My research dissertation was around the subject of teacher control; the title was something along the lines of, "To what extent does teacher confidence affect pupil achievement and self-esteem?" - the idea being, if a teacher isn't brave enough to let go, and is constantly providing a rigid example for children to copy, will they ever be able to match up to the standard in a way they could replicate on their own? Or will it be a constantly negative comparison to the version you created, leaving them ill-equipped?
Naturally, the conclusion was as fluffy as, "a mix of strategies is best" - this is the conclusion for everything in education. Often a rigid example (the support) is required near the beginning of learning something, and then you can loosen the strings as their experience broadens. Like learning to ride a bike.
With this in mind, the fourth part of my #LearningFirst workshop was about teaching the children the importance of Responsibility and Choice.
Strategies for improving teaching and learning:
1. Honest Modelling.
Your input should be you exampling what YOU would do, however, I think it's important that you let them know OTHERS may do it differently. Explain that if they're finding it tricky, to stick with the method that you have shown, but if they have a way of doing something themselves, that they can confidently explain, then that's alright! (Use their explanation to clarify any misconceptions too).
2. Provide options.
Imagine how far you would get through life without needing to make a decision. Would you ever achieve anything of any real value if you were constantly told what to do? My Maths is self-differentiated, and I veer away from guided groups in writing. Teach children the importance of making choices, and create a sense of pride in being an independent learner. You will also be able to promote more self and peer assessment through this route as they navigate their own decision making.
3. Foster Creativity.
One of the things that makes marking more bearable is that I have 30-ish pieces of work that all different! Disseminate the information they need and watch what they do with it. My class and I have an agreement, whatever they present to me at the end of the lesson needs to be informative and aesthetically pleasing. Try it, you'll be amazed at what they produce. You'll also be maximising the occasions that they find themselves solving problems.
4. Use responsibility as an assessment tool.
Often, the argument against providing less support is that they 'can't be bothered if you don't help them'. If this is the case, your classroom ethos is wrong, not the fact you haven't given them a structure. My children know that taking the easy way out is not going to get them anywhere - a fact they can apply to life. Granted, they're also aware it's going to be tough at times, but then I echo the thought above - teach them what pride feels like.
I found with many purchasable systems, they relied on a very basic, unfounded belief that all children make equal gains at timetabled stop-points within the year. As current teachers, we know that simply isn't true, yet in the business of proving progress, you'd be required the tick the box regardless, in order to make the algorithm give the result you needed on the analysis. I wanted a system that better reflected how children make progress in writing, while also giving leaders what they needed.
My systems works on the simple idea that you can reward children for the smaller steps in progress that they make. By awarding points 0 through 10, you can always credit the children for their inevitable progress, and the overall judgement is based on what percentage of the skills (at whatever level of capability) they are completing successfully.
Don't ask, "But how do you know whether to award them a 4 or a 5?" Use the same part of your brain that decided whether they were at or above, or a 3b or 3a. It takes a few turns, but it always has done.
What does that mean?
Believing in 'process over performance' means that you're going to put the needs of the learners as a higher priority. Allow me to illustrate; when I first came in to teaching, I would sit for hours with all the learning objectives I needed to teach, and the number of weeks I had to teach them. Then, with the 'Week Commencing' date, I would map in any key dates or observations and build the objectives around them. We'd find ourselves tailoring lessons for the sake of our own performance, rather than creating a sensible order of learning for the children - a process.
It's madness to think that we would sacrifice the next logical step in the learning process, the very key to making progress, for the sake of how this, as a lesson, might appear. We would try and cram the steps we know to be necessary, into what little time available, so that we could appear to be at the point required for the observer - forgetting that by skimming all the previous steps in the process, learners were left unstable for the lesson being observed!
In this business, there is no time to waste to appease the assumed beliefs of others. Take your class, look at what they need, and teach it to them in a way they understand; promote a sensible learning process, above the tricky mind-games of proving your own performance. It takes bravery, but the progress will speak for itself.
Follow these links for examples of how Process Over Performance will benefit:
...Foundation Subjects - Coming Soon!
In thinking this through today, my brain has raced with a list of Process Over Performance strategies which I'll share another time - once I've translated them from a no-doubt garbled mess.
January's #LearningFirst conference is but a distant glimmer in the past, although new dates have recently been added! Watch this space. Today's entry reveals the second part of my workshop. If you missed the first, you can catch up here.
Under a levels culture, the process of assessment often felt like it was forced upon you; everything geared up to an 'Assessment Week' where a set of numbers would be generated, pigeon-holing both you and your children. It connoted judgement, fear and malpractice. However, by putting learning first (within the new curriculum), of which assessment is very much a necessary part, you can genuinely do a better job.
Strangely, I considered asking the children what they already knew, before teaching them anything! By this, I don't mean a fluffy 'KWL' grid (or whatever they're called). I decided I would sit therm with a set of questions that I would have originally planned a series of lessons on, to see what would need more attention. I call it an 'Entry Quiz', and the findings are invaluable to me as a teacher:
Finally, to the lovely person who requested them after the workshop, I have compiled a collection of my Entry Quizzes, and you can download them below. I hope you find them as useful as I do!
Believe in Life After Levels!
Despite the new assessment regime being in action for a couple of years now (and the first round of 'the new SATs') many still struggle with the disappearance of beloved levels. In a strange way, they gave people a sense of safety. However, in order to put learning first, a life beyond levels needs to be embraced and taken full advantage of. Here's a rundown of my actions in a world where levels existed (some of this was the result of of me being an inexperienced teacher, but I strongly believe you will likely relate):
Simple. In a climate where we would be judged on an "average points score", if we pushed the uppers as far as they could go (moving further to the right on a grid with a similar design to below), their accelerated progress would make up for the lack of appropriate teaching the ones in the red still weren't making.
Genius! Although upon reflection, also an embarrassment. For those struggling to understand Life Without Levels, how about we swap images like above, for ones like this (for clarity, I haven't designed this because I think diagrams are a necessity. I'm hoping it could illustrate my ideals):
Within your year group, you focus on your designated programme of study.
You teach your programme of study to such a high standard that there is little way your learners can get it wrong.
As you teach, you spot those who find it difficult and you focus on them, while you supply those excelling within your standards with a variety of problem solving activities in which to apply the learning. Change the question, flip the approach, apply a real-life context. Constant revision.
Under no circumstances do you move them on to the next set of criteria, as this risks losing understanding for the sake of pace, leaving them insecure for the next teacher. It also means you're taking yourself away from the ones who need you the most.
Don't refer to it as 'holding them back' - grow up.
Assessment - you're looking for evidence to tell you, "To what degree are my learners able to..." and then you use this information to plan ahead, to delve deeper into the concept - which will bring me nicely onto the second point next time.
I imagined that I would eventually reply, having so proudly told people I'd been invited, but be told it was too late. It was the perfect get-out clause to all the people I'd told about it, concealing my cowardly fear. However, the team at @BeyondLevels had other ideas, and I am so grateful they did! That very same day, I received another email, signalling that someone was still considering me. It was a sign. Firstly, of my apparent need to grow and pair and give it a go, and secondly that I might have something of value to contribute.
I arrived to hear someone call my name - it was Dave, my minder for the day.
"I've been following your Twitter and reading your blog for ages. You've got some great stuff coming out!" I felt immediately calmer, everyone was so welcoming!
I walked into a room (where the biscuits were kept) to see that people had actually signed up to see me, and the list was growing!?! I can't describe how strange that feeling was. (I hope it was worth seeing!?!)
I listened to Doctors, Senior Leaders, well-travelled researchers and authors. People whose papers I'd read, or videos I'd watched. There was a strong sense of community in the room; strength in ownership.
1pm. Workshop time. People walked in. I'm proud of myself for not passing out instantly. I'm still shocked they were there. With a limit on each workshop, we were at full capacity.
Unsurprisingly, the workshop went by in a blur, but like all good nights out, it begins to come back to you the morning after.
Thank you so much to everyone at #LearningFirst for their kind words of encouragement and support. I want to have another go, just so I can right my wrongs:
To everyone I met, sat with, ate chocolate with...
To all the names on my sign-up sheet...
To the likes of Kerry Jordan-Daus (for the best hugs), Mary Myatt (whose voice I could listen to for hours), Binks Neate-Evans (whose presentation on learning from the Early Years was one of my highlights), Ruchi Sabharwal (one of most encouraging speakers I've ever heard), Lucy Rimmington (telling it like it is), Julie Lilly (for whooping at my name during the role call) and Dame Alison Peacock (who was the best first person to be greeted by as I walked in)...
Learning has no limits. And, slowly, I'm discovering that neither do I!
Thank you! Mr N. x