My own shed building efforts can be seen here...
If only the act of becoming a teacher was like this. Unless you read the background manuals carefully, practice and try things for yourself and make refinements through your own thinking, repetitive practice is not necessarily the best option; we are all changed by experiences and our responses to them. I could add that context matters; a great deal…
Teaching is a thinker’s game. https://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/dont-set-up-schools-to-fail
We’re getting close to half term and it’s clear from visits to schools that the teachers and trainees whom I visit are getting tired. Yesterday Saturday, 3rd February, was the day of Southern Rocks 18, very well organised and run by David Rogers and Kristian Still. A broad spectrum of teachers had offered to run sessions, such choice that it was difficult to select four. In the end, Jarlath O’Brien and Jules Daulby won the morning choice and Alison Kriel and Mike Watson the afternoon. Together with keynotes from Amjad Ali, Jo Payne and Paul Blake, it was a thoroughly busy day, helped enormously by the staff and pupils of the Focus School at Hindhead.
There was much food for thought throughout the day, with not a lot of time to chill and process the distinct elements that would form the nuggets to take away and consider further. I was being put into the position of a learner, but, as an adult, aware that I could retain these nuggets for later. So a couple of days have been part spent, in quiet moments, thinking about one or two linked elements.
Learning is tiring. I came away replete, from taking my fill of the available expertise and questions raised, but also the very generous food, which was available from beginning to end.
The “learning is tiring” idea that came from something that Jules Daulby said. In itself it wasn’t directly related, but, in considering the needs of children with learning difficulty, language delay, or some other difficulty, I began to wonder just how tiring the learning experience can be for (a proportion of) this group and whether they have the energy, or stamina to maintain approaches to learning that we might take for granted in higher achieving children.
If one takes an athletic analogy, these children may have to run harder in to keep up with their “faster” peers. If children raced against the same group of peers week after week, without personal coaching and advice, they would be likely to finish in the same, or similar, place each week.
While children may be seemingly encounter the same knowledge and process, the processing energy required may be significantly different.
I spend a good deal of my current working life in helping trainees develop their knowledge and pedagogy. It’s clear that they have to spend time in processing the wealth of information that can appear to bombard them into a coherent narrative, stored in ways that allow for easy access and day to day use and application.
In fact, it’s probably the same for anyone in a learning situation. Information, or knowledge, that is known to the person designated as the teacher, shared in a way that enables the learner to assimilate and synthesise the information alongside any other information that sits within the construct of their prior experience.
Making sense of experience has been a central feature of my personal internal modelling of how we learn for a significant part of my career. I fully accept that it is my model, against which I have, over time aligned other models that sit within that approach and, when faced with counter models, have happily reflected upon my model, and, where the new information has altered my view, have adapted the model.
One could argue that the current National Curriculum is a specific model of a curriculum; other models are and have been available.
There are several organisational processes at work within schools, in that the linearity of timetabling creates a potentially overriding dynamic, which may suit the needs of some subjects, but which may actively work against others.
In the process of creating a linearity, it is possible to fall into almost linear teaching, with disparate elements joined end to end, which can ensure “coverage” whereas the needs of many learners may require the teacher to overtly make the necessary links between areas of study.
The other side to linearity can be an activity form of approach, supported by “bright ideas”, rather than linked elements.
In reality, especially in Primary education, the linearity can, and should, rapidly becomes three dimensional, when the needs of learners are put alongside the needs of the curriculum, with potentially 30 different responses to any input of information.
No teacher can “see” what a child is thinking, however experienced they are. The best that can be “seen” are the body language, externalisation through articulation or physical responses. Then each teacher will respond from their prior experience, in as refined a manner as their experiences will allow.
I’m going to assume that learning is taking place within a knowledge context, whether defined as a theme or as a discrete subject. Within that knowledge context there are developmental processes that have to be unpicked and represented to children in forms that allow them to access what is being taught. This may require, for some children, a form of interpretation, using the known vocabulary to move into less well-known areas. This could be supported by concrete resources, diagrammatic representation, images, still or moving, or it may be solely the teacher voice. Finding the baseline for the class and significant children is important for decisions on subsequent scaffolding of the process, allowing adequate and, over time, refined pitching of lesson expectations.
You’ve covered the knowledge bit and the scaffolding of the process. The next part is the different processing needs of different children, which may require intervention or adaptation with resources, modelling/scaffolding or time. We can’t ever expect homogeneity in this. A truism of my teaching career has been that different children need different explanations and amounts of time to embed the new knowledge into their practice.
The flexibilities in the Primary timetable for much of my career allowed some to have a little extra time to complete a quality task. Today’s timetables may be less supportive of extra time, leaving, for some, a trail of less complete task outcomes. It’s very easy for a teacher to fill time with activity but may be less easy for children to use the available time effectively, unless they have someone overseeing their use of the time. It may also be the case that timetables extend the learning time beyond the capacity of certain children to focus effectively.
Process practice, or rehearsal, is an integral part of all learning. This has to be purposeful, well modelled and articulated, within a clear focus and timescale, providing expectations that can fine-tune children’s decisions and actions.
My last Southern Rocks18 session was with Mike Watson, who enthused about the capacity for the outdoors to enhance the quality of thinking in a lesson, by changing the context and allowing additional interaction with the challenge.
Evaluation of progressive outcomes, with timely intervention to advise on finer points, eventually leads to an overall evaluation and consideration of continuing areas where focus is needed. These next steps, if they are to be effected and checked by child and teacher, need to be evident to both and available for reference. See flip sheets.
Refinement comes from learner-focused effort on fine details, much unseen, as it is internalised, but made evident through articulation, or with hand control of pen, pencil or paint brush likely to evidence that this has happened in quality presentation, but that has to be coupled with the detail of what’s been written or recorded; another form of articulation.
As I got older, I found my stamina levels dropped somewhat. This is particularly evident where physical effort is required; I may have to take an occasional rest after a period of sustained energetic gardening, for example. Thinking is equally tiring, especially when encountering new information, or perhaps experiencing novel situations. Sustaining interest has to be internalised, from a few minutes in early learning, through to extended lectures as an adult learner. If you have ever spoken to an adult audience, especially of teachers, you’ll see a wide variety of responses, particularly where adult audiences may be using electronic devices, some for note making, others using social media as their memory joggers.
A good lesson is likely to offer something of quality to think about, time to assimilate, including time to talk and clarify, feedback to and from peers and adults, determining clarity that could then be recorded in some form, as useful reference points for future learning reference. Hopefully, it has also engaged the learner to think outside the lesson; quality (reflective) homework seeks to enhance this.
Teaching is a team game, a college of thinkers. https://chrischiversthinks.weebly.com/blog-thinking-aloud/teaching-is-a-team-game
Thinking is an internal dynamic.
As we were reminded on Saturday, quoting Daniel Willingham, “Memory is the residue of thought”.
Get the children (all learners) thinking.
Southern Rocks 19 certainly got me, and lots of others, thinking. Thanks David and Kristian.