Enhancing Learning for Early Years Foundation Degree Students

I am deeply interested in how the Early Years Foundation Degree works for work-based learners and how students learn while they earn. Often, Foundation Degree students on this course are experienced practitioners, supervisors or managers of early years settings, they have their families and children to look after while they are studying full time. A tall order, which requires absolute commitment – they have my admiration.

Because of how Foundation Degrees were set up in 2001 with the twin drivers of widening participation for social inclusion, I always felt I wanted to do my best for the students so their investment (both financial and personal) is worth their while. I carried out a small piece of research that focused on the Understanding Child Development module. The purpose of this module at level 4 is to develop students’ understanding of key theories to be able to make connections with work-based learning and for them to see the relevance of these theories in their practice. Therefore, the aim of my study was to find out which teaching strategies, that I employed in sessions, students found most useful to help them make these connections. I asked the students and what they said seemed to reflect the order of things in education, as Foucault (1970) would say.

The study findings indicate that students value teaching strategies that include the direct input of the lecturer as seen as the Vygotskian More Knowledgeable Other (‘более знающий другой’), and they rate peer support as less effective. The main conclusions drawn from this study are that application of learnt theory to work-based practice is not as simple as it may seem and that we need to go beyond a singular notion of ‘communities of practice’. While being learners in at least three overlapping communities, students are positioned and position themselves as more knowledgeable others in their own workplace community and in relation to their peers’, but as lacking knowledge in relation to their lecturers’.

So what does this mean to me as the lecturer on the module and what are the implications for my own practice? Firstly, I need to focus on the nature of the scaffolding and the process by which I build and withdraw support. Another, to be used in parallel, is to start with building a stronger context for ‘socialisation’ in which students have time and opportunity to learn from each other and come to appreciate their peers as knowledgeable others. I need to help them realise the value of their practical wisdom and its tacit knowledge and convert these into explicit knowledge.

If you are interested in this topic, please email me on eleonora.teszenyi@northampton.ac.uk or look out for an article entitled: Enhancing Learning for Early Years Foundation Degree Students: Reflecting on the Notion of Knowledgeable Others. It is in the process of being submitted for review.