Tag Archives: improving teacher quality

What I think about…professional learning

Moving schools and with more than an eye on headship is sure to get you reflecting. The following posts are what I think about various things, in no particular order. Previous posts were about displays, learning generally, maths and reading. Next up – professional learning.

What should leaders prioritise?

With likely a range of often conflicting priorities, deciding what to work on is tricky.  Subject leaders will strive to keep their subject’s nose in front of the rest but ultimately, leaders must be able to zero in on what it is that the children need.  Once that is known, leaders can think about what teachers might need to do differently in order for those outcomes for children to be realised.  The list of things that teachers (could) do day to day is endless so leaders must be able to judge, through experience or by leaning on research, which of those things are worth pursuing and which need to be jettisoned because they take up our time and mental effort for no significant impact.  Research such as that by Hattie is useful but are the interventions described in such research too broad?  For example it is obvious that feedback can have a significant impact on learning but only if it’s done well.  Consider the difference between these scenarios:

  • training on implementing a new feedback policy
  • training on providing feedback on persuasive writing

Or these:

  • training on clear teacher explanations
  • training on explaining how to add fractions clearly

There is a difference between being research led and research informed.  Research should be considered in combination with the needs of children and teachers so that leaders get teachers thinking about effective ways to teach.

This would go some way to ensuring that teachers’ subject and pedagogical knowledge is developed, in line with the Sutton Trust report into what makes great teaching. It’s relatively straight forward to ensure that the focus is on those things, however ensuring the impact is a lot trickier. It makes sense for leaders to have from the outset a very clear idea of what they want that impact to be. Phil Stock’s post on evaluating impact (based on  Guskey’s hierarchy of five levels of impact) is very useful here in terms of leaders planning what they want to happen as a result of professional learning and the rest of this post details how one might do that.


Intended impact on outcomes for children

The intended outcomes for children should be set out so that there is no misunderstanding of the standard to be achieved. Using resources like Rising Stars Assessment Bank for maths can help teachers to gather the types of questions that all children will be expected to answer.  The same can be done for a unit of work on reading – find or write the questions about a text or texts, including the quality of response that you’d expect in order to demonstrate age related expectations.  Something similar can be done for writing.  Find or write a piece that would exemplify the standard that you’d expect from children.  Whatever the subject, leaders working with teachers to clarify what exactly children will be able to do and what their work will look like is the goal.

Individual questions would serve as criterion based assessment but for reading and maths, these questions could be compiled into an overall unit assessment and a target could be set for all children to achieve in the first phase of a unit of work. Gentile and Lalley, in Standards and Mastery Learning  discuss the idea that forgetting is the inevitable consequence of initial learning even if it is to a high standard of say 80%+ .  The problem is that for the most vulnerable children, who don’t achieve that initial mastery of the content to anywhere near that standard, forgetting happens more quickly and more completely.  If children don’t initially understand to a certain level, their learning over time is far less likely to stick and will make subsequent planned revision not revision at all but a new beginning.  Therefore, the expectation of the impact on children of any professional learning simply must be that all children achieve a good standard of initial understanding, whether that is judged as absolute through criterion referenced assessment or by a percentage on a carefully designed test.

Now of course, meeting the standard set on an assessment means nothing unless it is retained or built upon. This initial assessment would not be at the end of the unit of work but part way through.   I’d expect, on an end of unit test, higher percentages compared to those that children will have achieved on the initial assessment.  This is because that initial assessment will have served to tailor teaching to support those that require further instruction or practice.  And I’d expect that intervention to have worked.

To summarise, teachers and leaders first set the assessment and the standard to be achieved.  The unit of work is taught until all children can attain the standard, then the unit continues, deepening the understanding of all which is then checked upon at the end of the unit and beyond. The DfE’s Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (July 2016) identifies the importance of continually evaluating the impact on outcomes for children of changes to practice and so assessments of what children have retained weeks and months after the unit of work are crucial – they ‘ll inform at further tweaks to teaching and professional learning.  When there are clear milestones for children’s achievement, the professional learning needs of teachers comes sharply into view.


Intended impact on teachers’ behaviour

Once it has been decided what the intended impact on outcomes for children is, attention needs to be turned what teachers will do in order for children to achieve those outcomes. Such behaviour changes may be desired at the planning stages of a unit of work, for example in the logical sequencing of concepts related to addition and subtraction over a series of lessons. The behaviour changes may be desired during teaching, for example explaining and modelling how to create suspense in a piece of writing. Finally the behaviour changes could be desired after lessons, for example where teachers receive feedback on how children have done by looking at how they have solved addition and subtraction problems in order to amend the sequence of lessons.  Another example could be providing feedback on their writing to make it more persuasive either face to face or by writing comments in their books.  The key here is that behaviour change is specific to the unit of work.  Having said that, leaders must support teachers to think in increasingly principled ways so that over time, principles can be more independently applied to other units of work and subjects.  As such, intended changes to behaviour must be iterative and long term, with opportunities to make connections between topics and subjects through coaching and shared planning.

For any behaviour change, teachers must see the outcome.  They must see someone doing the things that are expected of them.  This live or videoed teaching needs to be deconstructed and then summed up concisely which acts as success criteria for teachers. For example, in a unit of work on place value, desired teachers’ behaviours could include (and this is far from exhaustive; simply to illustrate the point):

  • Plan for scaffolds (and their removal) so that all children can partition and recombine numbers fluently and accurately.
  • Intervene on the day if a child shows significant misunderstanding of that day’s learning.
  • Use concrete manipulatives and pictorial representations to model and explain the concept of place value.
  • Co-construct with children success criteria appropriate to the type of leaning objective (open or closed).

Having such success criteria ensures that both leaders and teachers are clear of what is expected in order for the desired impact on children to be realised. It can also be used to focus practices like lesson study and coaching conversations, which are crucial to keep momentum going and embed change.


Intended impact on teachers’ knowledge

If leaders require teachers to develop certain practices, for many there will be a knowledge gap that inhibits such development. The DfE’s Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development identifies the importance of developing theory as well as practice. Subject and pedagogical knowledge, as well as knowledge of curriculum or task design are all vital for teachers to be able to refine aspects of their practice.   This could be as straightforward as analysing the types of questions that could be asked to get children thinking deeply about place value before teachers write their own which are appropriate to the year group that they teach. Or it could be ensuring that teachers understand and can articulate the underlying patterns of addition and subtraction in the maths unit coming up. It could even be knowing the texts that children will be using for reading and writing in depth in order for them to dedicate future thinking capacity to pedagogical concerns. By setting out the intended theoretical knowledge to be learned and by providing opportunities to gain that knowledge in ways that do not overly strain workload, leaders can set teachers up for successful changes to practice.


Organisational evaluation

For children to improve based on teachers’ developing subject and pedagogical knowledge, there must be great systems in place that allow such development to happen.  Leaders need to be very clear about what it is that they will do to ensure that teachers are supported to act on the advice being given.  Some examples include:

  • Making senior leaders or subject specialists available for shared planning
  • Providing access to a coach (and training for coaches)
  • Arranging for staff to access external training
  • Ensuring that observations are developmental
  • Planning professional learning using Kotter’s change model

These items become success criteria for leaders implementing long term change.  They can be self evaluated, of course, but external validation of school culture is valuable here.


Reaction quality

The final strand of planning for impact concerns how teachers perceive the professional learning in which they’ll engage. It goes without saying that we’d like teachers to find professional learning not just useful but transformative – a vehicle for improving outcomes for children, personal career development and increasing the school’s stock all at the same time.  One can only create the conditions in which another may become motivated and by taking into account what drives people, we can go along way to ensuring a thriving staff culture. Lawrence and Nohria’s 4-Drive model of employee motivation is very useful here, describing four underlying drives:

The drive to acquire and achieve

If staff are confident that the professional learning will lead to them acquiring knowledge, expertise and success, then they are more likely to feel motivated.  Professional learning then must appeal to this drive – spelling out the knowledge and status that can be achieved through the planned work and never underestimate the power of distributed leadership, carefully supported, of course.

The drive to bond and belong

The school’s vision is key in keeping everyone focused and pulling in the same direction and this can certainly be reinforced with a common school improvement aim as the focus of professional learning.  Finding ways to ensure supportive relationships is crucial.  Culture is the result of what we continuously say and do so leading by example in developing good working relationships will go some to making it the social norm.  Leaders must also look for and iron out any pockets of resistance that could threaten the desired culture.

The drive to comprehend and challenge

This refers to providing opportunities for staff to overcome challenges and in doing so grow.  Setting out each individual’s importance in the school and how they contribute to its success is an example. This is often a long game, with external judgments being made in exam years or in external inspections, so leaders must find quick wins to acknowledge the impact of teachers’ work on the development of the school.

The drive to define and defend

By drawing attention to the good that the professional learning will do not just for the children but in turn for the reputation of the school, we can create a fierce loyalty.  If we get our principles right an articulate what we stand for, this momentum can be very beneficial for implementing professional learning.

This is the job of the leader, striving for improvement in outcomes for children whilst developing staff and building a culture of success. Any professional learning has to have clear outcomes and its only then that they can be reliably evaluated and tweaked to inform the next iteration.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Coaching, CPD

What I think about…learning

Moving schools and with more than an eye on headship is sure to get you reflecting.  The following posts are what I think about various things, in no particular order.  First was displays.  Next up – learning.

Asking teachers what learning is surely throws up disagreements of varying degree from polite dispute to outright warfare.  What makes sense to me is that learning is a change in long term memory.  Too often, children don’t manage to transfer concepts from working memory to long term memory and without that internalisation, we cannot say that they have learned.  All we can say is that they have done some work.  Now that work might well have been good, but teachers and leaders need to be aware of the difference between short term performance and long term internalisation.

Performance vs learning and the importance of desirable difficulties

The key paradox is that to improve long term retention, learning has to be made more difficult in the short term even to the extent of being unsuccessful.  We remember what we think about and learning happens when we have to think hard about content.  If children are thinking about things other than what we have intended for them to learn (a distracting context, for example) then that’s what they’ll remember.  If they haven’t had to think too hard, they may well produce some decent work but the thinking behind it is less likely to be retained.  So what does this mean?  Units of work and individual lessons need to be planned around what it is that children will be thinking about.  Each decision about what the teacher will do and what the children will do needs to be justified with that question mind and amended accordingly.  We all get better at what we habitually do – we become more efficient – so if we require children to be able to remember knowledge, procedures and concepts, we must give them ample opportunities to practise remembering those things.  The efficacy of the testing effect has robust evidence and seems to work because testing (either yourself or a teacher posing questions) triggers memory retrieval and that retrieval strengthens memories.  Flash cards are a perfect example of this in action.

What’s important is that this testing is low stakes – no grade, no mark at the end of it, just practice in remembering and feedback on responses.  Feedback can take two forms.  Firstly the feedback can be from teacher to child and is as simple as telling the child what they were good at and what they misunderstood, then correcting those misconceptions.  Secondly, feedback can be from child to teacher and involves the teacher using the information to plan what to do next to develop understanding further.

Low stakes testing is a desirable difficulty – one way of making learning difficult (but not too difficult) so that children have to think hard.  Other desirable difficulties apply more to curriculum design:

  • Interleaving (switching between topics)
  • Spacing (leaving some time between sessions on a particular topic)
  • Variation (making things slightly unpredictable to capture attention)

By presenting content to children little and often, with increasingly longer spaces in between, teachers can instill the habit of continual revision rather than only revising when some sort of exam is approaching.  As such, concepts are internalised and retained rather than forgotten.  Robert Bjork’s research on desirable difficulties can be found here:

Knowledge

The idea of knowledge can be divisive.  Recalling knowledge is often described as lower order thinking and many are keen, quite rightly, to get children to do higher order thinking. This can be dangerous because knowledge is necessary but not sufficient.  Higher order thinking skills rely on a sound basis of knowledge and memory so teachers must ensure that these aspects are fully developed before expecting success in higher order thinking.  Knowledge needs to be internalised too.  It’s not enough to be able to Google it.  The more a child knows, the easier it is to assimilate new knowledge because more connections can be made:

Knowledge

Scaffolding

Children are more alike than different in how they learn.  Attempting to teach to a child’s perceived learning style is nonsense.  Everyone, no matter what we are learning, requires three things: knowledge, practice, and feedback on how we’re doing.  It is of course true that children come to a lesson with varying levels of prior knowledge and to a certain extent have different needs in order to be successful.  Teachers may have (and many, I’m sure, still do) differentiated tasks three, four or more ways – an unnecessary burden on time and a practice that reinforces inconsistency of expectations, particularly of the perceived ‘lower ability’ children.   For those children that are behind their peers, if they are not supported to keep up with age related expectations, they will be perennially behind and will never catch up:

Keeping up Differentiation

If we only cater for their next small step in development, we’re failing them.  Instead, all children should be expected to think and work at age related expectations.  Teachers should scaffold tasks appropriately so that all can work at that expectation and we do not have a situation where ‘that’ table are doing something completely different.

Scaffolding

For children that grasp concepts quickly (not our ‘most able’ children – heavy lies the crown…), teachers provide opportunities to deepen their understanding before acceleration into subsequent year groups’ content.  Undoubtedly, there are a small number of exceptions to this.  There are some children that have a lot of catching up to do before we can even think of getting them to keep up with age related expectations.  But if they are removed from lessons to carry out this catch up work, then everything will always be new to them – they’ll miss seeing and hearing how children are expected to think and work.  It is much better to precisely teach, and get them to practise, the basics that are not yet internalised in short bursts and often so that they remain with their peers as much as possible, experiencing what they experience but having the support needed to catch up.  This could be basics such as handwriting and number bonds, for example, and teachers should work closely with parents where there is a need to catch up to set short term, focused homework until the basics internalised.

Intervening

When children misunderstand something, when the work in their books is not to the standard expected, is a crucial time.  Paramedics talk of the golden hour – one hour after an accident – where if the right treatment is given, the chances of recovery are significantly higher.  With children’s learning, if we leave misconceptions to embed or even thrive, we’re failing them.  Even if we mark their books and write some wonderful advice for them to look at and act upon the next day or the day after, we leave holes, holes which children can slip through.  When there is a need, we should intervene on the day so that children are ready for the next day’s lesson and are keeping up.  This of course requires flexible and creative used of TAs and non-class based staff but from experience, it works. Interventions focus on the work done that day.  For some children, pre-teaching may be more beneficial.  Before the school day starts, they are shown the main content of the day’s lesson and carry out a couple of practice examples so that when it comes to the lesson later on, they have some prior knowledge which will improve their chances of success in that lesson.  This concept is in contrast to pre-planned, twelve week intervention programmes where children are removed from other lessons for significant periods of time.

Learning is complex and relies on many interrelating and often unpredictable conditions.  That said, there is much that we can control and doing so greatly increases the likelihood that what we intend to learn is learned – really learned.

3 Comments

Filed under Memory

The teaching of fractions

There are certain prerequisites for children to develop a solid understanding of fractions.  First, they must understand, through work on additive reasoning, that a whole can be split into parts and that the sum of those parts is the whole.  There’s a short step into multiplicative reasoning from here – that a whole can be split into multiple, equal parts and that the whole is the product of the size of each part and the number of parts.  Once this is understood, children can begin to think about the whole being worth one and the parts being fractions of one.  The ideas that follow are broadly sequential in terms of conceptual development.

Prior concepts

Children will need to manipulate various representations of fractions, for example making them with fraction tiles (as both bars and circles); taking strips of paper and ripping them in to equal parts; and drawing bars and circles, dividing them into equal parts.  It is worthwhile to get children to do lots of judging by eye and marking equal parts of a whole as well as using squared paper to do so accurately.

Of course, there is a lot of language to work on whilst manipulating these models of fractions.  Children need to be shown clearly the link between the total number of parts and the language (but not yet necessarily the written form) of the denominator: two parts – halves; three parts – thirds; four parts – quarters etc.

With a secure start in the basics of splitting a whole into equal parts, children can work on the idea that fractions always refer to something.  A third, for example, doesn’t stand alone.  It might be a third of an apple or a third of twelve sweets or a third of one whole.  Modelling these full sentences and getting children to speak in this way should solidify their understanding of proportion.  Through the sharing out of objects, even very young children can work on the concept of fractions of numbers – sharing six sweets between three children means that each child has the same number of sweets and that two sweets is one third of six sweets.

sweets

Once children are comfortable with the idea that an object or a set of objects or a number can be split into equal parts, and that each of those equal parts can be described as a fraction of something, that object or that set of objects or that number, they can go on to work at greater depth.  By comparing strips of paper or bar models that are the same length yet are split into different fractions, children can look at the relationship between the size of each part and the number of parts.  That is, the greater the number of equal parts, the smaller the size of each part.  Children should be expected to think about how ¼ is smaller than ½ because ¼ of one whole is one of four equal parts whereas ½ of one whole is only one of two equal parts.  Then, questions like this should be relatively straightforward:

Covered strips

The understanding that unit fractions with larger denominators are smaller than unit fractions with smaller denominators will contribute significantly to work in comparing fractions later on.

Children could begin to look at improper fractions and mixed numbers next.  Using ¼ fraction tiles, they could make one whole and then see what happens if you add another ¼.

Mixed number

This lends itself to counting in unit fractions but we should exercise caution.  Children may be able to chant ‘Three quarters, four quarters, five quarters…’ but early conversion to mixed numbers as well should help to secure their understanding of the relationship between them.  Manipulatives like fraction tiles and multi-link cubes are great for representing improper fractions because they can trigger accurate mathematical talk to describe the improper fraction (the total number of cubes as the numerator and how many cubes in each whole as the denominator).  The same can be done to describe the mixed number (the number of wholes, then what is left over as a fraction of a whole).

Returning to additive reasoning, children could generate complements to 1 whole and record them as addition and subtraction statements.

Complements

A slight change to the representation used can support children to work with complements where denominators are different:

Complements 2

Placing two bar models of equal length one on top of the other is great scaffold for comparing fractions.  When the denominators of the fractions are the same, the bars should not even be necessary but when they are different, the image can help to structure thinking.

Comparing

When dealing with fractions with different denominators, the practice that children had earlier of judging by eye to split a whole into equal parts and marking the divisions themselves becomes crucial, otherwise, things like this could happen:

Inaccurate bars

A standard fraction wall is all that is needed to begin work on equivalence and the first step is of course shading one fraction and looking up or down the fraction wall to find fractions of equal size.  When children are comfortable with that, they can begin to look at patterns in the abstract representations, particularly the link between times tables, numerators and denominators.

Fraction wall

Using the language of simplifying or cancelling fractions without first talking more generally about the concept is a mistake.  If children are well versed in using a fraction wall to find equivalents to a given fraction, it is only a slight tweak to talk about finding the equivalent fraction that has the fewest total parts.  It would be tempting to talk about finding the equivalent fraction that is ‘closest to the top’ of the fraction wall but this would be a mistake too.  The language of simplifying or cancelling can be used to attach to the concept of finding the equivalent fraction with the fewest total parts to get children thinking conceptually soundly.

One further aspect of thinking of fractions is to consider them as numbers.  To do this, plotting fractions on a number line directly beneath the bar model is a good way of linking the two representations.

Number line

Representing fractions as a proportion of one, as a part of a quantity and as a position on a number line significantly supports children’s development of proportional reasoning and ensures that future tricky concepts such as calculating with fractions can be built on a secure foundation.

4 Comments

Filed under Maths

Before, then, now – modelling additive reasoning

One of the parts of the NCETM’s Calculation Guidance for Primary Schools is the ‘Before, Then, Now’ structure for contextualising maths problems for additive reasoning.  This is a very useful structure as by using it, children could develop deep understanding of mathematical problems, fluency of number and also language patterns and comprehension.

The first stage is to model telling the story.  We cannot take for granted that children, particularly vulnerable children in Key Stage 1, will know or can read the words ‘before’, ‘then’ and ‘now’.  Some work needs to be done to explain that this is the order in which events happened.  Using a toy bus, or failing that, an appropriate picture of a bus, we would talk through each part of the structure, moving the bus from left to right and modelling the story with small figures:

FullSizeRender

Before, there were four people on the bus. Then, three people got on the bus. Now there are seven people on the bus.

 

The child could then retell the story themselves, manipulating the people and the bus to show what is happening.  For the first few attempts, the child should get used to the structure but before long we should insist on them using full, accurate sentences, including the correct tense, when they are telling the story.

I have chosen a ten frame to represent the windows on the bus, which enables plenty of opportunity to talk about each stage of the problem in greater depth and to practise manipulating numbers.  For example, in the ‘Before’ stage, there were four people on the bus: if the child could manage it, it would be interesting to talk about the number of seats on the bus altogether and the number of empty seats.  By doing so, they are practising thinking about number facts to ten and building their fluency with recall of those facts.   The task could easily be adapted to use a five frame or a twenty frame.

The next stage could be to tell children a story and while they are listening, they model what is happening with the people and the bus.  After each stage, or once we have modelled the whole story, they could retell it themselves.  Of course, the adult would only tell the ‘Before’ and the ‘Then’ parts of the story as the child should be expected to finish the story having solved the problem.

When the child is more fluent with the language and they understand the structure of the problems, we can show them how it looks abstractly.  For the ‘Before’ part, the child would only record a number – how many on the bus.  For the ‘Then’ part, we would need to show the child how to record not only the number of people that got on or off the bus but the appropriate sign too – if three people got on they would write +3 and if two people got off they would write -2.  Finally, for the ‘Now’ part, they would need not only the number of people on the bus but the ‘is equal to’ sign before the number.  Cue lots of practise telling and listening to stories whilst modelling it and writing the calculation.

10

A more subtle level of abstraction might be to repeat the same problems but rather than the child modelling them using the bus and people, they could use another manipulative such as multi-link cubes or Numicon.  They could also draw a picture of each stage – multiple representations of the same problem provide the opportunity for deeper conceptual understanding.

The scaffolding that the structure and the multiple representations provide allows for some deeper thinking too.  In the problems described so far, the unknown has always been the ‘Now’ stage or the whole (as opposed to one of the parts). It is fairly straight forward to make the ‘Then’ stage unknown with a story like this:

Before, there were ten people were on the bus.

Then, some people got off the bus.

9

Now, seven people are on the bus.

This could be modelled by the teacher, who asks the child to look away at the ‘Then’ stage.  Starting with ten people on the bus and using a ten frame is a deliberate scaffold – deducing how many people got off the bus is a matter of looking at how many ‘empty seats’ are represented by the empty boxes on the ten frame in the ‘Now’ stage.  A progression is to not use a full bus in the ‘Before’ stage – it is another level of difficulty to keep that number in mind and calculate how many got on or off the bus.

Another progression is to make the ‘Before’ stage unknown.  The child will need a different strategy to those already explained in order to solve this kind of problem.  Then story would have to be started with: ‘Before, there were some people on the bus.’  Of course, the adult would not show the child this with the bus and toy people, but they would show the completed ‘Then’ stage: ‘Then, four people got on the bus.’  Finally, the adult would model moving the bus to the ‘Now’ stage and completing the story: ‘Now, there are eleven people on the bus.’  The child would have to keep in mind that four people had got on and now there are eleven, before working backwards.  They would have to be shown that if four had got on, then working out how the story started would mean four people getting off the bus.  They could be shown to run the story in reverse, ending up with seven people on the bus in the ‘Before’ stage.

This task has the potential to take children from a poor understanding of number facts, calculating and knowledge of problem structures to a much deeper understanding.  The familiar context can be used as a scaffold to build fluency and think hard about complex problems with varied unknowns.

3 Comments

Filed under CPD, Curriculum, Maths

…for who will coach the coaches? Part 3

In two previous posts, I thought about the role of vision and culture in getting coaching up and running in schools, and some of the things that coaches might need in preparation for working with their colleagues. In this post, I consider how coaching could fit into a wider CPD program.

A good CPD program is varied. There is varation in content, for example over a term, there might be sessions on Marking and Feedback, SEN, SIMs etc. There is variation in style, for example, some sessions will be more of a lecture style, some will be the catalyst for some action research etc. There is variation in speakers, for example, SLT, Subject Leaders, external experts etc. There is variation in venue, in that meetings are held in different places around school. Coaching certainly adds to the variety of a good CPD program.

The driver for planning a CPD program is the school’s strategic plan. There will already have been a thorough analysis of what it is that the school needs to work on and this could well quickly fill up weekly INSET slots. The danger here is that by having a weekly focus for CPD, coverage is wide but key ideas do not become embedded in practice. One off INSET sessions may not necessarily lead to sustained improvement in teaching. Rather, teachers need to act their way into thinking to adjust habits. This is where coaching can complement traditional models of CPD programs. When an idea is introduced in an INSET session, coaches can foster work on strategies over the next few weeks. This will not always be appropriate, though, and before long, if every session is followed up with coaching, there will be too much going on and we risk losing focus of the main thing – improving teacher quality.

One option, then, is for school leaders to have a clear vision for what it is that makes great teaching – generic strategies or principles that can be tweaked over time. It might be of use to refer to Hattie’s meta-analysis of teaching interventions to inform this thinking. Quality of feedback must surely be on any school’s list of aspects of great teaching and according to Hattie has one of the highest effect sizes. Teacher clarity also ranks highly – this could include quality of explanations and modelling. With clarity of thinking about what makes great teaching, any weekly CPD focus can be alligned to the values already established and then practised in subsequent coaching sessions. This provides direction and reinforces the message that teaching quality matters most.

The model outlined above takes the prevailing conditions of many CPD programs (weekly topics) and uses coaching to add further conditions that we know are more conducive to effective learning – deliberate practice, spaced learning and feedback. This could work. However, I think that our CPD programs should reflect more what we know about effective learning. The weekly topics structure that has been the basis of many schools’ programs for years is essentially massing as opposed to spacing. Massing can work for performance – cramming the night before a test can mean success, but all is forgotten soon after. Similarly, a situation where an idea is introduced in INSET, expected to be seen in upcoming observations and subsequently ticked off, is just the same. Learning and performance are different and spacing is the driver for learning. No matter how effective coaching is, we risk betraying our values and undermining our intended message if those weekly INSET sessions contradict what we know works in learning.

So, spacing and revision could be planned into the CPD program. A massed CPD program, supported through coaching may look a bit like this:

Week 1 – Marking and Feedback in English. (Coaching: Shared marking).

Week 2 – Modelled and Shared Writing. (Coaching: Modelled writing).

Week 3 – Implications of new curriculum in maths. (Coaching: Joint planning).

A spaced program would need a little more consideration and could look like this:

Example CPD program

Coaching presents a major change in how schools work and this change needs to be thoughtfully managed in order for it to make the impact on teaching quality that it undoubtedly can. For schools to benefit from coaching, there must already be structures in place. A strong vision and clear communication, shared with integrity by school leaders, will pave the way for deliberate practice and quality coaching conversations to take place. Coaches need to be well prepared and knowledgeable so that we can make the best use of time. They must have a range of strategies to draw upon and like any expert, must expect to practise to be as effective as possible. Coaching must also be part of a wider CPD program that reflects the best of what we know about learning.

1 Comment

Filed under Coaching, CPD

Improving teacher quality – With vision must come action

In terms of securing the best outcomes for the children that we teach, you’ll have to travel pretty far to find someone who disagrees that teacher quality is key.

Vision

Every teacher needs to improve, not because we are not good enough, but because we can be even better. Dylan William

In order to address the ‘Ok plateau’, which describes the apparent halt in improvement after teachers’ first few years, a relentless focus on improving teacher quality through CPD must be a priority for schools, regardless of their circumstances. I have read a lot over the last few weeks, including books and blog posts, which included a lot of wisdom. With vision must come action and this post is my attempt to turn the many ideas I have read about into something tangible – the first steps into applying my reading into a great CPD program in my school. I don’t claim this to be in any way a polished plan, but I hope that by writing it that I find further clarity.

CPD

An INSET schedule for the academic year will have various foci, but it seems prudent to have a consistent thread throughout the school year on the fundamentals for all subjects and all age ranges. Alex Quigley (@huntingenglish) proposes explanations, questioning and feedback as the ‘holy trinity’ of teaching. Doug Lemov, in his book ‘Practice Perfect’ refers to this as the 80/20 rule, or the ‘law of the vital few’. That is, identifying the 20% of things that we do that deliver 80% of the value. There are certainly other aspects of teaching that require status in this 20%, including behaviour management, and individual schools will have their own priorities that they would add to this. For example, there may be targets on the school improvement plan or from rounds of lesson observations that would need to be a part of the 20%. Schools that perceive explanations, questioning and or feedback to be a strength of their teaching profile may be tempted to leave these aspects out of their CPD schedule in order to work on perceived weaknesses. Although weaknesses do need addressing, this may be a mistake. Failure to keep the profile of important aspects of teaching practice high could lead to complacency. With good advanced planning, this could all be linked to individual performance management. How often around the country are performance management targets not effectively worked on? Identification of the 20% needs to happen first, and then be referred to constantly, including as part of performance management targets, observation foci and so on.

Then there is the issue of how CPD is presented. Traditionally, the lecture style by SLT or an external consultant or expert has been the norm. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but to expect teachers to apply ideas to their practice will not work for the majority. There needs to be a carefully planned follow up to CPD sessions of this nature. The action research model is an example of this, where teachers ‘act their way into thinking’, after a brief input from an expert. Just like in lesson design for our pupils, we should plan for variation, a ‘desirable difficulty’ as Robert Bjork puts it (see this post by David Didau @learningspy). However it is presented, the CPD that we provide for staff should reflect the importance attached to improving teacher quality. Perhaps the most underused method of CPD that we are not taking advantage of though, is deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice

Practise the highest priority things more than everything else combined.

The old maxim ‘practice makes perfect’ is not strictly true. Practice makes permanent . Simply doing something regularly does not necessarily lead to improvement. I play football every week, yet I see no discernible improvement (much to the dismay of my fellow footballers). Similarly, just teaching every day, with the exception of in the first few years, will not lead to improvement, hence the ‘Ok plateau’.

So deliberate practice is required in order to improve. Once the ‘law of the vital few’ has been thought about and the 20% most valuable teacher behaviours identified, deliberate practice needs planning for. Lemov cites the need to set up drills where the specific skills related to explanation etc can be isolated and practised. For example, this could be the fluency of the explanation or the use of analogy. It could be the modelling of a formal written method for division to include the generation of success criteria. I wonder how many school leaders are developing these kind of drills? Twitter’s value for teachers is in the collaboration it inspires. Perhaps there is a niche developing here – #deliberatepracticedrills .

Before expecting teachers to practise, they would need to see it done effectively first through an expert demonstration, live teaching of children, or perhaps a video clip. Then they would practise. Feedback is important here. When the teacher demonstrates effectiveness, other observers tell them so. Then they do that bit again. This repetition should help to internalise desired behaviours and skills. When the teacher demonstrates ineffectiveness, the other observers tell them so. They offer advice: “Try saying it like this.” Then they do that bit again. They get an immediate chance to act on the feedback given and internalise effectiveness. This drilling will ideally create a foundation on which individuals can innovate and free up working memory in order to react to the variable classroom environment.

Once embedded, we could aim for really efficient use of INSET time. When staff have internalised the requirements for being effective at a certain aspect of teaching, and have in the past practised a drill, named, the first 5-10 minutes of an INSET session could be as straight forward as: Let’s run the ‘success criteria drill’. Or Let’s run the ‘low level disruption drill’. By regularly returning to well thought out drills, we could also reap the benefits of another of Bjork’s desirable difficulties, spacing.

Deliberate practice drills seems good for working on skills in isolation. But they cannot recreate the fluidity and unpredictability of the classroom. Lemov uses the sports coaching analogy of moving from drills to scrimmages – small sided games – to assess the readiness for performance. Scrimmage for teachers could take the form of coaching in the classroom, which deserves a blog post of its own. After we have deliberately practised and been coached in a more realistic situation, we should be ready for performance. For us teachers, the performance that matters includes every lesson every day with the children we teach. The analogy does not quite work unless we consider performance in this sense to mean some sort of formal observation. Not ideal, I know, but hear me out. Consider a situation where a culmination of the deliberate practice and coaching leaves every teacher ready for a (necessary due to issues of accountability etc) formal observation. The focus for the observation was determined before the CPD cycle began so everyone knows the purpose. The teacher can then request the observation at the time of their choosing, effectively stating: I’ve been working on this, come and see. Clearly some sort of time frame is necessary, say within a term. How’s that for professional trust?

There is much to grapple with in terms of improving teacher quality, and to make it as effective as possible will require some brave decisions. Of course, as with any intervention it will need to be scrutinised every step of the way. But, if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.

Leave a comment

Filed under CPD