In September I launched our first CPD programme that had been deliberately written for teachers who were good, stuck at good and to be frank pretty fed up that they had not yet been able to take their desired step to outstanding. The professional development sessions that we have shared were, without doubt, one of my highlights of last term. Teaching and learning just fascinate me.
Roots of the Programme
We grade performance management lesson observations. School data shows a very gradual increase in good/outstanding teaching over the past three years and it currently sits at around 85%, however, in terms of lessons graded outstanding we are collectively stuck at just below 20%. This percentage hasn’t really moved in those three years.
What is below is a summary of some of the observations, thoughts and discussions that emerged during the first attempt at implementing #OutstandingIn10Plus10 with a group of ten staff volunteers.
Peer Lesson Observations
One of the revelations to the participants was their observation of each other’s lessons. As a school there is a quite a bit of joint observation by senior leaders to moderate lesson grades and over the past few years new teachers, to the school, have all undertaken formative peer observations of a lesson. In the lesson I have acted as a “guide” and discussed key features of the lessons in real time and we’ve reflected on them together afterwards. This peer lesson observation is something we need to do much, much more of with all staff as it is a really powerful way for teachers to learn.
Some of the statements from the staff included:
“You can see as an observer what you can’t see as a teacher.”
“I’ve seen my first ever outstanding lesson. It was all around the structure of the learning which was built using SOLO.”
“I saw how engagement dropped off when there was over talking by the teacher and just how difficult it is to differentiation within the classroom.”
I’m beginning to get what you mean by being responsive to the learner and the learning.”
One of the best #OutstandingIn10Plus10 sessions was looking at what should be in a scheme of work. Many schemes of work, I’ve seen and written, are full of activities for students to do. This isn’t just unhelpful it is positively dangerous.
Kate and Mark, two good friends in the Science Department, led the discussion. Kate announced to everyone that Mark had written the best scheme of work she had ever seen.
Mark, not one for public praise, was eventually cajoled into explaining and sharing his scheme of work. What Kate loved so much about the scheme of work was its clarity and absolute focus on the learning.
Mark had taken the components of the Outstanding Teaching & Learning Planner and used it as the basis for developing his scheme of work.
Primary school teachers may want to look away now … Mark said one of his break-through moments was actually looking in real detail at the Key Stage 2 Science Curriculum content for Light & Sound. He had looked at in passing before but had “not taken enough notice of the specific syllabus statements and how they differed from Key Stage 3 or not.” The importance of ascertaining what students already knew, had forgotten or had possibly not covered made a bigger impact than previously and brought home the need to make the learning more visible to him, at the beginning of each topic.
His scheme of work contained a flow of five lessons plus a mini-project based learning task and can be downloaded here:
The focus was unrelentingly on the learning not the activities. This made a huge difference to Kate in lessons, whose not being aPhysics specialist, was totally clear about what students should be learning. Too often we plan lessons which end up busy but learning light. Think about this in terms of a lesson you have recently taught, can every activity justify its place in the lesson in terms of moving students on?
During the discussion of the scheme of work, Mark expressed his concern about the quality of the success criteria for students, a key component of teacher clarity, and this led to Des admitting he had never really ever been great at producing success criteria. This led to us spending time on success criteria and what excellent success criteria would look like.
We decided they must be specific, extensive and challenging:
Specific – it’s important to be clear about the elements that are required for excellence – the “perfect solution in Mathematics” or inclusion of “personal preference, scriptural quotes, chosen purpose and challenges of life” in a question about choice of a religious order in a RE essay. Clarity comes in part through specificity.
Extensive – this is linked to specificity but requires all the main elements of the excellent answer to be included. The issue of balance is raised here as students won’t necessarily be helped by a long tick list, what are the main elements that are key to excellence?
Challenging – when writing success criteria keep asking yourself, “Would this produce an A* answer?” There is a real danger that we do not ask enough of our students. A primary school teacher’s expectations in Y6 should be very different to those of Y3. Secondary schools can spend time faffing about in Key Stage 3 only to have to put the warp factor drivers on in Key Stage 4 for students to make expected or better than expected progress. In Sixth Form, students bedding in during Y12 just enjoying themselves, only to underachieve as they can’t make up the ground in Y13 can be an issue.
You can read more about success criteria, with examples of the development of one, in the post “When #SOLO Met Bloom Taxonomy”.
Doing Less Better
This really links to Alex Quigley’s excellent post on “Deliberate Practice”. Most teachers already know more than enough strategies, to employ in the classroom, to engage students in their learning. In fact sometimes the problem becomes that teachers have too many strategies that they implement quite well. Arguable having fewer strategies but being able to implement them very well would be preferable. This was the general conclusion of the group and we all wondered whether we were spreading ourselves too thinly, trying to perfect too many strategies, rather than honing a few key teaching strategies and drilling our classes in them as well.
Linked to the discussion in the previous section on knowledge (and the section below on schemata) we played around with the idea that there may be certain teaching strategies more suited to the delivery of factual knowledge, in SOLO terms uni- & multi-structural, and others associated with deeper learning, again in SOLO terms relational and extended abstract. The use of graphic organisers also attracted a great deal of discussion but this was much more analytical then previously, for example, an organiser that enables compare and contrast is more often used in English whereas one allowing evaluation is more frequently used in Science. Graphic organisers are not just a great way of organising knowledge but also making it visible. I had the Pedagogical Toolkit planner redesigned and it can be downloaded below:
You may note that there are actually fewer spaces for strategies than before, this is deliberate. The group prescribed for themselves the honing of no more than one or two teaching strategies in a term.
Teaching Schemata & Learning Schemata
The session on project based learning never really happened, as following an initial discussion about developments since the last session we ended up in a crucially important discussion around our implicit beliefs about teaching and learning. I think we all have really deep rooted beliefs about teaching and learning which fundamentally affect our class rooms. The problem is we all too infrequently “out” these beliefs and scrutinise them, reflect on them and examine their authenticity.
Here are a few of mine, they are not necessarily right but they do affect how I teach.
Facts shouldn’t be debated but need to be delivered in lessons early, efficiently and revisited.
I’m pretty confident that solids have a fixed shape. Students need to know this, there doesn’t seem a great deal to debate and wasting time on “discovering” solids have a fixed shape, at a secondary level, isn’t efficient. However, why do solids have a fixed shape whilst liquids and gases don’t is a fascinating and a great question. I’d rather spend more time on the later so need to limit time on the former.
Understanding requires dialogue
Whereas facts can be given to students to learn, understanding requires discussion. It is why some of the best professional learning occurs during the lunch session and on residential conferences in the bar in the evening. The process of forming a coherent dialogue around the issue alerts us to where our gaps are and through questioning and listening to others we develop our understanding. When a student says to me, “I understand it but can’t explain it, sir.” I immediately think, “In that case you don’t understand it fully.” When we have an advanced understanding of something we can explain it to others. In many ways this is the thinking behind the Flipped Classroom.
You may or may not agree with the schemata I have on teaching and learning. That isn’t the key point I am making. What is important is to make explicit, to yourself, your own schemata on teaching and learning – they will profoundly influence what you do in the classroom – and examine them closely. Are you satisfied that your schemata are correct and useful?
Delivering the whole #OutstandingIn10Plus10 has been a real joy. The teachers are now working on the second phase of the programme which is much more self directed and based around honing the approach and their skills. The impact it has had will be known when lesson observations are completed later this term and ultimately whether students’ levels of achievement have been increased.
The programme is by no means perfect and still requires further thoughts and reflection but it does seem to have been useful. I’ll work on it over the coming months and intend to offer it again to staff in September but this time possibly working cross phase. Now that really excites me.