Within the various threads of writing about current issues within learning, there appears to be a developing consensus that it is the quality of teaching and the learning that follows is key to success. That thread has been a backdrop to conversations which I have been able to have during Inclusion Mark assessment visits and a wide variety of lesson observations, seeking to understand school and personal views on how learners make progress during their time in the school. Aspects of these outcomes are explored in the Lesson Observations blog post, where teaching standards 6 and 5 are identified as significant to in-class decisions and potential learning progress.
A second post on AfL=teacher think, explores the assessment loop through the learning and teaching process.
- 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.
For NQTs, teachers new to a school or for developing teachers, all of whom are picking up a great deal of information very quickly, practice may still seem like a series of activities to be accomplished, each part separate, so having reduced impact on subsequent decisions. Working alongside PGCE ITE students, it is very clear that they are trying to put together the pieces so that they make sense. In this situation, it’s also possible for inexperienced teachers to seek to shortcut the thinking need, as time is pressured and to adopt methodologies from more experienced colleagues without fully understanding the processes behind them. This can lead to poor delivery, poor experience for learners and poor outcomes, which are then demotivating.
“You are the lead thinkers in your classrooms”. That was my message to my staff after an Ofsted inspection gave us a space to breathe and think. The following years were spent actively pursuing this agenda. CPD was developed in-house, using existing expertise and selective use of external CPD, to enhance staff capacity. ITE students provided some additional hours available for in-house research and development, while external speakers provided the icing on the cake, with an external view. LA inspection staff were engaged to support moderation and extension of provision.
Many words in education currently get a bad press, one of which is creativity, but it can be used to describe the teacher role in developing a programme of study, or medium term plan to take s group of learners through a process, the end of which will have embedded knowledge, gained through appropriate experiences, inside and outside school and the application of the knowledge into other contexts designed to demonstrate the security of understanding. Where the teacher role is reduced to delivery of prepared lessons, this is likely to lead to limited experience for both teacher and learner, reduced to completing activities. Activities do not necessarily equate with learning.
If teacher-think is the essential component of enhanced learning opportunities, there needs to be consideration of the barriers to this thinking. There will be more for each list.
- Subject or pedagogical knowledge.
- Experience with a specific age group or ability range.
- Order, organisation, record keeping, reflective practice.
- Self-confidence, possible status with learners.
- Demands for planning in a particular format.
- School specific, preferred approaches to teaching and learning.
- School specific schemes, with limited opportunity to adapt to class need.
- School organisation demanding whole year approaches.
- School resources, including the availability of support.
- Work space limiting some approaches.
- Regular changes to practice to accord with external influences.
- Local context issues, such as parent demands, children arriving at school with social or personal issues, behavioural distractions.
- Changes at National level, particularly where there is an extended period of uncertainty about policy interpretation.
The greatest impact on teacher think is the fear of judgement and being found wanting. There is a need to quality-assure teaching and learning is a school. It is naïve to think otherwise, but the systems in place can add to the stress of being observed, both at school and inspection level.
The value of feedback from an observation is to retell the lesson narrative, highlighting significant points, as a basis for discussion and development. Internal observations should always happen on this basis, not just as a numeric judgement, in the same way that feedback to learners to support future learning is better as description than an arbitrary grade.
Teachers work within human systems, which can appear sometimes to be less than humane. The best systems look out for the individuals who make up the team, providing support and guidance to colleagues in the same way they do to children. Even the best practitioners can suffer a dip in performance when life offers personal challenges. Thoughtful, reflective management breeds thoughtful, reflective, autonomous teachers and independence in learners.
Teaching is the best job, but free the teachers to think, that’s what they are paid to do.