By Robin Macpherson, Head of Professional Learning
This year we’re making a big push on lesson observation as a way of improving professional practice. The bulk of observation in recent years has been done for the sake of ITT, PDR or inspection preparation so was heavily judgmental and, unsurprisingly, fairly artificial. The forms used emphasised box-ticking at a furious rate as if carpet-bombing a piece of A4 was the best way of evidencing good teaching. Whenever observation was taking place outside of the usual auspices it was within departments and in an ad hoc fashion. It seemed we were missing a huge opportunity to develop teaching in a structured fashion.
After doing some digging for info at the end of last term we put in place a framework which would allow us to observe regularly, positively, and with variety. Firstly, academic subjects were grouped into six areas:
- Modern Languages
By pairing the subjects in a rotation, it gives five days across the year for open door observation days. We work on a two-week cycle so varying the day is important; a Monday and Friday from Week A, the same from Week B, and a Wednesday. This prevents staff being caught out by a full lesson day (hence not getting out to observe) each time we do this. On the given day teachers are free to leave their department and head to the paired subject area to find lessons that can be observed. Equally they can see things in their own department if that proves more beneficial for a particular period. The simple rules are:
- If a lesson is fine to observe then open the door, or put a note to welcome visitors.
- If a class is doing an assessment or similar task which is not good for observation, then shut the door (or again put up a note).
- Maximum two people observing at any one time so lessons are not unduly disturbed.
- Stay for at least 20 minutes to get a good flavour of the lesson.
- No paperwork, unless ITT people need to collect evidence (this can be arranged beforehand).
- For the love of God, no ‘show lessons’. Regular every-day teaching is what we want to see, not the lesson plan that gets dusted off when inspectors come calling. Organic is good.
Following an observation staff are encouraged to catch up with those they saw to discuss the lesson. Conversations in departments are vital as sharing best practice and adopting new methods can be done in collaboration.
So after the first day, what were the results? Personally I saw seven MFL teachers (five French and two Spanish) and came away with a sense of the culture of language teaching which I wouldn’t have from just seeing one or two lessons. There is a striking commonality between the teachers despite a diverse range of approaches and individual styles. The use of the body to communicate non-verbally is so essential, and so creative; I’m thinking of ways in which this can be brought to History (without looking too ridiculous). The precision with which language is used (English, French and Spanish) is really impressive. Each word and sentence is weighed in a fashion which I need to build into my lessons. I often do this for source analysis, but it needs to be done all the time. The quality of displays around the room are excellent and provide constructive prompts as opposed to just a bit of wall filler. We have a lot of good decoration around History but some more focused displays and posters that target technique and writing skills would be useful. Finally, the challenges posed by varying levels of language and the shifting of sets (particularly in IB) makes MFL teaching a tough existence. We have a lot less of this in History so I came away feeling rather thankful that I enjoy a simplicity which I had never truly appreciated.
What also proved to be highly beneficial about the day was the chance to see tutees in action. This can go a long way to adding to our understanding of our tutees and shift our perspective of them. This feedback from a colleague (with a wealth of pastoral experience) merits quoting at length:
“I went to four half lessons today; one just to see a teacher and the other three to see my tutees in the classroom. Perhaps it’s because I have a vested interest in their academic performance, but I did find that the three with my tutees in were far more powerful for me… they allowed me to have an insight to my tutees’ approach to learning, understand the kinds of academic experiences they have, match their assessment grades with their demeanour in lessons. I think it has not only strengthened my relationship with those tutees, as they see that I’m taking a genuine interest in their education, but I feel better placed to discuss academic issues with them, as well as feedback to parents about how they’re doing.“
This adds a new depth to our tutoring and can bring so much value to one-to-one conversations. We’ve been advised to see tutees in lessons before, but who could seriously find the time to add lesson observation to all the other things we do with and for them? The open door day allows us to cover two bases at once and can only strengthen the quality of pupil learning – the main aim of doing this in the first place.
Other feedback from colleagues showed what a positive experience this was. Take these comments, for example:
The Harkness discussion was totally engaging – so interesting to listen to, and it was so useful to see the students leading the learning in such an adept way. I loved your encouragement of silence (“silence isn’t ignorance”) and contributing pertinent points, rather than contributing for contributing’s sake.
I very much liked the sheets that they were making notes on – it clearly showed the evolution of ideas and cyclic thought processes. The way that the students articulated their points was exceptionally eloquent – “I’ve noticed that…” and “What’s interesting is…”, alongside the questioning of each other’s’ thoughts and opinions.
The clear sense that the pupils knew exactly what they were heading towards. They are all involved in complex project/portfolio/CW work but they operate within this openness with focus and a clear sense of enjoyment and engagement, brought about by very clear understanding of various exam rules, AOs, outcomes. Once these are established (as was happening) the teacher is free to teach and the pupil to learn.
Mature collaborative work. Pupils are enjoying seeing each other’s pieces and commenting. Exemplar work (in DT, notably) is readily available, inspirational and instructive.
Using space. The use of two sets in two spaces to critique each other was very impressive, not least from a classroom management point of view (!)
What you can learn about your pastoral charges by looking at their work. Seeing their art sketchbook was as insightful as any conversation.
Take-away for me: what all three subjects and lessons gave me was a sense of how the pupils benefit from calm steerage in a calm environment. There was a real sense of (dare I say it) artistic therapy for some of the pupils. I wonder if more of my teaching / classroom set-up / choice of task could, once the curricular parameters are in place, be more … contemplative? Food for me to think about.
What also emerged from the day was that pupils became completely relaxed with teachers in the room. For most of our pupils it isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary experience, but for new pupils (mainly Third Form and Lower Sixth) it might well be. One of my new Lower Sixth asked why we did it, and it led to an interesting conversation. When pupils realise that we do this to inform our own practice they respect our commitment to professionalism and this filters back to parents. I love a good ripple effect.
Judgment-free, form-free, high-quality professional learning, a stone’s throw from your own classroom. Sometimes the best things are simple and free, as this is. Roll on November 16th for round 2…
Round 2 Staff Feedback – November 16th
Update: this is a sample of staff feedback after round 2. The subject pairings were:
- Maths and MFL
- Humanities and Arts
- English and Sciences
Getting up and running first period on Monday, when you’ve been covered the previous lesson, is no easy task! Bravo. The use of OneNote Classroom is clearly highly effective and gathering knowledge in one place, providing continuity between lessons (and teachers if covering) and supporting students in keeping them focused on what is being taught, why, and where to access info. Your use of it as a live document, and projected, is excellent and a big take-away tip me.
It felt like I was walking into a pharmacological work-place rather than school. Quietly self-regulating and focused. The fact that the aspirin samples are quantified off-site by a drugs company is total news to me and must dramatize for pupils the real-world applicability of the subject. Also salient, for me, is the fact that this kind of activity has to be ruthlessly prepared before, during (weekend drying out of aspirin!) and after.
So that’s why Litvinenko died … Peer marking is v.useful. I wonder how we can ensure that they are marking accurately all the time and the checks and balances in place for this? Any tips gratefully received.
It was really interesting experience seeing something so different, though I appreciated the ecological references to animals creeping and the idea of isolating prey. It is a lovely atmosphere reading in the round, with everybody taking turns and seeing reading as a skill. You were very attentive to their language and where they were less confident over terms. Emphasis on this precision of meaning is also probably true for Biology, such as where students will use alleles and genes interchangeably even though they have very different roles.
I was wondering if I should ever have students read through the textbook in class. I’ve had 3rd formers read a few passages from The Road to identify the role of photosynthesis, but wonder if there’s a value to doing the same with the actual textbook, so that we can talk through sections and clarify our understanding. Sometimes I say to read through a section without picking out specific points or checking understanding at regular intervals. I almost use it in the belief that they will have understood the whole context. Students also make their notes in the (text)book, which I feel is probably more valuable than large-scale copying out of notes which some of my students do.
I like the whiteboard mind-maps on the wall, which links texts. There were lots of aspects which set high expectations – the use of language such as promethean and gothic (which I don’t really understand!), the comparative discussions about which is most scary. You also get them to register themselves and tell them that they should be aware of the structure of the course; they have the outline plan so they know where the course is leading. It countered my belief that English teachers might just read for as long as it takes and then write lots of iterations of an essay.
I observed Third form maths and really enjoyed the experience. The students were working very independently on their tasks, and the level of challenge was high. The teacher was very calm and positive and I particularly liked how when a student gave an answer, he asked them to explain how they had got there without saying whether it was right or wrong, allowing them to piece together the steps. We had a brief conversation following the lesson, and it was refreshing to speak face-to-face about the experience too.
I think the Open Day observations are really useful, and it is very encouraging to be able to learn from colleagues.
I was so impressed by how well you had set up the feedback task. I loved the way you allowed them either to do peer review or personal review and comparing their review with yours was really effective. This is certainly something I’ll try in geography. There was a really warm and happy atmosphere in the room, which was lovely to see.
I was so impressed by how brilliantly engaged all of the pupils were in the task and how well they were working in groups. I think the pace and energy you brought to your lesson were excellent and I really liked the use of photos (whist leaving space on the whiteboard to write) worked extremely well.
I loved the collegiate atmosphere and it was lovely to see how passionate you were about both the language and the book that you were studying. This shone through and really affected the pupils’ motivation and engagement. I thought the use of the cartoon images were excellent for aiding the pupils’ understanding and ability to visualize the story. You also clearly had an excellent relationship with each of the pupils.
I was thoroughly inspired by the work you were doing with the girls, which was brilliantly creative and educational. I think that you displayed superb emotional intelligence in the way that you gave feedback to each of the pupils and you were really sensitive to what would motivate them most effectively and what was going to have the greatest impact on their dancing. The atmosphere was extremely supportive, which seemed to give the girls more freedom both to express themselves and to challenge themselves. You are also, clearly, a superb dancer, passionate about your subject and hugely knowledgeable – you were a joy to watch!
I observed an Art History lesson earlier: there was a wonderful conversational feel – focused on the topic but also drawing in all sorts of ideas and historical events, so that it really felt like an education beyond just dispassionately covering the necessary material.
By Carl Hendrick.
I’ve long thought that one of the weakest proxy indicators of effective learning is engagement, and yet it’s a term persistently used by school leaders (and some researchers) as one of the most important measures of quality. In fact many of the things we’ve traditionally associated with effective teachers may not be indicative of students actually learning anything at all.
At the #ascl2015 conference last Friday, the always engaging Professor Rob Coe gave a talk entitled ‘From Evidence to Great Teaching’ and reiterated this claim. Take the following slide – How many ‘outstanding’ lessons have been awarded so based on this checklist?
Now these all seem like key elements of a successful classroom, so what’s the problem? and more specifically, why is engagement is such a poor proxy indicator – surely the busier they are, the more they are learning?
This paradox is explored by Graham Nuthall in his book ‘The Hidden Lives of Learners,’ (2007) in which he writes:
“Our research shows that students can be busiest and most involved with material they already know. In most of the classrooms we have studied, each student already knows about 40-50% of what the teacher is teaching.” p.24
Nuthall’s work shows that students are far more likely to get stuck into tasks they’re comfortable with and already know how to do as opposed to the more uncomfortable enterprise of grappling with uncertainty and indeterminate tasks. A good example of this as Alex Quigley has pointed out is that engagement in the form of the seemingly visible activity of highlighting is often “little more than colouring in.” Furthermore, teachers are more than happy to sanction that kind of stuff in the name of fulfilling that all important ‘engagement’ proxy indicator so prevalent in lesson observation forms.
The other difficulty is the now constant exhortation for students to be ‘motivated’ (often at the expense of subject knowledge and depth) but motivation in itself is not enough. Nuthall writes that:
“Learning requires motivation, but motivation does not necessarily lead to learning.”p.35
Motivation and engagement and vital elements in learning but it seems to be what they are used in conjunction with that determines impact. It is right to be motivating students but motivated to do what? If they are being motivated to do the types of tasks they already know how to do or focus on the mere performing of superficial tasks at the expense of the assimilation of complex knowledge then the whole enterprise may be a waste of time.
Learning is in many cases invisible as outlined many times by David Didau and is certainly not linear but rather more nebulous in actuality. As Prof. Coe reminds us, ‘learning happens when people have to think hard’ but unfortunately there is no easy way of measuring this, so what does he suggest is effective in terms of evidencing quality?
Ultimately he argues that it comes down to a more nuanced set of practitioner/student skills, habits and conditions that are very difficult to observe, never mind measure. Things like “selecting, integrating, orchestrating, adapting, monitoring, responding” and which are contingent on “context, history, personalities, relationships” and which all work together to create impact and initiate effective learning. So while engagement and motivation are important elements in learning they should be seen as part of a far more complex conglomerate of factors that traditional lesson observations have little hope of finding in a 20 min drive-by.
This is where a more robust climate of research and reflective practice can inform judgements. It’s true that more time for teachers to be critically reflective will improve judgements but we also need to be more explicit in precisely what it is we are looking for and accept that often the most apparent classroom element may also be the most misleading.
Slides: Prof. Rob Coe: From Evidence to Great Teaching ASCL 20 Mar 2015
Nuthall, Graham (2007). The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research Press
By Arielle Jennings
We all want students to think for themselves, take responsibility for their learning and growth, and have a strong sense of identity and well-being. In today’s increasingly test-driven and highly-pressurised systems, it can be hard to find the time to cultivate a learning environment that promotes these outcomes.
Last week, I completed a training course on coaching in education. By the end of this course, I was convinced that we should put coaching at the heart of education. Coaching has the potential to create an environment that promotes the learning environment described above. Let me explain.
Coaching can occur both in a one-on-one environment like a tutoring situation or a group environment like in a classroom or on a sports pitch. Whatever the case, there are a set of assumptions that underpin a coaching relationship. The first assumption is that pupils have worth and the ability to make their own choices about what they value and how they will live their life. If we truly trust them to do this and give them the space to explore what it is they care about, they will end up making decisions that are right for them. The second assumption coaches adopt is the ‘ask not tell’ rule. In order to show pupils that we do believe they can be in control of their decisions, we have to constantly ask them to come up with their own ideas and make decisions for themselves, rather than influencing or telling them what they should do and how they should do it.
When presented with these first two assumptions, I was floored by how often I doubt my students and don’t fully embrace the idea that they are capable and can make decisions for themselves, often stepping in to do things for them. Embodying these two assumptions, I think, is the hardest part of coaching.
In practice, coaching looks a lot like a conversation that is very one-sided in terms of favouring the pupil, or “coachee”. The coach acts as a listener, with strong active listening skills at the heart of their practice. Through a series of non-leading questions, the coach invites the pupil to take the reins and identify problems they might face and come up with solutions to those problems. Questions that start with ‘what’ and ‘how’ tend to be more open than those that start with ‘why’ or ‘is’. Coaches don’t give answers, but rather pick up on things that particularly resonate with their coachee and ask the coachee to elaborate or to focus on those things. A pupil might report, for instance that they hate English lessons. The coach will continue to question and listen to the student to discover the root of their feelings about these lessons, holding the student accountable to explore their opinion about English rather than taking it at face value. This often reveals a larger, or different, conflict that can be addressed.
Coaching is not just about exploring the intricacies of challenges pupils face. The coach must also engage the coachee in a goal setting process, asking the coachee to set realistic goals to solve or begin to solve their issue. This is because through the coaching process the pupil is allowed to identify an issue and come up with a solution all on their own, all of a sudden the buy-in for actually carrying out the goal is significantly higher than if you had told that student what to do.
Coaching is not just about getting pupils to make goals and then carry them out – although this aspect of it is very useful in an academic setting. It is so much more than that. It is about sending consistent messages to young people that they have power over their lives and are in control of making change for the better if they work hard at it and take responsibility. They are no longer told that the teacher holds all the power, answers and knowledge, but instead, that they, the young person, are the bearers of them. This can sometimes be scary for them, but ultimately, it builds resilience, self-worth and a person who thinks for themselves.
I highly recommend those in education, parents, or really anyone who interacts with others, to take a look at the ethos of coaching and find ways to adopt it into their own practice. Putting coaching at the heart of education could surely do a lot of good in promoting the next generation of intelligent and engaged young people.
The Mallinson Library was the venue for our departmental “Ideas Exchange” on 26th February.
The Physics Department showcased some of their experimental work.
The Geography Department proudly showed off their wonderful use of GIS technology.
The Art Department presented a range of superb student portfolios.
The PE Department were looking at a range of revision techniques.
For P&R the session focused on discussion in the classroom.
Chemistry demonstrated their use of iBooks.
For Biology, it was a chance to look at differentiation techniques.
The Mallinson Library proved to be a fantastic venue.
One thesis & five mini case studies
Last year, a team of us went on a learning tour across the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. We visited schools across different sectors, contexts and age-ranges.
Amongst our many discoveries was this: that often the most interesting schools are those with the clearest mission. From the best-funded, most rarefied private schools, to very small state primaries, to charter schools working in challenging areas of great cities, there are easily recognizable common strands to schools’ DNA. We all talk about “mission statements”; some schools live them.
In many cases, these very interesting – and often equally high achieving – schools are driven by a great single organizing principle.
Here are 5 very brief case studies of schools we visited which are clearly on a mission:
1. At Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology just outside Washington DC, it’s all about science.
This school is remarkable. It is state funded (although it does a lot of development work and many of its projects and its equipment are sponsored) but it has a unique specialism and an impressively unified mission.
It is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) school and its focus is unwaveringly on project-based scientific research work. It transcends the idea of co-construction: students are the architects and authors of their own research, often conducted using cutting-edge technologies, sometimes embedded within industry and professional laboratories.
The students who showed us around exuded pride in their remarkable school (as indeed did students at all the most interesting schools we visited). TJHSST is a unique and quite extraordinary place. You can read more about it here.
TJHSST’s core skills and values are: critical inquiry and research, problem solving, intellectual curiosity, social responsibility. Expectation and common purpose are everything. For TJ, that unified mission is excellence in scientific research.
2. At Phillips Exeter Academy, one hour north of Boston, it’s all about Harkness.
Phillips Exeter has astonishing facilities. But its greatness lies not in its privilege but in its principle. And that centres on one, simple philosophy: Harkness.
All classes are taught around “Harkness” tables. Pupils and teachers learn and teach together; classes are characterized by debate and collaboration unconstrained by traditional boundaries. The quality of discussion and the responsibility the students demonstrate for their own learning are very impressive.
Students at Phillips Exeter, working together around the Harkness table, exhibit extraordinary manners and support for each other. This must also have a transformative effect on the pastoral life of the school: these students are genuinely kind to each other, they accept each other’s mistakes in lessons.
This amazing Harkness philosophy really does infuse everything that the school does and, as a result, gives Exeter students quite exceptional experiences. The Principal spoke to us about reading about “flipped classrooms”. “That’s exactly what we’ve been doing for almost 100 years,” he observed, wryly.
3. At Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax County, Virginia it’s all about MYP.
MYP (the IB’s Middle Years Programme) is the agent of chain, the engine for Glasgow’s reform and improvement. It starts with the key purpose – the everyday business of teaching, learning and assessment – and ratchets up expectations from the curriculum upwards. It’s also about service learning – a key component of the MYP.
The Principal of GHS talked to us with enormous integrity about the process of introducing the MYP, of getting the parents on board, of changing the whole culture. She’s taken a school which was struggling and made it into a centre of learning. And she’s done this with a rigorous, unflinching focus on an academic curriculum driven by formative assessment, planning with the end in mind, service learning and learning in context. MYP provides Glasgow with the focus to achieve their mission.
For them, it’s all about the MYP.
4. At KIPP in New York City it’s all about getting students to College.
KIPP stands for the Knowledge is Power Program. “Work hard, be nice.” The message couldn’t be clearer; it’s emblazed around the school. And KIPP charter schools have one simple mission: their students go to college. In the lower Bronx where, on average, 7% of students go on to further education, KIPP sends 85%.
The students all have “college” sewn into their uniform. The philosophy is just as permanently woven into the DNA of the school. You can read more about this transformative approach here. A simple idea, simply and brilliant integrated. That’s KIPP’s mission. It’s a progamme that’s not without its problems, as those of you who have seen the documentary Waiting for Superman will attest. But, it’s a mission and it’s all about getting to College.
And it’s a mission many have benefited from.
5. At Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston, it’s all about music.
The final case-study is perhaps the most interesting of them all. CLCS is a tiny charter primary school in the Boston suburb of Brighton. Entry is blind and by lottery. The school could be filled many times over. Its mission is simple: everything is infused with music. Every child plays an instrument, they sing, listen to music, practise throughout the day.
When students first join the school, they make papier-mâché instruments with their families. The care that is put into this is quite extraordinary. They then form a paper orchestra – learning respect for instruments, posture, control and team-work whilst singing the notes and holding the instruments. When they graduate to the real thing they are already in control of their bodies musically.
The student ambassadors talk with such pride (it’s there again) about their instruments, their music-making and how lucky they are to be at this school.
Conservatory Lab is inspired by the incredible work in Venezuela of El Sistema. It is remarkable. But don’t take my word for it; have a look at some of the work they do with expeditionary learning: music-infuses a 3rd Grade project on snakes; listen to their orchestra (remembering that this is a small, state primary school).
In many ways these are great schools all. But isn’t it interesting that there’s that clear organizing principle behind everything they do?
Wellington’s Deputy Head writes … Although I fundamentally believe that being a teacher is the best job that anyone, anywhere could have, (especially being an English teacher), there are times – generally round about the third week of January, when it hasn’t stopped raining for about 2 months, when almost everyone is battling with some school-wide virus of some sort and when everything you look at is grey, that one is most at risk of forgetting this fact.
On Wednesday this week, I was forcibly reminded, of why, whatever the weather, teaching is like lemsip maxi strength for the soul. Like most schools, at Wellington College, we are committed to training our staff and we do this in weekly inset (inservice training) sessions – mysteriously re-named even less poetically – as CPD – continuing professional development. Until quite recently, we followed the traditional method here – all teaching staff rock up at 5 on a Wednesday, listen to a session in a room about something significant and perhaps, (if we were lucky), inspiring, take notes (some of us), ask some questions… head off at 6 with resolutions to do things differently from that day forward. (By the next day, one had simply lapsed back into the status quo…)
Now, however, we take a different approach. Given the amount of staff time CPD demands (130 teachers / an hour a week: 130 hours of staff time every single week), it dawned on us that it might be an idea to put as much effort and creativity into crafting our staff training as we do into, say, planning a lesson! And that’s what we did. Led by our visionary Director of Teaching and Learning, we started to think critically, reflectively and imaginatively about our cpd sessions. Gone are the whole staff lectures. In their place are bespoke, small-group opt-in sessions – workshops / seminars / hands on and demand driven. Inspired by lesson study, observation and research. Radically different – with buy-in, engagement and commitment from those who attend.
Even better than these though was this week’s offering – yes whole school, but a world away from the dry chalk and talk sessions of the past. Instead, at 5.00pm last Wednesday, every single department was given a nook or pod or cranny in the library, to “show off” something innovative or interesting that they used when teaching or delivering their subjects. We wanted to see what they were most proud of, or tickled by, or pleased with as a department. That was what they brought along. Such a simple notion – sharing of good practice, in a very hands on way, across all the academic departments in one place for one hour. What transpired was a carnival of clever ideas… mostly run by the Heads of Department – and our library was transformed into a smorgasbord of pedagogic innovation.
To drift from the English teachers waxing eloquent about the transformative power of Google docs, to hear the actual music emanating from the Physics department’s functioning speaker, made out of silver foil, two magnets and a rubber band; to listen to the Biology Department’s fiendish “medical role play” for revising the liver (it’s all about having consultants who can look at their notes as well as junior doctors who may not) and to the Head of Geography delighting in the simply astonishing versatility of geo-mapping software (story maps for English / joint History and Geography First World War mapping… and it just looks so beautiful…) – to do all of this, to move from one fun, engaging and clever idea to another was to feel, frankly, that I was in the presence of greatness.
Not just because my colleagues are all great (although of course they are !), but more, because the collective impact of an event like this, is to in effect embody the whole process of learning and thinking about learning. It was as if we had somehow, between us conjured “pedagogy” into life at Wellington and were all of us confronting it together, in all its creativity and variety and scope.
It was, quite simply, a marvellous experience. Challenging, exciting, energising and great fun. A hugely entertaining way of sharing good practice (and jelly babies – thanks to the librarians for those!) – and of reminding all of us why teaching and being teachers, is the very best way of earning a living and one of the best counters to the grey skies of winter.
Yesterday evening at Wellington College the academic staff took part in a learning ‘ideas exchange’. We all set up displays around the library to showcase what we do that is interesting or innovative, and then took an hour to wander around, chat, and find out about best practice across the College. It was a bit like attending a mini convention, with displays, constructive showing off, and the odd glass of wine.
For example, here is our slide from Philosophy and Religion:
Our theme was the different ways in which you can run a discussion with students; we chose just six of many different possible examples. Some of the most interesting conversations I had were with colleagues teaching maths and science, who wondered how the concept of ‘discussion’ could apply in subjects for which debate and discourse is not as important as theoretical understanding. It challenged us to think about what a meaningful discussion could be and how it could work in science in a non-contrived way. I certainly learned a lot from thinking about this cross application.
The ideas exchange is a totally brilliant idea for professional learning. By making the process sociable and making it into an event, the levels of engagement went right up. It also opens the eyes to how much brilliant education is going on, on your own doorstep!
My highlights include: GIS mapping (Geography), medical diagnostic activities (Biology), and really pushing the youngest students with texts (Classics).
If you are an educator, I would strongly recommend that you consider running an ideas exchange in your school or college. I hope that we will hold further such events at Wellington in the near future.
At the beginning of this term we set out to experiment with some new models for CPD or Professional Learning. One of the things we were keen to explore was whether simple technological models had any value in engaging teachers in discussion about teaching and learning that would help them to improve their practice in the classroom. We also had a hope that there might be better alternatives than the “all staff meet in one place at a particular time and listen to a lecture” model.
As one of the points of focus for the term was assessment and feedback, we set out to create a Google+ community to host a series of discussions. The idea was that anyone could sign up and that there would be no time-specific sessions so that individuals could interact when and how they wanted.
At the beginning of the course the “moderator” laid out a set of user principles for engagement over the 3 weeks that the community would be running. His short post read:
“Improving our assessment and feedback right across the school is a key focus for this term so this community could help to shape ideas and forge interesting ways forward as well as sifting our contacts and networks for examples of the very best that others are doing in this field.
I’m not sure what the outcomes will be (although I hope that a couple of you at least might be motivated to blog about our discussions and ideas). However, might I suggest the following as a kind of minimum requirement of being involved in the group? That, over the course of the 3 weeks we all:
- Post at least one link to an interesting idea/ blog/ link;
- Post at least one (however short) personal reflection on effective feedback and/ or assessment.
And that, in addition, we all:
- Comment at least once a week on any of the posts that have gone up.”
28 teachers signed up for the community and it remained open for the 3 weeks intended at the end of last half term. There was a fantastic range of curricular posts from English to PE to Maths to Economics and a decent discussion on many of them. Posts looked at a huge range of thoughts and ideas as well as curating blogs and recommending reading; the 3 headings for contributions were: general discussion; interesting blogs, websites and reading; reflections on interesting and innovative personal or departmental practice.
We discussed, as examples: the issues of grading work; ensuring the quantity and quality of all feedback; student reflections; using trackers; using digital strategies to support marking and assessment; peer-marking; critique; blogging as an assessment strategy, and much more. In fact, and on reflection, perhaps the range of material covered was almost too extensive and we might have been better focusing more on specific ideas and practices.
At the end of the course we sent out a very short survey to try to engage with how successful teachers felt that the process had been and whether this is a model that we could develop profitably in the future. The responses made for interesting reading.
Teachers who took part liked:
- “The flexibility to interact at a time that suited me and therefore allowed me to give it my full focus at that moment”
- “Learning about what was happening in other departments”
- “the ease of access and sharing ideas”
One of the feedback questions we asked was to challenge teachers to consider whether, in their opinion, the course had had any impact on student learning. The responses were surprisingly positive, several reporting that they felt there had been a significant positive impact on student learning in their classrooms.
A couple of respondents suggested a plenary session would be useful. This is something we will consider in the future; a Google hangout is obviously one way of conducting this that we might think about. Several contributors thought that more interaction would have made for an even more successful experience. Balanced against this, however, was an exhortation not to exhort: that requests to post made the experience feel “pressurized, and not natural.” That’s an interesting balance for future moderators to consider. Equally, some commented on the lack of quality control. That’s another one to think deeply about.
To finish: one final comment from one of the teachers who took part: “I am disappointed there is not a similar group next half-term looking at another topic.” Now it’s time to make that happen; step forward the next moderator, please.