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
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.