From Little Acorns…School to School collaboration. The power of ideas and discussion. TKAT’s Pedagogy Network

Improving schools is an election winner, next to the economy and  NHS it is one of the most talked about political issues. Every successive government wants to improve the provision of education, and why not?  Having a well educated workforce improves the economy, increases live expectancy and just makes everyone happier.

So how do we improve schools?  Really what we should be asking is how do we improve teaching. We know that in school variation in terms of teacher quality is far greater than the variation between schools. We also know that teaching is the single most important factor that effects achievement that we can control for. Therefore the time schools use to help each other should be aligned to helping the teachers in those schools improve.

TKAT’s advanced pedagogy network does just that. It is a network which gives the time to senior leaders to collaborate on how to improve teaching.

Below are just a couple of examples of how school to school collaboration can benefit all.

Teaching and Learning Bulletins

For some time Debden Park High School had the ideas of a newsletter, or bulletin which was just about Teaching. However, a combination of time capacity and motivation along with what it might actually looked like had prevented the idea coming to fruition. But some outreach by Debden to King Harold Academy gave the impetus that was needed. Paul Greendale the Assistant Head in charge of teaching and learning took the idea and made it a reality:

 

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From this Debden Park High had the format and impetus (dare I say competition) to create their own:

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This was then shared at the first Advanced Pedagogy Network where The Bewbush Academy were inspired to make their own:

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The purpose of the Bulletins is to support whole staff CPD. It is a chance to give the “message” again. It allows those who lead learning to go into a bit more depth than might have been possible in a training session, and/or to just reinforce. It is a chance to celebrate great practice that has been seen, and to highlight forthcoming training/ focus etc. The recommended read section along with links to twitter and blogs contributes to a culture of teacher learning.  It is simple and easy to do once set up, and through the network you can “magpie” ideas from each other.

The Trade Cards

The Trade Cards which are 100 cards of teaching strategies based around; meta-cognition, AFL, Peer tuition and co-operative learning were first created by Debden Park High school as a way of supporting teachers in developing their practice.  For more on Trade cards see: DEBDEN MINDS : Trade Cards; more than just a pile of good ideas.

The rationale was that they are quick techniques that can be used there and then, in addition teachers have to “Trade them with other teachers so this increases the dialogue in school about teaching.  They can be used in numerous ways with staff; handed out in briefings, put on teachers desks, given to teams, in staff training they can be used to plan lessons and also to create discussion; what is your top ten etc.

These Trade Cards were given to King Harold as part of collaboration, as with any good idea they were then developed further. King Harold started to create their own; each member of staff was asked to give one of their favourite  “go to” strategy this was then turned into a Trade Card:

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An great adaptation of the Trade Cards has come from Thomas Bennett Community College who have adapted the Trade Cards so they are skewed towards their pedagogical model “Talk4Writing”: (Note the change of logo)

 

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Thomas Bennett have gone either further in their quest to “drip feed” teachers with ideas by having the Trade Cards printed on staffs coffee cups! (As designed by Matt Ford, pictured) It won’t be long before Debden and King Harold use this superb idea. In fact Debden are looking into printing the Trade cards onto disposable cups.

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The Trade cards have also been substantially adapted by The Mill who have turned them into “Top Trumps”.

The power of collaboration is clear. When teacher and leaders are given the time and contacts to peer review, critique and collaborate great things happen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Leading Teacher Learning: The importance of John Hattie

This series of blogs “Leading Teacher Learning: The importance of …” will give a short introduction and overview of the work of people who have helped me in my job leading teaching and learning. This series is purely a personal account of my “go to” people who have given me inspiration and insights into how to develop mine and others teaching.

This series is not intended to be a comprehensive account of any ones work and any omissions or misinterpretations are my own. I would strongly recommend any teacher or senior leader who is developing teaching to study the original sources.

In this series I will share the ways in which Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie , Andy Hargreaves ,Michael Fullen , David Didau and Alistair Smith have helped me as a teacher and as a deputy head leading the development of teaching and learning. This is not a critique , rather a purely positive personal view.

John Hattie

Like Dylan Wiliam (Leading Teacher Learning Series:The importance of …Dylan Wiliam )

John Hattie has a knack of making the complex simple and distilling effective pedagogy and teacher development into a few lines:

Visible learning is when:“when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and students see themselves as their own teachers”

“What does matter is teachers having a mind frame in which they see it as their role to evaluate their effect on learning.”  

“If you want to increase student academic achievement, give each student a friend.”  

“The major message, however, is that rather than recommending a particular teaching method, teachers need to be evaluators of the effect of the methods that they choose.”

Professor John Hattie has made a huge impact on how I look at teaching and indeed education. In a world full of ideas and strategies Hattie puts forward some complex ideas and observations within a framework of common sense. Often, early on in his talks and lectures he will make the point that most things  we do in our classrooms and schools will have a positive impact on achievement. Some have negative but most are positive. The point is not if something has an impact but what the size of the impact is.

In 2009 Hattie published a meta- analysis of over 800 studies covering 240million students on “What works” in education. From school type to performance related pay, to holding back a year, to class size, co-operative learning to feedback and everything inbetween. The TES called it the Holy Grail of teaching.  The Media grabbed onto his findings which implicitly criticised government policies on school types and reducing class sizes.  Hattie used the statistical measurement of effect size to rank the impact of strategies. The effect size number of 0.40 for Hattie is the average effect size.  The zone of desired effect is above this, and this for Hattie is what schools and teachers should be concentrating on.

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So for example it is well worth developing teachers and students abilities at giving, receiving and using feedback because it has an effect size of 0.73, whereas ability grouping has an effect size of 0.12. Hattie points out that schools do not make the difference to achievement because within school variation is much greater than between school variation. In a nutshell what makes the biggest difference is not schools or teachers, but effective teachers that add value above the threshold of 0.40  and what these teachers do on a day to day basis.

Hattie calls much of the debates around how to improve education, schools and student achievement as the “politics of distraction” in this radio interview you can hear more about his views : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dmxwl or download the Politics of distraction here: http://visible-learning.org/2015/06/download-john-hattie-politics-distraction/

So what does Hattie suggest that as a schools and teachers we focus on? Well there is the “rank order” of strategies and interventions:

http://visible-learning.org/nvd3/visualize/hattie-ranking-interactive-2009-2011-2015.html

which puts teacher expectations feedback and developing student meta-cognitive abilities towards the top, along with others. However, Hattie and others have pointed to the fact that the devil is in the detail.

Take Feedback for example, although it is generally accepted that feedback is a good thing, it can have either a positive or negative impact on achievement, like almost everything in teaching its the bananarama principle of “It aint  what you do it’s the way that you do it”  (“It Ain’t What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It. The Bananarama Principle, The Xfactor of teaching)  In addition “Feedback” is complex and needs to be approached cautiously. Hattie suggests we concentrate less on the amount of feedback the teacher gives to students but rather how much students actually receive.  Even more important is the feedback the teacher receives from students about their teaching. (For  more thoughts on feedback read Getting the Buggers to respond: The complexities of feedback and what we can learn from Mr Miyagi.)

So Hattie has himself given a “health warning” to his own rankings. Rather Hattie talks about teachers and school leaders as evaluators of their own teaching, and not just a “gut feeling” or exam results but a combination of a number of pieces of evidence so that in Hattie’s words  teachers “Know thy Impact”

In order to aid this Hattie suggests a number of teaching technique which if done well can result in above average results for students. Things such as a well planned balance between surface and deep thinking the  use of success criteria, the use of prompts as precursors to feedback, peer tuition.  But all teaching techniques can be used effectively or not. What really matters suggests Hattie (and I agree) is the Mind Frames of teachers and School leaders.

Hattie proposes the development of  8 Mind Frames:

  1. Teachers/leaders believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement
  2. Teachers/leaders believe that success and failure in student learning is about what they, as teachers or leaders did or did not do…we are change agents!
  3. Teachers/leaders want to talk more about the learning than the teaching
  4. Teachers/ leaders see assessment as feedback about their impact
  5. Teachers/leaders engage in dialogue not monologue
  6. Teachers/leaders enjoy challenge and never retreat to ‘doing their best’
  7. Teachers/leaders believe that it is their role to develop positive relationships in classrooms/staffrooms
  8. Teachers/leaders inform all about the language of learning

These are taken from this book, which I believe should be compulsory reading for every teacher.

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These Mind frames aid teaching and learning, and most schools and teachers attempt on some level to foster and encourage these. But how much? and how effectively?  The Visible learning training run by Osiris helps school and teachers audit and think about how aligned they are to these Mindframes. A quick shout out to Craig Parkinson who (https://twitter.com/CParkinson535)  run the training for myself and a colleague https://twitter.com/learningdataguy who both agreed that it was the best piece two days of external CPD we had ever attended.

These Mind frames along with the pedagogical approaches suggested by Hattie run through all of my teaching and how I approach developing teaching with others. Talk about success, but talk and analyse the magnitude of that success. Use a range of evidence and be humble and resolute about what you find. Take calculated risk and look at the research and evidence in your classroom, a colleagues classroom your school and across the globe.

This is just a very  brief overview of Hattie’s work, and as mentioned in the opening of this blog all omission and misinterpretations are mine. So get to a Hattie lecture, read Visible Learning for teachers, or take 40mins to watch this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leading Teacher Learning Series:The importance of …Dylan Wiliam 

This series of blogs “Leading Teacher Learning: The importance of …” will give a short introduction and overview of the work of people who have helped me in my job leading teaching and learning. This series is purely a personal account of my “go to” people who have given me inspiration and insights into how to develop mine and others teaching.

This series is not intended to be a comprehensive account of any ones work and any omissions or misinterpretations are my own. I would strongly recommend any teacher or senior leader who is developing teaching to study the original sources.

In this series I will share the ways in which Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie , Andy Hargreaves ,Michael Fullen , David Didau and Alistair Smith have helped me as a teacher and as a deputy head leading the development of teaching and learning. This is not a critique , rather a purely positive personal view.

Dylan Wiliam

I started my teacher training not long after the publication of that little pamphlet by Black and Wiliam inside the black box.  The impact of Black and Wiliams work on a young teacher cannot be underestimated. Understanding how to use assessment Formatively has become a bedrock of effective teaching.

Dylan Wiliam for me is the master at communicating the complex. He manages to summarise the complex into common sense, and make you scratch your head and say ” So simple, why didn’t I think of it like that before” Consider some of the quotes below:

” Feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor”

 “As soon as students get a grade, the learning stops. We may not like it, but the research reviewed here shows that this is a relatively stable feature of how human minds work.”   

“The whole purpose of feedback should be to increase the extent to which students are owners of their own learning,”  

“A bad curriculum well taught is invariably a better experience for students than a good curriculum badly taught: pedagogy trumps curriculum. Or more precisely, pedagogy is curriculum, because what matters is how things are taught, rather than what is taught.”

If you haven’t been to a Dylan Wiliam conference or talk I’d recommend that you do. Take a note pad and you will be scribbling and thinking. You will leave possibly with more questions than answers but you will also have a number of practical “use tomorrow” techniques that can improve your teaching and the learning of students in your classroom. Not to mention share with staff!

If you can’t get on a conference (and they do sell out quickly) there is the original “Inside” and “Working Inside the Black Box” that are still available and are easy to read, if now slightly dated. My two “go-to” books from Wiliam are:

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In essence what Wiliam argues is that teachers and schools should focus specifically on developing aspects of how they use formative assessment in order to improve learning and achievement. Seems simple. But it isn’t. As Wiliam constantly points out changing practice is hard, really hard. Everyone knows this, as a teacher have you ever tried to change your habits in the classroom? Something as simple as taking the register at the very start of the lesson (when you normally  take it ten or fifteen minutes in) is incredibly difficult (and yet seems so simple).  This simple task is difficult to accomplish in the face of habits, therefore improving something complex such as formative assessment is even more difficult.  But worth it. But difficult.

Wiliam argues that in order to maximise the benefits of formative assessment teachers should attempt to do and improve (constantly)  the quality of the following:

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Wiliam also suggest that these are not always easy, and that time and deliberate effort (and practice) are crucial if these are going to be successful. Taking much inspiration from:

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Wiliam shows how difficult change is, and that at the heart of improving teaching is the need to change.

This makes sense, but of course in busy environments faced with top down directives teachers and school leaders  rarely take time to “sharpen the saw ”

(See this: When teachers stop learning so do students: TKAT’s Advanced Pedagogy Network. for some ideas on how to sharpen the saw)

Take for example improving and “sharpening”  number 1: Clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success. This on the surface looks reasonably achievable.  But setting appropriate, thinking eliciting questions is an art form and a science. As outlined in a previous blog : Debden Minds 1: The importance of Learning Objectives (Yes, Yes we’ve heard it all before) crafting great questions takes time. Ensuring that students have understood them even more time and expertise.  Creating effective success criteria rubrics (and keeping them up to date)  is a huge task.

Improving and honing all of the 5 ways to improve teaching and learning and enhance formative assessment are huge. Wiliam suggests a number of ways that this could be done, and points out the research in education and other fields which support his views.  In a nutshell as a teacher you have to be acutely aware of what you are trying to improve and what success looks like, and you need support in this.  An example of this support that Wiliam highlights is Teaching and Learning Communities, which, when run well can be  incredibly effective.

Highly structured meetings where timings are given for discussion about current practice then new (teacher) learning and  finally planning and evaluation are crucial. This format is the basis of the Debden Minds and Debden Beacons  (Debden Minds: Developing the Research. Habits are everything; scaling up the BIG FOUR) where meetings are focused and based on teaching and planning.

Wiliam in all of his talks and books mixes complex  and diverse research, nuanced arguments with practical strategies and techniques that can be used in the classroom. I will often go back to the “Classroom experiment” which reminds me of some great techniques that I “use” to use and which were really great.  A return to the “lolly sticks” during a staff training session reminded me of the power of explicitly randomising who I asked as a way of keeping people on their toes, increasing engagement and improving classroom dialogue.

 

The Classroom experiment, undertaken in a real school highlights the challenges of changing practice.  Wiliam uses strategies with teachers to aid them in improving their use of formative assessment, and help them change their habits.

Alongside Teaching and Learning Communities  it is crucial that teachers are provided with strategies which they can use immediately and which are aligned to formative assessment and the things which will have the greatest impact on learning and achievement. Partially as a result of reading, watching and listening to Wiliam I created the “Trade Cards”. Realising that teachers although having a glut of ideas and strategies available to them these ideas and strategies are buried in books and websites rather than being “live”. As such sustained change in practice is less likely.

The Trade Cards are an attempt (DEBDEN MINDS : Trade Cards; more than just a pile of good ideas.)  to increase dialogue about developing teaching between teachers and to give teachers prompts to changing their habits.  Books and conferences are great as inspiration but when things get busy a “Trade Card” handed to a teacher or stuck on their computer is more likely to sustain change. (Trade Card Combo27,37,49,47. The old classic AFL)

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The work of Dylan Wiliam is a constant supply of inspiration to me. If you are a teacher or leader within a school and haven’t explored his ideas,  you should.

If you think you know about formative assessment and the work of Wiliam, go and have another read…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When teachers stop learning so do students: TKAT’s Advanced Pedagogy Network.

“When teachers stop learning so do students”

This was the strap line to TKAT’s Advanced Pedagogy Network Meeting and for good reason. The basis of the Network is to support and collaborate with schools across TKAT in an unwavering commitment to develop teaching. So on the 23rd November Heads and deputies along with other leaders of learning from across TKAT met at Debden Park High School to collaborate on how they develop teaching and learning.  The forum allows busy leaders to take “time out” in order to consider how they are developing teaching; to pick up ideas and to contribute their expertise and experience to their counterparts in other schools.

Across the Trust schools are developing and tweaking their pedagogical models. Although all schools are at different points and have different contexts there is much to learn. Some schools are using or introducing the Accelerated Learning Cycle others are using Talk4writig as a framework to improve teaching and learning, others have created their own model or a hybrid of of many.

Following on from the themes of the Advanced Pedagogy Launch conference ( read a review of the event here:Connected Minds: The Power of Teaching at TKAT’s First Advanced Pedagogy Conference) the Network gives a forum for people in the same boat to consider and hopefully answer some of the questions below: (in no particular order, and not exhaustive)

  1. How do we develop teaching when things are so busy and we are faced with constant change?
  2. How can we keep teachers interested in developing their teaching (especially if they are ‘good’ teachers) ?
  3. Why is it so difficult for teachers to change their practice and how can we as leaders help them?
  4. Are our school structures aligned efficiently to developing teaching? How can we be sure and how can we change this if we need to?
  5. Which aspects of teaching do we need to improve?
  6. How do we measure the effectiveness of teacher development?

 

The Network meeting kicked off with some thought-provoking “What if…” statements. In the mad busy world of school developing teaching can sometimes be lost.  So “What if…” :

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Discussions occurred around the statements validity and appropriateness. Some were dismissed but many were latched onto with many saying they could and would do this is their school immediately. After all what’s the worst that can happen?

The general consensus was that if you are serious about developing teaching (and who isn’t?) you have to clear the way to increase dialogue about it.  These “What if…” statements will aid this. In addition people added how they attempted to “keep the thing the thing”  from rewards and well being fairies to focusing meeting agenda’s on teaching.

Having talked about some tried and tested methods for developing teaching and considered some new ideas on how to inspire teachers the group then went onto consider in more depth how their school develops teaching. The “Leading Learning Matrix” was used to help colleagues reflect and think, it also helped frame discussions and collaboration about how closely school structures are aligned to developing teaching.

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The matrix is a useful tool to use regularly with leadership, middle managers, staff and with some modifying students! It helps everyone see how teaching and learning is developed and embedded (or not) in the schools structure, processes and consequently staffs  mind-sets.

Once reflection on school processes had been partially exhausted a short presentation by Dr Andrew Hogan from Debden Park High School sparked more discussion and thinking about how we develop “Meta-cognition” in students. It can, if done properly yield huge result for students learning, and it tops the table of things you can do to raise achievement:

https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/resources/teaching-learning-toolkit/meta-cognition-and-self-regulation/

The discussion hurt heads and everyone was thinking but in the end  Dylan Wiliam summed up meta-cognition perfectly:

 

It is certainly something which we will revisit as a network, because no matter which pedagogical model you are using this can and should be incorporated.

The final part of the meeting was a reflection on how, during the longest term of the year when everyone gets caught up in the day to day do those who are leading learning keep people focused on developing their teaching. Examples from around the room were taken, including The Mills use of teaching “Top Trumps” an adaptation of the Trade Cards where teachers use these in meetings to spark conversation about teaching and learning. Another example this time from DPHS was a “Teaching and Learning” Bulletin sent out every two weeks, just a two sided A4 sheet full of hints, tips and most importantly  examples of great pedagogy from the staff in the school.  Another example was to have a sign in your office which states “If you are talking, We are going to talk about learning” so that at the start or end of a conversation you have to talk about one of the “Trade Cards”

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The Network meeting ended just before for 4pm with everyone full of ideas and thoughts on how to constantly develop teaching in their schools.

The next meeting is at The Mill Primary School on the 11th Jan 2017 which amongst other things will involve some lesson observations to see how The Mill are developing the Top Trump Cards.

Further reading:

Many of these themes on how to lead learning and develop a culture of learning are covered in this superb book by John Tomsett. In particular chapter 12 “You can’t just wish to be better”  has insights into setting up and sustaining effective teacher development.

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Talk is the Foundation of Learning: How teachers can use the Trade Cards to enhance the power of Talk for Writing.

When teachers are trying to improve their practice they  are faced with a huge amount of advice, hints, tips and “experts”.  Fads come and go and teachers are often bewildered by what to “try” next.  However, what has stayed constant since the dawn of the classroom is that students will talk (a lot) . Even if they are painfully forced to sit in silence, they will still communicate.   Enhancing and directing this talk is crucial to improving students learning and achievement.  This blog explores the reasons why classroom dialogue is so important and gives some practical advice on how to improve the dialogue in your classroom.

 

The diagram below has grabbed a lot of attention on Twitter:

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It has easily beaten @TKATLEARNING’s next most popular tweet on boys achievement with 62 retweets, 24 likes and 4,333 impressions in just five days. It is clear that teachers have an interest in the dialogue that happens in their classroom.  This is not surprising really when you consider one of the principle jobs of a teacher is to manage and manipulate the talk which happens everyday. Going from the sublime to the ridiculous happens within a couple of exchanges and a few seconds on a daily basis.

Talk dominates the school environment. Teachers talk to the whole class while making asides, listening to individual conversations, talking to the TA, whilst dealing with the message from the duty pupil while taking the register and flipping their powerpoint; multi-tasking which would challenge the most hardened Trader on the floor of the New York Stock exchange.  But what of the students? What do they talk about? How are they involved in their own learning via talk? and importantly how can teachers maximise the discussions in their classrooms to ensure that students can’t “hide” from discussions and learning?

Before we look at how we can maximise students talk by changing the dialogue pattern in our classrooms let’s just consider why  we should. At it’s most simplest discussion aids learning, of course you can learn without discussion but we are hard-wired to listen and learn. If we can increase the effectiveness of discussion there is a reasonably good chance we will improve the learning which happens. In addition to helping learning, discussion aids engagement and achievement. If students are allowed to “opt out” by not talking and not answering questions it is likely that we will unwittingly but nevertheless increase the achievement gap in our lessons.

Of course there are those students who despite never or rarely contributing to class discussions or verbal questions will still ace the test (we’ve all had the odd class that are like this and at first seem a blessing, but in actual fact drive us mad with their lack of talk)  but arguably encouraging them to talk in front of people is a skill they need. It is clear that class discussion is an integral part of learning and teachers must try to maximise it.

How is this achieved?  Firstly it is hard. The often cited statistic that the average wait time teachers leave between asking and either having answered or answering  the question themselves is less than a second is always interesting. It shows how instinctive it is to carry on with a practice which is less than optimal. By just increasing that wait-time by just 2 more seconds will dramatically increase learning for all students, leave it five seconds and watch how many more students are able to answer.  But changing practice is hard. Even if you are skilled at spreading the questioning and discussion by a technique such as “Pose, Pause, Pounce, bounce” it is sometimes tough to get round all students (not that this is always desirable or necessary) and we often slip back into the Initiation- response feedback  cycle where as teachers we pose a question listen to the question and then respond to that student.

Talk for Writing is a strategy that enhances student talk to positively impact on writing and achievement. If students across the school are shown how to use talk correctly, as well as listening this will positively impact on their writing achievement and the classroom environment. A class that can listen to each other, critique and discuss is a joy to teach.

So how do we move from the dialogue pattern shown in A to the one shown in B?  Here are five of the Trade Cards that you can be used to improve dialogue to improve learning and achievement. The key to all of these is to practice this deliberately for an extended period of time. Remember practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

Trade Card 1: Speed Dating

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An oldie but certainly a goldie!  – Set up speed dating regularly so that students can talk and share what they know, and you can listen in and reshape the lesson depending on what you hear.

Trade Card 2 : Hot Seating

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Another classic. If you want to put students on the spot (and you should)  increase student dialogue in the classroom and allow you to understanding what students have understood you can’t go wrong with Hot Seating.

Trade Card 3:  Rally Robin

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Peer tuition has once of the highest effect sizes of all strategies you can use. In other words if you get Peer tuition right the learning and results of your students will go through the roof! Rally Robin, when done regularly and with guidance can be a highly effective at getting students talking and learning.

Trade Card 4:  You say we pay

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This is s a great way to get students to really think and listen. It’s a great “game” but will also increase the dialogue in the classroom between students. You just stand back and watch (and importantly listen)

Trade Card 5: Quiz Quiz Trade

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Another superb way to encourage not just talk but peer tuition. This little gem of a technique like the others requires the teacher to talk less and encourages students to engage.

All these Trade Cards are useful, try them out, practice them for an extended period of time so that you and the students work out how to maximise their potential.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting the Buggers to respond: The complexities of feedback and what we can learn from Mr Miyagi.

Teaching is a frustrating business, and perhaps there is nothing more frustrating than marking.  Firstly because you see where students have misunderstood your teaching, secondly you spot silly mistakes and finally after writing what you think is clear and accurate feedback the buggers don’t respond! or they respond with ridiculously frustrating but well intentioned comments such as “thank you for your comments I will try harder” or even when you have spent  DIRT  (Dedicated Improvement and reflection time) they seem to have only mimicked your comments by saying ” I shall make sure that I include more wow words in my writing”  which is not your intention when you wrote ” Use some of the wow words we have explored in order to create interest” especially when you see in their next redraft that they have indeed used more wow words… badly.  Indeed getting the buggers to respond well (if at all in some cases) is frustrating.

But there is often as reason that students respond badly to feedback, and there are things which we can do about it.

Feedback is complex and knowing this will help. 

Feedback is complex. Students respond in a number of ways depending on their perception of their own ability, you and the task. Not to mention the time of day or the mood of the teenager reading your comments.

It often seems that the word “Feedback” has become more used in schools than “Student” “Teaching” or “lesson”, and perhaps for a very good reason. If feedback is done correctly it can dramatically increase achievement, in fact in terms of effect size it is at the top the league table of things you can do.

It is no surprise then that schools have often taken the approach that more feedback is desirable. But just doing more of something does not mean that you will getting better results, feedback is no different. In fact the complexities around the impact of feedback on learning are well, complex. Very complex. Consider the table below:

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Of the eight ways that student can respond to feedback only two (italics) are desirable. The others are results at best with no improvement or at worse a lowering of learning. All feedback that is given should come with a cautionary note “This may or may not improve learning”  the Growth Mindset ideas that are based upon Carol Dwecks work came out of extensive research  spanning 30 years into how students make sense of their successes and failures resulting in the promotion of a growth mindset which would combat the problems in the table.

Clearly the problems of feedback are a concern for teachers “marking” books. Investing time in reading and then giving students feedback is only beneficial if students use the feedback to improve their understanding. The comment(s) that a teachers make on a students work is crucial for all the reasons in the table.  In addition if a teacher has spent a substantial amount of time marking a set of books and students do not respond appropriately the opportunity cost of that time is huge;  the teacher would have been better off spending that time planning resources.

In addition to the problems of feedback in the table above student often don’t respond to feedback well because:

  1. The Feedback given is accurate but not helpful
  2. Mistakes are treated the same as errors (and how do you know which one is which)
  3. Students are not given enough time or instruction to respond.

Feedback is often very accurate, but of no help to the student. For example an accurate piece of feedback on a science assignment might be “You need to be more systematic in planning your experiment” if the student doesn’t know what systematic means then or where to be more systematic the feedback is next to useless. (Example taken from Dylan Wiliam: Embedded Formative Assessment) Students will then often just mimic what the teacher says with no clue of what that means.

Another problem with written feedback in particular  is that often comments are based around mistakes  and not errors. A mistake is something that the student knows but has just not included ( or has run out of time to include) so for example explaining a final cause of world war two. If the teachers feedback is that they need to include this then the student may reject the feedback as they already know the answer but just couldn’t do it in the time frame.  Knowing if the student has made a mistake or has genuinely not understood something and has made an error  effects the feedback that should be given and how that feedback is received. This is sometimes easy to see, but sometimes is not. Be aware of it.

Linking both of these problems is that students are often not given enough support to respond and correct their errors. Feedback is only useful if it changes the actions and understanding of the student. Any feedback given will invariably need explanation and re-teaching.

Feedback and particularly written feedback is complex. There are a few things though that can make marking more effective. Mr Miyagi can be a source of help (weirdly) and guidance

no-such-thing-as-bad-student-only-bad-teacher_-teacher-say-student-do_-mr_-miyagi

The Mr Miyagi’s approach to feedback. 

For those of a certain vintage the Karate Kid would have featured as part of their teenage pop culture.  The wise old man Mr Miyagi teachers wimpy  bullied kid Daniel Larusso in the art of karate. Mr Miyagi is so effective in his teaching that Daniel is able to win a State level championship in a matter of months. What is Mr Miyagi’s secret? Well in the scene below it appears to be two things:

 

Firstly the student Daniel has had to practice constituent parts of a skill to the point of being achingly and frustratingly bored (wax on wax off) by painting Mr Miyagi’s house, cleaning his car, creosoting the fence etc.

Secondly Mr Miyagi gives Daniel very precise feedback by showing him the correct way when he gets it wrong – by modelling for example “sanding the floor” “Wax on Wax off” etc.

What lessons can we take from this about written feedback, and how to get the buggers to respond?

  1. Firstly written feedback should be given once students have completed enough learning for it to be meaningful. Feedback can hinder learning if it is given too soon in the learning process.  Perhaps consider marking second drafts as opposed to first drafts. Let students struggle and get frustrated before jumping in with feedback.
  2. Comments should be specific, accurate and helpful. Mr Miyagi could have said to Daniel “You need too improve the way you wax on wax off” that would not have been helpful but it would have been accurate and specific. The feedback was only helpful because Mr Miyagi showed Daniel how to do it. So in written feedback give examples of what you mean.
  3. DIRT time is only useful if students are retaught or instructed how to improve. Imagine Mr Miyagi had not instructed Daniel but had instead posed a series of questions, would it have worked as effectively as instruction – with examples?. Use exemplars in feedback just like Mr Miyagi did.

In essence Feedback is only as good as the action it creates. The reason the “Buggers” aren’t  responding is because they are not been given the framework, the time, the skills or the teaching to effectively engage in that feedback.  Find ways to navigate around this complex and subtle part of teaching and learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the dialogue pattern in your classroom? If talk be the foundation of learning how are you encouraging it?

 

This simple diagram which I created and posted on twitter has caused a fair bit of interest.

talk

 

It has easily beaten @TKATLEARNING’s next most popular tweet on boys achievement with 23 retweets, 14 likes and 2,333 impressions in just two days. It is clear that teachers have an interest in the dialogue that happens in their classroom.  This is not surprising really when you consider one of the principle jobs of a teacher is to manage and manipulate the talk which happens everyday. Going from the sublime to the ridiculous happens within a couple of exchanges and a few seconds on a daily basis.

Talk dominates the school environment. Teachers talk to the whole class while making asides, listening to individual conversations, talking to the TA, whilst dealing with the message from the duty pupil while taking the register and flipping their powerpoint; multi-tasking which would challenge the most hardened Trader on the floor of the New York Stock exchange.  But what of the students? What do they talk about? How are they involved in their own learning via talk? and importantly how can teachers maximise the discussions in their classrooms to ensure that students can’t “hide” from discussions and learning?

Before we look at how we can maximise students talk by changing the dialogue pattern in our classrooms let’s just consider why  we should. At it’s most simplest discussion aids learning, of course you can learn without discussion but we are hard-wired to listen and learn. If we can increase the effectiveness of discussion there is a reasonably good chance we will improve the learning which happens. In addition to helping learning, discussion aids engagement and achievement. If students are allowed to “opt out” by not talking and not answering questions it is likely that we will unwittingly but nevertheless increase the achievement gap in our lessons.

Of course there are those students who despite never or rarely contributing to class discussions or verbal questions will still ace the test (we’ve all had the odd class that are like this and at first seem a blessing, but in actual fact drive us mad with their lack of talk)  but arguably encouraging them to talk in front of people is a skill they need. It is clear that class discussion is an integral part of learning and teachers must try to maximise it.

How is this achieved?  Firstly it is hard. The often cited statistic that the average wait time teachers leave between asking and either having answered or answering  the question themselves is less than a second is always interesting. It shows how instinctive it is to carry on with a practice which is less than optimal. By just increasing that wait-time by just 2 more seconds will dramatically increase learning for all students, leave it five seconds and watch how many more students are able to answer.  But changing practice is hard. Even if you are skilled at spreading the questioning and discussion by a technique such as “Pose, Pause, Pounce, bounce” it is sometimes tough to get round all students (not that this is always desirable or necessary) and we often slip back into the Initiation- response feedback  cycle where as teachers we pose a question listen to the question and then respond to that student.

So how do we move from the dialogue pattern shown in A to the one shown in B?  Here are a few techniques that you can use to help improve your practice. The key to all of these is to practice this deliberately for an extended period of time. Remember practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

Trade Card 8  – It is a classic for a reason. Think Pair Share.

Think, Pair, Share  hugely increases participation at the same time as increasing wait- time. The key to this is that you MUST ask each pair to share (or at least enough to make all pairs take notice in case they are up next) Make it more challenging by asking one of the pair to say what the other one said in their discussion.

trade-card-8

Trade Card 53 Know who is contributing

In the mad busy day -to day life of a teacher it is hard to know who you have asked a question to and who has contributed to class discussion. So write it down on a big board! This will aid your ability to spot who is and who isn’t talking.

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Trade Card 61  Popcorn questioning

Wait, wait and wait some more, then pounce but with total randomness when every student has “popped” up their hand. This is a great way of changing your habit of asking the student who is straining their arm off and waving at you – because they all are!

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Trade Card 70

Struggling remembering to “bounce” the discussion around? Well use a beach ball, that way you aren’t bouncing the discussion the students are!

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Trade Card 90 Fish bowl debate

Are discussions invariably initiated and facilitated by you? Do you slip into the IRF cycle? If so you run the risk of you talking more than the students. So use Fish Bowl debating regularly.

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All of these techniques will help you talk less and students talk more. They will increase the dialogue in your classroom if used correctly. There are lots of other ways but any technique is depend on you having in the forefront of your mind:

“How many students have contributed – either to the whole class or their partner”

“Who is dominating this dialogue, me, or student X or Y? if so how can I change that so the dialogue is dominated by the class?”

“If I could draw the dialogue pattern in this lesson, what would it look more like A or B?”

talk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching and Learning Classic: Mini Whiteboards

 

While visiting some classrooms  this week I stumbled upon a bonafide Teaching and Learning classic: Mini Whiteboar

I have watched lessons where the Mini Whiteboards have just been used as a substitute for paper, but not in this lesson. The teacher skilfully combined them with a demonstration by a student along with questioning to create a huge amount of thinking.

tom

How he did this was simple yet highly effective:

One student undertook a demonstration (in this case frying some chicken) students watching had to write on their whiteboards answers to the teachers questions about the process frying as it was happening. So for example “Why did Laura add water?” “Why is the heat all the way up?” “What is happening now? “When should we add any other ingredients to maximise taste?”

The effectiveness of this in comparison to the teacher doing the demonstration and just asking questions was that:

1) Student engagement was increased because a peer was undertaking the demo.

2) The teacher was free to concentrate on the class when asking questions, and could easily see the answers of all students.

3) All students had to answer or attempt to answer the question – there were no passengers in this class, students couldn’t “hide” from the questioning because the teacher made them all hold their white boards up.

4) The increase wait-time because students had to write down the answers deepened thinking – you could see students really thinking about the answers they were writing because they new the answer was going to checked, and potentially lead to more questions.

5) Students could quickly compare answers, (the teacher facilitated this at times by asking one student to comment on another students answer) this increases dialogue about the learning.

This simple technique dramatically increases engagement, participation and thinking in the classroom.

Try it…

 

 

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Making the Strategic Operational: Keeping the main thing the main thing.

main-thing

On the 8th October I was lucky enough to work with some dedicated staff from Highbury Grove School who had given up their Saturday to look at the challenges of leading learning.  Echoing ideas that had previously been explored by staff at Debden Park along with headteachers and leaders of learning from across TKAT we investigated how to “keep the main thing the main thing”.  Baring that in mind and as the nights draw in this is an opportune moment to revisit some of the key ideas and principles on how to lead learning at a time of ever increasing demands on teachers time.

It is apparent from discussions with middle and senior leaders that there is often a conflict between the strategic and the operational. The strategic vision of all schools should be to improve the quality of teaching and outcomes for students, yet  almost every leader in a school (and I include teachers in this) will moan that things just get in the way of teaching; what an odd situation.  This disconnect between the strategic and operational can be reduced,( although this can never be fully eradicated, school are living organisms) if we make the strategic as operational as possible. Strategic vision and direction is redundant if it doesn’t become the habits of each and all in a school.  Leaders of learning have a key role in ensuring that the habits of all are shaped as far as possible to improving teaching.

What leaders do can have a huge impact on student achievement.  However,  just being a leader of learning  (SLT or Middle leader) does not mean that what you do will have an impact on student achievement.   The evidence from John Hattie and others is clear, the best thing that leaders can do is:  “Promote and participate in teacher learning and development.”  It can have an effect size as large as 0.84,  putting  it up there with feedback in the league table of things you can do that make a difference to achievement.

Easier said than done. The sunny days of August and September are long over, we are now moving into that long, dark nights term that seems to paradoxically drag and speed along at the same time. By a few weeks after the Christmas break we will be half way through the academic year.  How are the plans we set at the beginning of the year when the sun was shining coming along? Have they been swallowed by the “Tyranny of the immediacy”?  Has the; The to-do list, the book marking, the parental phone calls, the moderation, open evenings, the sports fixtures, etcetera, etcetera been all consuming?   I can’t imagine anyone saying no. This is not to suggest that we all put the immediate before the important, because often the immediate is the important (after all a school needs to run on a day to day basis)  but there is no doubt that schools institutionally suffer from “too busy to stop and sharpen the saw syndrome”   (A man is seen hacking away at a tree with a blunt saw, he is asked why he hasn’t sharpened the saw – to which he answers “too busy”, taken from Steven Covey)

So how do we change our thinking so that we sharpen the saw?

sharpenthe-saw-ab-lincoln

It is hard, that is the first thing to acknowledge. But there are a few things we can do to realign ourselves with the important business of “Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development”

Firstly and probably most importantly it is vital to understand that it is easier to:

“Act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting”

This quote was taken from Dylan Wiliam who was using the work of Chuck and Dan Heath in their book Switch: How to change things when change is hard. If you are someone who knows that at the end of each day you have juggled a hundred things but have not really “Participated and promoted in teacher learning and development”  (remember effect size of 0.84)  all you are doing is thinking about it, rather than doing it. Ever sat at the end of the day and thought “I need to be more strategic?” “ I need to work more on developing teaching?”  all you are doing is thinking, and that is unlikely to change your actions.

So how do we act into “promoting and participating in teacher learning and development”  well, consider this; “When was the last time you…”  below are 20 actions that would help you promote and participate in teacher learning and development.  Have a think about if you have done any of them and when you last did them, and how frequently you do them:

when-was-the-last-time-you-1

when-was-the-time-2

 

 

 

There are a number of ways in which you could “act into a new way of thinking” and “act into a new way of acting”  and that is to pick one or two of the above, and just do it.   Make them part of your day. Put this list on your office wall/ fridge/ monitor screen, back screen on your phone – anywhere you will regularly see them and tick them off as you do them, revisit them at the end of each week.

I use to work with a  superb teacher that whenever she was going to try out a new technique she would do that technique, every lesson for two weeks, regardless of the class. She would say this was the only way she embedded it in her practice. She knew that it wouldn’t be 100% appropriate for every class, or that it would work, but that wasn’t the point, the point was she knew that by doing this method of habit changing she would be more likely to remember and stick with it,  perhaps you could do the same with say number 6. See a different member of staff each day for two weeks with the only purpose to give them a “top teaching” tip. As  you build up momentum, by day three you will want to make sure you get to the end of the week having spoken to one member of staff about teaching, and once you have done one week, why not two? We all know how to change out habits, and this is just one way.

Create opportunities that force you into promoting and participating in teacher learning and development. This week I have created a display in my office of the “Trade Cards” with a plastic wallet with the trade cards in:

trade-card-display

The action that I will take is that anytime someone comes to talk to me I will ask them to take a Trade Card, and we will discuss that before carrying on with the “immediate” because:

what is more immediate than improving the quality of teaching?  Is this not the main thing? and the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

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