Nurturing a Growth Mindset with Year 11 Boys

An Action Research post by Kevin Magner

Reading time: 8 minutes

Context

A class of 13 Year 11 boys with a variety of different needs to be prepared for a GCSE exam in Religious Studies – what is the biggest challenge?

At the start of the year I decided that the challenge lay in getting the boys to believe in themselves and that, despite anything that had gone before in their educational experience, they still had the opportunity to reach or exceed their target grades.   For many of the boys  a history of low achievement and a variety of other social and learning needs made it that much harder for them to succeed.  As GCSE exams loomed on the horizon it was time to try and help them to raise their game.

There were two things I hoped to achieve.  First, to help them to do their best in readiness for their exams.  Second, to learn some lessons for life about self-belief and self-confidence.  With these ideas in mind I was inspired by the work of a number of colleagues who had been investigating the application of Growth Mindset thinking to their teaching, and decided to look further into this aspect of education.

Growth Mindset

‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed is a book I would encourage everyone to read.  Taken together with the work of Carol Dweck on ‘Mindset’, they  present an argument for the idea that our potential as learners is not predetermined but open to development given the right environment, resources and above all, a ‘growth mindset’.   That is,  being open to the belief that ‘purposeful effort’ is what brings you success in learning.  As teachers, it is our job to cultivate this attitude in our pupils and provide the learning resources, experiences and environment that allow pupils to discover their potential.  This then would be my focus.

The ‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook’ by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon provided a useful tool for reflecting upon Carol Dweck’s research in a school context and identifying strategies that might be used in the classroom.  Looking at a variety of other resources (see ‘Further resources’ below), including the work of a number schools which have introduced Growth Mindset thinking to staff and pupils, I decided to adopt two approaches to work on with my class.

Firstly,  to focus on ‘targeted effort’ (Hymer and Gershon, pages 43-58).  My intention was to try and shift pupils’ interest away from focusing on the grades or marks they were (or were not) achieving and instead focus attention on the effort they were making in their work.

Secondly, to focus on trying to develop a greater self-confidence in the boys and the belief that, they were the ‘Masters of their fate’ (from ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley) and by believing in themselves they could have the confidence to face the challenges that lay ahead – in their GCSE course and in life – and succeed even in the face of adversity.

Putting the theory into practice

Focusing on the importance of effort and trying to cultivate a greater sense of self-confidence and self-belief were two mutually supportive aims which I sought to put into practice in the classroom.

Targeting effort

Typically, if you mark a piece of work with a grade or score and a comment, pupils will look to the grade, feel a sense of joy or deflation and read no further.  My aim therefore was to shift the focus away from marking and feedback which concentrated on attainment because this, according to the literature can serve to reinforce fixed mindsets, such as,  ‘I did not succeed therefore I am no good at this subject!’.

So, with the exception of end of module assessments/mock exams, I set out to ensure that all of my formative assessments focused on the pupils’ effort rather than their attainment.  To ensure this was meaningful, it still needed to embrace best practice by being specific in identifying where in their work I could recognize and acknowledge effort; and where additional effort would help them to make genuine improvements to their learning when completing DIRT (Directed Improvement and Response Time) work.

yellow sticker

Example of a feedback sticker acknowledging effort

The boys adapted more quickly than I expected to this new approach to marking and quickly stopped asking, ‘What mark did I get?’ or, ‘What grade would I get for this?’.  The greatest challenge for me as a teacher, was in learning to phrase my comments in a way that focused the pupils’ attention on effort, and their ability to improve their work, rather than on comments that were either too vague and general to be of value, or comments which tended to imply an innate ability and therefore fell into the very trap or reinforcing the mindset that,  ‘I have a fixed level of ability which cannot be changed’.

In time, as I developed my vocabulary and ability to articulate my feedback more precisely, the process became more effective.   This applied to both written feedback and to verbal feedback given during the course of lessons.

To reinforce the message that it was their effort that was most worthy of recognition,  I adopted a series of reward stickers to acknowledge a particularly positive or note-worthy effort on the part of each boy.  The stickers were tiny ‘button’ stickers of a child like style  with pictures of footballs and butterflies, trophies and flowers, along with a ‘great effort’ or ‘well done’  type statement.  Initial laughter soon passed and many of the boys became quietly keen to see whether they had earned a new sticker when their books were handed back to them.

Effort stickers

Pupil’s book with effort stickers

We started counting the stickers earned and every time a boy gained five stickers I sent a praise postcard home acknowledging ‘sustained effort’ over a period of time.  This reinforced the message that it was effort that deserved praise and recognition.   For many of the boys this brought them praise and recognition in a way that attainment alone was unlikely to bring and the boys (and parents) were proud of this recognition.  While not admitting openly to liking the effort stickers, it was after one boy asked what would happen to his stickers once he started a new exercise book that I decided to add a count of the stickers already earned to the cover of a new exercise book where new stickers would add to the total earned across the year.  In such small ways self-esteem is boosted.

In going forward, I do believe that it is important for me as a teacher to continue to cultivate and practice the use of a vocabulary with pupils that emphasizes the importance of effort and the virtue of recognizing that, it is only with effort that we can truly improve ourselves as learners.

Building self-confidence

In a groups of boys, many of whom did not have high self-esteem and who had experienced knocks and disappointments when their progress was measured against target grades, I felt it was important to try and build a ‘can-do’ attitude which promoted the virtues of effort, resilience, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, coping with disappointment and believing that everybody can achieve more in life if they make a focused and sustained effort to do so.

I felt it was important to focus this work not exclusively as a rallying cry to, ‘work hard academically so you will pass your exam’ (though this was obviously one motivation for this work), but as an attitude to carry beyond school into all areas of life.

On a practical level I chose to focus on this explicitly in every lesson through our ‘bell-work’ activities (an activity that was waiting for the pupils, ready to engage them from the moment they entered the classroom).

I researched a broad range of motivational or thought-provoking pictures, images, quotations, YouTube clips and posters that were a prompt for a brief discussion and to set the tone at the start of every lesson.

I sought out ideas that I felt would appeal to boys.  Ideas associated with sport, celebrity role models, humour and a variety of activities/pastimes.   As I built a bank of resources for the bell-work activities it became clear that there was a great deal of overlap when focusing on effort, ambition, perseverance and resilience.  I therefore grouped my resources into what became ‘fortnightly themes’ , where we would approach one idea from five different angles, over each timetable cycle.  The effect of this was to reinforce the key message and a pattern emerged where we would begin the fortnight with a film-clip to establish that fortnight’s theme and then develop it in consequent lessons.  This meant investing more time in the first lesson of each fortnightly cycle but I felt that the investment in terms of the cultivation of self-confidence was a worthwhile one.

GM slideMichael Jordan

Example of  bell work slides to prompt discussion 

By the end of the year I developed the resources for 76 lessons which saw us right through to their exams.  By beginning every lesson in the same way the boys became used to the routine and could soon use the vocabulary of, ‘effort, perseverance and resilience’ and explain what it meant.  My hope was that by drip-feeding these messages to them in every lesson, alongside a focus in my feedback and conversations in class on promoting, praising and encouraging the virtue of effort over attainment, that some of the messages would begin to ‘stick’ and influence their approach to work and exam preparation.

Conclusions

In terms of measuring the impact of each initiative it is hard to give a scientific analysis of outcomes.  However, at the end of the course I gave the boys a questionnaire and interviewed them about their experience.

On the whole, at the end of the year a majority of the boys surveyed identified more strongly with statements that suggested a ‘growth-mindset’ attitude.

When asked to recall which messages they could remember from the Bell Work at the start of each lesson they recalled:  “Don’t give up until you succeed”, “Stick at it!”, “Take on the Challenge”, “Persevere!”, “Make the effort”, “If you fail, keep on trying”.

Among the bell work activities that they found most memorable they cited, ‘The Michael Jordan messages not to give up when you experience failure’; and ‘The squirrel one’ (based on a You-tube film of a squirrel successfully overcoming an obstacle course which was accompanied by the story that it had taken the squirrel 6 months to learn to overcome the obstacles that it could eventually tackle in 30 seconds), and the reason –  ‘because it was funny’!

I also asked the boys whether they felt their attitude towards and effort in R.E. had improved across the year and all those asked said, ‘Yes’.  When I probed further to ask which factors had contributed to this improvement they all said that ‘teacher encouragement’ and ‘seeing my work improve during the year’ had been a part of their motivation alongside ‘parental encouragement’ and a desire to ‘get the grades necessary to get onto a course in September’.

Ultimately, the exam results the boys achieved showed a mixed picture of attainment.   Promoting growth-mindset is not a magic bullet and does not turn a ship around in a year!  However, hearing the boys being able to talk about ‘perseverance’, ‘resilience’ and ‘effort’ as the year progressed and seeing a number of them genuinely make their best effort – at least some of the time – in the run up to the exams, encourages me to believe that the effort invested in cultivating a growth-mindset culture in the classroom is worthwhile.

Above all, regardless of exam results, I hope that each of the boys has taken into adult life something of the belief that their potential is not limited and that with perseverance and resilience their efforts to develop their potential in any area of life is both worthwhile and achievable.

Bibliography/Further resources

‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed, published by Fourth Estate (Harper Collins)

‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck, published by Random House Publishing Group

‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook’ by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon, published by Teachers’ Pocketbooks

https://slooowdown.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/summary-of-summarised-by-paul-arnold-trainer-facilitator-paul_arnoldme-com/ – a summary of ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed

http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_Dweck.html – Summary of Carol Dweck’s Theory of Motivation by Geoff Petty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkE1lC4CpIE – A You Tube summary of Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset’

https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve Carol Dweck – TED talks

https://johntomsett.com/2013/10/20/this-much-i-know-about-developing-a-dweck-inspired-growth-mindset-culture/ – John Tomsett, Headteacher Huntington School on introducing a Growth Mindset to his school

https://chrishildrew.wordpress.com/growth-mindset/ – Chris Hildrew, Chew Valley School on introducing Growth Mindset to his school

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElVUqv0v1EE – You Tube film explaining Growth mindset in simple terms for young people

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUWn_TJTrnU – ‘Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset’ -A You Tube animation explaining the implications of different mindsets through the behaviour of two young people

‘Developing a Growth Mndset in your child’, Great Torrington School parents’ page: http://www.gts.devon.sch.uk/learning/mindset.html

http://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2017/02/the-growth-mindset-collection/ – The Growth Mindset Collection – a collection of articles about Growth Mindset compiled by Alex Quigley

Featured image: ‘Bicycling, bicycle, uphill’ by Perlinator on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Creative Commons

 

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‘The dog ate my homework!” – strategies to improve the setting and completion of homework

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Nicola Osman (English)

“The dog ate my homework!”  How inventive are your pupils when it comes to giving you a reason why they are not handing in or did not complete their homework?

The story goes that John Steinbeck went for a walk after he had finished writing the draft of his book ‘Of Mice and Men’.  When he returned he found that his dog had indeed chewed the hand-written manuscript to pieces and the story had to be written out again!

The challenge of setting meaningful homework that pupils are going to complete and which, if we are honest as teachers, we have remembered to set and resource on the correct day, according to our homework timetable, is one that many teachers face.  Also, if we can take the sting out of the need to chase and discipline children when it comes to late or uncompleted homework we are doing ourselves a service too.

It was time to revisit our approach to homework.

With these ideas in mind, our English faculty have set about addressing this problem for every teacher in the team and for every pupil, in every class.

The four principles that guided our plan were:

  1. To set a meaningful homework for every pupil, every week
  2. To use our online homework setting resource ‘Show My Homework’, effectively
  3. To ensure that homework had a genuine impact on pupils’ learning
  4. To set work which helps to prepare pupils for the demands of the new GCSE English syllabus

To do this we are adopting a two step strategy.

Step One: Adopt a Faculty Approach to Homework

We have adopted a common programme of homework for all pupils in each year group (Which can then be differentiated as necessary for particular pupils/groups)

Spelling HW

Figure 1: A Year 7 Spelling homework

As Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) have been given a much greater profile in GCSE English it was decided to set homework in a cycle that directly addressed these areas across Years 7-9.  The cycle runs as follows: Week 1 – Spelling, Week 2 – Punctuation, Week 3 – Grammar.   Systematically building up these skills with pupils will lay the foundation for later GCSE study.

Grammar HW

Figure 2: A Year 8 Grammar homework

Punctuation HW

Figure 3: A Year 8 Grammar test used to assess a learning homework (see figure 2)

In Years and 10 and 11, where greater retention of information and memorising of quotations are demanded by the new GCSE syllabus, a two year programme of planned and structured revision made the most sense as the basis for homework across the GCSE course.

Revision HW

Figure 4: A section of a Year 10/11 Revision homework plan

With a clear structure established, all of the homework tasks  for the coming year could be planned and prepared in advance.  This involved a lot of work but by sharing the load across the faculty team and by setting homework in a common format that could be used across all classes, we reduced the scale of the job.  So, guided by our four principles above, each member of the team has prepared a share of the homework materials for the faculty.

By working in this way we also achieved a consistency of format and style in the tasks which meant greater consistency for pupils.  This work demanded an investment of time and energy, which was taken from lessons gained after exam classes had left in the summer term but the benefit for us all is that next year’s homework has been fully planned and resourced across the faculty and this will save planning time next year.

Step Two: Streamline Communication

Having planned a year’s homework in advance, ensuring that the pupils get and complete the homework becomes the next priority and a clear ‘no excuses’ communication system is the key.  No more,  ‘I didn’t get the homework!, or more embarrassingly, ‘I forget to set the homework!’.

One teacher in the Faculty now takes responsibility for setting all of the homework for the Faculty for a term.

All of the homework for a term can be set in advance and scheduled using the Show My Homework system.  You can either make all the homework available to pupils in advance for the weeks ahead or it can be scheduled to be automatically released to pupils on a weekly basis.  Show My Homework also allows you to attach the resource sheet electronically so there is no need to photocopy multiple sheets which could then get ‘lost’.  Show My Homework also ensures that parents as well as pupils know what homework has been set and when it is due in.

This is backed up by our second line of communication, the English faculty homework board.  The board in the corridor of the English faculty is a ‘one-stop-shop’, where the teacher responsible for setting homework in a particular term, posts the five homework tasks, one per week for each year group.  Pupils can then physically check their homework in school and are encouraged to take a picture of it on their phones if that is helpful to them.  With the same location and routine for ‘publishing’ each homework pupils have no excuse for not being able to check their own homework.

HW noticeboard

Figure 5: The English faculty homework board

With many of the tasks being  self and peer-assessed, initially through tests or checks in class, this allows each teacher to focus their marking time towards the piece(s) of work that is of the highest priority for more detailed assessment.

Non-completion becomes apparent through poor test scores and by setting a pass mark and consequent re-test for those who have not made the effort, the incentive to ‘get it right first time’ is established.

Some final thoughts…

  • The scheme requires an investment of time and effort at the beginning but once established should save teacher time
  • All teachers  have an equal responsibility to contribute thus ensuring fairness within the team
  • Communication of homework and expectations regarding homework are simplified for teachers, pupils and parents
  • This scheme highlights the importance of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar to pupils

Going forward…

  • We intend to extend the options for differentiation within the tasks

So, come the start of the new school year the dog may need to find something else to chew on!

Featured image: ‘Learn, school, help’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Mini-interventions

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Richard Noibi (Mathematics)

Reading time: 2 minutes

When we speak of interventions in education, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy, we typically think of large scale initiatives.  Schemes that might run across a whole school.  Interventions that have been meticulously planned with supporting documentation, layers of responsibility and financial accountability.  These are important but for many  pupils, it can often be the small-scale interventions teachers make, that can have the greatest impact in overcoming a barrier to learning in a particular lesson.

One example I use is the ‘mini-intervention’.  This is a way of supporting a pupil who has missed a lesson or not understood a key step in their learning.

Here’s how it works in my maths lessons.

Step 1

At the start of each lesson I give my class a bell-work/starter activity to get their mathematical brains warmed up.  This might reinforce the learning from recent lessons, give them a chance to demonstrate their mastery of an aspects of maths, or get them engaged with a new area of study.

Starter

Figure 1. An example of a starter activity

Step 2

While the majority of the class are working on the starter I will sit down with a pupil who was absent for the last lesson and go over the work we have covered in a 1:1 ‘mini- intervention’ and using a block of post-it notes to provide a brief explanation and  summary of the key learning points they have missed.

Fig 1

Figure 2. An example of some ‘mini-intervention’ post-it notes on trigonometric ratios given while the rest of the class work on their starter problem

Step 3

The pupil now has a greater chance of succeeding with the lesson ahead.  They can still seek support but they have enough information to make a start on the work set for them and often this is enough to let them catch up with the rest of the class.

Fig 2

Figure 3. Work on  multi-step trigonometric ratio problems completed by the pupil who received a ‘mini-intervention’ in figure 2. who has caught up with the rest of the class

By providing a pupil with a  post-it intervention they have a reference point to help them tackle the work, rather than having to repeatedly seek help once the main part of the lesson has started.  This helps them to be more independent in catching up with the rest of the class and allows me to focus my attention on the needs of other pupils in the class.

Fig 3

Figure 4. An example of a ‘mini-intervention’ post-it on the transformation of functions

Fig 4

Figure 5. The work completed independently by the pupil in figure 4 following their min-intervention

Why not try some mini-interventions yourself?

Featured image: ‘post its/ideas’ by B-G on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Take-Away Revision

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘I’m looking forward to revising for my exams!’, said no student ever.

Revision is a fact of life for students preparing for exams and for many it may seem like an insurmountable obstacle.  Building revision time into your scheme of work, teaching students effective and efficient revision strategies and lots and lots of exam practice will all help but the fact remains – revision is about hard work.

Once students have faced the fact that revision is a necessity if they wish to achieve their best results, then offering them support, encouragement and resources is the teacher’s next job.

One of the ways in which you can do this is to provide them with a ‘Take-Away Revision Bag’.

Goody bag 2

In the bags go…

  • ‘What is the examiner looking for from each question?’ guides
  • ‘How to answer different types of exam questions’ guides
  • Revision booklets
  • Past papers
  • Worksheets
  • Factsheets
  • Pen and Pencil
  • A highlighter
  • Blank revision cards
  • Post-its
  • Sweets
  • A personal message from me

Goody bag 3

Once students have been given their take-away bag they can add to them, or use them to keep all their revision materials and notes together in one place.

Students then bring elements of the bag to each lesson to use.

The bags also  mean they are able to work through different tasks at their own pace and plan their own revision.

Goody bag 4

I am then able to use the time gained from having pre-planned the revision activities to analyse their exam answers to target further revision on required topics or to focus on the needs of individual students.

The students were delighted by their revision ‘gift’ and it gave them a lift when undertaking the hard work that was being demanded of them.

Goody bag 1

Why not offer your students a take-away!

Learning with Games

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘To play or not to play?’, that is the question.  Are games a valuable tool in the teacher’s arsenal of learning strategies or are they a distraction and trivialisation of education?

Go fish

Figure 1: Go Fishing: hook yourself a question and provide an answer.  Get it right and keep your catch.  Get it wrong and the fish goes back in the pond

There are those who would argue that we as teachers are ‘educators not entertainers’ and there are indeed times when we need to remind our pupils of that.  However, there are also times when the enthusiasm and engagement engendered by ‘playing’ a game in class can be harnessed to serve the teacher’s purpose, whether it be to acquire knowledge, reinforce learning or to develop critical thinking skills.

Jenga

Figure 2: Jenga.  Take a question from the pile and a block with a points score written on it.  Answer the question and score the points.  Get it wrong and no points are scored and the question goes back in the pile

As teachers our priority is to ensure that the learning behind our choice of teaching strategy remains the key focus of our lessons and games do not become an end in themselves.

Guess who - what's for dinner

Figure 3: Guess What’s for Dinner? Swap the cards in the ‘Guess who?’ boxes for food related words and concepts and then take it turn to question your opponent until you have worked out what the answer is

Games do have many educational virtues to commend them, not least the development of social skills such as cooperation and teamwork  but perhaps above all, it is the sense of engagement they can foster that makes them a useful learning tool.

Labelling game

Figure 4: The Labelling Game  Compete with a friend to produce the most detailed ‘Nutri-Man’ and ‘Healthy Hands’

Taking the principle or format of some of the most popular or simple games that have stood the test of time and adapting them to the classroom can be a very effective teaching strategy.  Simplicity is key to making such games work.  Take a familiar format from a traditional game (snakes and ladders, hangman) or one from the popular culture (Who wants to be a millionaire?, Top Trumps, Guess Who?) and you have a head start as pupils know how to play the game.

A carousel of such games (as shown in the pictures) can make an engaging revision session.

Why not visit your local charity shops and pick up the games people no longer want and re-purpose them in your classroom!

Featured image: ‘Dice, game’ by OpenClip-Art Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Improving pupils’ handwriting

A ‘Sharing Best Practice’ post by Sarah Barker (English)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Teachers are expert at deciphering poor handwriting.  Whether it be the last footsteps of a spider who has dragged its eight, ink-stained legs across the page of an exercise book, or the text that has taken leave of the lines  to wander freely about the page in defiance of the laws of gravity.  However, there are times when even the most skilled and experienced of teachers is left stumped by what a pupil has written.

Expressing oneself clearly in writing is a skill for life, not to mention the desire we have to ensure that the examiner will be able to read our pupils’ answers!

Improving handwriting, especially when a pupil is well into their teens is a challenge and requires real effort and concentration once writing habits have been formed.

K Before

Figure 1. A pupil’s handwriting BEFORE handwriting practice

One strategy promoted by the English Faculty to develop ‘automaticity’ in handwriting for pupils in all year groups, is to go back to basics and consciously and deliberately practise some of the basic building blocks of handwriting as an activity in its own right.

Separating out the task of improving handwriting from the challenge of writing a considered evaluation of an extract from Shakespeare, works to the benefit of both endeavours.  Improve the physical skill and then apply it to the intellectual challenge.

k-after.jpg

Figure 2. A pupil’s handwriting AFTER handwriting practice

So, you might open an exercise book to see that a 15 year old boy spent the first few minutes of the lesson ‘writing’ lines of ‘mountains’ and ‘valleys’, followed by a line of breaking waves.  Or in a 13 year old girl’s book lines of ‘a’s, ‘c’s and ‘d’s have been carefully scribed as the first part of a homework assignment.   In this way the basics of a legible script are developed and when applied to the written work to follow, handwriting improves, the pupil feels a sense of pride and the teacher breathes a sigh of relief that they  (the examiner, the college admissions tutor and the future employer) will be able to read what has been written.

 

Featured image: ‘Font, lettering’  by Victorian Lady on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Public Domain

 

Scaffolding and Differentiation

An Action Research project by Teresa Howe

My action research project was born out of a realisation that as a primary trained teacher I would naturally scaffold and differentiate for the pupils in my class. I could quickly establish their needs, and therefore adapt my teaching style and resources (often overnight). Transferring to teach in a secondary setting, teaching Year 8 and 9 English as well as SEND pupils in a nurture class, highlighted that scaffolding and differentiation were paramount in lesson planning. I felt that my skills in Scaffolding and Differentiation needed refreshing. I was also aware that there were many approaches that I still had to learn and try.

Rebecca Alber in her blog post ‘Scaffolding lessons- six strategies’ on Edutopia.org explains both the difference and connection between the two clearly. Scaffolding is ‘breaking up’ the learning into chunks and then modelling or explaining the tool to help. For example, when scaffolding for reading you may do one or many different things prior to work on the text. You may discuss the nature of the text and key vocabulary. Alternatively, you may chunk the text and read and discuss each part as you go. Differentiation might involve you giving a different piece of text to a pupil, or you may give a shortened or altered version. You may also modify the writing task associated with the text.

In my opinion, there are many approaches used in primary teaching that are useful tools in secondary teaching. The most important approach, I feel is flexibility. It is having the confidence to adapt and change set lesson plans to best suit an immediate pupil need.

I heard a fabulous example of this given by a PGCE tutor, who observed a student using a block of post it notes. During a task, the student would assess the progress of pupils and jot a note of help/advice/challenge to pupils and pop it on the desk next to them.

The student explained this as ‘instant differentiation’.

One of the classroom management tools I find very effective, no matter what level a pupil is working at, or whether they have a particular learning need, is a visual lesson plan displayed to the class giving a brief LIST of the steps or activities to be completed in the lesson. This helps pupils (and you) to focus on what to expect and acts as a reminder as to how far the lesson has progressed. I have used this with all my classes, small groups and when teaching individuals. It has  worked especially well with challenging groups of boys who have a reading intervention with me.

I’ve also found this useful when needing to ‘change’ the lesson content / order / recording method to suit the needs of the group (flexibility). The pupils appear to appreciate that their needs have been taken into account when you are crossing through your ideas and writing the new ‘agreed’ task.

Scaffolds and differentiated tasks, including visual aids, benefit all pupils. I’ve found that when pupils become familiar with the variety and range of activities that form part of your everyday lessons, they are not seen as ‘the easier option’ but rather, a different way of working. A good way to introduce this is by using a ‘tick-tack-toe’ or ‘noughts and crosses’ grid. This gives the pupils a choice of 9 activities (on a 3X3 grid). They have to choose 1 activity from each row but they make the choice. (You select tasks that you know give all pupils in your class the ability to access the lesson and use prior learning). Other consolidating or starter activities could be loop games, matching activities or sequencing tasks.

Since starting my action research, I have become more interested and stimulated by the needs of Dyslexic Pupils, primarily, when I began working with a statemented pupil and others who showed strong dyslexic tendencies, particularly with regards to literacy. As a result, I adapted my activities (scaffolding and differentiation) for intervention with these pupils and assessed their impact. The area that is crucial for such pupils before expecting them to complete tasks is to ensure that they are organised in preparation for both their learning and then recording. The lesson plan plays an important role, as does giving them model answers and creating opportunities for shared writing. Mostly for me, this would be teacher/pupil shared writing which proved very successful with groups of boys. Shared writing is not cheating but a way in which a group can learn from and teach each other.

One important fact became evident from my initial work with groups.  I was not always ‘chunking’ information into small enough steps, I assumed too much as far as the skills a secondary aged pupil would have. I found myself revising initial tasks set, chunking information into smaller steps. I ensured step by step instructions with model sentence starters. Diagrams and mind maps proved to be essential in allowing the pupil to both access and complete the task. Another crucial discovery was that the time needed to complete an extended task was at least doubled. I became more realistic about the quantity of work output as well as the amount of practise time needed before independent work would follow. Consolidation exercises, such as loop games, were essential in raising the self-esteem of dyslexic and other SEND pupils.  All of these scaffolds and differentiated tasks contributed to the groups progress.

Conclusions

The most ‘obvious’ point I learned when trying new approaches in my teaching is to not expect the pupils to ‘know’ what or how they want to do something – without first giving them choices and ideas. With a few hints and scaffolded activities they develop the confidence to ‘have a go’ and follow their own instincts. They know that, using my lesson plan, I will keep them focused if they go ‘off piste’.

The resounding success was the lesson plan/structure.

Next Steps

During my research, particularly of the US websites, I regularly heard the phrase ‘having a growth mindset’. I liked this quote which made its meaning clearer for me.

Carissa Romero’s Tch blog post:

“People with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is innate. This belief can make school a threatening place. It becomes a place to go to learn how smart you are — or how smart you’re not. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe intelligence can be developed. For these students, school can be an exciting place, as it provides them with an opportunity to learn and develop their intelligence.”

This will be the focus for my on-going research, with the hope that my teaching provides children with positive support and I contribute to school being an exciting place.

HELPFUL WEBSITES

http://www.mentoringminds.com/blog/how-to-pair-scaffolding-and-differentiation/

http://edglossary.org/scaffolding/

http://www.edutopia.org/topic/learning-styles

https://www.teachingchannel.org/growth-mindset/?utm_source=newsletter20160903/

Featured image: ‘Scaffolding’ by 3112014 on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain

Learning Maps

An Action Research project by Matthew Yandell (P.E.)

Focus

My action research focus, ‘The use and impact of Learning Maps’, was chosen following a visit to a local secondary school.

I was inspired by the school’s use of Learning Maps as a way to promote consistency and engagement within the school community.

I felt their approach to learning and innovative teaching methods were a model for St Bernadette’s to take inspiration from and add to the work already being undertaken at to develop ‘consistent’ and ‘excellent’ practice across the school.

Learning Maps

‘Effective planning and lesson design is the starting point for quality first teaching and learning. In schools that excel in this, it is viewed as a series of decisions which build a planned series of learning episodes. The choice of appropriate learning objectives is supported using the Primary or Secondary Frameworks or subject specifications.’

 Personalised Learning – A Practical Guide (Department for Children, Schools and Families).

A Learning Map focuses on key aspects of a unit of work (normally a termly focus area). This is then broken down into termly maps for each year group, in each faculty. Each map has the same key areas on it which helps teachers, pupils and parents understand learning objectives and ensures consistency in teaching and learning across faculties.

The key areas of each learning Map are:

– 3/4 Driving Questions (which are used to challenge pupils’ understanding)

– 6/7 Blocks of learning (which would be the key foci for the topic)

– 6 Essential areas of understanding (6 things that you would like pupils to know by the end of the topic)

– 10 key words for the topic

The main driver behind the introduction ‘Learning Maps’ was to establish consistency of practice and expectations within each faculty.

I saw an opportunity for us to introduce this approach in order to promote our consistency and engagement between teachers, faculties, pupils and parents. Our school typicality has improved greatly over the past few years and the quality of lessons has improved with it. I feel this is partly down to consistent practices and expectations of both staff and pupils.

Within the PE department we have a clear and consistent introduction /starter to our lessons and all pupils understand that regardless of which teacher is teaching them, the lesson starter will always follow the same format. This consistent practice contributed significantly towards the PE faculty being graded as ‘Outstanding’ in our most recent review. By implementing Learning Maps in addition to our current practices, we will I believe, provide pupils with a consistent resource to use at the beginning of each lesson to enhance their learning.

Another benefit of using subject specific Learning Maps is the way in which it can engage parents. The easy to follow information helps parents to understand each individual subject’s curriculum aims for each term. This can then be used to enhance the learning experience at home as parents have the opportunity to become involved in understanding and supporting their child’s learning.

Learning maps have the potential to further strengthen bell work/starter activities and develop independent learning further.

Teaching and learning is most effective where teachers are enthusiastic and knowledgeable and have the confidence to stand back and encourage pupils to become independent learners”

The Children’s Plan.

Staff trial

I discussed this idea at one of our ‘Raising Achievement’ meetings with the Second in Learning from each faculty.  They felt the idea and concept was good, and that the consistent approach would benefit our learners. They also felt that with the changes to the curriculum and levelling in school, this new approach could benefit learners understanding of the courses they are studying.

There were questions raised about how to accurately plot a learning map for a whole term’s learning episodes. It was felt that a tailored format to create uniformity across the school would be beneficial.

Staff from the Raising Achievement Team plotted examples for their individual subject areas. They found the process simple and easy to do.

This idea was also shared during a staff inset day. Feedback from staff was incredibly positive. In particular, from learning support staff, who felt that it would add a consistent approach to their small group interventions and would be a great way of keeping parents informed of focus areas.

Here are some examples of the Learning Maps produced:

Hums learning map

Figure 1. Humanities Learning Map

Maths learning map

Figure 2. Mathematics Learning Map

 PE learning map

Figure 3. Physical Education Learning Map 

Pupil trial

I trialed this with pupils in PE lessons in Term 4. As it was a practical lesson I used the maps in the form of a handout. The response from pupils was good, in particular, when they used the Learning Maps to highlight areas of progress with other pupils and to reinforce peer to peer questioning. It also provided a common baseline of key topic specific vocabulary, thus improving pupils’ literacy and subject knowledge. Pupils in PE already use assessment ladders routinely and are aware of how to use them. The Learning Maps build on this experience.  The learning maps targeting curriculum objectives and ideas really helped pupils to see progression in the subject area.

Conclusion

I feel that Learning Maps are an opportunity to further develop consistent practice across the school. They could also be used as a valuable tool to further engage parents.

Recommendations for implementing Learning Maps

  • Introduce Learning Maps on a rolling basis with Year 7 being developed in the first year, followed by Year 8 in the second and so on.
  • Form a working party. A member of each faculty would take responsibility for developing the Learning Maps on a termly basis. The key information could then be added to a template, so they can be produced by reprographics.
  • The school would need to ensure that Learning Maps are accessible to pupils and parents outside of school.
  • An introductory campaign to help promote this tool with pupils, staff and parents.
  • Linking the Learning Maps to established typicality measures and other whole school initiatives such as our Excellence initiative.  

References

Personalised Learning – A Practical Guide (Department for Children, Schools and Families). http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications

‘The Children’s Plan’ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-childrens-plan

Featured image: ‘Technology, classroom’ by LTDimages on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

Learning Outside of the Classroom

An Action Research Prjoect by Sarah Fox (Art, Design & Technology)

Focus

The main focus for this project was to improve uptake and engagement in my subject area (Design Technology, Food Technology and Catering).

Learning inside a classroom is a tried and tested method of organising schooling.  However, teachers and learners have always valued the further opportunities for learning that can take place outside the classroom, including:

  • activities within a school’s or college’s own buildings, grounds or immediate area
  • participation in dramatic productions, concerts and other special events
  • involvement in clubs, musical groups and sporting activities held during break-times and before or after the end of the school day
  • educational visits organised within the school day
  • Residential visits that take place during the school week, a weekend or holiday.

Background

The Ofsted paper, ‘Learning outside the classroom- How far should you go?’ evaluates the impact of learning outside the classroom in 12 primary schools, 10 secondary schools, one special school, one pupil referral unit and three colleges across England where previous inspections had shown that curricular provision, in particular outside the classroom, was good, outstanding or improving rapidly. Inspectors also visited or contacted 13 specialist organisations, including providers of learning outside the classroom, and held discussions with representatives from five local authorities.

All of the schools and colleges surveyed provided exciting, direct and relevant learning activities outside the classroom. Such hands-on activities led to improved outcomes for pupils and students, including better achievement, standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour. The survey also found examples of the positive effects of learning outside the classroom on young people who were hard to motivate.

When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.

Learning outside the classroom was most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities.

The schools in the survey relied very heavily on contributions from parents and carers to meet the costs of residential and other visits and had given very little thought to alternative ways of financing them. Of the schools and colleges visited, only three had evaluated the impact of learning outside the classroom on improving achievement, or monitored the take-up of activities by groups of pupils and students. The vast majority in the sample were not able to assess the effectiveness, inclusiveness or value for money of such activities.

The schools and colleges had worked hard and successfully to overcome some of the barriers to learning outside the classroom, including those relating to health and safety, pupils’ behaviour and teachers’ workload.

Diss High School (Norfolk) 21 March 2014

  • The pupil premium funding is used to provide one-to-one support in classrooms, small-group support and learning resources for eligible students, as well as the opportunity for them to take part in educational visits. They are able to take part in local and foreign trips, for example to Iceland, Sri Lanka, Flanders and Dorset. The school has links with schools in Sri Lanka and Rwanda. The school provides a wide range of activities for students to take responsibility, for example, through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme. There is a wide range of opportunities for students to take part in enrichment activities such as residential trips, music and drama activities.

Elm C of E Primary School (Cambridgeshire) 28 April 2014

  • The curriculum offers pupils a wide range of experiences to support their learning, including trips and visitors. During the inspection, pupils in Year 3 experienced a Victorian day to support their history topic. Pupils love these experiences, and in most classes they are used well to develop pupils’ extended writing skills.”
  • Additional sports funding is used to employ specialist physical education teachers to lead one lesson each week. These lessons are observed by class teachers, who subsequently lead a follow-up session. Pupils report that they now love their physical education lessons and enjoy more opportunities to be involved in competitive sport.”

Actions

I went about planning a series of educational visits and visitors to visit the school during the academic year. Examples of these were:

  • London Food Tour
  • Afternoon Tea Trip
  • Royal Marines Visit to School
  • Vegetarian Society Visit to School
  • Royal Navy Visit to School
  • Harry Potter Trip
  • Zoo Trip

Outcomes

  • Undertaking and organising educational trips and visits can be a very stressful and time consuming task. However, the rewards are huge in term of engagement and pupil progress.
  • As a case study, one boy in Year 10 who had not previously taken food tech, has already made 3 levels of progress in a year.
  • Due to my work of building contacts and having the experience of organising these extra-curricular activities, both in school and out, this has and will be beneficial and less time consuming to organise in the coming years, especially with the introduction of a new GCSE.

Impact

  • When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards & improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.
  • Learning outside the classroom was most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities.
  • According to research, the success of learning outside the classroom depends very much on the leadership and support of the schools and colleges.

Conclusions

  • The clear message from Ofsted is that inspectors want schools to shout about their LOtC activities, not do them as an extra or ‘add-on’ that is shelved when the call from Ofsted comes. If you believe in what you’re doing, demonstrate that to the inspectors. Speaking at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom national conference in 2011, senior Ofsted HMI, Robin Hammerton, declared that he wanted to see ‘inspection outside the classroom’ and challenged schools to “make sure inspectors get out there and see the innovative practice where it’s happening”.

Next Steps

  • Further research into professionals who would be willing to visit the school.
  • Using social media to keep in touch with other schools and professional organisations.
  • Developing what has been organised this year into new schemes of work for the GCSE.

Sources/References

Feature image: ‘Carrot Kale Walnut’ by dbreen on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain