When there are simplicities in education, they can be framed in such a way that they can appeal to a narrow form of teaching. Having taught since 1971 there have been some simplicities, which can be expressed as:-
· If children need to know something the simplest way might be to tell them.
· The order, organisation and articulacy of the teacher will impact on the potential for learning.
· Any teaching can fail if the children don’t have the means to visualise what the teacher is saying.
· If children need to overlearn something, they may need to repeat an exercise, or receive some detailed, dedicated teaching or coaching.
· If teachers want to know if the children have learned something, it may need checking out in some form, a combination of recall tests and use and application challenges.
Having looked at various descriptor models of teaching and learning over the recent past, I think the diagrammatic interpretation of Barak Rosenshine by Oliver Caviglioli describes that approach, to which I would add the earlier CPA (Concrete, pictorial, abstract) thinking of Jerome Bruner and “Dual Coding” thinking.
CPA is an essential technique within the Singapore method of teaching maths for mastery. Concrete, pictorial, abstract (CPA) is considered to be a highly effective approach to teaching that develops a deep and sustainable understanding of maths in pupils. It is sometimes referred to as the concrete, representational, abstract (CRA) framework.
It was, to some extent, a form of survival, but more importantly, the structures within which we could teach our mixed ability classes providing the broadest possible curricular opportunities. It did mean well ordered plans and resources, to underpin the needs of independent actions by children in-task. It was a lot of plate spinning, but that was what we knew and had been trained for. During a pedagogic discussion during my post grad Dip Ed in Environmental Sciences, the discussion focused on the amount of “teaching” that we did in a lesson, with a follow up activity during the subsequent week to track reality. In both “traditional” and “progressive” settings, each of us was doing in excess of 50% of the lesson time as direct teaching, as whole classes or smaller group focused teaching. The remaining 50% was responsive teaching to needs as the arose. Group dynamics meant that there was a varied demand for marking; editing, coaching advice or critiquing/responding.
Task challenge was, from the beginning, central to the approach, differentiated (small tweaks) to the varied needs of the groups and support available to need. Reading was individualised, supported by a colour coded reading scheme and home-school reading records.
It would have been seen now as “progressive”, but children made good progress, as measured by standardised tests.
A great deal of curricular water has flowed under education’s bridges since, not least several iterations of a National Curriculum; each seemingly adding layers of detail to the preceding incarnation. Teachers have often felt the need to run to stand still. Regular readers of the blog will know that I am not enamoured of the 2014 version.
This week, as a school Governor, I attended the morning session of a training day, where the staff were looking to develop the broader curriculum. The subject leads had spent time with LA subject inspectors, creating the overviews of the curriculum. The staff role, collaboratively on this day was to put the detail into the outline, structuring the broader curriculum for the term.
As a fly on the wall, it was interesting to listen to discussions that could have taken place in 1986. It struck me that, after thirty years, the constant changes have rarely been evolutionary, too often disjointed and distracting.
Education benefits from reflective development, is supported by long career teachers able to reflect on change over time coupled with newer colleagues bringing their enthusiasm and newer understandings to the discussion. Firm decisions can impact on resourcing, which is then, on an annual cycle, considered for utility, quality and, where necessary, replacement or updating. Teachers and children are entitled to the best quality resources available. However, these can also be supplemented by found items, eg buttons, conkers, stones for counting.
So, if I was a Primary head today, what would I want to be doing?
· Create an inspiring range of challenging topic and project areas that would embed the necessary knowledge to be used in other scenarios. These would have time allocations, not necessarily to fill a half term, so that Science, History, Geography and Technology all had a secure place.
· Ensuring that each element was appropriately resourced so that it could happen and be of quality.
· Link the English and Maths curriculum within themes in such a way that each could make use of the current and recent past topics, so that each fed the other, with opportunities to use and apply earlier skills and knowledge.
· Ensure that art, drama and music were deployed as interpretative subjects of worth and each capable of supporting the oral English and Maths curriculum.
· MFL, music and aspects of PE can be used to support the PPA needs of the school, by judicious use of specialists.
· Utilise one closure day in June or July to enable staff to consider overview planning for the coming year.
· Then only ask for teacher medium term plans, to see the direction of travel.
· Short term plans are for the teacher in the classroom, so can take any form that suits.
· I’d want children to know the focus for their personal efforts at any particular time.
· Create portfolios of moderated in-house examples that could support discussion and decision making in the school or be used to moderate against other school outcomes to validate judgements.
· Mentoring, especially of early career teachers, needs to be secure.
· Every area of life is governed by a measure of capability in some form. “Can do” statements are a guide.
So, to summarise
· Plan long, medium and short with different emphases on what’s recorded and share with supporting adults. Organise the “knowledge journey” developmentally.
· Order and organise space, resources and consider the available time.
· Pitch and pace each lesson to known needs of the curriculum and the learners.
· Set learning tasks that provide some challenge.
· Share outcomes as learner models of expectation within and between lessons.
· Evaluate throughout, ensuring continuity of expectation.
· Checks en route, memory, use and application in challenge.
· Simple personal record systems of developing vocabulary and presentation needs.
· Books to become personal learning records.
· Know your children as fully as possible, recognising that you can’t see exactly what they are thinking.
Children are children, as they always have been. They deserve the best that can be offered.
Schools need to secure their curriculum, so that it can provide the essential core of experience, enhanced by incoming expertise.
Something that I wrote a few years ago continues to resonate with me. Teachers are the lead thinkers in their classrooms. They must have every opportunity to be autonomous decision makers, in the moment.