This post has languished in my drafts for a year; you’ll see this from the date references. The main reason I didn’t publish over a year ago was simply because I didn’t want to wade into what was, at the time, an extremely highly charged debate about the place of research, evidence, and practice in education. My additional reasons for not publishing until now will, possibly, be covered in another post on another day.
Anyway, a year has come around and although the charge and passion of the debate is still high, it has, perhaps calmed and softened somewhat. l have spent the morning watching the second National ResearchED 2014 Conference online thanks to the wonderful technical expertise of Leon Cynch @eyebeams through the LIVESTREAM feed. Having listened to the first of the main hall speakers (@johntomsett@huntingenglish and @dylanwiliam) advocating a practical, wise approach to what we do in our classrooms, I thought I’d go back to this post from last year, take the plunge and publish.
I haven’t edited any part of it, and my only addition to it is the inclusion of a presentation by an inspirational education consultant, Dr Julia Atkin (@Juliaatkin) South Australia who I came across a few months ago. In this talk, Dr Atkin references the Aristoltlean view of knowledge, PHRONESIS, also referenced in Dylan Wiliam’s presentation today. Dr Atkin speaks brilliantly about the need for teachers to merge their own experience with research, through the lens of deliberate practice and analytical thinking.
ORIGINAL POST (Written in September 2013)
There is always healthy discussion around research findings and sources of evidence and even more so thanks to the increasing availability of the work of academics and research centres online. Tom Bennett and ResearchED have responded to this debate in the establishment of a conference for teachers and researchers as part of ResearchED 2013 to be held at Dulwich College in London on Saturday 7th September 2013.
The growth in Master Level opportunities and engagement in accredited courses through the National College and Teaching School Alliances will continue to bolster the body of research findings and evidence for teachers to access. Alongside this, academic research is increasingly becoming more accessible through websites and direct engagement with researchers and there’s a tiny selection at the end of this post for reference. There are far more listed on the site of The Teacher Development Trust who also, on 20th May 2013, launched the second exciting phase of The National Teacher Enquiry Network: “A family of schools & colleges working for better professional development” to strengthen the link between evidence, practice and professional learning in schools.
But there’s nothing stopping anyone developing and researching their own practice right now and the summer term is a great time to have a go and try something different, new, or just to do more of the good stuff that’s already in place.
Individual practitioners can access reams of effectively communicated evidence from contemporary researchers such as John Hattie,Dylan Wiliam, Carol Dweck and Geoff Petty and even discuss their work directly with the authors through social media and by attending seminars and public lectures. The educational landscape and quality of teaching and learning is so much richer for this and for the debate and discussion these sources of evidence stimulate.
CPD: Thinking ‘as’ research
Our own evidence base and sources of inspiration continue to be drawn from the wider educational world and beyond; from business and advertising; from design and engineering; from fashion and space exploration and from medicine and architecture. As a result, we are able to adapt many different ideas, approaches, systems and processes from the many different contexts we encounter. Integral to this is access to an effective evaluation framework against which we can assess impact on learning outcomes.
Amongst all of the evidence that we have access to, it could be argued that the best evidence, i.e. themost valuable, important and accessible, is the evidence we have before us every day: the internal. First and foremost, it is this that we can begin to research, as it unfolds before us, immediately.
So we need access to everything that is available to us, in a digestible but not diluted format. We need researchers to continue to make their work accessible and practical. The Education Endowment Fund Teaching and Learning Toolkit has provided us with one highly accessible format for this. We also need to create a personal-professional evidence base drawn from our own research into our own practice. For it is only when we can understand and witness first-hand the real-life impact of teaching-decisions on learning-outcomes for our own practice and ultimately, for our own learners, that we will truly be able to bring our practice to life and have the greatest impact.
So…a mindset to adopt….? CPRD
This is my attempt to clarify the impact of ‘thinking-as’ a researcher; an activity of adopting ‘Research Thinking’. In doing so, a ‘Research-Thinking School’ will encourage a systematic implementation of Continuing Professional Research Development. Such an approach to professional development and system-wide innovation will engage practitioners in habitual meticulous self-reflection that result in deliberate and mindful teaching actions. These ‘mindful teaching’ actions will be both evidence-informed (external and internal) and research-based (external and internal). The result of this is to establish and sustain a culture where observable and measurable innovations in practice become an integral expectation and rationale of the systems throughout the organisation.
Sustainable school-wide systems that connect research, developmental lesson observations and coaching and place these at the heart of professional development will have the greatest impact. Many schools are using video to support a similar growth-mindset approach to professional development. When placed within a carefully personalised programme supported by skilled coaches and reflective practitioners, the benefits of such an approach are clear.
But the first port of call must be to establish a culture that both enables and encourages us to research that which we encounter every day. It is this that informs and inspires us more than anything else and it is this that we can analyse and interpret immediately and meticulously in every lesson designed and delivered. It is the activity of researching this evidence that sharpens our thinking and prompts us to pose challenging questions. It is a culture of active, on-going and daily research that will continue to excite and enrich us and, as a direct result, our learners.
Thinking and acting as a researcher of ourownpractice requires a habit of constant evidence collection (feedback) from our immediate experiences, often in the form of informal, ‘micro-research’ projects. These micro-research projects encourage Mindful Teaching that notice and describe rather than infer and interpret. There’s more on this on the Marginal Learning Gains METHOD page.
Couple the everyday evidence to the canon of wider research and evidence (incorporating evidence and research from the educational world and beyond) available to us, then we have a powerful framework for systematic and daily research of own practice:
(a) Discuss and share what we see, hear and sense (internal research) from our own experiences and
(b) Connect and compare our own research to the experiences and evidence from beyond us (external research) and between each other
(c) Understand and apply what we now know and understand to our own context and setting (the internal and external) so that it shapes and informs the design of the learning opportunities that we provide
(d) Research and evaluate the impact of its application so that we can
(e) Repeat the cycle from (a) and begin to embed it as everydaypractice
Thinking and acting as a leading research-thinker and constantly investigating the evidence of our own practice in this way enables us to engage in an overarching process where we can be part of a constant process of collating, analysing and applying evidence from beyond and within so that it directly informs our practice and brings about sustainable and systemic change. It has an impact on:
Frequency of feedback (an on-going cycle that includes in equal measure information from the learner to the teacher and back again)
Systematic reflective and collaborative professional practice across a whole school (and beyond)
Quality of specific language that communicates learning outcomes and success criteria
Effectiveness of the communication of teacher and learner expectations
Deliberately planned opportunities for learners to lead, take responsibility, articulate and evaluate their own progress
Instead of providing us with a detailed list of ‘teachableactions‘ that we have not developed from our own practice or professional conversations, ‘Research Thinking’ ensures that the evidence we have to hand can be used to directly, immediately and in a timely manner to inform ‘learnable behaviours’.
‘Research Thinking’ provides a bridge between the evidence before us (internal) and the evidence and research from beyond us (external). It demands that we
analyse and dissect teaching language and actions
clarify our understanding and interpretations
so that we can…
define our concepts of learning
forensically analyse its implications, inferences and impact on learning
‘Research Thinking’ enables us to actively and habitually search out examples, experiences and findings from beyond our context so that we can make sense of ourselves and our practice in our context.
“This is my evidence.
There is much evidence like this. But this evidence is mine.
FINAL Quick note: When it comes to ‘Research Thinking’ all I am attempting to do is to articulate my own approach to pedagogical pedantry (a pejorative term that I therefore dislike) and with this, my approach to curriculum innovation and designing systemic research-driven opportunities for professional development. This post is an attempt to explain the ‘Why, How and What’ it is I try for myself and practitioners to ‘be like’ when we’re thinking and talking about learning. This approach is illustrated in the Marginal Learning Gains Theory project.
I have drawn together some ideas to form a firstdraft (very EoE) of a Pedagogical Model for Motivation, Growth Mindsets and Excellence. It also incorporates a Marginal Learning Gains approach as an integral part of developing Growth Mindsets for teachers and students alike.
This work is in its infancy in terms of a fully workable pedagogical model but I am hoping it my serve to start conversations and give practitioners some of the following:
The Why – Rationale and research to underpin the aims of the changes that are sought
The How – Strategic ways of thinking and designing learning to bring about those changes
The What – Practical tools and approaches to test out to increase the teaching repertoire to achieve your stated aims
It may will be that I need to provide the narrative that I would use to accompanies any work around this document if so, please let me know! I certainly see it as the start point for:
Some very focused action research linking into the Marginal Learning Gains approach
A design template for learning where we can truly wrap the curriculum around the pedagogy.
If you want to find out more about what schools are doing around Growth Mindsets, then please get in touch with the EG Schools Network via the blog and follow on Twitter @EG_Schools. There’s already a fantastic bank of ideas, blogs, resources and approaches being shared by the Excellence & Growth Schools’ Network,
In the meantime, I’ll be updating this in time once I’ve had a chance to collaborate and reflect on the model…so here it is:
In this typically engaging short video piece from Hans Rosling, the world-renowned data visualisation and data-entertainment guru (see his brilliant TED Talks for more), identifies the power of explaining using props. He emphasises that although video can be used to explain some concepts, (see Ted-ED for examples to use if you’re looking to implement some flipped learning in your lessons), nothing replaces the teacher and their ability to make learning fun through the explanations they can offer. For teachers and presenters alike, being able to draw upon a vast repertoire of explaining is fundamental to being able to meet the needs of all learners/ listeners. As a result, there’s a great opportunity to keep refreshing ‘explaining techniques’ and consider the many ways we can employ quality teacher talk to differentiate, challenge and encourage learners to understand new concepts and think in new ways.
I’ve included a screen shot of an observation format I use very regularly for you to have a look at: ‘Explaining – Improving the Quality of Teacher Talk’ The original version plus others that I regularly use, adapt and tweak can be found in “Full On Learning”. You’ll notice that this is a very focused observation tool, as it ONLY looks at the quality of teacher talk in relation to EXPLAINING. Hence it can be used as part of a developmental coaching approach..which is just how I use it.
I use this particular one as part of my pedagogical coaching toolkit. I’ve got others that focus on questioning and a more generic one that looks ONLY at ‘Pupil activity during the lesson’. They’re all developmental in design as they are limited by their focus on a very specific element of pedagogy. In practice, they work as a simple tally sheet during the lesson. You can add additional layers of complexity, according to what the teacher wants to focus on, but my watchword is and always has been to keep it SIMPLE when it comes to observing the complicated world of teaching and the similarly complex world of learning.
The strength of this tool is:
1. When you work with a group of teachers to create and amend the observation format you get into wonderful discussions and sharing of expertise. In fact, it’s at THIS point when you get the really crunchy discussions about ‘quality teacher talk’ and how various concepts can be explained and what else could be used to aid the communication of complexity, of topic fundamentals and of core concepts so that learner understanding is secure.
2. When used as part of a pedagogical coaching programme, the results can be put into a simple spreadsheet to generate a visual chart (Hans Rosling would be proud!). This then forms the basis of your coaching discussion, as it places the focus of the discussion on the teacher, enabling them to reflect and consider their own practice.
3. Coupled with a skilled coach possibly also with video, you get rewarded by by using this as part of a MARGINAL LEARNING GAINS approach and find that you get those sought-after MULTIPLE GAINS from one simple pedagogical focus.
Daniel Pink’s talk at The RSA discusses how everybody today is involved in some form of selling. We all have to, at some point in our working lives, persuade other people to listen to us, to change the way they are doing things or get somebody else to allow us to do something different from what we may have originally been assigned to do. The art of persuasion is, Pink suggests, akin to the art of selling.
Similarly, every day in every classroom, every educator is engaged in the gentle and not-so-gentle art of persuasion. Of ‘selling’ learning.
From the first to the last bell, educators around the globe are engaged in this complex and necessarily sophisticated act. We operate in a world where goal of the educator is to constantly persuade learners to make a transaction. To give their attention to the lesson topic and to invest their time in doing something different from what they may ordinarily prefer to be doing. Teachers who manage this are rewarded by learners who are motivated enough to chose to invest their time and indulge their curiosity. To explore new and alternative ideas and, in doing so, build their resilience as they stick at the task in which they have been persuaded to engage.
Day in, day out, hour upon hour, succeeding in this is no mean feat.
After all, the task of educating learners out of their own immediate context and into the one that we are persuading them to try out requires us to have expert negotiation skills. We have to convince them that it is worth it for them to jump into the multifaceted world of learning. A world that is full of complexity and unfamiliarity and where for many of them, there is no certainly of success and only small crumbs of comfort in their pre-existing understanding. Just to make it even more perilous for them, this is a world where will be expected to trust their peers. Peers who themselves are either driven or held back by their very own unique uncertainties and fears. And that’s just the first lesson on any given Monday morning.
Pink goes on to say that whilst we are all involved in some way shape or form in the act of persuasion or ‘selling’ as he refers to it, the art of selling (persuasion) itself has changed.
We all know that it is vital to be aware of how the learner feels when we are teaching as we can use this to adapt lessons to accommodate emotional needs in order to sustain their cognitive development. This is just as true, according to Pink, in the context of selling.
But, Pink goes on to say, research suggests that it is far more useful to be aware of what the buyer is THINKING. Pink says that to adapt our persuasive strategies according to what the buyer is thinking results in a far more sensitive and accommodating approach to how we chose to present our ideas and information. In the context of education, this resonates very strongly with what Hattie refers to as the need for teachers to be ‘error seekers’ (there’s more on this on the Marginal Learning Gains blog). This is where we ask not, ‘Who understands this?’ but instead, ask, ‘Who doesn’t understand this?’. This question is a double-impact question in that it produces benefits on two levels.
At one level, it enables teachers to reveal the information they really need to make their teaching the most effective it can possibly be in promoting the best possible learning outcomes; ‘What do I need to do in order to re-frame or re-explain this concept/ idea/ process so that everyone can secure their understanding before I move onto the next topic/ concept/ idea?’. At the second level, it communicates an explicit culture of learning where it’s made crystal clear that it’s okay not to understand it the first, second or even third time. A culture where it is absolutely fine, if not expected, for learners to get it wrong, use this to feed their ‘mistake monsters’ and to struggle at times during the lesson.
There are many more connections in Pink’s talk here with the complex art of teaching, so enjoy the talk, particularly the pen-bit (you’ll see!)…
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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
(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 alreadyinplace. 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.
The fear of the EBI (Elephant Behind the Insight)…or something like that.
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).
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
Gathering feedback on progress
Assessing the security of understanding
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:
Once 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.