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‘Challenging’ reflexivity in the transition between practicums: A practical and gamified approach to embed ‘big ideas’ into the teacher education curriculum

Pip Buckingham, Associate Lecturer in Teacher Education at University of East London Warren Kidd, Senior Lecturer at University of East London

Like all teacher educators in England, we are conscious that our practice is increasingly located in turbulent and changing political and managerial landscapes for teacher education (see Murtagh & Rushton, 2021; Wyse, 2021). The ITT Market Review (DfE, 2021), linked to the recent ITT Core Framework (DfE, 2019) calls for teacher education providers to restate the case for their curriculum and to obtain a new endorsed remit to continue to run existing programmes. BERA’s own response to the ITT Market Review calls for more robust clarity, research and critique around dominant models of learning, teaching and curriculum that are seen to be at the heart of the review. While we have both been embedding and speculating on the outcomes of the market review for teacher education, we have had the opportunity to think again about how we manage subject-specific ideas in our humanities and social science curriculums, especially within the ‘spiral curriculum’ that we adopt. In this BERA Blog post, we outline one such example that we have worked on over the past few months with considerable success.

Our trainees teach history, geography, sociology and psychology to 11-to-19-year-olds across different schools in (mainly) east London. In order to ‘keep research-informed practice going’ each year, we set our trainees the ‘6 lesson challenge’. These challenges are intended to remind the trainee to focus on things that we think matter, ready for a block of professional learning at the university in between the first and second practicum in a ‘contrasting’ setting: a second school placement that differs from the first perhaps in terms of pupil demographic, school organisation or learning and teaching approaches.

This year, we asked trainees to focus on the following six challenges:

  1. reduced teacher talk and maximised pupil oracy
  2. a lesson with a ‘mystery for pupils to “solve”’
  3. elements of a ‘gamified’ approach to learning for pupils (using the mechanics and dynamics of games to develop learning opportunities that reward learning progression)
  4. the principles of ‘direct instruction’
  5. a variety of questioning techniques
  6. use of sources, case studies and data in an explorative way.

These six challenges, ‘launched’ to trainees in December, help to connect theory to practice given the links of practicum to time and experience over time. Trainees worked on the six challenges ready to return to the university. We organised a day’s event to consolidate their practicum experiences, modelling back the same principles in a mixture of escape rooms, role-play and realia. To do this, we decorated our classroom as an east London townhouse. This became the setting for our gamified escape room for the day. To start, we greeted trainees with role-play, where the theatrical opening set the tone of mystery. The classroom (house) was separated into ‘six rooms’, each housing a ‘mystery box’ containing subject-relevant objects (such as posters from real historical sources written at the time of children’s evacuation from London during the Blitz period of the Second World War, children’s toys, maps, and reproductions of letters written at key historical moments such as from the Suffragette movement in England in c.1905–1910). All of these objects had a ‘local’ relevance – they all connected back to the east London area where our university and partner schools are located. Boxes contained gold envelopes with a challenge task. Trainees completed the challenge ‘escaping the room’. We demonstrated gamification through moving trainees away from the idea of the ‘classroom’ to create a new site of possibility, enabling feelings of discovery: a new space for reflexivity. They even made a ‘meal’ using real pots and pans in a ‘kitchen’ using strips of paper for the ‘ingredients’, and wrote up the ‘recipe’ of ‘subject specific’ practice, authentic to the ontological nature of their curriculum areas (for instance, they explored what ingredients were needed to make the ‘perfect history lesson’ in a school’s classroom).

Ending the day, trainees came to the ‘back yard’ where we had a washing line. Trainees made paper ‘washing’ and presented challenges they faced as ‘dirty laundry’. We wanted to demonstrate the ongoing journey of a new teacher. This took trust and confidence, and as such was an act of ‘backstage performance’ (Goffman, 1990) – making public otherwise private managed impressions. We created a Third Space (Zeichner, 2010) enabling the exploration of dilemmas (Tripp, 1993; Brookfield, 1995). Throughout the day we tried to connect pedagogy, subject knowledge, reflection and a lot of creativity.

While we reflect upon centralised curriculums for ITE in England and the future of how ITE landscapes might change, we are reminded through this example of our practice of the essential requirement for all ITE to help new entrants to the profession be sensitive to difference in the school context and to understand the importance of their own reflexivity in their ongoing development. We might have ‘played a game’ – but through this approach, we better understand practice and ourselves.


Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. Jossey-Bass.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2019). Initial teacher training (ITT): Core content framework.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2021). Initial teacher training (ITT) market review report.

Goffman, E. (1990 [1959]). The presentation of self in everyday life (4th ed.). Penguin Books.

Murtagh, L., & Rushton, E. (2021, November 19). Mobilising critique through Twitter: Exploring the ITE sector response during the ITT market review. BERA Blog.

Tripp, D. (1993). Critical incidents in teaching: Developing professional judgement. Routledge.

Wyse, D. (2021, December 1). Who wants to be an academic?, BERA Blog.

Zeichner, K. (2010). Rethinking the connections between campus courses and field experiences in college and university-based teacher education. Educação Revista do Centro de Educação UFSM, 35(3), 479–501.