Tag Archives: Marginal gains

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.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Coaching, CPD

Language acquisition and reading comprehension

Understanding the spoken and written word relies on, amongst other things, word knowledge.  Language aquisition then is part of English teaching that we cannot afford to get wrong.  My thinking in this post is a reflection on reading Time to Talk by Gross; Bringing Words to Life by Beck, McKeown and Kucan; Developing Reading Comprehension by Clarke, Truelove, Hulme and Snowling and Teacing Literacy by Wray.

Getting the explanation of the text right

It is undoubtedly sound advice to analyse a text meant for children to study with the following question in mind: Which bits are children likely to find difficult to understand?’ In any text, the background knowledge of the reader contributes significantly to comprehension, so extracting the required knowledge to understand the references is a must. In the text I’m using (Kensuke’s Kingdom extract (Gibbons) – T4W), children need to know the following schemas to make sense of the main events:

  • The ‘deserted on an island, waiting for rescue’ schema
  • The ‘hunting wild animals’ schema

The explanation of these concepts will come first in a simple explanation of the story structure.

20140824-211424-76464348.jpg

This way, children will have some prior knowledge with which aspects of the story can fit in with. Further knowledge will of course be needed. They’ll need to know what an orang-utan is!

There’ll be some words that children will not know the meaning of which will become the focus on the language acquisition section of the unit. Here, I’m looking for ‘tier 2’ words; words that are tricky but functional.  Words that are unfamilar but the concept is one that children can understand and talk about.  Tier 1 words are common words that most children come across early in learning English, while tier 3 words are domain specific words. More on language acquisition later.

20140824-211531-76531435.jpg

After words that may hinder comprehension of the text, I’ll look for phrases that may do so. Idiomatic phrases that children may have never come across before can be tricky for native English speakers let alone those with English as a second language. In the story I’m using, the narrator says ‘I had my work cut out at the back.’ I’ll need to show children the clues around that sentence and use them to explain the meaning.

Once the tricky phrases have been identified, I’ll be looking for examples of the writers’ decision making that create particular effects. The effect of this short story is that we feel worried for the characters. Before we read this story together, I’ll want to have a good idea of which bits do that best and which bits don’t work so well.

Finally, I’ll want to draw attention to the bits that the writer includes because they are crucial to the development of the plot. Certain objects or places are mentioned which may seem, to the inexperienced reader, to be irrelevant at the time but as skilled readers, we know that the writer has woven these things into story on purpose and that they must be important. The same goes for the characters’ actions. The writer, with supreme puppetry, has full control over the characters for the development of the plot and children need to know this and what it looks like.

The result of this thinking is an annotated version of the story which clarifies my thinking on the most important bits, the bits that are most likely to hinder children’s reading comprehension. Thinking clarified, this can be shared with colleagues teaching the same text as well as used when a cover teacher is teaching a lesson in the unit.

 

Language acquisition

Before the unit of work will have begun, the tier 2 words (tricky yet functional) will have been identified. Mastery of a language takes years but we aim for marginal improvements and as such, must set up multiple encounters with new words and phrases, where children think hard about their meanings and applications.

Word meanings are best learned in context – asking children to look up words in a dictionary should not be the cornerstone of language acquisition! There is a trade-off though. Language is best acquired in context, say a story, but comprehension of that story relies on, amongst other things, word knowledge. So here’s my idea

1. Summarise the text with a general structure supported by images.  This summary, referred to at the beginning of this post, will do nicely.

20140824-211424-76464348.jpg

2. Provide the focus word in a sentence from the text.  Children may need a little help allocating the sentence into the appropriate place in the summary, but through summary and sentence, I’m providing a context for the new word.

3. Provide an image and explanation.  Now’s the time to explain the meaning of the word using the image, which will later become a memory prompt for recalling the meaning. It’s important to have a fluid explanation so that children don’t form an incomplete, context specific understanding of the meaning of the word. This is helped by step 4…

4. Show examples from different contexts.  This will help to highlight shades of meaning.

5. Processing of the vocabulary. At this point, having heard a clear explanation of the word, its meaning and its application, children are to think hard about it, for otherwise, it won’t stick. Two ideas are:

  • Relate it to words they already know. For example, ‘When you’re exhausted, you’re really tired. Tell your partner how it feels…’
  • Suggest situations in their lives that relate to the new word. For example, ‘When you’ve just finished PE, you could say that you’re exhausted. When else could you say that you’re exhausted?’

My thinking is that this is necessary before children work on comprehending the text at a deeper level. This preparation, followed by modelled and shared reading, re-reading and retelling, ‘book talk’, annotations and text marking, responding to questions etc will prime children to comprehend the text. When children do all these things, they’ll be using all those focus words, but more will be necessary in order for children to internalise it.

Remembering the vocabulary

If children are to be able to recall the meaning of a word and use it accurately when speaking or writing, then they need to deliberately practise those things. A lot. Here are six ‘low stakes testing’ question styles, taken from ‘Bringing Words to Life’ (Beck, McKeown and Kucan), to get children remembering and thinking about the language:

Review meaning with a question

The quality of the question is in the detail. Asking whether a word means this or that can cause some hard thinking if those two meanings are very similar or centre around known misconceptions.

Does scrambling mean ‘struggling to stay on your feet’ or ‘moving quickly’?

Cloze sentences

This is self explanatory, but the quality is in the subtle shifting of context. When explaining the word ‘gather’, I would not have used the context of gathering up some drawings so this may cause some deliberation within a selection of other sentences

After a few minutes, I decided to _______ up my drawings and head home.  (Children would have a number of sentences and all of the a focus words to choose from.)

Example or non-example?

Again, the quality comes from the minimally different scenarios which zero in on the possible misconception. Children choose which sentence is an example of the word in action and which is not.

aggressive

Mel broke Zac’s toy so she screamed and threw herself to floor.

Mel broke Zac’s toy so she stared at him and marched towards him with her fists clenched.

Word replacement

Quite simply, a sentence where one of the words can be replaced with one of the focus words.

She seemed troubled and Mrs Ricker wanted to help. (The focus word is ‘agitated’, but children will have to select from all of the focus words)

Word association

Which focus word does this make you think of?

The horse looked agitated so the rider patted it on the back and whispered to it. (Reassurance)

Finish the sentence

The beginning of a sentence is given, including the focus word, and children should finish the sentence in a way that demonstrates understanding of the words meaning.

To give her son reassurance, she….

Here’s an example for just one word:

Low stakes testing

Having a variety of questions for each of the focus words, spaced out through the entire unit (and beyond) provides short, focused practise of manipulating the language and mastering the application of those tricky yet functional words that children need in order to comprehend text and communicate clearly and effectively.

 

9 Comments

Filed under Memory, Reading

Gradually eroding my ignorance – reflections on the year gone by

This academic year has been one of many changes to how I work. Having read Shaun Allison’s recent blog on 2012-2103, it got me thinking about the benefits of such a blog topic. Over the course of a year, the marginal gains that we make can, when they become autonomous, be taken for granted as we become unconsciously competent. We forget how we used to do things and perhaps in some situations the reasons for the change in the first place. To be effective coaches and leaders, it is important that we clarify the changes that we ourselves make to our practice so we can build up a knowledge of development to complement our content and pedagogical knowledge.

So, this post is a reflection on my year, with two intended benefits. The first is to help me to recall and better understand my professional development, and the second is to help me to prepare for new responsibilities next year around leadership, coaching and CPD.

I did what I knew. And when I knew better, I did better.

It is only this year that I have had anything like an opinion on educational matters. Knowledge vs skills? Direct instruction vs discovery learning? I just didn’t know enough. Up until recently, I don’t feel I had any time available other than to work at making sure I taught well. I realise the importance of this background knowledge now and would advise anyone in their early years of teaching to make the time for supplementary reading. Twitter enabled this to happen – there are so many knowledgeable people sharing readily what they have been reading and their own expertise.

So, a significant change for me this year is that I know more. From Hattie’s meta analysis of effective interventions, to cognitive psychology writings by those such as Daniel Willingham, this knowledge helps to make better judgements, to question and to reflect. I know that many dichotomies presented are false. I know that many advocates of a particular approach have something to sell. I’ve read much more this year than perhaps all my other teaching years combined. Of note are: Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov; Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou; Switch by Chip and Dan Heath; The Perfect Teacher Coach by Jackie Beere; Teacher by Tom Bennett; Cognitive Psychology and Instruction by Bruning et al. This is not to mention the numerous blog posts. Having this knowledge provides a sound foundation on which to develop teaching strategies, and it is the same in the classroom. Children need to know stuff if they are to develop the various skills expected.

Hindsight FC

20130730-103444.jpg

Throughout most of my twenties, I was a goalkeeper in the lower levels of non-league football. I trained regularly, and a typical session would include practising ‘handling’ (catching and securing differing shots), ‘crosses’ (attacking and catching balls struck into the penalty area) and kicking (working on distance and accuracy with different techniques). Coaches would stop the drills at various points and offer feedback – when the shot is struck, make sure your feet are ‘set’ to allow you to react quickly to changes; raise your knee to protect yourself when jumping for crosses; pull your stomach in and up when you kick the ball to control your swing. Straight away, I’d continue the drill, trying this feedback out. I’m sure these chunks of feedback are fairly decent metaphors for teaching. Perhaps in a different post…

I read Doug Lemov’s book, Practice Perfect, after it was mentioned a few times in my Twitter feed. It provided momentum for a change in thinking. In my early years of teaching, I thought that children practising and children making progress were not comfortable bedfellows. Typing that sentence was rather embarrassing. The more I think about what I was taught as a novice teacher, the more it annoys me. Having played football at a fairly decent standard, I knew and lived the importance of practice. Those misguided early years of teaching were the result of some patchy ITT and the unrealised notion that beliefs and practices, however popularly held, can and should be questioned. Carefully planned practice of essential strategies, with quick and specific feedback, followed by immediate application of the feedback. It’s exactly what I did at football training but had not applied it to how I taught in those early years. Educational research has never been more accessible and an important change for me this year is to question what others claim is good practice.

Making concrete plans

Now, deliberate practice is a fundamental aspect of my classroom. Next though, I aim to affect teaching quality at my school by planning deliberate practice into our CPD schedule. When I read the book the first time, I imagined how a staff INSET session might look, applying Lemov’s 42 rules for getting better at getting better. For example, in a session looking to practice shared writing, I’d start by ‘Calling the Shots’: “We’re about to see a video/live lesson of Mrs X doing shared writing. I want you to look out for how she models her thinking process; how she articulates the writing process. Perhaps you’ll notice some phrases that she uses.” It should be apparent that we have consistent underlying principles, but flexibility in how we apply them.

With colleagues primed, they’d observe and discuss. We’d then probe to qualify what it was that the teacher did and how effective it was, as well as other ways of doing it. Having seen a good example and refined some ideas through discussion, we’d split off into smaller groups to have a go. Colleagues would have been asked to bring with them anything that would help them practise shared writing, perhaps parts of their working wall from their current unit of work or from a recent one. They’d have a go, colleagues would provide some feedback to the person presenting, then they’d act on that feedback by doing that bit again.

Up until this point it sounds pretty straight forward, but the moment the time comes to practise is probably the moment where it breaks down. It’s awkward, we feel self-conscious and most of us will employ some sort of avoidance strategy. With this in mind, until staff are more comfortable with the idea of practice I’m thinking that initially it would be better to build the habits of practice through 1:1 coaching in the classroom. Find opportunities in the lesson to give some quick feedback to the teacher and get them to redo strategies acting on the advice. I’ve tried both ways in the last few weeks and months and the 1:1 was undoubtedly more successful. However, we cannot assume that effective teachers will coach well too. So, a priority for September is to deliberately practise strategies that our coaches will be using. Demonstration lessons, coaching conversations and quick, effective feedback will probably be the staple of the coaches work. If we get this sorted early on, I know we can make advances in the pursuit if great teaching.

I get the feeling that we are approaching a period of significant change in education. As we understand more about learning and effective strategies, we can further refine what we do in the classroom. Looking forward to 2013-2014…

Leave a comment

Filed under CPD