NB. Everyone mentioned is on Twitter.
Teaching and Learning Takeover, at Southampton University, organised by Jenn Ludd and David Fawcett, is always an opportunity to catch up with friends and Twitter links. This, 5th birthday event, was no exception. Over cups of coffee and pastries, the day started with the inevitable melee of hello’s and how are things; a chance to put faces to names or sometimes unknown avatars.
I could have entitled this blog “a tale of two Moys”, as, after Chris Moyse’ excellent introduction and reflections on the learning process, especially considering issues deriving from sporting excellence, passing through the experiences of Gaz Needle, Kev Bartle, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby, concluding with Daniel Muijs; I’m sure he pronounced this as “Moys”. Apologies if not, but it spoils the introduction if not…
To some extent, it was Professor Daniel Muijs session that enabled my thinking throughout the day to become crystallised, in that his theme was directly metacognition, with reference to work that he is doing for the Education Endowment Foundation in this area. Daniel made us think of what we mean by metacognition; a definition is often a useful start point, especially when engaging with an unknown, mixed audience. His interest, to some extent appears to be in the area of the effectiveness of interventions in the learning process. Self-regulation is a component, with learner awareness of personal achievements and further needs underpinning learner engagement. Daniel unpicked cognition as information gathering, memory, understanding and use/application in practice, with metacognition being the self-knowledge, of need to seek additional information from valid sources, skills of ordering and organisation, in-task checking behaviour and post-task evaluation. It is somehow embedded firmly in the process, with the known used and applied.
This took me back to classroom teaching and approaches, where task challenges that embedded all these elements were the norm, both at infants and junior level and I would hazard a guess that the loss of quality use and application of the known in appropriately challenging situations might be a contributory factor in concerns for a lack of metacognitive awareness. If everything is recipe based or teacher-led, children have limited space and time to think for themselves.
Taken from an earlier blog on task design this describes one activity that took place at that time.
One day the teacher challenged the children to design and make a crazy golf hole, as part of a geography topic. They could use whatever they wished, as long as they wrote on their plan what they wanted, so that it could be checked before they started. Julie and Jim were in the same group.
During their discussion time, Julie tried to tell the others what they should do, Jim was quieter, thinking about the problem, while some of the others started to argue with Julie. The teacher noticed the argument and the fact that Jim had been quiet, so joined the group and asked him what he was thinking about. At this point, Jim articulated clearly and thoughtfully what he thought that the group should do, while the rest of the group listened respectfully. They had not heard Jim speak as much before. When he had finished, the group decided to use Jim’s ideas and drew careful plans based on them.
By the end of the short topic, not only had the group designed and made an effective golf hole, but they had measured it, drawn it to scale, tallied and collated a list to show the number of hits each member of their class had taken on the hole, from least to most, created a bar chart to show the frequency of the hits, as well as writing a report on what they had done and how they had done it.
My own contribution to the discussion with Daniel Muijs was on the topic of task challenge and the experiences that flow from engaging with the process. This was emphasised by Candida (Gould), from her experiences with Primary learners.
Honesty and humanity were the themes that flowed through the talks by both Kev Bartle and Gaz Needle. Keven talked of trust underpinning high quality relationships, based on interpersonal skills that will be the product of self-awareness; self-regulation to accommodate others, or real-life team skills. Gaz took us through the somewhat tortuous journey to his becoming almost an accidental headteacher. To some extent, there may well be similarities for Keven, as an internal candidate for a role that had been part of day to day life. Retaining the team ethic can sometimes be challenging as a head, in that there is a degree of separation that can be bridged, but sometimes becomes a separation. I’ve always articulated my belief that all leaders achieve through the efforts of others, in any form of life. If leaders assume special status, they are ripe for criticism when things go wrong. Politicians take note…
Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby spoke of their journey to “Make Every Lesson Count”, now a series of books covering a wider remit. They brought the word autonomy into my frame of reference, which linked with Kev’s earlier trust. Autonomy is the hallmark of trust in a working environment; people knowing what they had to do and the parameters within which they were able to make significant decisions, or perhaps make decisions for themselves. In each classroom, the class teacher should reign supreme, as long as they are making rational decisions that progress learning and the aims of the school.
Shaun and Andy have a diagram that describes the parameters clearly, to both teacher and learners; note the "so that", which is the area for having a rationale.
Lisa Jane Ashes closed the event with a significant challenge “Why are you still here?”. She may well have been gasping for a cuppa at this stage, although the image of beer did perhaps give the after-show game away!
In many ways, the answer to why are you still here is simple. The hall was filled with thinkers, prepared to give up a Saturday to hear high quality speakers enthuse about a current area of interest. That many will have gone away, like me, with nuggets that have rattled around for the best part of twenty-four hours, is testament to the quality of the event.
Teaching is a thinker’s game.
Teachers are the lead thinkers in a classroom:-
- They need to know the subject at hand, which may be different for a graduate specialist in a Secondary school compared to a Primary generalist, responsible for a range of subjects, where some will be stronger than others.
- They will have ordered the curriculum into discrete themes, topics or programmes of study.
- They order and organise the coherence of their plans over a known timescale, ensure that classroom and the resources for learning support the learning proposed.
- They know their children, to varying degrees, depending on their contact through the week, but they are trained to understand learner development through the age range.
- Their plans seek to match the needs of the subject with the needs of the children, providing appropriate challenge to all abilities.
- They plan learning over a timescale to ensure a dynamic is established which fully engages learners, in and out of school, and assures the imparting of a particular body of knowledge.
- They create tasks appropriate to the challenge, with an understanding of the subsequent developmental stages of the learning, so that by engaging with the learners while on task, they are able to guide and support their developing understanding.
- They ensure that any input gets across the essential information on which the lesson is to be founded, through a variety of means, which are enhanced by the availability of in-class ICT facilities.
- They ensure that behaviour allows learning to take place.
- They interact with outcomes, orally in class and in writing after the lesson, while marking books. They are constantly making judgements, on an individual, group or class level.
- They use the outcomes as new reference points against which to plan the next steps.
- And they add broader value to schools in many other ways………………….
- They undertake personal CPD that enhances their practice.
Much current time is spent seeking to understand the latest edict from a politician, interpreted through a MAT or LA, cascaded through senior leaders to classrooms. This can lead to assimilation of simplistic methodologies rather that consideration of change within a holistic approach. Anyone connected with teaching will be aware of the myriad needs in every lesson. This needs agile thinkers, aware of, and adaptable to, evident need.
That, to me, is where “evidence-based”, metcognitive teaching sits; the teacher ability to rationalise the what and why of their teaching. It’s down to (inter)relationships and, inevitably, a level of trust.