Learning Lessons The Research Publication of King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford www.kegs.org.uk
The Teacher-Learner Change is the end result of all true learning. Leo Buscaglia (1924—1998) KEGS Teaching & Learning Jigsaw When a small working party of teachers at KEGS collaborated to produce the Teaching and Learning Jigsaw it was clear in everyone’s mind that this statement should apply equally to students and all staff, non-teaching as well as teaching. The Jigsaw is a powerful reminder of the integrated community at KEGS where each member, in his or her individual role, strives to perform his or her very best; a school where we are all learning to become even better at our work; a school with learning at its heart. This Learning Lessons focuses on the “Teacher-Learner” at KEGS. Over the past 20 to 30 years there has been a seismic shift in our understanding of what constitutes an excellent learning environment for students. The pedagogical landscape has been reshaped beyond recognition and one of the most revolutionary changes has been in the perception of the teacher as learner and the need for teachers, too, to have a stimulating learning environment. The expertise of the teacher is the driving force behind better education, for the key to improved outcomes for students “lies in the person who gently closes the classroom door and performs the teaching act – the person who puts into place the end effects of so many policies, who interprets these policies and who is alone with students during their 15000 hours of schooling.” (Hattie 2003).
As a research engaged community KEGS is committed to facilitating subject experts in their pursuit and extended understanding of the science of teaching. It is one thing to be a good, intuitive teacher, but it is the precise knowledge of what we do and why that allows us to take ownership of “outstanding” and helps us to make outstanding learning routine classroom practice. The framework of Continuous Professional Development at KEGS is rooted firmly in the Teaching & Learning Jigsaw. If we are to “grow” teachers who have a “powerful influence on learning” (Hattie 2003) then Professional Development needs to inspire teachers to learn more about the art of teaching (ZfL), it needs to use data and information rich, dialogic communication to inform judgements, evaluate effectively and recommend next steps (AfL) and must recognise that teaching is not formulaic, that teachers are individuals, that excellence has many different forms and that each teacher is on a personal learning journey (DfL). At KEGS we have openly nurtured an environment where, coupled with an inexhaustible drive to refine learning outcomes even further for students, we as teachers routinely question, challenge, experiment and probe; for there is an important and symbiotic relationship between school development needs and teachers’ individual professional development needs.
Volume 3 Issue 6 Author: J Breen Editor: J Breen
Summary of Teaching and Learning Collaborative Projects at KEGS 2011-2012 1. Talking Texts Project: exploring the power of ‘reading aloud’ and bringing language ‘off the page’ to enhance students’ understanding in a range of subject areas. This is a comprehensive project run in several departments. Teachers are reporting significant gains from taking time to read aloud in class. It also involved asking parents of Y7s to read aloud at home. 2. ‘Learning through the looking glass’ project: using video to record student learning activities in several subject areas for reflection and evaluation, both for the teacher and the students— www.kegslookingglass.blogspot.co.uk 3. Developing critical thinking through practical work in science: withdrawing some of the scaffolding so students planned their own experiments to a greater degree. 4. Using post-its and mini whiteboards for feedback. Many teachers use these techniques but this was an opportunity to evaluate the impact of the methods in different contexts. 5. Using feedback from Yr 13 pupils in economics to inform and improve course planning. 6. Introducing a range of edtech possibilities to staff: twitter and the power of Hootsuite/Tweetdeck to filter the twittershere; Diigo for creating personal research libraries, Khan Academy resources, Dipity timelines amongst others. 7. Using feedback stickers to highlight recurring areas of formative assessment – instead of writing the same comments repeatedly. 8. Developing Maths A level extension materials – using Oxbridge questions to stretch the most able and also simulate problem-solving for the whole class. A good example of where subject-specific development is really important and powerful alongside general pedagogical ideas. 9. Promoting independent essay planning in Philosophy. Identifying all the possible viewpoints students might be expected to take in an exam (evidently 26 in all!) and creating opportunities for them to develop and rehearse these in advance, without spoon-feeding and without leaving it until the exam for them to work out their opinions! It is a recurring issue for us that students assume they will have their moment of clearest thinking during the exam…. 10. Peer Observations between English and History, focusing on clarity of expression and precision. This pair explored the use of language in expressing ideas and, through peer observation, found significant common ground between the two subjects. 11. Developing a more effective approach to A2 History coursework, building opportunities for constructive feedback, using a mini-coursework activity on unseen material to develop skills. Here the group sought to resolve the difficulty in not giving feedback on coursework (as per exam board regulation) whilst trying to provide some formative development; the mini-coursework was very effective and time-efficient in this regard. 12. Developing peer-to-peer academic mentoring with Year 12s, using a model developed at our partner school in Germany. The idea here is that mentoring is often pastoral in nature, but academic mentoring helps students to resolve practical issues around learning, organisation and managing workload and has the by-product of creating a space for more personal issues to also be dealt with in cases where the students would not normally come forward to express them. 13. Developing Y7 Maths starter activities – exploring a range of specific ideas. 14. Exploring the use of Forums and Wikis on KEGSnet (our moodle-based VLE) in Year 9 Geography. KEGSnet is well established as a document store for all students but the more interactive elements are less extensively used. The wikis are very popular with students; some of the outcomes are fabulous. 15. Exploring the power of visualisers to embed AfL techniques across a range of subjects. We have developed our own low-cost in-house visualisers and anyone who wants one has one. This group explored their potential in areas such as chemistry experiments. 16. Making links between Music and Maths to enrich students’ appreciation of a range of mathematical patterns and rules and composition techniques. This was a lovely piece of work, stimulating interest in students and teachers. Taken from Tom Sherrington’s blog: http://headguruteacher.com/2012/06/03/teaching-and-learning-market-place-cpd
Promoting Independent Essay Planning in Philosophy The Problem: Students are often quite good at revising “the facts” and “the arguments” for Philosophy exams ... but then can’t use them under timed conditions to formulate a coherent argument. I wanted to provide a structure for students to have thought through for themselves all the sorts of arguments they could be forced to produce in the exam. I was keen not to “spoon feed” them any answers - but also keen that they should have fully prepared themselves for the exam. Using the specification, I identified 26 viewpoints students could conceivably be expected to form a view on in the exam. If students had decided their own opinions and arguments clearly regarding these viewpoints before the exam, then they should be better able to respond to a wide range of questions in the exam and would be less fazed by the things that could be thrown at them.
using A2 stu dent feedba ck to inform curriculum d evelopment.
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Economics: Mini White Boards (MWBs) Tom Sherrington summarised the characteristics and uses of MWBs in an earlier issue of ‘Learning Lessons’: “get feedback from everyone in the class – right answers, wrong answers, alternative answers, misconceptions and cries for help. Create a risk-free wipe-clean ephemeral space for trying out ideas and practising”. Despite its regular use of MWBs, the Economics department continues to experiment with them, finding the range of uses almost endless—e.g.: “Using a diagram …” is a popular start to an A level Economics exam question, and diagrams are an inescapable part of the subject. Practising the drawing of graphs is therefore an important lesson activity that can be facilitated by the use of MWBs. Used as a whole-class response system, they can provide instant teaching points from accurate responses as well as from errors and unexpected responses. MWBs allow students to practice and amend diagrams prior to sharing their work and putting them into in their notes. The wipe-clean nature of MWBs leads students to amend their diagrams until they are free of any errors and could almost be described as objects of beauty. Although wiping clean the MWBs at the end of an activity may seem a shame, a visualiser allows for work to be shown on the screen to all students, and a web-cam further allows the image to be saved so that it can be used with other classes, in PowerPoint presentations etc. In addition to the high level of details that students are keen to show, an impressive and AfL: activating students as learning resources for one another perhaps unexpected outcome is the high level of content and as owners of their own learning. that students can put onto a single MWB!
To illustrate the need for a CPD environment which encourages teacher-learners read the following extract from Guy Claxton (2008), talking about the responsibility the education system has to educate students, but replace the idea of students with teachers: The research tells us that young people – some of them skilful exam-passers – become less curious as a result of their education, not more. They lose their capacity for wonder and critical questioning. Rather than becoming bolder and braver, they become more docile and fragile in the face of difficulty. They learn to think narrowly rather than broadly, to compete rather than cooperate, to be frightened of uncertainty and the risk of error that accompanies it. Education is in dereliction of its duty to the next generation if schools are jeopardising rather than fostering these strengths in their students. The Teacher-Learner not only increases his or her knowledge and skill, more significantly perhaps they feel more positive about their work, have better morale and possess the selfmotivation to keep improving (Bolam and Weindling 2006). It is with such teachers that an outstanding school continues to improve. At KEGS for the past 3 years we have operated a collaborative approach to teaching and learning through a series of cross-curricular and/or subject specific workshops every half term culminating in a presentation celebration in the Summer Term, displaying, sharing and discussing work carried out throughout the year—our Teaching & Learning Workshops Carousel. Indeed the implementation of the Teaching & Learning workshops themselves is a form of Action Research: an on-going upward spiral of planning, action, evaluation, next stage planning, action, evaluation and so on; a continuum of progress and improvement identifying the most effective ways to collaborate and bring about powerful impact. Cordingley et al (2003) and Muijs and Lindsay (2006) identified the creation of a collaborative learning environment for teachers as “the single most important factor” able to bring about successful school improvement: teachers need time to collaborate to improve teaching and learning and powerful impact requires time and structure. At KEGS “the idea is that by maximising the degree of autonomy teachers have in designing their own CPD [through Teaching & Learning Workshops], the more effective the process will be in delivering an impact for students; it is more rewarding for all concerned” (Tom Sherrington, Headteacher). The whole staff focus last academic year was Assessment for Learning (AfL), one of the foundation stones of The Jigsaw. Figure 1. demonstrates the richness and diversity of investigation. Importantly the projects combine enquiry into established best practice teaching strategies—thereby layering knowledge and adding depth to our understanding of why something works—and exploration of the new and unknown. As a teaching force, (as with any learner) alongside our discovery and pursuit of the new, exciting and unknown, we need to revisit, consolidate, refine and master important skills. As a staff, therefore, we are enriched by the diversity of personal learning journeys each of us is on.
Have our Teaching & Learning Workshops been successful? Has the time invested in Teaching & Learning Workshops given value for money? If we want to measure success by instant results in improved learning outcomes then we misunderstand the purpose of the Teacher-Learner and nature of deep learning at KEGS: here we are concerned with emulating the skill and mastery required to craft a Michelin star meal rather than the instant gratification of a microwave dinner. Our CPD opportunities are about using research to develop rigour and scholarship in our understanding of pedagogy. Our aim is to encourage resourceful, enquiring and persevering teachers who think and act creatively, who are not frightened to experiment, and who have the understanding to discriminate between research evidenced methodologies and temporary gimmicks. And I would also say that our Teaching & Learning collaborations have been so successful precisely because we are independent learners who understand the benefits of collaboration. Yet it is on-going impact that judges the efficacy of any CPD programme. All the projects investigated last year are either now established routines, have been incorporated into schemes of work or are being further developed and investigated. One of the aims of the “Learning Through the Looking Glass” project was to create KEGS TV—a virtual forum where teachers could share and learn from each other via video clips of lessons. We didn’t actually manage a new TV channel but the school has moved to IRIS as an efficient and effective means of extending and reproducing on a larger scale the project involving 8 members of staff last year. The Talking Texts project is being developed even further and formalised this year through partnership work with Cambridge University. Tom Sherrington’s potpourri of ICT tools last year has mushroomed across the school and there has been a revolution in teaching methodologies and enquiries using new technology. This year KEGS has renewed its partnership with research and Cambridge University through CamSTAR (Cambridge, School Teachers and Research) and 15 members of staff have signed up to work with Sue Brindley and CamSTAR on more formalised classroom-based action research projects, benefitting from collaboration at KEGS and with 24 other partner schools in the East of England. But this is only the beginning, because the more we learn about the science of teaching and learning the more we realise how much we have yet to learn. This year our whole-school focus from the Jigsaw is “Rigour and Scholarship”. Let’s hope that next year it is “Time to Reflect and Enjoy”!
References Bolam & Weindling. (2006), Synthesis of research and evaluation projects concerned with capacity-building through teachers’ professional development. London: GTCE. Claxton, G. (2008), What’s the Point of School? Rediscovering the Heart of Education. One World Publications. Cordingley et al. (2007), “The impact of collaborative CPD on classroom teaching and learning”. In Research Evidence in Education Library. Londong: EPPI Centre. Hattie, J. (2003), Teachers Make a Difference: What is the Research Evidence? University of Auckland, Australian Council for Educational Research.