Creating Learning Events

We’ve had an amazing couple of weeks at school where as a staff community, we have all been part of ‘Operation Challenge-All-Areas’. This has led to some cracking learning conversations both in lessons and beyond with a plethora of ideas being shared daily throughout an always-buzzing school. Our Challenge-All-Areas approach is a way to communicate our determination to our students that they must:

Invest as much as possible in every aspect of their school day

SO THAT

they get as much as they possibly can in return.

We discussed how students’ work is often only ever seen by one person: their teacher. Not only that, when the work is submitted it is within a familiar, comfortable and established ‘expert-novice’ relationship. Where peer assessment is regular, it can often occur once the work is well underway or even as part of the final editing and checking stage. As such, any opportunity to show work to someone other than a subject or class teacher or a familiar peer is incidental and it certainly isn’t something that is explicitly planned for and worked towards in a deliberate way. As such, it misses an opportunity: to create a ‘Learning Event’.

Contrast this instead with the emotional, intellectual and logistical preparation required for an art exhibition, a dance, drama or music performance. Here, the expectations are high from the outset as every participant knows that the final outcome will be seen by an unknown, unfamiliar and potentially hard-to-please-audience. This means that everybody knows that they had better provide a quality experience. Similarly, the preparation required for a school netball tournament or a county cup final, where the stakes are already high in terms of  achieving a  win or a loss, but even more than this, is the knowledge that the performance will be seen and scrutinised by others…so, again, every team member knows that they had better put in a good performance. This means getting the preparation right, using training to make any adjustments and refinements they need and make sure they are absolutely focused ahead of the moment the first whistle blows.

How differently we all behave and apply ourselves when we know, from the outset, that what we will do will be seen, scrutinised and consumed by others (just think of any presentation or interview scenario). Our frailties, any short-cuts or lack of planning are only a breath away from exposure when we face an audience. So much of our energy goes into making sure those frailties are eradicated as far as humanly possible.

These conversations led us to consider whether we could use the idea of an audience to drive up expectations, raise aspirations and make it clear, from the start, that this work is destined to be viewed by others. All of this also brings into play one of current action research questions: “How do we prepare our students for linear exams?”.

Using the lovely tool of VideoScribe (@videoscribetv) aka the presentation tool for introverts and quiet leaders (!), here are nine ideas for creating an audience of more than one SO THAT you can communicate high expectations from the outset. It is a great way to celebrate and evaluate student work. It involves all students, members of staff, parents and carers in critiquing and engaging in learning throughout the school.

This work follows our most recent INSET day, where staff inspired each other with ideas and approaches showing different ways to provide CHALLENGE. This included taking intellectual risks, supporting students to develop their own learning toolkits and asking every student to reflect on success criteria in answer to a pre-submission question, ‘Is it good enough?’

So the last two weeks have given us the opportunity to be really explicit about our expectations, overt about quality criteria for tasks and deliberate in communicating our desire for students to experience the best possible learning outcomes in every part of the school day.

Operation Challenge-All-Areas starts first thing in the morning. We aim to share a ‘good morning’ with every student on the gate (challenge to connect), design higher order question sequences in lessons (challenge to go deeper) and require students to use quality criteria for themselves to refine, edit and polish work before they hand it in (challenge to meet their own high expectations).

One thing is certain, Operation Challenge-All-Areas is here to stay.

Why we continue to accept the challenge

This is a short, snappy post to begin the New Year.

I thought it best to begin with the  words of Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam). This is a reminder of the challenge ahead and a suggestion as to why we keep tackling them with open hearts and minds.

Taken from John Tomsett’s inspirational blog, written a while ago,

“Dylan Wiliam, in his keynote speech at the SSAT Conference in December said, Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.”

And here, there’s a little more from the man himself, reminding us all about the beauty of teaching…

Experiment: Pop-Up Resource Page

I’ve just added a new ‘Pop-Up Resource Page‘ in an attempt to achieve a balance between sharing existing ideas and materials and inspiring ideas that result in improved adaptation. This is an experiment and will have very few resources available to download at infrequent times.

“We liked this…and we did this…”

The ideal impact of this page is that you see something here, like it, tweak it, use it in a different context and let me know what you’ve done. In that way, we grow ideas together and document the process as we go along.

I’m a big advocate of harnessing the power of creation and discussing and thinking collaboratively with those who best know your context to design appropriate resources to enhance learning. As a result, I am always wary of any ready-to-print off-the-shelf materials. The conversation and thinking that goes into the creation of any learning materials is vital.

To begin with, as a result of the requests following the last post here. I’ve added a PDF that should print off in better quality of the graphics of  Teacher Standards with an added quote from Hattie.

The collaborative deal:

The deal is that if you find them useful, please leave a comment to say how you used them so others can get even more inspiration from what you do.

Teachers’ Standards

I’m doing a lot of work around the Teachers’ Standards at the moment. I’m such a visual thinker and I always love a nice bit of typography, I’ve had a go at creating some graphics to support what I’m up to.

By raising the profile of them and finding ways to integrate them into all things teaching and learning, my hope is that teachers can take control of them and drive and ashape their CPD accordingly.

I’d be interested in how you’re using the Teaching Standards and what you think of the graphics…

TS graphics

TM Clevedon Workshop: Engagement & Courageous Curiosity

At the heart of risk-taking...

Here’s what I covered at breakneck speed in my workshop at the most excellent event that was TeachMeet Clevedon. I must apologise to all those who came along as they won’t have realised the risk they were really taking by attending the workshop unless they’ve worked with me before. I really have no brakes when it comes to talking about learning, particularly when I’m running against the clock.

We did go rather quickly.

Sorry, but the pdf of the slides is below if it helps?!!!

Risk is personal

I’ve always been a bit bothered by the term ‘risk-taking’. The subjective nature of exactly what it is that we mean by taking any kind of risk is one thing, but the complexity of what exactly constitutes a risk is another. After all, for some, offering a response to a question in a lesson is the biggest risk a learner will take all term, whilst for others, standing up in front of a hall of 350 people and attempting to hold their attention for any given length of time will be an equivalent risk. These are both demonstrations of courageous learning. So if we can identify  exactly what enables them to happen, then we can deliberately design this into lessons to ensure all levels of risk taking behaviour becomes more frequent.

So when considering practical strategies that might encourage learners to adopt risk-behaviours (the outcomes we want to observe), we have an opportunity to explore and deliberately design the conditions that need to be in place (the input) that will encourage risk-taking learning-behaviours. It is here that we can direct our energy, our planning and  interventions, to the very heart of learning design.

What is ‘engagement’ and where does it come from, anyway?

Learners are brilliant at picking up on teacher-speak. We will often hear and read what we consider to be highly self-aware comments from them such as, “I need to be more motivated in (subject)” or “I need to be more engaged in my (subject) lessons”. The thing is that it doesn’t always follow that learners share the same (or any) understanding of what this actually means*.

*When asking a Year 8 pupil what they enjoyed about a lesson they had just had, they replied to me, “Miss always does plenaries.” As you can imagine, I was delighted with this response. When I asked what it was about these that they liked so much, they replied, “That’s the bit where we get to pack up.” I am sure I’ve written about this before, but it does a great job in demonstrating the gap between teacher-speak and learner-understanding.

Taking the time to work out exactly what behaviours we want to see in practice so that these can, therefore, be deliberately encouraged, actively observed and frequently reflected back to learners will go some way to bridge the gap between what we say and what we expect to see. Not only that, it provides us with a lovely opportunity to instigate some top-notch learning conversations that will hand over the responsibility for learning to the learners. So if we can communicate exactly what we mean when we ask for more ‘motivation’, ‘independence’ and ‘engagement’ then we can deliberately design it into learning opportunities. Not only that but we can then ask learners to reflect on whether they think they are showing it (because they know what they should be doing to show it) and in this way, we can mutually celebrate it when it happens.

Seeking out what we want to see

So, when working with a group of teachers recently on an initial enquiry question, “How do we encourage our learners to take more risks?”, we took all of the above into account and ended up re-drafting the question to look something like this:

Research Question ExamplarBy doing it like this, we ensured that the focus of the research was specific and connected the key concern or issue of engagement with the outcomes we wanted to observe. This question could have been taken even deeper by looking at a few selected learners in one group over a limited period of time such as 20 minutes over the course of x3 lessons but this sufficed for the purposes of the enquiry at this point.

Reflection

This probably should be another post but as I’m here and I covered it at TeachMeet Clevedon, I’ll keep going…

S3+4Ts+4Rs+C3

The S3 is explained in another post on the Marginal Learning Gains blog.  As is the 4Ts here and in the book.

The 4Rs of reflection

The 4Rs are all about structuring reflective sessions so that they are meaningful and full of purpose. They come from breaking REFLECTION (another one of those big catch-all teaching terms) into some definite component parts. In doing this, we can select a specific element of reflection we want learners to practice. Learners are then clear about the expectations of what they need to actually do during a ‘reflection activity’ and, therefore, what ‘quality reflection’ looks like, i.e. the specific learning behaviours are being encouraged.

The elements of structured reflection could be as follows:

  • To REFLECT (through dialogue with and feedback from somebody else)

OR

  • To actively REVIEW (independently of anybody else)

OR

  • To REFINE (make adjustments & improvements either independently or in response to feedback)

OR

  • To RETRY (to attempt again, acting on suggestions, ideas and suggestions received from others)

Or, it could be a combination of two of these that then lead into the goal setting and COMMITMENT elements of taking responsibility for learning…

The ‘C3′ of ‘Commitment to Learning’

The C3 approach to goal-setting and next-steps is simply another way to break down the how learners can be actively encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning. This is the actionable part between,

‘This is where I need to be…

AND…

‘…so this is what I WILL do to get there.’

This gives learners very specific things that they can do to get them to a point where they can make a commitment to the goals and targets that they have set for themselves.

  1. To CONSIDER what they have reflected upon (see above) and hence the feedback, reflections, ideas and suggestions from listening to, seeing the work of and learning from others
  2. To CONSULT with those (within or beyond the immediate lesson setting) who may be able to give advice, share examples and suggest ways forward
  3. To COMMIT to a plan of action and the goals that the learner has formulated

All of this is a long preamble to the PDF of the slides I used in the TeachMeet Clevedon workshop which you can read and download below:

Zoë Elder 13June2013 TMClevedon FullOnENGAGEMENT

Even Better If we specifically focused on What Went Well

Over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to work in a wide variety of contexts around the country with fabulously open and highly reflective practitioners. Of late, I have been involved in engaging and often very challenging debates around the ways in which all forms of observations are used in schools to improve the learning experiences of young people.

One of the main areas of my work is concerned with how to develop and sustain a safe and effective culture of quality professional reflection. An integral aspect of this involves the design of dynamic professional development programmes that integrate a culture of coaching, action research and developmental lesson observations.

This includes:

  • the constant testing and revision of all observation formats
  • clarification of the purpose of all observations
  • agreement of the intended and expected outcomes of all observations
  • reflections on the language for and of learning
  • creation of a range of observation tools (different tools for different purposes)
  • systems that reflect and embrace the values of truly developmental and highly reflective professional learning

An often neglected area of the process of all forms of observation is the post-observation conversation*. In establishing a culture where developmental lesson observations are used to develop the quality of learning opportunities alongside and not instead-of or as separate-from judgmental or graded observations, the challenge is to find the most effective way to ensure that every post-lesson conversation is about professional learning and not professional telling.

Quality post-lesson conversations

The conversation following any type or style of learning observation can, and should, make as many of the demands on the professional expertise of the observer as on the practitioner whose lesson has been observed. This is just as true for a developmental lesson observation as it is for a graded / formal / judgemental lesson observation. It’s certainly true that just because there’s no grade to be given doesn’t make the complexities (practical, emotional and professional) of the discussion any more straightforward.

We can employ as much reassurance as we can think of in the form of…

‘It really IS developmental, there are no judgements here’ OR…

‘Remember, I’m not using the criteria to form any judgements in this, so don’t worry’ OR…

‘The lesson observation format I’m using doesn’t allow me to look for evidence that could be used to grade the lesson’

…BUT until a reflective and developmental culture is established (and even after it is), it is worth remembering that it is likely that it may always feel, for the person whose lesson has just been observed, that the ‘grading elephant’ is present in some guise in the room.

This is particularly true at that critical point of the commencement of the post-lesson conversation when the crowd of learners have packed up and their backpacks have disappeared towards their next lesson. For most, it is worth noting that this is when heart rates spike again, for both the observer and practitioner. It is at this point that the sophisticated skills of the observer have to be fully deployed into the situation, immediately and expertly.

Scorpion feedback 

A typical structure of much of our feedback conversations with learners involves providing some positive reinforcement and actively noticing some elements of effective practice followed by some ‘points for development’. This is often encapsulated as ‘What Worked Well’ and ‘Even Better If’ or ‘Two Stars and a Wish’ AfL-style feedback. At other times, it comes in the form of a ‘feedback sandwich’, where the effective element is followed by a developmental point and finished with another effective element. This structure has been adapted by many schools for observers to use with practitioners as part of the post-lesson conversation. The actual structure has many merits, whichever version or adaptation is used.

What I have been reflecting on most recently, however, is the relative impact of the effective elements (WWW) against the impact of identifying the (WWW) developmental points.

What we say/ what we hear

It’s a bit like going to a gallery to see an exhibition and finding pieces of art that we really like but noticing that the weather wasn’t very nice.

What often happens is that the person receiving the feedback does’t really listen to the WWW, however fabulous these are because they are waiting for the EBI. So whether there is a formal judgement hovering and waiting to be delivered or simply a non-graded developmental EBI, or both, the ‘EBI’ can still act as an unhelpful sting in the tail of the conversation, regardless of how massively positive the impact of learning has been as a result of the WWWs. And however accomplished the practitioner has been whilst employing these WWWs.

One of the main reasons for this is:

(1) The WWW and the EBI are often, although not exclusively, presented as two very separate, distinct elements of the observation.

(2) The source of these separate elements is often very different. This is because the process of identifying the elements of effective practice and the elements that we would consider as goals for development, even during the lesson itself, tends to involve an entirely separate search.

So the observer might see…

(1) (WWW) The lesson structure is clear

(2) (WWW) The Learning Outcomes & Success Criteria were communicated effectively to students

But identify…

(3) (EBI) The teacher-questioning didn’t encourage expansive answers from the learners.

All three points are really important, but when this particular post-lesson conversation occurs, there is a danger that all the practitioner hears is point (3) and leaves the lesson thinking, ‘My questioning isn’t good enough’. In doing so, they may fail to acknowledge and or even care that their planning was really effective and that the construction and communication of learning outcomes and success criteria ensured that all students knew why, what and how they were learning throughout the lesson. These elements may constitute two things into which they’ve invested huge amounts of time and energy and with this, elements of practice that another practitioner two doors down the corridor would really benefit from seeing in action. But they leave the experience thinking, ‘my questioning isn’t good enough.’ and add this to the infinite ‘to-do list of a self-imposed ‘must-do-better’ mindset.

The M.O.T.** and avoiding the STING 

So, in implementing Marginal Learning Gains Theory, the observer has the opportunity to be as meticulously selective as the reflective practitioner for whom they are observing the learning. In doing so, they can identify a specific area for development directly from the effective elements already in place. This means that the onus is on the observer to make a clear and specific connection between the elements of the lesson that have been effective and identify how more of this will enhance the quality of the learning experienced. This also means that as observers, we have to really up our game in making a highly sophisticated professional analysis of what really needs to be ‘grown’ from existing practice that will make the biggest impact on the quality of learning.

Obviously, in a coaching relationship, the options for what to focus on in terms of growth are identified and prioritised by the practitioner, but the elements from the observed learning presented by the observer still need to inform and enhance the depth of this  conversation.

So, here’s one very simple strategy (and yes, it will very soon be appearing as a Marginal Learning Gain) and the bonus is that is has an equally transferrable application for peer and self assessment activities with our learners.

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 12.49.17

The fear of the EBI (Elephant Behind the Insight)…or something like that.

MOT

When the MOT leaves us knowing we’re on track and have the skills already in place to keep going…

* I am deliberately not referring to the post-lesson observation conversation as ‘feedback’ because in doing so, it still feels like I’m describing something that is predominantly a one-way process. This is regardless of how much we insist upon the need for there to be several feedback channels where the ‘loudest’ feedback channel is that from the ‘learner’ (or the practitioner’s lesson being observed in this instance) to the ‘teacher’ (the observer in this case).

**And yes, this means I have a new acronym (because I really don’t think we have enough in education).

Teaching repertoire to learning repertoire

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Visible pedagogy

One of my most memorable responses when I asked, “What do you like most about these lessons?” was the reply from a Year 7 pupil who answered without hesitation, “I like the plenary that Miss always does.” On hearing this, a wave of excited reassurance washed over me and I followed up with, “That sounds great, so what happens when you have the plenary?” Just as quick, the pupil confidently said, “That’s the bit where we get to pack up.”

By thinking of pedagogy and the design of learning activities as akin to the exoskeleton of lessons, we can share the relevance (the ‘so what’?) of the learning by pointing out to learners exactly where the joints, connections and overall structure of the learning is and how it all fits together. In doing so, we offer a chance for them to grab on to the bones of the lesson and find their own way around complex knowledge, difficult concepts and new applications with each other.

Making our pedagogy visible to  learners is a fantastic way to deliberately involve them in the process of learning. It provides a great opportunity to introduce and establish a shared language of and for learning. It also offers a chance to share effective practice across the school.

Jim Smith (@thelazyteacher), often talks about creating a sort of bingo card for learners to record all the different activities and ways they are asked to show their learning that they encounter during a series of lessons. Such a card could include presentations to the class, extended writing, role play, posters and so on.

Building on this idea, the table below is an extremely generalised mix of activities and pedagogy that could make up a reflective tool. From this, you can refine the table into the way in which you design learning so that you use specific strategies for specific purposes, a sort of ‘What Works Well AND WHEN’ for learning design…

  • Launching new topics
  • Checking progress
  • Deepening understanding
  • Clarifying misconceptions
  • Gathering feedback on progress
  • Assessing the security of understanding

Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 13.28.31

A learning script

To squeeze even more learning out of adopting a visible pedagogical approach, we can ask learners to do more than just record what they experience. We can encourage them, as part of regular reflections on their learning, to demonstrate their understanding of how these activities help them learn and, most importantly, how confident they are in learning as a result of thinking in this way. From this point, learners could create their own activities for each other according to what will work BEST for the topic and phase of learning they are in.

By deliberately integrating this as part of on-going self-reflection, we also avoid straying into the soul-destroying conversation many of us will have experienced over the years which goes something like, ‘I am a kinaesthetic leaner, so I can’t write any of this down.’ Instead, learners will become more discerning about what activities work best for them, when and why. Learners will  become aware that some activities are more challenging for them than others and so they need tom consciously can invest more effort to become better at these. They will become more involved in their own learning process and gain access to what is often referred to as the ‘secret garden’ of the curriculum and the ‘so that’ of learning outcomes.

Conversations with learners can then be informed by the card as a ‘script’ to help them reflect on the learning skills they are developing. The essential aspect of this is that the learners themselves use this to:

  • Recognise what, how and why activities are designed for them to learn in particular phases of a topic
  • How effective these activities are in helping them make progress
  • How effective they are in learning in these different ways and what they need to do to improve
  • The rationale for why certain ways of organising learning are used at specific times
  • Start making suggestions as to how learning might be organised in light of their increased self awareness and understanding of what helps them learn

Making the untypical typical  

By having a prompt card such as this, learners have to be flexible and adaptable when we introduce a new way of doing something because this will be typical of what happens in all their lessons. We will avoid the, “Oh no! You’ve moved the room around!” statement of horror as thirty stunned faces enter what has become an alien landscape because this is the first time in 5 years that the furniture in the room has ever moved. Instead, you should hear, “Oh, are we doing hot seating / continuum line / talk partners / secretive…today?”

One of the additional benefits of this approach is that we too can keep a record of the range of activities and approaches we have used with particular topics and groups. This can then be used to:

  • Remind us of our own teaching repertoire and ensure we adopt a relevant, purposeful learning design for each specific aspect of the topic
  • Ensure that we regularly reflect upon, refine and adapt the way in which we design learning opportunities
  • Open our teaching repertoire to self-reflection and peer scrutiny so that it is always ready for refinement
  • Share different approaches across teams, departments and whole school, learning new strategies as small, manageable chunks of expertise

A Marginal Learning Gains Repertoire Card

The repertoire card can also become a handy teacher prompt to refer to during the lesson and focus on a specific strategy as part of a Marginal Learning Gains approach. I’ve had a go at an Marginal Learning Gains version below:

MLG Repertoire CardOnce our pedagogy is visible to us, we can challenge ourselves to reflect on the very specific strategies we have tested and identify the impact on learning and develop ways to further develop these.

A Pedagogical Platter upon which to feast

Cross-departmental collaboration: We can collaborate with our colleagues both within and beyond our teams to create five new activities or strategies or try an existing one in a new and unfamiliar context.

Student representatives: If you have student representatives in department meetings, this approach provides the students with a script of learning to which they can add, share experiences from other subject areas and teachers and authentically contribute to the development of teaching and learning across the school.

Self-efficacy of learners: Imagine a time when learners have such high levels of agency that they feel confident enough with their language of learning and pedagogy to select from their own learning repertoire effective strategies to develop their knowledge and understanding. Or a time where they come to their lessons and point out that they have ‘done’ card sorts in their last three lessons, so please could they use a different technique today? Then you can invite them to decide what strategy/ pedagogical approach would enable them to best meet the success criteria of the task. And, once the activity is completed, with you, they can self and peer assess their outcomes by reflecting on whether the strategy they chose was the most effective based on how well they met the success criteria. The next step could be to design the way they will organise the next task, giving them an opportunity to lead their own learning for the outset, anchored by the assessment criteria against which they will measure their progress.