general concepts Martin is able to create an atmosphere of trust and
fairness that seems to give the students room to participate. Hi positions himself central to the activities
are recognized for his professional skills, and are always in the classroom before time in order to start the
lesson on time. In the episodes above Martin demands discipline from the students and despite some
chatter the students honor this. Martin’s position as a professional role model might influence this learning
environment as the students look up to him and accept his professional authority as carpenter and VETteacher. The individual psychological processes are always tricky, because how can you know, what is
going on inside the head of others? Nevertheless it is in some way addressed with Martins check-up
questions, but the question is, what is being evaluated in such manner – actual cognitive acquisition or the
ability to reproduce knowledge.
To sum up, the episodes of learning about roof structures, vapor barriers and tie beams might work
because Martin is a skilled carpenter and is able to disseminate his professional knowledge in an
meaningful and relevant manner, taking many didactical aspects into account in the practical teaching
activity and taking responsibility of managing the classroom giving room to fair and meaningful
participation for the students. These aspects, which are by no means unique to these two episodes, make
up a practical example of quality VET-teaching. Analyzing the episodes and linking it to didactical concepts
gives an opportunity to discuss them in a more general way.
The last open question of the analysis, which is a central question in all pedagogical activities – the question
of assessment – give rise to the next teaching episode which is also from the last observation period:
The final exam of the foundational course is in two weeks. Martin use the last ½ hour of the lesson to
explain how it is going to take place. He has a wooden structure model from an earlier exam project and
explains the different aspects of the product which the students are expected to be able to do. He explains
what is important to do right and how the final product is assessed. E.g. it is allowed to make mistakes – the
important thing is that you are aware of the mistake and are able to explain it. He tests a couple of the
students with questions from an exam situation to visualize how it is going to happen and he explains what
the roles of the internal and external examiner are. The external examiner might pose a lot of questions or
he may pose almost none but if the questions are confusing or incomprehensible Martin will be sure to
reformulate them in order for the students to understand them. Finally Martin offers to organize a trial
exam before the real exam.
Exam situations are always stressing to students. It is another situation than the usual school situation
which the students are familiar with. The individual student is on the spot and assessed by an external
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professional person. The didactical considerations involved in preparing students to exam situations are
among other making it clear to the students what is being assessed – product or / and process – and how it
is assessed. It involves clarification in regards to the different roles of the situation and what performance
is expected of the students. Finally it is important, as pointed out by The National Centre for the
Development of Vocational Education and Training that there is correspondence between the teaching
activities and products of the course leading up to the final exam and the nature of the final exam (Størner
??). If e.g. awareness of the process of constructing rafters as well as the quality of the rafters is central to
the learning content, it is crucial, that this is reflected in the final exam. Considering these elements the
above episode might serve as a prime example of quality exam preparation in VET.
Before we turn to some of the challenges to the profession of VET-teachers and give some suggestions to,
why it might not always run as smoothly as the episodes outlined above despite the best of intentions, one
more example of the significance of the VET-teacher to the students learning and motivation is presented.
This episode is drawn from the first 5 week period of field work and shows the importance of the
professional skills of the teacher, the relational competencies and the teachers’ attention to the individual
students needs in order to learn a specific carpenter skill, in this case how to construct tenon joints:
Michael (the teacher) grabs the two pieces of wood, Magnus is holding and explains and shows on the wood
what to do. They are both seated on the floor and Magnus follow the explanations very intense with one
hand rested on the forehead. It is obvious that Magnus want to understand, what Michael explain and in
the end he gets it. He is about to leave to continue his work when Michael says to him:
Michael: ”Come and see me again before you move on to the next step. There is something I need to show
you, before you can do that”.
Magnus: ”Okay”. He walks to his work station obviously content and eager to move on.
In this small episode there is a lot at play. Consciously or not Michael takes Magnus’ individual
preconditions into account when he divide the learning process in small bits at a time. This way of
organizing the learning process gives Magnus opportunity to succeed in small steps and is lightly to drive
him forward in his long term learning process. Michael takes his time to make sure, Magnus understand the
next step before he leaves, which signals both that Michael know about Magnus’ individual level of
competence and is available to him. The learning content of how to construct tenon joints and the object of
this – in this case the two pieces of wood – is very real and present in the situation, which is, as earlier
mentioned, a common feature of many VET-programs. In the situation it implies that Michael is able to
fixate his instructions in the two pieces of wood in a way that seem to motive and engage Magnus to carry
on trying to solve the task on his own.
One might object that there is nothing special to the episode – episodes like that take place all the time in
VET and to analyze a common episode like this is to blow it out of proportions. We beg to differ. If this
situation resembles similar situations elsewhere in the VET-sector, it does not disqualify or diminish the
points made her – on the contrary. Furthermore, as will be apparent from the following, these kinds of VETteaching situations that works well and the VET-teachers conducting them, are challenged. It does not
always run smoothly and sometimes the teaching situations break down with loss of student motivation
and commitment and erosion of trust in the relation between teacher and student to follow. Despite
quality VET-teacher competencies and good intentions on behalf of the management at the VET-schools
this is for a large part due to the challenges to the role of VET-teachers where the traditional core of the
10
teacher profession is invaded by other tasks of administrative and economic nature, as outlined in the
introduction. Let us have a look at how it plays out in praxis in the following three short episodes from the
initial 5 week field work.
The first episode concerns the teacher’s interview with each of the students about how well they solved
the different tasks in prefabricated worksheet during the first two weeks and based on that, how long time
their individual foundational course need to be. The episode takes place in the computer room, where the
students work on different 3D drawings on the computer.
08:30: “Okay. Whoever is finished with the worksheets and the two additional pages come with me. We will
do the interview right away”.
09:22: Michael is still busy doing interview. Some of the students are surfing the Internet others work on the
3D drawings.
10:00: Break. Several students complain to me about the fact, that all they do is sit around for four lessons
waiting for an interview with Michael.
This second episode takes place in the beginning of a lesson in the workshop. Michael is busy doing the
attendance record. It takes a little while before the laptop is ready for Michael to access the record file.
Mike (student): “Michael – enough with the playing on the computer now. Can’t you come and help us
getting started. Arnt, Kim and I need a bit of help.
Michael: “Yes, I just have to…”.
Mike loose interest and starts chatting to another student. Michael has now finished with the record but has
forgotten Mike’s request for help. Another student, Magnus catches Michael’s attention and gets help
instead. Mike slanders over to where Kim and I are waiting.
The third episode takes place in the computer room and Michael is initiating this morning’s lesson:
Michael: ”Start working on the tasks (3D-drawings). You need to fill this out. Here you write, why you chose
to start at the VET-school, and here you write, why you want to become a carpenter. And here you write
what you would like to do, if you don’t want to become a carpenter. It is important that you fill out
‘alternative education wishes’, in case you cannot become a carpenter”.
Two things at the same time. Instructions to the 3D drawings and instructions in how to fill out the studentplanner1. What are we actually supposed to do? Confusing.
The common feature from the three examples concern the content of the educations episodes. In each
episode there is clearly something related to the profession as carpenter going on: 3D drawings in the
computer room and carpentry training in the workshop. However in each episode there is something else
1
Every VET-student are obliged to construct an student planner in the beginning of their VET-program, which among
other things is supposed to contain meta-reflections about the education they just started and considerations about
alternative educations ambitions.
11
at play as well, that seem to be related to something external to the profession, at least from the point of
view of the students. This ‘something else’, it is argued here, is embedded in the institutional logic of
managing and keeping track of the students, both physically in the case of the attendance record, and
mentally in the case of the student planner and the assessment-interviews. In praxis the VET-teachers are
obliged to manage both agendas; on the one hand teaching the students relevant professional skills and
knowledge and on the other hand making sure every student fills out a student planner, is interview to
determine the individual length of the foundational course and are recorded as present or absent. The
latter tasks are not something to be disregarded as both the two week initial assessment period and the
student planner is set out in the legislation and, as mentioned in the introduction, the schools’ economy is
dependent on the number of students currently enrolled and active as students at the school. However, as
evident in the three episodes, this dual objective can course sort of a schizophrenic state of mind of the
teachers. This is especially evident in the last episode where Michaels starts an introduction to the 3Ddrawing and continue with explain how to fill out the student planner in the same sentence with general
confusion on the part of the students to follow. What are they actually supposed to do? And why are they
to indicate alternative education wishes, when they are just starting a VET-program? From the point of
view of the VET-school it makes good sense. From statistic records it is evident, that approximately half of
the students drop out. And even if they complete the foundational course, they might have to change
professional track if they are not able to find an apprenticeship. At the moment (2012) this is a real risk as
approximately 11.000 VET-students are unable to find apprenticeship.
But from the point of view of the students this does not seem to make sense, and in each of the three
episodes the teaching seems to break down, because of this dual-objective structuring the teachers framing
of the episodes. This mixing together of objective leave the students confused as to what they are
supposed to do, as is the case in the last episode, or with Mike’s resignedly behavior in the second episode
or with downright frustration and disappointment as the student in the first episode explicitly expressed.
The difference to the teaching episodes that work well is evident, and at least one general point of interest
can be drawn from this. When the VET-teaching objective is professional knowledge and skills and the
teacher is a skilled professional as well as a skilled professional didactic it seem to catch the motivation of
the students and engage them in the activities. When this objective is mixed with requirements of
managerial and economic nature, there is a real risk of unsuccessful teaching and demotivation and
frustration on the part of the students.
Hvad kan vi lære af dette?
+ relation til PD’en i DK og ambitionen med den (Vibe).
Concluding remarks
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