The debate about teacher or pupil-led teaching has to stop, for me it is “wrong jungle” thinking. There are both teacher centric and student centric approaches that work, the research evidence is pretty clear. Equally both approaches have some pretty uninformed and dodgy practices that unfortunately have find their way into our classrooms. Continue reading
Many of us within the teaching profession would dearly love to see a period of stability and calm. I think we may need to learn to thrive in chaotic times (to misquote Tom Peters) as the pace of change is becoming exponential. To do this we need to be clear and consistent on the pursuit of our goals, posts may keep changing but our goals don’t (with thanks to Vivienne Porritt for coining this great phrase).
The alternative is to desperately try to cling to the posts and keep them from moving. In reality, we have to accept the positioning of certain posts is not within our determination as the final authority and decision-making lies with others.
Another great #SLT session, on the Great Education Debate, asked, “What is the purpose of education?” Not easy in 140 characters but lots of people made an attempt to answer and this was my offering:
The posts may be changing all around us but I don’t think our goals are.
I’ve not really changed my views much on the purpose of education or the core offering to young people. I’m not a “knowledge versus skills” debater. You need both. The current ascendency of the drive for a more knowledge based curriculum is seen by some as an antidote to the previous overemphasis on skills. I see it more as a reaction, as for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. What we need is to reach a point of equilibrium where, knowledge skills and the development of the learner are all interdependent and mutually supportive. Whenever an extreme position is taken that sees one of the trinity of the “knowledge dimensions” in education – knowledge & understanding, procedural skills and the development of the learner – as more important, to the exclusion or belittlement of the other elements, we end up down a cul-de-sac. At some point in the future we have to turn around, as we can’t go any further with one or other element on its own, and so the pendulum swings again.
“The World is Not Flat”
When Dylan Wiliam used “The World is not flat” phrase in a recent presentation it struck a chord. He went on to make the point that scientists have stopped investigating this particular issue. The World is not flat, scientists and people in general have agreed on this and moved on to other areas of research.
Whilst research doesn’t reveal absolute, universal truths the increasing amount of research data behind some ideas should make it difficult for us to ignore. John Hattie’s Visible Learning (2009) and Visible Learning for Teachers (2012) books are fascinating, encouraging and challenging all in equal measure.
If you are not familiar with Hattie’s work he took a whole series of educational activities and interventions and put their impact on achievement on to a single scale (d) for comparison purposes. A d=0.40 was average and then he ranked about one hundred and fifty of them in order.The wider point Dylan Wiliam was making is that in education we are still discussing and debating issues which researchers have long since proven one way or the other. They have now moved on to other more contentious educational issues even if we haven’t. This doesn’t in anyway ignore the massive experience and expertise that teachers bring to what works but it does challenge the assumption that “What I do works otherwise I wouldn’t do it” kind of approach. Our role and challenge is to use research and theories to support us as practitioners, to close the research loop, by evaluating the impact of what works in our classroom – in essence we become the researchers in the classroom.
When Harry Met Sally
The 1989 film “When Harry Met Sally” is a romantic comedy that looks at what happens when two different ideas about friendship clashed. A number of encounters and meetings over time, with some very funny moments thrown in, all ended in disaster. Harry and Sally keep going their different ways until one fateful New Year’s Eve.
Sometimes when two ideas meet, which may at first sight appear very different, you can create some wonderful things.
It got me thinking, what would happen:
I have a lot of recent experience of redesigning classrooms and I mean that quite literally. We are approaching the end of a BSF programme that has seen substantial new build and extensive remodelling of the whole school. We moved into the completed first phase in April 2012.
A computerised graphic of the school can be found here, it’s amazingly true to life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYi5K-vp32I
Due to the hugely inclusive approach of the Blackpool Transforming Education Team we were involved in discussions about the design of the school and helped make key decisions about the new buildings. This is in stark contrast to many colleagues I’ve chatted to across the country. The whole experience was about transforming education and not just the buildings. The process challenged us as a school and me as the headteacher to question why we did many of the things we did. Our vision and the subsequent build was greatly influenced by the work of the SSAT System Redesign thinking, brilliantly led by Sue Williams and David Hargreaves, and the work of John Hattie. If you’ve had a bit of time to look at the video (if not don’t worry) the school at first appearance looks very different from most schools but if you had the opportunity to visit it when we are working a lot of what you see would be very familiar. The design is really clever as we are able to work in a very traditional way yet also quickly change the spaces to teach in a very different way. This ability for staff and students to work in a way familiar to them yet experiment with new approaches led to us very successfully occupying the first phase of the new school in April 2012. It was a great relief as I had lost more nights sleep worrying whether the whole thing would be a disaster or not. I wonder whether Redesigning Schools will be similar with some familiar practices honed and sharpened until they become best practice with new and more experimental approaches helping to determine next practice.
Project Based Learning
Part of our “transformation” of education was to look again at project based learning. The ability of students to go deep into a subject area and explore different elements of it was one aspect of our new approach that we wanted to get right. I bear the mental scars of too many projects that were “PBL Lite” – nothing like the real thing with the greatest amount of time given to colouring in a front cover for the topic that had been produced by a student without any real rigour or depth. This is where the Redesigning Schools moves into the Redesigning of classrooms and students’ everyday lived experiences. In setting up the projects we wanted to ensure there was real subject rigour, effective the development of the “habits of mind” from the particular subject area and on-going development of the learner – these are linked to our beliefs about what education should be about.
In designing the projects Monica worked with Jenna, a colleague in the English Department, to produce the Shakespeare projects and test them using two parallel Year 9 classes. One followed the project the others were taught using the more traditional scheme of work. There was a pre- and post-topic assessment and the PBL class way outperformed the class taught by traditional methods. This may not stand up to randomised testing by academics but we were excited by the results.
My limited part in the “innovation work” was concerned with developing a structure that would deliver subject rigour, develop habits of mind and help further develop the learner.
For this we linked into teacher clarity which is 8th on Hattie’s list of interventions that have a positive impact on achievement. Make sure you get the learning intentions and success criteria clear in your own mind and communicate them to the students. The SOLO Taxonomy is a great tool here as it helps teachers build increasing cognitive complexity into their learning intentions:
Below is a graphic taken from a paper by John Seeley Brown. The merger of explicit knowledge (know what) with the tacit knowledge (know how) begins to produce the habits of mind that moves students from doing Physics to being a physicist or doing English to being a linguist or doing History to being a historian. It’s not an either or as both are required. Developing our skills and approaches within a subject works most effectively alongside the body of knowledge or at least part of it. It’s about developing the habits of mind required within disciplines and subjects.
Whenever we have a lucid moment in secondary schools we know that if we could develop highly effective learners (imagine a class full of the best learners you have ever taught) then it would make our life so much easier. The difficulty is, in worrying about getting through the syllabus, we may take the ineffective approach of working harder and harder as teachers whilst allowing or making students more and more passive. Metacognitive strategies can be found 13th in Hattie’s list and so getting students to plan, determine which tools to use in their learning and evaluating the impact are all critical elements of developing an effective learner. In the examples below there are some good links with students using graphic organisers and concept mapping approaches which also appears on Hattie’s list of positive interventions.
The link above is to a series of A-level projects that were developed – thanks to Jenny, Monica, Iain, Sylvia & Marc. They were all prepared to take a calculated risk in how they approached a topic. Not all were stunning success, though some where, but they added to each teacher’s pedagogical repertoire and they helped redesign their classrooms to places where students worked harder. Final word from an A-level student, “Why didn’t we do this at GCSE I would have done miles better?”