Celebrating
a centenary
of Learning

  • 50
  • by Lisa Azzopardi
  • graduated 2012
  • studied MEd in Psychology of Education
  • from Malta

Lisa, would you like to give it a go?

As a girl at secondary school I clearly remember being in our Maths class and observing our teacher teach. There was always a portion of pupils who grasped concepts straight away, others who took a little more time, and a smaller portion of pupils who struggled to do so. During my teacher’s explanations, I thoroughly remember thinking to myself ‘if the teacher simply changes the word she is using with the one that I’ve got in my head, they’d get it!’. However, I never spoke out of turn and let the teacher get on with her duties. On one occasion, in a similar situation, the same teacher failed in an attempt to make understandable what we were tackling in that lesson, to my surprise she turned to me with her marker in her hand and asked ‘Lisa, would you like to give it a go?’. I felt a sense of relief at that moment because I finally got the chance to act out what had always been going on in my head. Since then my Maths teacher always kept a close eye on me and used me as a resource in her classroom, I loved her more so for that. Somehow, somewhere I always new I wanted to become a Maths teacher, and I did.

During the four-year course in BEd (Hons) Mathematics at the University of Malta I was placed in several local schools for my teaching practice experience. At any given time, I was in charge of four classes (KS2 and KS3) made up of 25-30 students per class (in one academic year). I have experience working in a diverse range of schools, from schools described as catering for pupils coming from disadvantaged backgrounds to other schools where the situation is less desperate. In one of the schools situated in a deprived area, the percentage of pupil homework submission increased by almost 18% throughout the whole academic year during my stay at the school.

In both environments learning differences of all sorts needed to be catered for whilst maintaining academic proficiency. I dealt with a variety of learners, some of which can be described as being gifted and talented, challenging behaviour, unmotivated and pupils with additional educational needs. Progress through the academic year was always maintained; at times an increase in attachment towards the subject and the school was evident. To my surprise I was constantly faced with pupils adopting a diverse range of learning differences, regretfully I received minimal training in this field. Proving to be an on going challenge in the Maths classroom, I wished to further develop my understanding and sensitivity in developmental dyslexia and dyscalculia in order to become a more effective practitioner. Driven by this desire, I enrolled on postgraduate education courses at the University of Bristol.

I was committed to pursue a career in Special Needs Education and I believe that a Master’s course is the first step towards attaining this. Due to a family member’s learning difference; I was exposed to the multidimensional concept of dyslexia from a young age. Over the years I became increasingly interested in the field and chose dyslexia in mathematics as the title for my thesis for my bachelor degree. During my training reflection played a vital role, whether it was during lectures or out on placements. In the BEd course we were exposed to various theories, methodologies and pedagogies. It was then up to us to implement what we were taught in lectures to real-life classroom situations. I found myself to have two major strong suits, one of which is classroom management, and the other is an effective way of dealing with challenging behaviour (utilizing cognitive behavioral techniques).

Having had a heightened interest in specific learning difficulties (dyslexia), often characterized by a phonological dysfunction and Maths I carried out a small study on the MEd consisting of two pupils (aged 12 and 13) identified in this area at an undergraduate level. An interesting finding emerged from profiling both male participants. Both participants were identified at an early age, aware of the label assigned to them, below average attainers and equally as gifted in distinctive areas involving a high level of creativity (art and mechanics). The behaviour that positioned the participants at either end of the continuum was their sense of self. Although both participants were not dissimilar in academic merit, one participant displayed amplified confidence levels when compared to his counterpart. In an educational context, this difference also emerged in their levels of engagement, sense of belonging, absenteeism and overall well-being in the classroom. It is by far and large accepted that behaviour and the environment are strongly correlated, thus one would anticipate a difference in sociocultural background as a result from a home evaluation of both participants. It is suffice to say that the participants are in fact brothers, brought up in the same household, attended the same school, and shared the same friends, siblings and parents. With the elder brother displaying such distinctive social outcomes, which often tended to be apprehensive in nature, my interest in the relationship between the ‘self’, behaviour and teaching and learning matured.

Through the realisation of how the self impacts on pupils’ approach to learning, I shifted my attention from pupils described as having dyslexia to pupils characterised as needing additional help with the development of their social and emotional needs, this group of learners includes pupils with ADHD which is often comorbid with dyslexia/dyscalculia difficulties. Moreover, I chose to research on this group of underserved learners for my dissertation for the MEd Psychology of Education (BPS) pathway, exploring the relationship between the self and the learning approach for pupils described as having emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Why did I choose Bristol? Apart from the University of Bristol ranking as one of the top universities in the United Kingdom and the Graduate School of Education comprising of such a welcoming team, the city is big enough to keep me entertained, but not too big to make me feel insignificant. Moreover, the music scene here is vast, if its gigs that you like going to, most popular bands stop by Bristol before they head to London. But most of all the selling point of Bristol is its sunny days, when the weather’s beautiful; Bristol’s on fire and the streets and city alike are alive. Coming from a very small island of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, where weather conditions are pleasant and warm, Bristol was a great choice.