Attending the annual TLT at Southampton University has become a part of my recent routine. I look forward to hearing the thoughts of a broad group of current teachers and bloggers, as well as to meeting with Tweeters face to face. The positivity and the general atmosphere is very special. Everyone wants to be there, on a Saturday, which is testament to the interest of a significant number of local and wider teachers. One had come from the Isle of Man to Southampton.
High quality organisation, 36 different speakers across a range of topics, an available lunch and coffee and pastries on arrival. Jennifer Ludgate and David Fawcett earned well deserved plaudits, as did Stephen Lockyer for an uplifting opening and Chris Waugh for an impassioned close.
It was a long day, as I had volunteered to help Martyn Reah(@MartynReah) with setting up the teacher5aday stall, from 8am, but, like all teachers just got stuck into the furniture moving with the early morning team. It is inevitably a team effort. I came away enthused and with a new set of thoughts to consider.
I had chosen my four sessions for different reasons; the first two concentrating on differentiation, from Jude Enright (@judeenright), from a Secondary SEN and Simon Knight (@SimonKnight100) from the Special School perspective. The afternoon focused on progress from Debbie and Mel (@teachertweaks) and Pete Jones (@Pekabelo) sharing his Project Based Learning (PBL or Pebble).
None of these speakers is likely to have considered their contribution in the light of others, yet, on reflection, each contributed to a broader consideration in my mind of the idea of progress, with probably Pete’s final presentation offering the vehicle for overall reflection, on learning as a holistic activity.
Considering this approach in my classroom, I could quickly see that there were applications in any lesson. Within a carefully constructed challenging task, children could engage, have highlights or areas of development discussed, to be addressed immediately within the lesson. The flexibilities available at that time enabled additional time to be allocated to completion, if there was a need at either end of the ability range. Medium term plans, as holistic “project plans” had a defined direction, within an identified time scale. Challenges, differentiated across the needs of the class provided “match and challenge”, as differentiation was known, enabling a Vygotskian approach within the learners’ ZPDs, with subsequent refinement, guidance and adaptation to evident individual needs.
This links with Debbie and Mel’s talk, discussing in-lesson marking and responses, (without the time element). Unless a Primary school has embedded setting for aspects of learning, the time element is in the teacher control. Quality trumps time every time, in my book, as it creates a new baseline from which to progress. However, control of time is in the teacher power and should be dictated as to quality use.
To this end, I think there is a need for teachers to consider their plans over a longer timescale, so that a quality outcome from a discrete series of lessons becomes greater than the perceived improvements within a unique session. “Learning objectives” (WALT) would span the whole week, or longer, with discrete knowledge and skills dictating the “success criteria”. Success criteria as something to look for (WILF) dictates both the learner and teacher behaviours, as both are on this learning journey, one creating, the other spotting and dealing with issues as they arise. Home activities can become personalised, as well as generic, according to outcomes, and, as the project direction is known from the beginning, learners can see the point of this, avoiding the perils of much homework. If it can be seen as contributing to a known end point, which is, in part, in the learner control, effort clearly contributes to outcome.
Quality control is an essential aspect of the teacher interaction with the learner. The child is on the journey and will need guidance along the way, to know that their direction is being secured. To have an understanding of the quality being sought is important. Some use of WAGOLLs (What a Good One Looks Like), as a working wall display or just shared with a small group might provide this insight. However, regular teacher engagement and feedback is needed, especially for an identifiable group, to ensure focus and an outcome that satisfies. This level of in lesson intervention does demand good knowledge of the learners, which should be easier in a Primary classroom.
Individualised expectations underpinned Simon Knight’s contribution, where, working in a Special School for severely disabled children, the personal targets, even within a very small group could be extremely wide, but each capable of celebration on achievement. This achievement can then lead to a new expectation, to focus effort.
Children label themselves and others. Without being told, they know who is good at football or other sports, reading, writing etc. They do it intuitively, from a very young age. Colour coded reading schemes help teacher decision making. Check lists in different subjects can be equally supportive. In Primary, expertise is needed across subjects and not everyone is an expert in all. The Primary curriculum is not just English and Maths. To lose any subject is to diminish opportunity.
The words I am seeking are focus and refinement, in that, for each learner, there is a need for effort at different levels; at a general, lesson driven level and at a personal skill and knowledge level. To this end, each learner is unique, although with similarities to other learners, enabling some grouping for ease of organisation. Each group, set or stream is always a mixed ability group, with a top and a bottom. I would suggest that lessons that do not hit the mark, do so because they are too generic., so miss many targets.
Using exercise books in a way that is described in this post, can enable both the teacher and the learner to keep a track of the current focus.
Progress is likely to be a staged affair, with an understanding of the whole creating a descriptor of the journey, with the stages being capable of description, in themselves. An understanding of what is anticipated as an outcome is the teacher guide, as they have a quality assurance role. This is probably easier for an experienced teacher than a newly qualified colleague, but can be supported with exemplars, especially if these are moderated portfolios with guidance on next possible steps. Talking through examples is stronger than words in isolation.
Progress, over time, might be easier to describe, with comparative outcomes available. Every outcome is capable of deconstruction, by a teacher, to describe the child’s capabilities. The skill of doing this is essential where there is the prospect of a child having a SEN, where a form of “miscue analysis” might be needed to unpick the specific areas of need. Of course, decisions at this level need a framework of capability against which to make a judgement. Level descriptors, as they were, enabled any teacher in 1987 to begin to unpick needs against a development frame, whereas, when APP was created, this helped with possible SEN decisions, although in use, beyond that arena was problematic and could be argued to slow learning, as expectations became too small.
Much of education outcome is based on a child’s ability to order and organise their thoughts, to express these with developing coherence, using an ever broadening repertoire of language devices, at sentence and word level, to spell accurately and recall to need any stored information on specific topics that might have been covered.
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 in such a way that each could make use of the current and recent past topics, so that one 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 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.
- 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 decision making in the school, be used to moderate against other school outcomes to validate judgements.
- I would have some kind of measure of capability, to support and focus decision making ability, especially of early career teachers. Every area of life is governed by a measure of capability in some form, from the kick around in the playground to academic and work achievement. “Can do” statements are a guide.
To seek to answer my own question; what is progress? It is the difference between two points in time, judged by an increase in knowledge and skills as they apply in novel or practical situations. Memory and recall are essential components, but, without the ability to deploy the known in challenging tasks, they may become rusty by lack of use. That’s life. I’d hate to think how many rusty skills I have lurking in the background of my existence!