Over the past few weeks I’ve been blogging about outstanding lessons and what makes them different. My starting point was Ross McGill’s (@TeacherToolkit) blog post #GoodinTen – Requires Improvement CPD Programme and with his permission I’ve “borrowed” the approach.
In putting together this post I just want to echo some of my previous reflections. This isn’t about a quick fix to outstanding nor will it be the end of a journey for the teachers involved. As leaders, we must all be “people developers” and helping people take the next step, even when there is a long road ahead, is part of what we do. There is a danger that we are paralysed by the uncertainties and imperfections of the plans we have constructed. One of our Deputy Headteachers likes telling the story of the frogs on the lily pad.
“There were there frogs sat on a lily pad and they all talked and thought about jumping off. How many frogs left on the lily pad?”
Answer: Three, they only talked and thought about jumping off, no-one actually did it.
So to action … I’m hoping to find at least three willing colleagues at St. Mary’s who meet the following eligibility criteria which have been kept to an absolute minimum.
Eligibility Criteria for Involvement in #OutstandingIn10Plus10
Outstanding is not simply doing more good things it’s doing different. It involves a mindset shift.
The following table and the thinking behind it attracted quite a bit of interest when I first published it:
First Ten Weeks of #OutstandingIn10Plus10
The first ten weeks will be about starting the process of changing people’s mindsets and breaking with old habits.
CPD Activity 1 (Week 1) – Outlining & Committing to the Programme
Prior to the session I will be asking participants to read the two posts written prior to this one about outstanding lessons:
This first session is centred around exploring the difference between good and outstanding lessons in terms of what teachers do. What each of us does is within our own control, we have a choice – keep doing it or change, this is the challenge for good teachers if they wish to move to outstanding. Once we start to understand what teachers, who are consistently graded outstanding do, we can start on our journey, albeit a long journey, to join these outstanding colleagues. I will also be asking the participants to identify a class who are going to be the focus of their efforts, in developing outstanding pedagogy, during the second ten week section of #OutstandingIn10Plus10.
CPD Activity 2 (Weeks 2-3) – Joint Lesson Observations
One of the most powerful ways of enabling teachers to reflect on their own practice is to observe a lesson with them. I have found this far more powerful than ever reflecting with them on their own lessons. When we are reflecting on our own lessons there is just too much emotional attachment to the lesson and the outcome for us to clear our heads and look at our teaching with sufficient clarity. Being able to discuss in real time a lesson, as it is happening, the teaching and the response of students is a real eye opener for many staff.
The above table I carry around in my pocket and have used for years with teachers to look at what happens in the classroom. It just has two main themes – “gains in learning” and “engagement” in terms of how many students are making these gains. It is limited in many ways but really helps staff focus on the students and their learning rather than the teacher and the activities.
CPD Activity 3 – (Weeks 4) – Focus on the Learning
Participants will begin to use the Outstanding Teaching & Learning Planner. This will be the longest session and I’ve written most about it – this is no coincidence as it is at the core of the programme.
The focus in this session will be to help participants understand and develop the skill of setting challenging learning gains in a way that ensures lesson time: is maximised for learning, focuses on key concepts linking it to the critical knowledge required prior to building a deeper understanding and then moving back to those big concepts. It will also be about ensuring that the learning is vertically integrated in and across lessons.
Key concepts (including common student misconceptions) and big ideas must be clear to the teacher first if they are ever going to be clear to the learner. Teachers must start with the topic’s important concepts, common misconceptions and big ideas – the end points must be clear in the teacher’s mind and should be recorded in the “Big Picture”
This section is about the fundamental aspects of the lesson or topic students must learn and upon which further progress in the subject or area will be built on. This is then expanded in more detail in the “Challenging Learning Gains” section.
Challenging Learning Gains
Knowledge & Understanding
One of the most effective and influential pieces of CPD we have delivered at St. Mary’s is around the SOLO Taxonomy and these two previous posts will be pre-session reading:
I would also add to this Chris Hildrew’s blog post on progress.
It is critical for “teacher clarity” that each teacher knows exactly what knowledge is required and how the different pieces of knowledge relate to each other, if they are to help students build a deeper understanding of the subject. The SOLO Taxonomy is ideal for this.
Subject Procedural Skills & Habits of Mind
Subject procedural skills and habits of mind (what Seeley Brown terms “learning to be” rather than “learning to do). How will you help your student become mathematicians, linguists historians etc rather than making them do Maths, English or History. Make a note of the key skills students will learn or practice during this topic.
Attributes & Skills of Learners
We all have a responsibility to help create effective learners taking them from novice, to advanced and eventually expert learners as they progress through the school. Include here the attributes that students will need to develop, we use the 5Rs – Responsible, Reasoning, Reflective, Resourceful and Reflective Learner – plus key elements of literacy and numeracy that form part of a cross curricular approach to developing these skills.
These three elements form the DNA of learning in the 21st Century in a balanced way that is far more coherent then the knowledge versus skills debate which simply misses the point. I blogged about this in more detail in “Vision 2040: Learners at the Centre III”.
These will be the “challenging learning gains” for the class identified as the focus of the new mindset and habits of the teacher during the second ten week period.
Making Students’ Learning Visible
This title is a tweak of John Hattie’s “Visible Learning”, there are now two books that are a must read for teachers.
Once the teachers have clearly identified the learning, they will need to also be clear how they expect students to evidence it in and across lessons. How will the gains or lack of gains be visible to them? How will students be evidencing these learning gains?
Assessing Prior Learning
Many of the outstanding teachers I talked to had simply ways of seeing where students were up to in their learning at the start of topics or lessons. In this section teachers need to record how they will do this in an efficient and effective way. A simple consensus map or examination question at the beginning of a lesson would help a teacher see the starting point for the lesson – remember that by now participants in the programme will have a very clear vertically integrated map of knowledge, understanding skills and attributes firmly fixed in their head, they will be able to start the journey from where the students are.
Assessing On-Going Learning
How will you keep making the students’ learning visible throughout the lesson and as it draws to a close. Again participants will need to keep it simple, for example, pausing for students to add to the consensus map or redo parts of the question but always keeping an eye on what responses students are giving and comparing them to the success criteria already identified.
I think this is a great way to describe what happens in outstanding lessons, the learning and lesson just flows. This will need to be a simplified plan, limited detail, of how the various stages of the lesson and the learning connect to each other.
Just a note here, the above planner can be used to focus on learning in one lesson or across a number of lessons but outstanding teachers would often find this a false dichotomy. Their mindset tends to be, “this is what I want my students to learn”, with the pace of the learning then determined by the learners’ progress rather than the teacher’s plan.
CPD Activity 4 (Weeks 5 & 6) – Clarifying the Learning with Peers
Once the planner is understood by the participants they will need to work with other subject specialists or colleagues from the same phase to really detail and refine the learning gains expected.
This will hopefully be a really rich discussion about the learning not the activities, just the learning, what to include and how and why it will be sequenced in a certain way. I think and hope that departmental meetings are focussed on this type of activity, it is critical to the development of teachers and the transfer of knowledge between them. Sadly too often departmental meetings get sidetracked too much into administrative areas rather than the development of teachers. I will be encouraging the participants to discuss using a departmental meeting to focus on the topic so that they can get constructive feedback from colleagues and build a shared understanding of the learning gains expected.
CPD Activity 5 (Weeks 7 & 8) – Pedagogical Toolkit
Essential pre-session reading will be Tom Sherrington’s blog from his Great Lesson series: Agility
The outstanding teachers, I talked to, tended to be far more selective about the pedagogical strategies they used and took from various INSET sessions, in essence, not all that glittered was gold. This selectiveness meant they would hone, sometimes over months and years, particularly useful strategies that became like second nature to them. They could easily pull a number of different strategies, almost effortlessly, from their pedagogical toolkit bag and employ them when required. This in term limits the planning linked to approaches and activities compared to good teachers and allowed the lesson structure to remain loose and responsive to the learners.
The session will focus on teachers identifying strategies they are particularly skilful at and a few they want to develop. Time need to be spent on the “Making Students’ Learning Visible” bubble as this will be key to checking progress within the lesson.
Post session reading will come from Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish): Deliberate Practice
CPD Activity 6 (Weeks 9 & 10) – Project Based Learning
I’ve blogged about this before: “Project Based Learning Not PBL Lite”. What is really important if you have a moment to look at the blog is how all the above elements linked to rigour and the development of knowledge, understanding skills and the learner all come together in the project. It is another way of getting teachers to hone their new skills. This can be focussed on the chosen class or, time permitting, another class the teacher is responsible for.
Second Ten Weeks of #OutstandingIn10Plus10
CPD Activity 1 (Weeks 1-3) – Teacher Learning Community Cycle 1
It’s important to remember these are already good teachers and they are capable of organising themselves and learning with and from each other. The CPD Programme has already got them to identify a class and working in triads they will:
CPD Activity 2 (Weeks 4-6) – Teacher Learning Community Cycle 2
Same again but this time the focus is on Teacher B.
CPD Activity 3 (Weeks 7-9) – Teacher Learning Community Cycle 3
Same again but this time the focus is on Teacher C.
CPD Activity 4 (Week 10) – Graded Lesson Observation
I’m guessing that this won’t work this smoothly in reality but the plan gives a direction of travel and structure. As ever blogging has helped me to organise my thoughts. It may be possible to achieve two cycles in an academic year starting one in late September and the other in January.
As time goes by I hope to refine the approach, I think everything here is open source and if anyone looks at implementing in their own school a comment or two below would be really helpful to help me make the required amendments.
After trialling and refining this it will be time to “Train the Trainers”. Three trainers could work with nine staff, nine trainers with twenty seven staff and so it goes. My hope is eventually it becomes part of our ethos – the way we do things around here – rather than a CPD programme.
Enough thinking and blogging, time to jump off the lily pad …
A PDF of the planners is here:
In the first part of what now looks like it will be a trilogy, Vision 2040: Learners at the Centre I, I put forward the idea that as we move towards 2040 we will see various power shifts in education including from teachers to students, where the learner takes centre stage in decision making about her/his learning both its direction and process.
Take a moment to think about the best learners you have ever taught, not necessarily the most able, articulate or brightest but the learner who impressed you most with her/his approach to your lessons … now imagine a whole class full of these learners sat in front of you! This would fundamentally change what happens in schools, for the better, but we have a responsibility to explicitly develop these learners. Tom Sherrington (Chair of the SSAT Vision 2040 Redesigning Schools Group and tweeting as @headguruteacher) effectively pre-empted the first part of this post with his comment on my previous post:
As I think about schools and learners of the future then three aspects of learning have to be put into place. We need to see these as interrelated, summative and synergistic as we work with all three elements together:
We need students to have a cognitively and vocationally challenging curriculum. They need to develop sufficient knowledge on which to build a conceptual framework of an area of study, a real deep understanding, and this conceptual framework is then the basis on which further knowledge and concepts can be built. I’ve blogged before about the SOLO Taxonomy (Redesigning Classrooms: Using SOLO to Increase Challenge which has links to some other posts that might be of interest). Lots of teachers at St. Mary’s have found the SOLO Taxonomy really useful to build challenge into their class room practice on in a sequentially and organised way.
We also need to build the habits of mind and skills that will allow students to be scientist, historians, linguists, technologists, mathematicians etc rather than simply doing our subject. An interesting experiment pitted a group of history professors against some American history undergraduates. The first part of the experiment tested knowledge and understanding focussed on a period of history studied by the undergraduates but not the specialist area of the professors. The undergraduates outperformed the professors. However when both groups were given materials about a period of history neither were familiar with the professors way outperformed the undergraduates. The undergraduates had learnt about a period of history but the professors knew how to be historians – critically analyse sources, make hypothesise, draw out different inferences and come to a conclusion. We need our students to be not simply to know.
Let me just turn this on its head for a moment as these procedural skills need to be placed in a rich and challenging curriculum not a vacuum. About twenty five years ago, as a young Science teacher, I was asked to speak at a Science Conference about some work I was doing on Process Science – explicitly teaching scientific procedural skills. There were a number of presenters and one was talking about a thirty minute observation homework where students had to observe the bubbles for half and hour and write about what happens to bubbles made with washing up liquid in water. I don’t know about you but this would bore me stupid: process without a challenging context is superficial and a wasted opportunity.
Both these areas, whilst always accepting that we could improve further, are familiar to schools. The real gap in many schools and in our curriculum thinking and planning is around the explicit development of a learner.
We need learners who initially becomes independent but whose ultimate aim is for interdependence. This is part of a natural process akin to the move from childhood dependency, to teenage independence and then an adult interdependency. As we set our sights on 2040 we need to put the learner at the centre, a decision making highly able learner, who can personalise their curriculum both within any mandated core and beyond it. Learning in 2040 will be more multi-faceted, distributed and personalised than it currently is or was in the 20th Century and this will be massively accelerated by technology.
The 4Cs Learner
The 4Cs Learner was first produced in Summer 2008 in response to a request from a member of staff to put a stream of different ideas and thoughts I was presenting and discussing with teachers, about the type of learner we should be aiming to develop, onto one side of A4. Staff were interested in the various ideas but were really confused by my usual “box of frogs” thinking and needed a coherent picture to engage them. However, the root of the 4Cs Learner goes much further back to fundamental beliefs about what education is about. Part of this is how we build academic success for our students. In my first presentation to staff at St. Mary’s, on Day 1 as a newly appointed headteacher in September 2000, I said that we would build our students’ academic success on three things: literate, numerate and ICT capable learners; learners with good interpersonal and social skills and learners with a wide range of thinking skills. This pretty much still sums up what I believe now about developing learners. My thinking was greatly influenced by Alistair Smith (@alatalite) who I first heard talk about developing learners and learning in the late 1990s in Leeds and the Cognitive Acceleration in Science (CASE) Programme, which is one of the few things I would make compulsory in schools if I was Secretary of State for Education for a day.
The link below takes you to a different view of the 4Cs learner which is a bit more dynamic and has some resources attached – it’s like looking into my mind, so carries a big health warning.
You cannot create the power shift in decision making required to personalise learning, at a micro or student level, without having highly confident, co-operative, connected and creative learners. I want to focus on the Confident Learner, as this is the first stage of the journey, that takes the learner from dependency on a teacher to independence as a learner.
The Confident Learner consists of a number of key elements, ensuring a learner has: the literacy and numeracy skills required to access an increasingly challenging curriculum; the attributes of a successful learner that we have based on Alistair Smith’s 5Rs and combined these with Social & Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) and the development of thinking skills and use of thinking tools.
In some ways I feel that we were doing better in realising the vision of a learner back in 2008. A huge capital building programme has knocked the school sideways in recent years but we are approaching the end of that and I intend to help staff reconnect the 4Cs Learner with everyday practice. However, here are a few things already going on to help us realise the Confident Learner:
Literacy & Numeracy
The development of literacy and numeracy has had its profile raised by the most recent Ofsted framework but it has always been there in most teachers’ minds. Last year our Head of Learning Support, Paul Gillespie, started a pilot with paired reading between Year 11 students and students in Years 7 & 8 who had low reading scores, on standardised tests. This was a real joy to observe, as you walked down the “street” you would see younger students being mentored in their reading by older ones during morning registration. He followed this up with spelling tests for Years 7 & 8 also in morning registration. Paul produced a list of twenty spellings for the week which were handed out to students in Year 7 & 8 forms by Year 11 students who would then administer the test and mark them before reporting scores back to Paul – a highly efficient system. This year we want to move this on and look at the use of MangaHigh and Khan Academy to help develop students’ numeracy skills and mathematical understanding.
This September we will be implementing the National Mathematics Partnership’s “Passport Maths” programme which aims to move students who enter secondary school at level 3 or a weak level 4 to a secure level 4 in the first term of Year 7. We have also just appointed a new Literacy Co-ordinator, in an agreement with a number of our associated primary schools, who will work primary co-ordinators to develop a coherent English and literacy curriculum across the later years of primary school and the early ones of the secondary. In addition she will develop or find a literacy programme, similar to the Maths one mentioned above, to move students with weaker literacy skills to a “good level 4” as soon as possible in Year 7.
These developments all have real promise and collectively could be powerful agents in helping develop our students as Confident learners. Our challenge is to pull this together into a coherent and consistent programme of literacy and numeracy development for all students in their early secondary years. We have started but there is a long way to go.
These are a set of soft skills that I hope we will develop in all learners – we want our learners to be responsible, resourceful, reasoning, reflective and resilient.
To help clarify, there was a great little “twitter dialogue” about resilience as part of #sltchat. One line of thinking developed from “we need students to be resilient and able to keep learning particularly when they are struggling or find the work difficult” with the other developing from “we need cognitively demanding work first for students to develop the attribute of resilience in their learning”. Within a few tweets love and fraternity broke out as it is clear these are mutually inclusive perspectives. Resilience cannot be developed in a vacuum lacking rigour and challenge but if we want to increase the level of rigour and challenge then we need students to be resilient in their learning.
These are expected to be present in teachers’ planning, lesson objectives, success criteria when marking key pieces of work and we report on these to parents. I say “expected” as we still have someway to go but this is about fundamental beliefs as a teacher and converting this into daily class room reality – do you believe it is part of a teacher’s role to explicitly develop students as learners? If “yes” then all that needs sorting out is the what and how. If “no” then who will develop the learning skills of those students who don’t possess them, often some of our most vulnerable young people?
Thinking Skills & Thinking Tools
To help develop young people’s thinking skills we use a range of different courses across Key Stage 3 particularly in Year 7. Thinking Skills in History and Thinking Skills in Geography plus Cognitive Acceleration in Science and Maths. A Learning to Learn Programme, co-developed by Alistair Smith at ALITE, is delivered by a number of departments: the RE Department teach “I Learner”, the Science Department “Team Learner” and the ICT & Computing Department “21st Century Learner”. Most recently we’ve had a dynamic day with different year groups trialling the “I Thinker” challenges.
The thinking tools sound exotic but will be familiar to many teachers as graphic organisers which help students order and organise their thinking and ideas. There are many really useful examples of tools that can be found on the internet – my current favourite is the “Lotus Diagram”.
Our challenge as a school is to develop the 4Cs Learner and the associated elements consistently and to a very high quality. This is very much a work in progress, part vision and part reality, but it is an essential element of Vision 2040 if power is going to shift.
My first blog post on Vision 2040 was “Reflections of an Apprentice 2040 Visioner” but there are an increasing number of great blog posts coming in from Kev Bartle Part I and Part II and all the Vision 2040 Group – it would be great if you got involved.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers often tends to stem from whole school priorities around raising attainment and achievement, improving teaching and learning including assessment or responding to various local, national or Ofsted agendas. These whole school priorities tend to monopolise the resources available including funding, access to external courses and use of INSET Days.
I’ve read blogs and tweets that liken INSET days, with training on these whole school priorities from external consultant, headteachers or members of the senior leadership team, to a little bit like the proverbial being dumped on teachers from on high. Suggestions about people leading the CPD, particularly when it is about teaching & learning, include things like mirroring the strategies (the two hour talk on actively engaging students is a classic misjudgement) are important but miss a key point.
Part of our human nature leads us to enjoy and engage with issues that we have a particular interest in or ownership of. If we really want to personalise CPD for staff then we need to shift the power in the decision making process from school leaders and external pressures to classroom teachers. It is not simply improving the delivery it is moving the decision making by tipping it upside down and distributing the authority to make decisions about their own professional development to teachers. This is not an either or – too often in education in England we take an extreme position and then seek to defend it – it’s about rebalancing CPD so that teachers’ particular pedagogical and curriculum interests are afforded time and resource alongside whole school priorities.
I’ve blogged before about setting up some new Research & Development Communities in the post “Improving Teaching Not Simply Measuring It” and the proposals are now in. The basic structure behind the R&D Communities is:
R&D Communities for Next Academic Year
What impact does using SOLO taxonomy in peer assessment have on the quality of formative feedback, and learner responses, over one academic year, on an English writing assessment at KS3 and KS4?
Our R&D community wishes to look at various elements of technology in teaching and map them onto the SOLO taxonomy. Similar work has been undertaken by various teachers globally with Bloom’s taxonomy which shows which tools are most useful for developing each skill area, and we would like to do the same for SOLO, providing a pedagogically sound platform for implementing the use of various technologies/web 2.0 tools/apps across the College.
How can we embed SOLO success criteria into the classroom in a way that encourages pupils to take ownership for their learning?
How far can student attainment be improved by implementing a ‘flipped classroom’ within their daily teaching and learning environment in order to accelerate their deep learning over a one year period?
The group would aim to carry out action research exploring ways by which students develop their moral awareness and “proclaiming, worshipping, service and civic duty” can be developed within the college. Initially, the group would look to identify key moral threads from the PSHE / Citizenship curriculum that could be developed and lead into delivery via the peer mentoring ‘plenary team’ introduced this year. The main vehicle for development would be through peer mentoring across Key Stages 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Narrowing the Gap for FSM students: Improving achievement through participation in enriching experiences.
I’m not sure what you think about the different proposals and the good news is it doesn’t matter. They are of interest to the staff groups that devised them. All of them could potentially “develop and embed best or emerging good practice within the College” and that was the key requirement. CPD has been flipped and turned upside down in this particular instance. Teachers have decided what interests them and been given the resources to pursue it. This is part of an increasing blend of different learning opportunities including INSET days, Thursday afternoon CPD and external and internal courses that staff may choose to go on. The R&D Communities add a dimension we have never had before and fills a gap in provision. All proposals were accepted. The SOLO Taxonomy features heavily and this is something that has been a consistent theme of development for the past three or four and there are a couple more posts on this blog about using the SOLO Taxonomy to increase challenge and how we have sought to spread and embed it.
The total funding for the six projects involving thirty four staff – thirty one teachers and three support staff – is £3,400 though I don’t think the actual spend will be anywhere near that. Teachers aren’t that great at spending money at school. In addition, one hundred and twenty three cover vouchers have been asked for. The use of the cover vouchers will need to be monitored as we won’t be able to release a large number of teachers all at once but leaders have been very clear that a number of cover vouchers will simply be used to keep staff “free” and our cover supervisors will support the release time for staff. I can almost hear people shouting about the missed classes but this cover equates to about one day per member of staff per year. This is equivalent to a one day course each, which often has no impact back at school, against what may well end up being about one hundred and fifty days equivalence of collaborative planning, lesson observations and peer evaluations with this deliberate practice developing staff’s pedagogical knowledge and skills.
The six R&D Communities are being led by two teachers who are currently Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) in their first year of teaching with us, three staff who have other middle leadership responsibilities and a part time main scale teacher. It’s a wonderful mix and I just think a fantastic opportunity to develop leadership skills. One of the responsibilities of the R&D Communities is to capture and transfer knowledge so I will be blogging about the successes, failures and lessons learnt by each group during next year.
What would you want to research and develop with a group of colleagues if given a £100 of funding each and a bit of time?