Teaching and Learning Leaders

Image courtesy of @TeacherTweaks – click for link!

Dylan Wiliam’s quote has become totemic for many teachers and school leaders as a driver for good quality CPD, and I am no exception. So much so, that we are reorganising our approach to CPD across the whole school in September, using teaching and learning leaders appointed from within our existing staff body. This is part of our commitment to becoming a growth mindset school, and is the strand that will foster a growth mindset amongst our teaching staff.

The idea first began to percolate when I went to Kev Bartle‘s workshop at TeachMeet Clevedon back in October 2012. In that session, Kev outlined his model of bottom-up CPD run by classroom teachers, his antidote to the top-down model that had become anathema to me over many Inset days listening to another expensive speaker brought in to provide no lasting impact on my practice. It made perfect sense to me, and Kev continued to evangelise the Pedagogy Leaders model through his Trojan Mouse keynote at Pedagoo London in March 2013, and then in a Guardian article in June. The principle is described there as follows:

an approach to the development of teaching and learning…that doesn’t come top-down from a member of the senior leadership team with an “amazing idea” but instead emerges from the experiences and insights of those true classroom-heroes who teach four out of five periods every day.

I jumped at the opportunity to visit Canons High, with my Headteacher, for the first Pedagogy Leaders Network Day in December 2013. The day was designed to outline how they had approached the project and to help delegates to learn some of the lessons, so that the model could be propagated in other schools. It was a real privilege to be there, along with Zoe @fullonlearning Elder and David @dockers_hoops Doherty amongst others, to hear and see the Pedagogy Leaders in action.

pedleaders

 

Once I’d heard one of the Pedagogy Leaders, Tom Curtis, describe his role, I was already sold, but a presentation from Leah McCormick on how the Ped Leaders worked as a team to drive improvement in teaching and learning across the whole school sealed the deal. I didn’t need to see Canons’ glowing Ofsted report and RAISEonline data to know that this worked, and that it could work for us.

Back at base, we were putting the finishing touches to our vision of becoming a growth mindset school, and the continuous improvement approach to teaching and learning chimed perfectly with where we were headed. We began to adapt the Pedagogy Leaders model to our own context, creating the idea of Teaching and Learning Leaders at Chew Valley.

Image courtesy of @shaun_allison. Click for link!

Crucial to the concept was that it should involve all staff. In September, every teacher will be assigned to a Teaching & Learning Team on a cross-curricular basis. My initial idea was that the T&L Teams would focus on developing a growth mindset through:

  • Differentiation
  • Marking & Feedback
  • Questioning
  • Literacy & Numeracy
  • Independent learning

Teaching and Learning teams will meet once per short term in the standard Monday meeting cycle to share best practice and develop skills in their specialist area. In addition, each Inset Day will have a standard structure:

  1. Whole staff (if needed)
  2. Teaching and Learning Teams
  3. Faculty Teams
  4. Pastoral Teams
  5. Development Time

Teaching and Learning Leaders will also meet with SLT as a group once per short term to discuss the overall direction of the project.

We advertised for five Teaching and Learning Leaders, each to be assigned to one of the priorities. These role comes with two non-contact periods in each timetable cycle and a one-year TLR3 payment. The advantage of the TLR3 is that is can be added on to an existing TLR, meaning that existing TLR post-holders could apply for Teaching and Learning Leader roles. The non-contact periods are designated time for the Teaching and Learning Leaders to observe lessons (developmentally and confidentially – not graded), work with colleagues, and find best practice in their expertise area. Teaching & Learning Leaders would also chair and coordinate their termly meetings and the Inset day training sessions. They would be entitled to (and expected to use) a full day to visit other schools to find best practice in their specialist area. This could be split to allow visits to more than one school. The posts would be held for one academic year and new T&L leaders would be appointed for 2015-16. Existing T&L Leaders would be able to apply for the second round.

Once appointed, the Teaching and Learning Leaders will have a bespoke CPD programme in term 6 to prepare for the September launch, covering:

  • Developing Growth Mindset
  • Leadership skills
  • Coaching
  • Lesson observation
  • Facilitation
  • Sharing best practice
  • Twitter and blogging

These sessions will also be crucial for the T&L Leaders to shape their vision for the programme and decide on their priorities; Leah McCormick was very clear that this was crucial for the success of the Pedagogy Leaders at Canons, who asserted their independence from the start by banishing SLT from their first meeting!

The advantages of this model for me are clear:

  • Distributed leadership
  • Cross-curricular working
  • Whole staff regular and continuous focus on key teaching and learning issues
  • Working collaboratively to improve practice
  • Pushing teaching and learning forward
  • Developmental lesson observation model
  • Leadership experience and CPD for T&L leaders

We launched the strategy at our growth mindset inset in March, and in the end made six appointments (such was the strength of the field). In the initial meetings with the newly appointed Teaching and Learning leaders over the coming term, we will negotiate the priorities and how the group will work together. Much of it will be up to them!

One of the key elements which I want to see is the T&L Leaders sharing the best practice they find on a communal blog, after the model of Canons Broadside, KEGS Learning Lessons, and Durrington High’s Class Teaching. The blog – eChewcation – is already set up and I hope it will become a resource not just for Chew Valley staff but for wider teacher community. What shape it – and the project as a whole – will take is as yet undecided, but it feels like the exciting start of something new, and better.

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Becoming a growth mindset school

The idea of becoming a growth mindset school has been over a year in the making. Our Headteacher bought each member of SLT a copy of Mindset for Christmas, and it was the main agenda item at our annual senior team conference. Today I launched the idea of becoming a growth mindset school to all staff at our INSET day. This is the basis of the presentation I did.

Our INSET session was for all staff – teaching, support, administrative, catering, site, network, technicians – everyone! It was essential for us, if we’re going to begin the process of shifting the culture of the school, that all staff are working together as one coherent team. It felt wonderful! As people arrived and settled down, we encouraged everyone to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire, with the results to be given out later! You can download our questionnaire (borrowed from John Tomsett and Huntington School) here.

What is Growth Mindset? 

Professor Carol Dweck and "Mindset"

Professor Carol Dweck and “Mindset”

Growth Mindset is the idea Professor Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Dweck has conducted a lifetime’s research into mindsets and established an opposition between a fixed mindset (the belief that intelligence is fixed) and a growth mindset (the belief that intelligence can grow). The differences Dweck establishes are well illustrated in this helpful infographic by Nigel Holmes.

fixedgrowth-copy

Dweck’s approach to mindset was sparked by her own experience of education. In her book, she describes what happened in her sixth-grade class:

Even as a child, I was focused on being smart, but the fixed mindset was really stamped in by Mrs. Wilson, my sixth-grade teacher… She believed that people’s IQ scores told the whole story of who they were. We were seated around the room in IQ order, and only the highest-IQ students could be trusted to carry the flag, clap the erasers, or take a note to the principal. Aside from the daily stomachaches she provoked with her judgmental stance, she was creating a mindset in which everyone in the class had one consuming goal—look smart, don’t look dumb. Who cared about or enjoyed learning when our whole being was at stake every time she gave us a test or called on us in class?

Our aim as a school has to be to build the growth mindset in our young people, and avoid the fixed mindset that can trap them into a premature plateau and cause them to fall short of their unknowable potential.

The Science behind Growth Mindset

I have previously blogged about my tentative first steps into neuroscience. As part of today’s presentation I used this Robert Winston video to explain about neural pathways and synapses:

This video really helps to visualise the learning process in the brain. The first time we try to learn something, it can be really hard. This is because we are making the first connection between neurons across a synapse. If we give up at this stage – as the fixed mindset might encourage us to do – we will never form that neural pathway. If we persist, repeat and deliberately practice the new skill or knowledge, we will create a secure pathway in our brains which will allow us to recall and re-use that skill or knowledge.

Establishing a growth mindset works in just the same way. The first time we challenge our fixed mindset approach to something, it’s difficult. Persisting in the fixed mindset strengthens that pathway in our brains and makes it more difficult to challenge. But building and repeating growth mindset approaches makes them stronger and more powerful too.

Dweck’s work and why a Growth Mindset is important

To give my audience a break from my voice, I turned to a helpful TED talk:

Here Eduardo Briceño outlines some of Dweck’s research studies, and how they apply in particular to education. The most powerful for me was the study into the use of praise. When similar children were given fixed mindset praise (“you did that really well; are so clever at doing puzzles!”) or growth mindset praise (“you did that really well; you must have tried really hard!”) it dramatically reduced or improved their ability to progress onto harder puzzles. Briceño’s examples are clear and well-articulated, which helped to illustrate the application of Dweck’s research into an educational context.

Why are we interested in Growth Mindset

In our school, we use PASS surveys to help us understand how our young people feel about themselves and their school experience. In these nationally benchmarked tests, our school’s scores come out green, well above the national norms. However, there are some interesting anomalies around the numbers. Students’ own perceived learning capabilities – the extent to which they believe they are effective learners – are the lowest average scores across the school. Even more powerfully, as students moved from Year 7 to Year 8, whilst their self-esteem and attitudes to teachers improved, their perceived learning capability declined. As SLT, we interpreted this to mean that whilst students were increasingly positive about school and themselves as they progressed, they became less confident in their own ability to learn. This can lead to a slow-down of academic progress, often manifested as a lack of effort or a “can’t do” attitude: “I can’t do Maths.”

In simple terms, we need to reverse this trend. As Shaun Allison has noted on his blog, we need to be producing Hobnob learners, not Rich Tea:

The #BiscuitClub Case Study

Ashley Loynton has run a case study group with the boys in his Year 11 Science class to develop a growth mindset approach. You can read more on his blog, but he outlined the approach that he had taken and shared the impressive results: from Year 10 Core Science achievement of 2Bs, 8Cs and 1D, the students went on to achieve 1A*, 1A, 5Bs, 3Cs and 1D in their Physics mock exam at Christmas. The difference? A growth mindset approach. One boy even stuck the Nigel Holmes infographic over the power button on his XBox, to make him think about what he should be doing every time he went to switch the console on and break the habit of getting in from school and switching straight into gaming mode. That feels like success to me.

What difference can a Growth Mindset make? 

Here I paid due tribute to John Tomsett, who firmed up the idea of a growth mindset school for me as I sat in his session at #TLT13. His blog has been incredibly influential, but most notably the post “This much I know about…developing a Dweck-inspired Growth Mindset culture.” John has been very helpful and supportive, providing materials that he has used at his school and useful, intelligent advice. Thank you Mr Tomsett! This results graph, taken from his #TLT13 presentation (which he has helpfully embedded on his blog), helped illustrate what can happen to a school which adopts a growth mindset culture enthusiastically:

Huntington School A*-C, courtesy of John Tomsett

Huntington School A*-C, courtesy of John Tomsett

I also used the example of New Heys School in Liverpool which, when faced with closure, adopted growth mindsets and saw their results rise by 39% in two years. You can read Winchester University’s case study of New Heys here.

How will we enact a Growth Mindset culture? 

This is where the session became more open. We have several ideas already:

  • Ensuring all stakeholders – staff, students, governors and parents – have the approach clearly explained
  • Changing the language of reporting
  • Using growth mindset praise
  • Using formative comments only for assessments (both on student work and in lesson observation)
  • Removing the concept of “Gifted and Talented” and instead identifying “high starters” in curriculum areas
  • Using peer-to-peer coaching to develop teaching and learning

The buzz in the school hall was overwhelming. Staff were full of ideas. We aren’t launching to students and parents until September, so there is plenty of time to harness that energy and those ideas into a coherent strategy. It’s really exciting!

Changing Mindsets

I finished the session with the results of the questionnaire, so that all staff could assess where they currently were in terms of their mindsets. Finally, we discussed how Dweck encourages us to change our mindsets when we find ourselves taking a fixed approach:

  1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice
  2. Recognise that you have a choice.
  3. Talk back in your growth mindset voice.
  4. Take action.

I finished on this animation illustrating the mindsets:


Below is the Prezi I used in the INSET session. If you can’t see the embed, click this link.

I will be updating you on the progress of this project on this blog over the coming months – with the first being our new teaching and learning approach! Watch this space…the Trojan Mice are coming!

What I know now about how the brain works

Cognitive science – how the brain works – is quite important to teaching and learning. So why is it that it’s only been in the last three years of my career (which started in 1996) that I’ve learned anything about it?

I am certainly not an expert. My science qualifications go up to GCSE level. You would think that a postgraduate certificate in education would include something on the functioning of the organ that the job is primarily concerned with, but no. I learned about Piaget and Vygostsky, but having gone through the three lever-arch files of PGCE notes this is all I could find about the brain:

All I knew about the brain from initial teacher training

All I knew about the brain from initial teacher training

What’s even stranger is that I didn’t notice the lack. I taught, led departments and cross-curricular teams, developed curricula, mentored new trainees, and never once stopped to wonder whether I was missing something – until blogs opened my eyes.

Through blogs like David Fawcett’s excellent My Learning Journey and David Didau’s LearningSpy I was introduced to the works of Daniel Willingham and Robert Bjork, and going back further Hermann Ebbinghaus and others. More recently I read an excellent blog from David Bunker on using Willingham to help teach English – a subject close to my own heart – and self-confessed science geek Ashley Loynton pointed me in the direction of  The Human Memory site, my new go-to place for mind-boggling. I am still very much an amateur, and painfully aware that partial understanding can be dangerous. However, I am going to attempt to share my understanding with staff at my school in the next couple of weeks, so here’s what I know now about how the brain works. If I’ve got anything terribly wrong, or you can help clarify my lack of expertise, please let me know in  the comments before I make a fool of myself in front of the Psychology department…

Neurons, synapses and neural networks

Neurons are brain cells; synapses are the connections between neurons. When learning takes place, a new synapse is formed. At first, this connection is fragile and tentative, but every time it is used again it strengthens. Eventually, well-trodden pathways between neurons become networks which can be travelled rapidly, instinctively, and unconsciously. This is why I can drive my car without really thinking about it, but why I need to look up the year of Shakespeare’s birth every time I want to know it. It’s also why our brain can play tricks on us, looking to run through well-established neural networks even when the situation demands a road less travelled.

Neural plasticity

Neural or synaptic plasticity is the ability of a synaptic connection to develop in strength and efficiency. It is why, if we want students to learn things, we need to get them to repeat them, and why revision – seeing things again – is such an important process.

Revision - seeing things again - is essential for securing learning

Revision – seeing things again – is essential for securing learning

The formation of these neural networks in our brains means that we need to plan for learning which encourages repetition and channels students’ energies into building strong, resilient and efficient synaptic connections. Covering it once and moving on just won’t cut it.

Cognitive Science and the Growth Mindset

In my amateurish way, I think I can see why the growth mindset makes sense as an approach. It seems self-evident that the forming of new synaptic connections and the development of strong neural networks is “growth” in the genuine physical sense – the formation of a new or stronger connection in the biology of our brains. I felt slightly uncomfortable with Dweck’s “the brain is a muscle – it gets stronger the more you use it” idea, which seemed over-simplistic. But now I can see the roots of her metaphor in the growth of the brain’s synaptic connections.

Synaptic transmission (image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_synapse)

Every time I teach now, I think about what is happening in the brain. I can’t believe I never did before. But then, I didn’t know it before. Now I do, I think about it all the time. And that’s how learning works, isn’t it?

Post script: here are twelve mind-bending facts about the brain from Buzzfeed as a bonus assembly/tutor time/thunk activity!

The Other Stuff

This week the DfE finally published the 2013 Teachers’ Workload Diary Survey. Primary teachers work for an average of 59 hours per week; secondary 55 hours. Headteachers put in 63 hours per week at secondary. In response to the survey, I had the idea of blogging my diary, to show what a typical week for a secondary deputy head was like. I soon realised that this had all the makings of a vanity project, and it seemed self-indulgent. All teachers work hard, all teachers put the hours in; I’m nothing special. How could those hours possibly be worth it? Why on earth would anyone want to be a teacher?

Shaun Allison has been blogging the “bright spots” he has seen at his school. It’s my privilege to be in a similar position to Shaun, and I’ve witnessed some superb teaching across the curriculum this week. However, what has struck me more than anything is the other stuff that makes a school such a fabulous place to be.

Last week, the performing arts team put on Much Ado About Nothing. Kev Bartle has blogged before about the importance of the school production in the school experience. One day I will write about writing and directing three school shows myself. This one, however, was a triumph. Two casts, in the round, every word clear as a bell and interpreted deeply and powerfully. I have seen plenty of less impressive professional Shakespeare productions.

Many of the cast of Much Ado were also amongst the helpers braving the wind and the rain on Sunday to hand out goody bags to the finishers of the Bath Half Marathon. They do this every year, contributing much to the success of the event and to the wider community. Meanwhile, in Exeter…

Two staff were off with our cheerleading squad, acquitting themselves with distinction in the senior division against adult competition.

The previous day, whilst Much Ado was preparing for its Saturday matinee, our Young Enterprise team “Go Appy” were at a trade fair in Cabot Circus in the centre of Bristol, demonstrating their business idea of a self-created app on iPads and receiving feedback from passers-by and potential customers.

Also last week, the usual round of fixtures continued including victories for two Year 7 football teams. This week rehearsals continue for our Singfest choral concert, and preparations for the Festival of Movement for our gymnasts, cheerleaders and martial artists. Our badminton team will be representing Avon. Before half term our Dance Festival had over 300 performers. Over half term – in the holidays – our staff were with students in Salamanca on a Spanish trip and in Washington DC for history. Tonight, a French teacher was at school until 7pm meeting with parents about the French exchange. On Monday next week our Year 13 students will present their Extended Projects in a full exhibition. Today I was rehearsing with the staff band for a Battle of the Bands event later in March. On Thursday all staff will be wearing badges publicising their favourite books for World Book Day, and Year 7 will be trying to “collect” as many teachers’ favourites as possible – as befits a school featured in NATE‘s latest magazine for generating a whole-school reading culture.

I don’t think Chew Valley is unusual. Teachers up and down the country are giving their time, and giving themselves to these experiences for young people. Yes, in state schools too. That’s why the hours are worth it. I know the lessons are the focus, but (as Geoff Barton wrote recently) school is about more than exams.

The other stuff matters. It’s what goes on beyond the classroom that creates the beating heart of a school, and weaves it into a community. That’s why it’s worth it. 

 

Learning is uncomfortable

keep-calm-and-carry-on-revising-19

This week at Year 11 parents’ evening I found myself giving the same advice to a series of conscientious, hard-working and keen students and their families. The advice went something like this:

There are two ways to mess up revision. One is not to do enough – then you will definitely underachieve. The second is to do too much. Then you will panic, get over-tired, and possibly make yourself ill. Then you may also underachieve. You need to find the “sweet spot” with revision where you are working just hard enough to achieve your best, but not so hard that you make yourself ill. 

Too much revision is as bad as too little

Too much revision is as bad as too little

It struck me on the drive home that this piece of advice encapsulates a really important dynamic tension in what good schools should do for students. I want my school to be an environment which does everything it can to ensure that young people are happy, and successful. Or, alternatively, successful and happy. But which way round should it be?

I’ve worked in and visited many different schools. Some of them have prioritised pastoral care, building relationships, and providing positive experiences for young people, sometimes at the expense of academic results. Others of them have had a relentless focus on academic progress and achievement, and have consequently been rather joyless places for young people to attend. I am fortunate in that my current school has the balancing act right, but it’s like finding the biting point on the clutch when you first learn to drive – it requires constant monitoring, feedback and minute adjustments of pressure to get it right. Sometimes you have to ease off a bit, sometimes give it a bit more gas. And the only way you get better at this tricky balancing act is through deliberate, thoughtful practice – and experience.

Getting the balancing act right

This tension is demonstrated in classrooms every time that good learning is taking place. For learning to be effective, students have to be confronted with something they don’t know, or can’t do…yet. This is, naturally, an uncomfortable experience. Some students find it very difficult and will look for ways to avoid the discomfort of a demonstrable lack of understanding or ability. This may manifest itself in misbehaviour or attention seeking to distract from the perceived failure. It may also appear in work avoidance and apparent distraction as the student’s mind slides away from the uncomfortable experience into the warm embrace of inactivity.

The best teachers make their classrooms safe havens, where students do feel comfortable getting it wrong. Where it is okay to admit that you don’t know, where it is fine to have a go and fail, and where there is no shame in making mistakes. This is only possible where there is trust that it is a non-judgemental environment where all learners expect to be challenged beyond their current capability. Pitching the lesson in what Vygotsky called the zone of proximal development, just beyond what they can currently do, is one of the key elements of effective differentiation and is essential if effective learning is going to take place. But it needs more than accurate assessment of performance and carefully planned and pitched activities; it needs the culture to be right. And whilst a teacher alone can create a magical culture in their own classroom, that task is simplified a thousandfold if it is a manifestation of the culture of the school as a whole.

Laura McInerney has proposed this area – Productive Emotions –  as the second of the Touchpaper Problems being explored through research: “How can one invoke in a class the emotional state most productive for: (a) prosocial behaviour, (b) evaluative thinking, (c) memorization, (d) creation?” The question was explored by a team led by Eleanor Bernades and Katharine Vincent at the recent Touchpaper Problems Party and I’m fascinated by it. The best teachers can invoke this emotional state, providing challenge and the security that allows learners to feel uncomfortable, safely. How do they do it?

From my observations, it seems that they have:

  1. An passion and enthusiasm for, and an excellent command of the subject matter
  2. Crystal clear expectations of both behaviour and attitude to learning
  3. The emotional intelligence to perform the minute recalibration of delivery required for the individuals, groups, moods, day, time, season and wind direction of the moment
  4. The confidence of the learners that the first three are consistently present day in, day out, in every lesson

Lessons have to provide the challenge of the climb and the security of the safety harness at the same time. Schools should do the same. 

How do you think teachers in the classroom, and leaders on a whole school level, can best balance academic challenge with personal well being? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Closing the Gap Marking – Twilight CPD

As part of our twilight INSET programme this year I am delivering a CPD session on marking. It’s a great opportunity to bring together lots of ideas from lots of superb bloggers, teachers and thinkers – it’s been quite difficult to condense everything down! Here is the Prezi I’m using in the session (click this link if you can’t see the embed):

I have also adapted this session for Pedagoo South West and a 45 minute version of the 90 minute session can be found by clicking this link, along with the video of the session on YouTube.

The aims of the session are to improve the effectiveness of marking without spending more time on it. This will be done by looking at:

  • Public Critique (via Tait Coles here)
  • Triple Impact Marking  (via David Didau here)
  • DIRT (via Alex Quigley here)

Why are we looking at marking? Because…well, I’ll let Phil Beadle take this one:

beadle

I chose that photo on purpose.

The key thing to first is identify the gap that we’re trying to close. Fortunately, Tom Sherrington already has this covered in his Making Feedback Count blog:

gap

Graphic adapted from @headguruteacher

It’s the gap between students receiving the feedback and acting on it that we need to address. There is no better example of this process in action that Austin’s Butterfly, also blogged about by Tom here, and demonstrated by Ron Berger himself here:

Nowhere is the power of feedback on performance better demonstrated than in this example! Our feedback needs to be:

  • Specific
  • Hard on the content
  • Supportive of the person

And by “our”, of course I mean peer and teacher feedback, since Berger’s example is primarily focused on teacher-mediated peer feedback.

To demonstrate this, I ask colleagues to undertake a public critique exercise (inspired in part by the Alan Partridge clip used by Tait Coles at TeachMeet Clevedon). I ask staff to produce something to a set of criteria – a haiku, in the Prezi example – and submit it for public critique using Tait Coles’ critique sheets. I have adapted them so that there is space at the top measured for post-it notes to fit into – because I’m obsessive like that. You can download the Public Critique Sheet here.

Following reflection on public critique and applications in practice, we move on to Triple Impact Marking. This idea comes from David Didau and is captured in this presentation from his blog:

A key component of Triple Impact Marking is DIRT – Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time. Alex Quigley explains the concept in detail (with links) here, but essentially students need TIME to act on the feedback given. This is where the gap is closed. I have been as guilty as any teacher of handing back meticulously marked books, asked my class to read the comments, and then got on with the next bit of the course. What. A. Waste. Well no more – we’re getting DIRTy.

To conclude our look at feedback, who better than Dylan Wiliam (via Mark Miller here):


This emphasises the importance of creating a successful feedback culture to enable a growth mindset. No grades. No levels. Specific targeted feedback, hard on the content, soft on the person.

To conclude the session, an exercise looking at managing marking workload. Many of these ideas come from another excellent Mark Miller blog, found here. There are twelve strategies and staff note down the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy in terms of learning and performance gains and workload implications. The idea is to evaluate each strategy in terms of its overall cost benefit to the busy classroom professional.

Twelve Tips and Tricks for marking and feedback

Twelve Tips and Tricks for marking and feedback

As a takeaway I’ve also adapted the sheet that Tom Sherrington blogged from Saffron Walden High School – you can download the Student engagement with written feedback sheet which can be seen here:
Increase marking impact
What has become clear to me in planning this inset is how rich my personal learning network is. The blogosphere is teeming with great ideas about marking, feedback and critique – all I had to do was synthesise the great work of others and stitch it into a package that will fit into 90 minutes of a dark, January evening. I hope it will go well!

The end of coursework

or…What’s assessment for anyway? 

When I took my GCSEs in English and English Literature (in 1991) they were 100% coursework. I wasn’t alone; according to the 2006 Review of GCSE Coursework from QCA (found here) about two-thirds of 16 year olds in the early 1990s were taking GCSE English through syllabuses that had no examinations. Much has changed since then, and all 16 year olds who take GCSE English in summer 2017 will do so following syllabuses with 100% terminal examinations (as announced by Ofqual).

A mindset change

Coursework has been part of my Key Stage 4 experience as a student, trainee, teacher, Head of Department and Senior Leader. Its removal requires a complete shift of mindset. Curriculum design, long and medium term planning in English has always been about fitting the coursework (or latterly controlled assessment tasks) into the two years to form a coherent programme of study around the assessment tasks. No longer. At this point in time, this feels like a blessed relief from the millstone of controlled assessments, and an opportunity to open up curriculum time to learning, but it will feel very different.

A change of gear is needed

A change of gear is needed

It will also require a mindset change for students. I have felt uncomfortable for some time about the prevalent attitude of “will it count towards my GCSE?” amongst students I teach. The unfortunate truth at the moment is that if it does, most will really try and put in every effort. If it’s “just practice” or, heaven forbid, an assignment merely to develop or secure understanding, it doesn’t get the full focus of a “proper assessment”. I will be glad to see the back of this distinction as it will allow and require a full focus on the process of learning in every piece of work throughout the course.

Teacher assessment is best

I genuinely believe that teachers are best placed to make accurate and complete assessments of their students’ abilities. It seems almost ridiculous that I have to state that at all. Teachers spend every lesson with their students and know better than anyone the full range of their achievements within the subject, in much more detail than any examination can hope to discover, no matter how long or rigorous. This will be lost in the terminal exam system. Teacher assessment (in English especially) has snapped under the weight of the accountability framework’s focus upon it. This was recognised in the QCA GCSE_coursework report:

5.44: The environment for GCSE and A levels has changed. Twenty years ago there were no achievement and attainment tables (formerly performance tables), no national or local targets related to examination grades and no link between teachers’ pay and students’ results. The environment now is far more pressured and in these circumstances, it is likely that internal assessment of GCSE and A levels as presently practised has become a less valid form of assessment.

Teacher assessment + high stakes accountability = a powder keg

Teacher assessment + high stakes accountability = a powder keg

This is undoubtedly the case. Teacher assessment is still the best way of assessing student progress and learning (although, as David Didau asserts, measuring learning is a horrifically complex business). It should still be the basis of teaching and learning in the classroom but only if the sole purpose of that teacher assessment is to measure the child’s progress and identify next steps in learning. If the teacher assessment is also serving the purpose of proving progress to senior leaders and external inspectors in order to maintain the school’s standing in performance tables and the teacher’s own salary, then of course there are vested interests at play which will encourage even the most professional professional to err on the side of generosity. And this is how we’ve arrived at our current situation. The accountability and pay systems have rendered the most accurate and helpful form of assessment unreliable and corrupt. Excellent work, policy makers.

Moving forward

I have several tasks as a school leader now to make the most of this new assessment framework.

Jumping through hoops - a necessary evil?

Jumping through hoops – a necessary evil?

  1. To help subject teams re-think curriculum design away from the coursework/controlled assessment structures that have been in place for so long. We will have a lot to learn from Maths and other 100% examined subjects here; we will need to make the most of the time freed up from controlled assessments to teach curriculum content (which is a combination of knowledge and skills, of course).
  2. To decouple teacher assessment from external accountability and pay progression as far as possible, to allow it to be carried out accurately for the benefit of the student’s learning, parents, and teachers themselves to inform planning.
  3. To work with all teachers and students to jump the hoops of the new terminal exams. I hate this part of the job, but recognise that teaching exam technique is vital to success in exams. I will also make every effort to keep this in proportion to the real business of teaching the actual subjects.
  4. To continue to do my best to construct a Key Stage 4 curriculum in the best interests of the learners at my school.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

#TLT13: Great Teaching – Your Way

This blog outlines my session at #TLT13, which in itself was a version of the CPD programme we ran at Chew Valley last year as detailed in my posts: Outstanding teaching and great teachers – a whole school CPD approach and Outstanding teaching and great teachers (part 2).

CVS Outstanding Lessons

What makes an outstanding lesson? And who decides?

Ofsted set out their criteria for evaluating the quality of teaching and learning in an institution as a whole. In their School Inspection Handbook, footnote 42, it says:

“These grade descriptors describe the quality of teaching in the school as a whole, taking account of evidence over time. While they include some characteristics of individual lessons, they are not designed to be used to judge individual lessons.”

We know that plenty of schools ignore this and adapt the criteria to apply them to individual lessons – for some very understandable reasons. We also know that this leads to teachers teaching “observation specials” to try and jump through the hoops of the taken-out-of-context criteria. You can read about the impact of this in @cazzypot’s blog: Is Michael Gove lying to us all? and in @BarryNSmith79’s Lesson Objectives, Good Practice, and What Really Matters along with far too many others.

Let’s start again.

A typical teacher’s directed time is 760 hours in a year. How many of those will be formally observed by someone else – three? Five? Ten? Whatever the number, there’s a lot of hours in a year when it’s just you and your learners in the room.

Forget outstanding. Think about a great lesson you’ve taught – not a lesson where someone else was watching, but one of those lessons where it all worked. Where you and the kids left the room bathed in the warm glow of achievement. Where teaching felt really, really good. What were the ingredients? What made it work? And which of those features can you replicate in your classroom on Monday?

If you were to start with a blank sheet of paper, how would you define a great lesson?

A blank sheet of paper

A blank sheet of paper

Think about:

  • Structure
  • Activities
  • Behaviour
  • Outcomes

And, if that’s a great lesson, what are the qualities of a great teacher? And how can we live them in the classroom for all 760 hours of the year?

An adapted version of this session was delivered at #TMNSL at Bristol Brunel Academy on Thursday 20th March 2014.

What is the purpose of education?

This month’s #blogsync topic invites idealism. So, here are my ideals:

Individuality

Individuality

Firstly, I believe education should be about helping children discover their individual voice. My mantra is that I am helping young people to find the best means to express themselves, and ensuring that they have the education to know what it is they want to express. I still really believe this, and I strive to achieve it every day.

Community

Secondly, I believe education is about creating a sense of social and community responsibility. Schools have the potential to be utopian, as the members of our mini-societies have boundless energy and the capacity for collaboration, empathy, sympathy and selflessness.

Learning

Learning

Thirdly, I believe education is about fostering a love of learning, not just as a means to an end, but as an indulgence of an innate curiosity that lies at the heart of human nature. We are a remarkable species with the ability to think beyond ourselves. Schools which are true learning communities are wonderful, vibrant and exciting places to be.

Rampant idealism aside, the topic deserves a more critical appraisal too. There are tensions at the heart of the education system which I have been wrestling with since a Twitter chat with @JamesTheo some months ago – so long ago, in fact, that I now can’t find it. Our discussion focused on the dissemination of values through teaching. The more I think about it, the more I think that our existing education system is about the transmission of a set of traditional middle-class English values into society. These values include a respect for authority, obedience, and the social prejudices which see “a degree from a good university” as more valuable than  a technical or vocational qualification.

I’ve seen this transmission of values in action throughout my career when following up fights where the antagonist’s defence is “my dad told me not to take it sir; he said if he called me names I was to smack him. So I did.” Without thinking, I use the well-practised lines: that violence is not the answer. That he should have walked away and told a teacher. That, no matter what the provocation, there is never any excuse for lashing out.  Or, to put it another way, the values his father has instilled in him are wrong, and that mine are right.

Twice in my career I have caught myself trying to persuade confident bright young women that they don’t really want to study hair and beauty at college and they’d be much better staying at school to do A-levels. Both of them had ambitions to manage their own salons; I wanted them to go to university instead and, presumably, to get a “better” career. On both occasions I failed and both of those young women are now running their own successful businesses. They were right and I couldn’t have been more wrong. But the system – including me – is prejudiced to think that a vocational route is inferior to an academic one, and every time I meet with a young person to talk about post-16 progression I have to balance this prejudice with what I am seeing and hearing in the interview.

The same thing goes for the structures of a school. I profess to foster and develop individuality in an institution where everyone wears a uniform and moves from one place to another at the same times every day to sit together and complete the same programme of study as every other child of their chronological age in the country. Is this really a system set up to allow young people to find their own voice?

It’s all very well to talk about keeping politics and education separate, but this is impossible: education is a political process. To an extent, it is about preserving the values of the dominant middle classes by imposing them on the nation as a whole, in the hope of building a society predicated on those values. I don’t express this to be negative; only to draw attention to the realisation that I have had about this “hidden purpose” in the classroom.

Of course, no system of national education is ever going to avoid this issue of values transmission. I think my job as a school leader is to think critically about which of them should be challenged, and which upheld. I take a long hard look in the mirror and think about what values I want to transmit myself.  Personally, I try to balance the value of vocational, technical and practical education with traditional academic routes against the prejudices that were inherent in my own schooling. But, no matter who says different, it’s never okay to use violence to solve your problems.

Above all, the most important thing for me is not to let the system be a barrier to the ideals. Schools can foster individuality, community and learning, even if this is sometimes despite, rather than because of, the structures within which we work.

This post is a response to the September #blogsync. Read the other contributions here.

Assembly – Grit and Flow

My assembly this week is hugely indebted to Alex Quigley‘s excellent blog post Winning Ugly: The Secrets of ‘Gritty’ Teaching and Learning, and to David Didau‘s Grand Unified Theory of Mastery. If you haven’t read either of these, I can’t recommend them highly enough. My aim is to talk to the students about the need for “grit” if they are to achieve the “flow” that they aspire to.

@LearningSpy's Grit/Flow Cycle

@LearningSpy and @TheRealMrRoo’s Grit/Flow Cycle, designed by @Pekabalo

As the students come into the hall I will be playing this video, showing Itzhak Perlman performing Antonio Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins: 

This astonishing performance establishes the concept of “flow” at pretty much its zenith! Flow, then, is being able to do something well. So well, it seems almost effortless. Perlman manages to make this most fiendish of pieces in the classical violin repertoire seem like a breeze, remaining seated, flourishing his bow, enjoying the performance.

My second illustration of "flow"

An illustration of “flow”

How, then, should we go about achieving this state of flow? Counter-intuitively, to achieve this apparently frictionless and smooth process, we first need to apply “grit” to give us traction.

“We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.” (From ‘Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals’ by Angela L. Duckworth and Christopher Peterson via HuntingEnglish)

“Grit” is perseverance; hard work and effort sustained over time. This grit will give the learner purchase on the slippery surface of the learning in just the same way as we grit an icy road to allow traffic to flow freely.

Grit means putting the hours in. Putting in the time. Putting in the effort. Repeating something until you know you can do it well. Itzhak Perlman says (here) that repetition is the key to successful practice – again and again and again. Slowly. He does give a warning though – there is such a thing as too much practice. I’m sure the students will breathe a sigh of relief, until they hear that his idea of “too much” is anything more than five hours of the same thing in one sitting. Now that is grit.

My challenge to the students is to aspire to “flow” in all their learning by applying “grit” in their lessons and at home. I will speak to them about the importance of deliberate practice – not just “doing work” but thinking about the knowledge and skills they are applying to the task and how they will use the process to improve.

I started the assembly with Perlman playing La Ronde des Lutins – the dance of the goblins. I will finish with another example of La Ronde, this time from the masters of “flow” FC Barcelona:

This training ground exercise is the perfect mesh of grit and flow – deliberate practice demonstrated by those who demonstrate mastery. And enjoy it.

You can view my assembly Prezi here.

The Tika Taka clip is from another excellent HuntingEnglish post: Effective Exam Revision – ‘Drill Baby Drill’

UPDATE

In delivery of the assembly I thought I would demonstrate “lack of flow” by attempting to play La Ronde des Lutins on the violin myself. I can’t play the violin. “How,” I asked Year 9, “am I going to get from sounding like this” – scratch, screech, squeal – “to sounding like Itzhak Perlman?” And we’re off…

In the dinner queue, lunchtime. Year 9 boy: “your violin playing was pretty good actually, sir.”

*sigh*