Thanks to Pete Jones (@Pekabelo) for developing the idea of quality in an excellent post describing his and his school’s attempts to describe quality to learners, http://deeplearning.edublogs.org/2014/03/02/a-manifesto-for-excellence-work-in-progress/#.UxRX4BRFDIV but also for a link to a very interesting article, using the ideas of Berger. http://www.edutopia.org/blog/deeper-learning-student-work-ron-berger I particularly liked the idea that learning was “a work in progress”, with the implication of try and retry/draft and redraft- consider the French verb essayer-to try.
Ever since I started teaching there’s been a debate about quality or quantity. This arose mainly from consideration of the amount of writing that children were doing; it appeared to be most lessons and every subject apart from in Maths, where the concern was the number of “sums” they were doing. The latter often depended on the approach of the school-decided scheme to be followed.
An associated debate can be seen in the process or product discussions that regularly arise, which can morph into knowledge vs skills, or progressive vs traditional.
Teaching is probably best done in an ordered and organised way, to ensure that information/knowledge is imparted in ways that ensure that it is available to the learner in timely fashion to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge to engage with their ongoing learning challenges. In the same way, as an adult learner, if I don’t know something, for example in a practical area like plumbing, it’s better to look at the You Tube tutorial, or read the manual, before undertaking the task. To be taught does not necessitate an actual teacher being present though. Auto-didacts do it themselves, with varying degrees of success, but, like all teaching and learning, that is the case.
Learning is much messier to quantify and is only really made visible in situations where the learner has to apply what has been learned to produce a defined outcome. Fixing a light or fitting a radiator both have very clear outcomes, work/not work. Learning outcomes in school are usually less clear cut. Children have different start points, different cultural backgrounds and family support or guidance, retain information differently. As a result, outcomes will vary. Therefore, it is important for children to reflect on their own performance in order to provide quality personal challenge.
In order to take part in this, learners have to be inducted into the language of improvement. This will be a combination of process/capability statements (skills) and defined learning contexts, which provide the knowledge base. The defined learning contexts and the essential learning processes are inevitably the provided curriculum, determined by adults. Both of these can provide exemplars of what quality outcomes would looks like and the means to achieve.
Capability is in the descriptor of the learner. Judged against the process, it is possible to determine where a learner is on a journey. If judgement, personal or teacher, is constantly against a model of perfection, a lack of perceived capability can become debilitating. It is not uncommon for a child to say that they can’t do something. This can mean “I can’t do this as well as I know you would like me to, so I’m not going to try and fail”. In the past, such a situation has allowed teachers and parents to volunteer comments which have been demeaning and unsupportive of learning in any form.
A pass/fail mentality does not support sustained progress.
There is an imperative to replace level based commentary within the next incarnation of the National Curriculum. Will learners suddenly start to produce exceptional work, just because the curriculum has changed? Will four year olds, on entry to school, be enabled to read and write Shakespeare, or are they likely to go through the same phases as every other generation starting school? Will changing the curriculum embed the expectation that every child will start in Reception at the same stage and make the same progress throughout the next seven years? Yet, that could be a reading of the year-based curriculum expectations, with judgement outcomes of above expectation, in line with year expectation, below expectation. Each of these statements is likely to have an element of subjectivity.
Equally though, unless process has been clearly established, the yearness element could emphasise knowledge, at the expense of process, so could provide a limitation to a rise in quality while “mastery” by all is sought. Could the “above expectation” children be handicapped by waiting for the others to catch up, or “below expectation” be further labelled, by teachers and fellow pupils as a result of a need to wait? I have the image of a group of learner out for a walk/journey with the teacher. The keen ones keep up, and some might go ahead, but with oversight and might then have to wait for the stragglers, with associated comments about being “slowcoaches” etc.
Perhaps a way forward is to use what we know now to establish benchmarks, or exemplars in order to balance our future judgements. Currently, using levels, a year two child is expected to achieve 2b, year 4=3b, year 6=4b (defined by David Laws as Secondary ready level). There will be clear examples from children achieving these and higher levels. They could provide a benchmark portfolio of outcomes, to support future expectations. This would ensure that future standards are in line with previous expectations, but also support future learning from examples, rather than reliance on teacher words.
A case of show how developing know how.