Developing strategies to promote the progress of boys with lower level literacy

An Action Research project by Kate Rolfe (Geography)

Objective

To attempt to develop a range of strategies that can be utilised in lessons to help promote the progress of boys with lower level literacy.

Background

The English Baccalaureate is a school performance measure introduced in 2010 that grades schools on the basis of how many pupils get a grade C or above in the core academic subjects at KS4 (Maths, English, Science, MFL and History or Geography). Option choices at Key Stage 4 have always been flexible in the sense that pupils are offered a variety of pathways and Ebacc subjects have always been promoted at the school.  However, the introduction of the Progress 8 Measure now means that all pupils must opt for at least one of the remaining core subjects outside of the compulsory English, Maths and Science (DfE, 2014). As such, the number of pupils opting for these subjects has increased which has impacted upon the profile of the pupils with a greater range of abilities choosing them at GCSE level. With the government’s commitment to making GCSE testing more rigorous it is important that such academic subjects are accessible to all. This is particularly true for Humanities and MFL subjects where the DfE (2016) have announced the intention that all pupils will take Ebacc subjects by 2020. For the Humanities faculty, this will mean that every pupil in the school will need to opt for either History or Geography and so a key area of focus over the coming years is to make these subjects accessible for pupils of all abilities. The key barriers to success in these subjects (as perceived by the faculty) are the retention of information in two content heavy subjects and proficiency in reading and writing. It is the latter which underpins the aims and objectives of this piece of action research.

Context

The focus of this action research is to attempt to overcome the barriers to learning for pupils posed by lower level literacy skills in academic subjects such as Geography. The group I will be focusing on is my Year 10 Geography group, in particular two pupils who are listed as SEN for low level literacy. These pupils are both entitled to a reader, scribe and extra time for their examinations and have both admitted that they would not have picked any of the Ebacc subjects outside of English, Maths and Science if they had an open choice due to the fact that “they are subjects with loads of writing”. Anecdotally, this could account for the fact that these pupils are the first I have taught in Geography who require this level of support in literacy as in the past, before the changes described above, it has been possible for pupils to avoid opting for subjects which involve ‘loads of writing’.  As discussed above, the avoidance of more academic subjects is no longer an option for these pupils and as this is the first year I will be teaching pupils who require extra support in the exams, I will need to reconsider my teaching methods to account for this.

Background Reading

Nationally and internationally there is a significant difference between the achievement of boys and girls attaining their expected reading age, where girls outperform boys at all levels and this gap increases with age. This difference is not due to genetic differences between the genders but rather social and cultural norms surrounding reading at home, role models, gender identity etc. (National Literacy Trust, 2012). With no national strategy for literacy, intervention takes place at a school based level and at times, especially in secondary schools, the responsibility for literacy tends to fall to the English faculty. However, the ability to read, write and express opinion is important in all subjects and a vital skill for pupil’s once they leave school. As such, the responsibility to develop literacy falls to all teachers in all subjects. Despite the fact that in their final exams the two pupils on which this study is based will have the questions read to them and their answers written for them, the importance of these skills should not be overlooked in a subject that can provide real world examples of the use of these skills. In addition, as a classroom teacher, it is impossible for me to provide the same level of support the boys will receive in the exam during lessons. As such, in order for the boys to become more independent in their learning and the assessment of this, the development of their literacy skills is vital even if they will not be tested in the same way as other pupils during exams.

While carrying out research for this project, it became apparent that much of the UK literature surrounding literacy focuses upon the development of literacy skills for early years children and for pupils for which English is an additional language. As such, the key document used as a basis for this action research was produced by the Canadian government called “Me read? No Way! A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills” (2004). This guide provided a review of literature which highlighted key trends in boys reading and writing skills as well as suggestions as to how this could be approached in lessons. Although this was primarily related to English and literacy lessons, key findings I found applicable were:

  • There are misconceptions that boys do not like to read when in fact it is more likely that boys do not like the reading what is being presented.
  • Boys do not cope with vague instructions and long explanations so work needs to be highly structured.
  • Boys need a structure to help them gather information from what they are reading.
  • Boys prefer writing frames which can be as simple as asking pupils to note down the points that they need to include.
  • Giving pupils time to talk through their thoughts and answers to consolidate their ideas before they commit them to paper.
  • Boys prefer to complete tasks where the work seems relevant to them and has a purpose that they can understand
  • Boys prefer work that includes an element of competition and/or involves short term goals.
  • Many boys are frustrated by non-specific terms such as “discuss”, “account for” and “explain” and so will need to be taught what they mean and have them broken down for them.
  • Work by Steve Biddulph also suggests that boys learn through teachers and not subjects whereas girls are able to connect directly with subjects. This suggests that boys can only connect with a subject via a teacher. This places emphasis on the relationships between teachers and the boys in their class as the need for boys in their puberty years to believe that a teacher cares for them as a person is paramount before they will allow their teacher to impart knowledge or skills to them (Pickup, 2001)

The latter point regarding relationships in relation to a boy’s learning is reinforced by Maslow’s hierarchy of school needs where every stage above physiological is the responsibility of the teacher within the classroom in order for the pupil to reach the stage where they are available to learn.

Actions

Over time, the following strategies were trialled, adapted and utilised in order to attempt to meet the objectives set out in this project:

1. Grasping pupils’ needs

Prior to starting any intervention with targeted students I felt it important to gauge pupils’ understanding of Geography and their individual needs. Too often differentiation for lower ability pupils involves generic writing frames or text which is reduced to such a level that higher order thinking skills are lost altogether. Although this is the appropriate step for some pupils I do not want to assume it is the case for those on whom I am focusing. As such I took advantage of the presence of a PGCE student taking my lessons from October to December and used this time to work 1:1 with pupils to better understand their needs.

2. Primary School Visit

As the literacy levels of the pupils in question have a greater correlation with the skills being developed in primary schools, I used INSET time to visit a Year 6 class at a local primary school.

3. Improve use of key vocabulary

A key barrier to learning for pupils with low level literacy in Geography is the sheer volume of key words which to pupils, often have an abstract meaning. Population pyramids (which are not always triangular in shape), the Demographic Transition Model and erosional processes such as hydraulic action are not always accessible to our most able readers, let alone those who struggle. In the past I have perhaps been guilty of simplifying these key words too much with pupils with lower level literacy and consequently pupils struggle when faced with them in exam questions or during independent revision. As such, I have focused on using the words with pupils in lessons through the development of glossaries, using dictionaries and knowledge tests based on key word definitions.

4. Use of discussion and opinion

Use of discussion, especially with boys has been highlighted in the literature as a strategy to help them engage with writing. This was achieved through planning lessons with deliberate discussion time with a clear focus. A clear focus is vital in order to ensure discussions are purposeful and aid learning. Examples of this include asking pupils their opinion as a way into a topic, planning answers as a group and talking through an answer with the teacher before committing pen to paper.

5. Competition

A second strategy recommended in a variety of literature is the element of competition appealing to boys. This was implemented in lessons through the use of card sorts, games and debates.

6. Building relationships

As discussed previously, boys tend to learn through their teachers rather than content and as such developing relationships with pupils is vital. These strategies are arguably the most difficult as they need to be flexible and adaptable to a variety of moods, situations and individuals. In order to approach this I tried to consider situations from an objective point of view and attempt to discover the root cause of some of the behaviours that could undermine a positive relationship. One of the boys for example would constantly shout out the correct answer to questions posed to the class. At the start of the year this may have led to consequences and sanctions which could be a barrier to developing a positive relationship. By looking at the situation from an objective point of view I came to realise that the misbehaviour was not an attempt to ruin the lesson but rather that class discussion was the part of the lesson that the pupil felt able to participate in most and as such “hogged” the questions. This was overcome through a discussion with the pupil that resulted in me giving him a pad of post it notes whereby he would write down a reminder word or sentence for the ideas in his head. I would then make a conscious effort to discuss these with the pupil after the class discussion.

Impact of each action

Grasping pupils’ needs:  The opportunity to work with pupils 1:1 was deemed invaluable in beginning this project and gauging need. It was found that one pupil is extremely demotivated and does not want to study the subject. His literacy skills are weak and he can find it difficult to grasp abstract concepts. However, the other pupil upon which this research is based was found to be very articulate in Geography and could grasp and begin to analyse higher level concepts. As such, it was found that despite both pupils’ needs being identified as lower level literacy the intervention strategies used for them need to differ in some cases.

Primary School Visit:  Observing the strategies used with Year 6’s was an eye-opening experience especially when considering the expectations that we have of Year 7s upon arrival at secondary school. The greatest disparity between primary and secondary school in relation to literacy is the amount of time dedicated to a task. Throughout the morning I observed pupils drafting and redrafting a piece of work which was later written up in best during the afternoon. Even pupils who were deemed of lower academic ability produced grammatically accurate pieces of writing to demonstrate their knowledge. The key challenge here is that a large proportion of curriculum time in primary schools is dedicated to literacy and so a ‘practice makes perfect’ approach is more easily adopted. At secondary school, and especially at GCSE this development of literacy skills is not as easily adaptable where content takes priority over skills. This is an area I will need to consider in more depth in the future.

Improve use of key vocabulary: This approach yielded mixed responses depending on the complexity of the topic. When pupils felt confident in the key words being tested it acted as a morale booster. However, if pupils could not remember the words then this could act as a reason to disengage in the lesson. However, this strategy was liked by the class as a whole and I am hoping that the repetition of key words will have longer term benefits.

Use of discussion and opinion: The use of planned discussion in lessons was anecdotally one of the most successful in engaging the boys in learning. The option of giving an opinion gave the boys the perception that there was no right or wrong answer but the justifications they used to support their points were high level in terms of geographical knowledge. Discussing answers first allowed pupils to begin structuring their answers and this was further developed whereby pupils would write all initial ideas onto post it notes which could then be re-arranged in order to plan an answer. Although these strategies did not always transpire into extended writing, it has enabled the pupils to begin to verbalise their ideas which is a skill that will need to develop further as they are both entitled to a scribe in their final exams.

Competition: Overall, the use of competition in lessons received mixed responses and was susceptible to the mood of the pupils. At times they would really engage and actively compete with one another to reach the answer first but in other instances it was perceived as a gimmick. The subject content of the competition also played a large role in the engagement of the activity.

Building relationships: The impact of actively seeking to build positive relationships with pupils in my class has had a positive impact on my relationship with the pupils in this project and across all of my groups. I would like to think that one of my strengths is having a positive relationship with most of the pupils whom I teach and these naturally develop over time. However, actively considering the reasons for potential misbehaviours in my lessons has allowed me to have conversations with pupils that may not have arisen naturally in order to implement strategies to cope with this.

Conclusions

Arguably, the overwhelming conclusion of this project is that there is no solid conclusion when it comes to strategies to engage and promote the progress of low literacy boys. To an extent I had pre-empted this outcome with the inclusion of the words “to attempt to” develop strategies in my original objective. Within my classroom I have witnessed giant leaps forward with the progress of the boys in my class as well as huge steps backwards and this has varied on a term by term, week by week, day by day basis. This can at times be annoying, tiring and extremely frustrating when a strategy that works in one lesson appears to fail the next. The key thing I have learnt is not to give up. Some of the systems I have adopted throughout this project started to show benefit very late on in the term and some have not shown any benefit at all. However, the one thing that is true is that the boys have most definitely noticed the effort that goes into helping them make progress and ultimately that building of relationships is the most important thing.

Next Steps

Despite the progress made with my boys with lower level literacy this year it must be acknowledged that there is still a long way to go if they are to reach their full potential. This will largely focus on attempting to build self-esteem and confidence within the pupils to want to succeed for themselves. The key areas to focus on next year will be:

  • Instilling confidence to write independently
  • Encouraging pupils to attempt tasks even if it results in failure
  • Making better use of readers and scribes in preparation for exams
  • Fostering resilience in order to overcome the fight or flight response to exams

Featured image: ‘Letters’ by geralt on Pixabay. Original image licensed by CC0 Public Domain

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Mastery in Mathematics (6): Research and lesson adaption to fit the new GCSE curriculum

An Action Research project by Rory McMahon (Mathematics)

Aims of the Project

The aim of this project was to research ‘Mastery in Mathematics’ and the implications its’ introduction would have on our Faculty in terms of:

  • The new AQA Curriculum
  • Adjustments to the Scheme of Work
  • Alterations to lessons to promote ‘Mastery’

Background and context

This project started in response to the recent changes to the Maths curriculum which take effect from the 2017 GCSE’s. As a Faculty we looked to change our practice in light of the recent changes. The curriculum changes are as follows:

  • There is more content to teach with harder topics being introduced.
  • There is a greater emphasis on problem-solving and mathematical reasoning, with more marks in the GCSE exams being allocated to these higher-order skills.
  • The total examination time is increasing with all exams taken at the end of the course.
  • Students will also have to memorise formulae.
  • There is a new grade structure from 9 to 1, with fewer marks at the lower grades and more marks at the higher grades.

Actions taken

Peer observations to gauge the level of Mastery evident in lessons in September/October

As a Faculty all teachers took part in peer observations during Term 1 in an attempt to see good practice in action as well as gauge the level of ‘Mastery’ evident in existing lessons. Positive and constructive feedback was given and a discussion on how ‘Mastery’ could become more visible in lessons was held during Faculty meetings.

Scheme of Work changed from Kangaroo to AQA

The decision was made in January to make the switch from the Kangaroo scheme of work to the new AQA scheme to attempt to get pupils used to the new format in time for the start of the 2016-2017 academic year. Although it was thought to be a better move in the long run, there were some challenges to this approach. Firstly, a comparison of the schemes had to be made and topics which were covered already had to be crossed off.  However with the level of many topics increased, we needed to pick out sections of topics which students had not been previously been exposed to and teach those separately. Secondly, the increased difficulty of concepts and the change in focus to ‘Mastery’ proved to be difficult for students to adjust to. We were hoping they would adapt quickly to the problem solving nature of lessons as this was a style which they had not been previously used to.

Adaption of End of unit tests to support Mastery

End of Unit Tests now include Mastery style questions to build up resilience and retests are available and encouraged, so that students now have the key skills needed to succeed at this form of questioning. This is a work in progress which has been embraced by the pupils as they can see progression from the first sitting of the test to the second. It also gives them more opportunity to sample the type of examination questions they will be expected to answer in the coming years.

Further peer observations planned to see how Mastery is developing and lesson adjustments

Again in Term 3/4 the Maths Faculty undertook peer observations to observe the increase in focus towards ‘Mastery’ in lessons as standard practice. The Faculty was unanimous in the conclusion that Mastery questions were most easily integrated into the bell-work phase of the lesson or alternatively and possibly most effectively, during the Plenary phase. Personally, I found giving the students a ‘Mastery’ question as their plenary always challenged the pupils to think about the skills they had learnt in that lesson in a different way. Once the students spotted this they began to widen their horizons in terms of spotting links between different concepts learned. Some examples of Lesson alterations can be seen below.

Example 1

Our pupils in this case would have spent the majority of the lesson learning about the sum of the interior angles of polygons. In this question, they have to apply that knowledge but also represent their answers as fractions in their simplest form.

interior angles

Example 2

Factorising 1

A standard lesson on Factorising Expressions would concentrate on embedding the relevant skills needed as above. However, the Plenary to this lesson looks like the following slide below.

Factorising

The students are encouraged to use a skill learned in the lesson to solve a different style of problem, thus establishing links between different concepts.

 Adoption of Eastern Asian styles of teaching (learning information)

 It is widely recognised that the countries of Eastern Asia out-perform their UK counterparts in relation to attainment of Mathematics in primary and secondary schools. International tests show that in these countries the percentage of 15-year-olds who are functionally innumerate – unable to perform basic calculations – was more than 10 percentage points lower than in England. As recently as 12/07/2016, news broke of a £41m support for 8,000 primary schools in England to adopt the approach which is used by the leading performers in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The Eastern Asian method has the following features:

  • Emphasis on problem solving and comprehension, allowing students to relate what they learn and to connect knowledge
  • Careful scaffolding of core competencies of :
    • visualisation, as a platform for comprehension
    • mental strategies, to develop decision making abilities
    • pattern recognition, to support the ability to make connections and generalise
  • Emphasis on the foundations for learning and not on the content itself so students learn to think mathematically as opposed to merely reciting formulas or procedures.

As a Faculty we have tried to integrate the techniques of embedding skills in the minds of our students and then getting them to apply these skills to problems. Previous lessons would consist of teaching skills and then getting pupils to practice these skills for the remainder of the lesson. Now, our attention has changed to using and applying these skills to problem solving for real-life situations. 

On-going adaption of the Scheme of Work to include NRICH activities to further develop Mastery 

Before the focus on ‘Mastery’, the Maths Faculty always felt that problem solving was a crucial attribute for students to develop. This was enhanced by our used of ‘The Nrich Project’ from the University of Cambridge.

“NRICH is a team of qualified teachers who are also practitioners in RICH mathematical thinking. This unique blend means that NRICH is ideally placed to offer advice and support to both learners and teachers of mathematics.”

NRICH aims to:

  • Enrich the experience of the mathematics curriculum for all learners
  • Offer challenging and engaging activities
  • Develop mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Show rich mathematics in meaningful contexts
  • Work in partnership with teachers, schools and other educational settings

For teachers of mathematics, NRICH:

  • Offer free enrichment material (Problems, Articles and Games) for all ages that really can help to inspire and engage learners and embed RICH tasks into everyday practice.
  • Help to promote RICH thinking in classrooms by offering on-line and face-to-face support at Primary and Secondary level.
  • Deliver professional development courses and workshops in rich mathematics.
  • Help teachers to think strategically about ‘next steps’ and progression in problem solving.

In 2014-2015 ‘NRICH lessons’ were held once per term to help enhance the problem solving skills of students. In 2015-2016 it was felt that the Faculty should conduct NRICH lessons once per fortnight as the shift in focus was becoming apparent at that stage. Moving forward, the Maths Faculty has created a bank of NRICH lessons to be used in conjunction with the new Scheme of Work for the academic year 2016-2017. Some snapshots of how these were integrated can be seen below.

sow-1.png

sow-2.png

Impact

As a Faculty, we have discussed the possible impact of our endeavours to adjust our teaching and learning to the new and challenging ‘Mastery’ curriculum. As this style of teaching and type of examination questions have been rolled out, students have become more familiar with the concept. Therefore, we can say there has been definite progress in the students’ familiarity with the style of future exam questions.

Secondly, we can state that the confidence of our pupils has increased with regard to structuring an answer for these questions. At the beginning of the year, receiving answers from students for bellwork and plenary ‘Mastery’ questions was a difficult ordeal! Gradually through practice and knowing they should be able to use some of the content they had covered in lessons, many were then able to attempt a reasonable answer. This developed over time so now we not only have our highest attaining students putting answers together but our bottom sets are also successful.

Finally, the AQA practice papers were an invaluable resource. As with the previous strategies, students found the change in structure and expectations very difficult to deal with. Therefore, we gave students the practice paper to attempt and gave them a grade. Once the papers were handed back, students could then go through the mark scheme with green pens to see where they could have picked up more marks. Also, answers that had four, five or even six steps were often broken down by the teachers for the class. Students then had the opportunity to re-sit the examination as a confidence building exercise. Slowly but surely the results for the first sitting of the tests began to improve but as a Faculty we realise this is a work in progress.

 Conclusions

  • The new AQA Curriculum has been rolled out and used for six months this academic year (2015-16) allowing teachers the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the format and tests.
  • The new Scheme of Work has been adjusted to accommodate ‘NRICH’ lessons which we see as crucial to embedding a culture of problem solving across the department.
  • New lessons have been created and existing lessons have been amended to include ‘Mastery’ questions in the bellwork or plenary phases.
  • There is a confidence in the Faculty that we are ready to begin the 2016/2017 secure in our knowledge of the new requirements to ensure the continued progress of pupils in the Mathematics Faculty.

References

Department for Education (DfE). (2013a). National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, J. Swafford, J. & Findell, B.(eds.)(2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Mathematics Learning Study Committee: National Research Council.

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/45776 [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/40529 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2015). National Curriculum Assessment Materials. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/46689 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

Ofsted  (2015) Better Mathematics Conference Keynote Spring 2015. Paper presented at the Better Mathematics Conference, Norwich, Norfolk.

Featured image: original image ‘Map of Mathematics Poster’ by Dominic Wallman, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/95869671@N08/32264483720

 

 

Nurturing student talent in Art at Key Stage 3 in preparation for the challenges of GCSE

An Action Research Project by Tanya Owen (Art & Design)

As Van Gogh once wrote, “…one must never let the fire go out in one’s soul, but keep it burning.”

I began this research project as a direct response to teaching 4 out of 5 Art and Design groups in year 8. This particular year group has an extremely wide ability spectrum, a number of pupils with behavioural issues and one lesson a week to teach them Art in. I felt as a teacher I was not spending enough time with the higher achieving pupils. Even though I would differentiate the work, by the time the rest of the pupils were focused I would only have a limited amount of time to support pupils in developing more technical and refined skills.

I understand implicitly how to teach a pupil at GCSE level to achieve an A*. A lot of one to one work and time inside and sometimes outside of normal lessons is needed; discussing ideas; teaching technical skills and instilling the confidence to experiment with materials and make mistakes. This year, my A and A* students spent a lot of extra time after school or at lunchtimes working though these criteria and stretching their ambitions and creativity in a relaxed and supportive environment.  A trusting and positive relationship was developed with these individuals, which helped them to feel safe and to succeed.

As a response to this, I decided to begin a Year 8 Art Club for pupils who aspired to be talented artists so that they too could have a relaxed space in which to be creative and where I could teach them to a higher level, spark their creativity and tap into their imagination.

What does a talented Artist look like?

  1. They think and express themselves in creative and original ways

Pupils want to follow a different plan to other pupils and have strong personal ideas. They often challenge the tasks given and can extend the work in a fantastic direction.

  1. Have a strong desire to create in a visual form

They are driven by their imagination, flights of fancy, humanitarian concerns or personal issues/subject matter. They persevere with resolving visual problems and complete tasks successfully.

  1. Push the boundaries of a normal process

They test ideas and problem solve. They explore ways in which to depict ideas, feelings, emotions and meanings. They are excited by new ideas and ways of looking at their work and are not frightened by it.

  1. Show a passionate interest in the world of art and design

They are often interested in a particular art form, contemporary culture or youth culture.

  1. Use materials, tools and techniques skilfully and learn new approaches

They are keen to extend and explore their technical ability and can sometimes become frustrated when their skills do not allow them to do what they would like to do initially but they persevere.

  1. Initiate ideas and define problems

They can explore ideas, problems and sources on their own and collaboratively with a sense of purpose and meaning.

  1. Critically evaluate visual work and other information

They make unusual connections and links with the work of other artists. They can apply the ideas/techniques to their own work in a non-linear and innovative way.

  1. Exploit the characteristics of materials and processes

They use and understand materials well and even invent new ways of using them.

  1. Understand the ideas and meanings in their own and others’ work

Their work has meaning and a narrative which they can talk to you about on a very personal level.

As a visual person, I find definitions in words quite difficult and find the use of concrete examples much clearer, such as in the following examples of a current GCSE pupils’ work:

Fig 1

Fig 2Fig 3

Leading ultimately, to the completed project.

Fig 4

So, having clearly defined what a talented Artist’s work looks like I decided to take a very small part of this to tackle with the year 8 group. For me, it was important to inspire and excite the students about the subject. I began by running workshops for the pupils outside of lessons. Although the pupils seemed to be quite happy with this, there were not many participants and they lacked enthusiasm. So I decided to let the pupils take the lead…

Although one or two found this freedom a little difficult, we talked individually about what they wanted to do and came up with some themes and concepts. Most pupils, however, brought in their sketchbooks from home; drawings they had already done and artists’ work they particularly liked and were very excited to show me what they really enjoyed. This brought a whole new energy to the group and many more joined. Many of the pupils were very motivated by Manga Images. Pupils need to have a certain technical aptitude to draw these figures and faces accurately and many were doing this very skilfully. They are nevertheless, quite flat drawings and could be made a lot more exciting by adding various techniques and contexts to them. I did not want the pupils to just continue with creating pastiches of the artists’ work.

The Manga drawings are quite flat and cartoon like….

Fig 5

Other pupils within the group focused on various things from cake prints to make Birthday cards as well as continuing to explore classwork, to which they were be able to add some of the new techniques explored.

Fig 6

I did two weeks of each workshop demonstrating techniques and trying to get the pupils excited about applying more exciting patterns and textures into their drawings and artwork.

Fig 7

The pupils did enjoy this but seemed to do it a bit reluctantly, as most wanted to carry on with and develop their own pieces of work.

I then began to look at evidence about creativity.

Fig 8

‘The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself.’ (from an article in the Guardian)

First, creativity, like learning in general, is a highly personal process. We all have different talents and aptitudes and different ways of getting to understand things. Raising achievement in schools means leaving room for these differences and not prescribing a standard ‘steeplechase’ for everyone to complete, at the same time and in the same way.

Second, creativity is not a linear process, in which you have to learn all the necessary skills before you get started. It is true that creative work in any field involves a growing mastery of skills and concepts. It is not true that they have to be mastered before the creative work can begin. Focusing on skills in isolation can kill interest in any discipline. The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself. When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done. Their mastery of them grows as their creative ambitions expand.

Third, facilitating this process takes connoisseurship, judgment – and, yes, creativity, on the part of teachers. For creativity to flourish, schools have to feel free to innovate without the constant fear of being penalised for not keeping with the programme.

So, although teaching pupils new skills is effective, it would be more effective to get the pupils to answer technical  questions about their work through a desire to create a piece in a certain way.  As a teacher the challenge then is to facilitate this vision…to answer and give options to creative questions.

How do I give this creature an eerie texture?

Fig 9

How do I make this hair look more lively?

Fig 10

How do I make the paint more dribbly and random on my flowers?

Fig 11

This process has had a powerful effect on the relationship I have with those pupils. There is a greater trust that they will be able to succeed with me as their teacher, which for me is very important, as I feel it has been this group of students in particular who can be marginalised in lessons. They also have a greater confidence in the art classroom as they have a greater ownership of it. Independence and confidence has risen. I am trying to use the club as an opportunity to talk about classwork in a non-formal way so that I am able to have a bigger input into stretching their abilities and ambitions inside and outside the formal setting.

Ultimately, I want pupils to have more ‘attitude’. When I consider what is different between my most able pupils at GCSE and this group in year 8; it is that the GCSE candidates are argumentative, protective and almost stubborn about their ideas. This ‘attitude’ gives them resilience in resolving their own creative dilemmas.

As a consequence of this research I intend to proceed as follows:

My Action Plan

  • Encourage pupils to integrate new techniques into their own ideas/work to make it visually richer and craft a creative final piece.
  • Try to give them the confidence to deal with mistakes. It could lead to a new idea and the pupils may have the courage to go down a creative journey in which they do not know the outcome.
  • Add links on our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to various pencil and paint techniques so pupils can access them and learn how to do these at home;
    • Watercolour – salt technique, texture and cling film, blurring and wash on wash
    • Creating texture and collage – using tissue paper, glue gun, pva, pulp, newspaper, magazines
    • Pencil techniques – realistic drawing, creating texture using a pencil, portrait drawing
  • Plan an art trip for year 9 next year to raise aspirations further and run another art club based on this.

Featued image: Wallpaper Geometric Art Abstract Waves Background  Creative Commons Zero – CC0

Approaches to Teaching in a Knowledge Based Curriculum

An Action Research Project by Daniel James (Computing)

Focus of Project

In deciding on a focus for my Action Research (AR) Project I had to consider what were the biggest influence and challenges that I would face as a teaching professional over the next 12 months or more. It was with this hat on that I decided the biggest challenge would be the move from a skill-based ICT KS4 curriculum to a knowledge based Computing curriculum.

It is worth noting that as teachers I believe we would say we have always been teaching in a knowledge based curriculum, with our main goal being to provide students with the information (and skills) that will assist them in the future. However in 2013 Michael Gove brought this area of education centre stage. As a result, what we once considered to be a knowledge based curriculum did not contain enough knowledge. The new knowledge based curriculum was born.

At first the approach I took to my action research project was to look through some well known teaching pedagogies, including; de Bono’s Hats[1], Solo Taxonomy[2] and The Flipped Classroom[3]. Although these provided ideas for specific teaching approaches; such as providing students with different perspectives within which to approach tasks or different levels by which to structure understanding. I believed they muddied the water of how to approach teaching in an increasingly knowledge based curriculum because they focused on other aspects of learning and in particular would have needed embedding with students before they impacted upon learning.

It was with this research in hand that I decided that my focus would be on two generic approaches to teaching, that of the independent student-led approach and the teacher-led approach. The outcome of which would be the answer to the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum?

 Objective

The objective of this Action Research is to investigate approaches to teaching within the new knowledge based curriculum. I will be investigating the learning differences between a teacher-led approach and a student-led approach. The end objective is to determine which approach facilitates more effective learning from the students.

The Knowledge Based Curriculum

In March 2011 Alison Wolf produced The Wolf Report[4] reviewing the state of vocational education. This report led the way to the GCSE and vocational reforms seen over recent years. The Wolf Report concluded that “Good vocational programmes are, therefore, respected, valued and an important part of our, and any other country’s educational provision. But many vocational students are not following courses of this type”[5].

This then paved the way for the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to announce changes to the curriculum across all stages of education. He detailed that students needed to have a “stock of knowledge”[6] and that “unless you have knowledge … all you will find on Google is babble”.

The impact of this was the slimming down of the number of accredited GCSE and vocational subjects, increasing the knowledge needed for the courses that remained to be accredited and the introduction of a new attainment and progress standard for schools (Attainment and Progress 8[7]).

In September 2015 the first of these new GCSE’s was being taught in Maths and English, with the rest of the curriculum to follow in 2016. The subsequent Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, outlined the importance of this new knowledge curriculum in a speech delivered in January 2015. “At the heart of our reforms has been the determination to place knowledge back at the core of what pupils learn in school”[8]. From this point onwards it was clear that knowledge over skills was going to be the academic currency on offer.

This educational change seemed to be at odds with the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), where they were insisting that there was a skills shortage from young people leaving education. In 2015 the CBI published a report into the educational climate; this report was titled “Inspiring Growth”[9].

The report suggested that the government reforms should provide young adults with the correct attitudes for work. Findings included that employers looked for attitudes and aptitudes before formal qualifications and that employers look for a combination of academic and vocational studies. You can draw your own conclusions from the study but I see it as a counter argument for the wholly knowledge based curriculum that all students must complete; it seems to be at odds with such a curriculum.

Educational Pedagogies

Joe Kirby, in Pragmatic Education December 2013[10], suggests that there is a distinct difference in the approaches to skills and knowledge and that “These are contrasting mind-sets; they result in different pedagogies”.

He argues that knowledge based learning “prioritises memory, instruction and practice”, with the aim for pupils being to “know, understand, remember recall…connect their knowledge”.

Kirby suggests that skill-led learning facilitated by constructivism provides variety at the expense of clarity; he says “Cognitivism and knowledge-led instruction prioritise clarity and memory to avoid confusion and forgetting”. He advocates the knowledge approach: “In a nutshell, variety [constructivism] is a distraction”. Knowledge-led learning is best because of its scientific approach in which there is a formulaic approach to learning with a tried and tested method of delivery (e.g. the three part lesson). This approach is also backed up by Scott[11] on his blog, where he discusses skill based versus knowledge based learning.

Headguruteacher[12], in 12 principles of effective teaching January 2016, highlights, in his blog, that one of the 12 principles of effective teaching as being “Tool them up”, which commented on providing the students with the resources to enable them to learn with or without a specialist teacher in the room, however he noted “not all students can use these materials readily and need to be shown how.”

Headguruteacher also commented that teaching for memory was an important principle, “They [students] need strategies to do this; primarily lots of practice”. Interestingly the 12th and final principle of effective teaching centred on the two approaches I investigated during this Action Research project. He titled it as “Get some balance”, in which he recommended that teaching should be 80% “Mode A” teacher which is straight, rigorous cycles of explanation, model content, practice and feedback. The further 20% was “Mode B” teacher which uses awe and wonder and open-ended exploration to achieve deeper learning.

These studies stood out among the reading completed for this research as they had direct relevance for my classroom focused project. I used a combination of these in my own approach. This is detailed in the next section.

My Approaches and Actions

Having chosen to look at both student-led and teacher-led approaches I decided to split my two approaches over two periods of time so as to get direct comparisons. The first approach was a student-led approach. The idea behind this was to provide students with a guide as to what information they needed to know and what knowledge they needed to acquire (success criteria).

The emphasis in this approach was on the students being independent in finding out the knowledge, researching and clarifying ideas and theories in their own way.

dj1

figure 1

An example of this approach is the Frog VLE page (figure 1) in which success criteria are provided and the task set was for students to develop their own understanding in the three main areas as outlined in the blue file link boxes.

This approach was continued over a number of lessons until an end of topic test was complete. This provided evidence about the students learning under this method.

The next approach was to use a teacher led approach in which the students made notes from the teacher presentations while verbal explanation was also provided. This was then cemented by questions about the content they have just heard.

This approach negated the need for independent work and concentrated on the students’ ability to process the information they have just received.

An example of this approach is the series of slides taken from the KS4 computing module on data representation (figure 2 and 3). In this topic the knowledge element was very high and beyond what students had done before in computing. The combination of teacher led knowledge and questions to cement knowledge were used over a number of lessons.

figure 2                                                        figure 3

At the end of the trial of both approaches undertaken, the students were, as a class, interviewed and their results used alongside work scrutiny and classroom observation to formulate the findings which are detailed below.

Impact

The student-led approach had a variety of impacts on student learning. The first being that those students who had been resilient when finding this approach challenging found that they were better able to understand a topic. They believed that “they were better able to put it into their own thinking”. Some of the students who struggled with this method said that they liked the openness of tasks but that they needed more boundaries as it was “easy to go off task”. They felt that if a worksheet had been provided to place the information in they may have had more chance of progressing well.

The work scrutiny backed this up but I found that even when a worksheet was given, some did not complete it due to the openness of the task and the challenging nature of having to find the knowledge for themselves. (See image evidence below).

A student’s work without worksheet guidance: success criteria and then independent research and production of evidence of completing task. It is worth noting this is a B grade target student who at this point was working around the C grade (figure 4).

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figure 4

A student’s work with worksheet guidance: This allowed students to concentrate on their own knowledge acquisition. As you can see there are gaps which had to be filled with teacher explanation as the student lacked the resilience to continue with their own research (figure 5).

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figure 5

The second notable impact of the student-led approach was the effect on students extended knowledge. Students were able to explain in detail the areas they had successfully investigated but this was usually at the expense of other areas of the topic. Students felt that there was too much information available and that they often got caught in learning about an area in too great a depth. This depth was not needed for the current course; which itself creates another dilemma. How do you stop students going into too much depth? Or even, should we stop them in their pursuit of knowledge?

Evidence of the issue of depth versus breadth of knowledge was shown through their end of module tests where the results were below that of their target and showed a greater depth of knowledge in some areas which was lacking in others (figure 5 and 6).

figure 5                                                    figure 6

Both of these tests were examples of core knowledge gained in one particular area but not in others. The student on the left scored well in input, output and storage devices whereas the one of the right scored well in The CPU element.

In researching the teacher led approach I decided that I would provide the information, meaning students having to make notes and then answer questions around it. This was also supplemented with structured note sheets (figure 7 and 8).

                                        figure 7                                                     figure 8

The findings from this were very interesting. From a pupil voice perspective they found the teacher led lessons “a bit boring” but they said they understood more of the topic and in greater detail because they had been explained by an expert first. The students liked the note sheets; in particular the boys as this circumnavigated the need to be tidy in the books as it was already done for them.

For my view point I had the ‘safety blanket’ of knowing that the course content had been provided for the students but also the knowledge that the explanation was directly relevant for the content of the GCSE. However the preparation that went into these lessons was much greater in thinking about how best to explain the content, design the lesson materials and the subsequent assessment tasks.

The end of module assessments with the teacher-led approach had shown a marked improvement from the first approach taken. There was greater knowledge across the class with the answers in the assessments being of a consistently higher quality (figure 9).

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figure 9

Executive Summary and Next Steps

As a result of the action research there are a number of things I will focus on doing differently. Firstly, lessons will primarily be planned around the teacher-led approach in which content is delivered by me and then further questioning and tasks are designed to aid memory recall. In the creation of the teacher-led lesson the resources will be differentiated and allow for progression of knowledge at a pace that will be appropriate for the class.

Where possible I will also use the student-led approach but limit the resources that the students have to find the answers. This would then avoid the issues around the depth of knowledge at the expense of breadth whilst still encouraging student-led learning.

One of the key areas from this research that I will be taking forward is not being afraid to ‘teacher talk’ as this has been shown to be the most efficient way of students gaining knowledge in certain circumstances. This does need to be punctuated with questioning and mini-tasks so as to avoid student disengagement.

In the future I will avoid doing student-led lessons where the knowledge content is too specific. The reasoning for this is because a student-led lesson may result in students researching areas that are not specifically associated with the qualification, therefore not gaining the necessary knowledge for the exams.

In the planning and delivery of lessons my thinking has changed from primarily providing an engaging lesson to a lesson that provides the students with the academic opportunities to shine. This shift in thinking has meant I have concentrated more on the content of the teacher presentation than on the tasks that the students would do. The reason for this is because without the correct knowledge shared by me the students will not be able to complete any task fully, irrespective of delivery.

Finally, to answer the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum? There is no ‘right’ way to teach a knowledge based lesson and a variety is needed to get the most out of all students. However this research has found that a teacher-led approach produces better student results.

It is worth noting that in the initial research Headguruteacher commented that 20% of teaching should be ‘mode B’ teacher, this is what I am aiming for in the future.

In summary:

  • Teacher-led and student-led teaching approaches were used across a number of modules. Students interviewed and assessed at the end of modules.
  • Student-led lessons had increased pupil engagement and interest however it was found that acquisition of knowledge was incomplete and as a result module test scores were lower.
  • Teacher-led lessons had increased pupil results and understanding of the topic but led to a decrease in pupil engagement (more compliance than engagement).

Next Steps

  • Continue action research model on a bigger class with different ability levels.
  • Investigate the impact and work on resilience to challenge learners as a tool for improving student knowledge acquisition.

Sources and references

[1] De Bono’s Hats (http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php)

[2] SOLO Taxonomy (http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/solo.htm)

[3] Flipped Classroom. (https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf)

[4] Wolf Report (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/180504/DFE-00031-2011.pdf)

[5] Wolf Report- Executing Summary. Paragraph 2/3.

[6] Gove Sets out ‘Core Knowledge’ curriculum plans (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21346812)

[7] Progress 8 Measures (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/497937/Progress-8-school-performance-measure.pdf)

[8] Nicky Morgan: why knowledge matters (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nicky-morgan-why-knowledge-matters)

[9] Inspiring Growth (http://news.cbi.org.uk/reports/education-and-skills-survey-2015/)

[10] Pragmatic Education: How best to teach: Knowledge-led or skills-led lessons? (https://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/how-best-to-teach/)

[11] Sscott (http://targetmaps.co.uk/knowledge-based-curriculum-vs-skills-based-curriculum/)

[12] Headguruteacher: Principles of Effective Teaching (https://headguruteacher.com/2016/01/10/principles-of-effective-teaching/)

Featured image: ‘Study time concept’ courtesy of http://www.freeimages.co.uk

 

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (2)

(Featured image: “Image Provided by Classroom Clipart“)

An Action Research project by Jodie Johnson

The aim of this project was to explore different ways in which we could embed the new ‘mastery in maths’ curriculum into our day to day teaching. The curriculum has changed dramatically for Key Stage 3 and 4 in terms of the way students will be assessed; while the content is largely the same the way in which we teach the new curriculum has to be adapted to this new style if our students are to be successful .

Our aims were:

  • To clarify exactly what ‘mastery’ means for our subject
  • What this means for us as a faculty as a whole and our teaching styles; we then wanted to work on how this should directly impact on our individual lessons and assessments
  • To begin to think about how we could allow our students the opportunity to be more resilient in our subject and therefore more ready to face the new style of questioning that they will be challenged with
  • Finally, we worked on how the mastery curriculum could be embedded more formally into our schemes of work.

Background

Looking formally at ‘Mastery in Mathematics’ is vital for our department at this time as our current year 10 are the first to face the new mastery curriculum at GCSE level. It was essential that we took the time as a department to focus on the shifting focuses of the new curriculum; it was important that we did this together and that we did it now. In our initial meeting we wanted to address the differing opinions we had in terms of what we thought mastery was and then whether this mirrored what the new curriculum required. Once we had clarified this for ourselves it was important to us that the students could articulate what we meant by mastery.  Finally and most importantly we needed to work on how this would impact on our day to day teaching methods so that our teaching style was adapted and in turn we were preparing our students as best we possibly could for the challenges they would be facing.

Context

We began our discussions at the beginning of the year by each focusing on a couple of specific classes that we would ensure had a ‘mastery plenary’ as often as possible and that we would use as a group to compare to the rest of our students. However we quickly realised that this would leave those that were not picked at a huge disadvantage in terms of preparing them for their assessments so we decided it was important that all of our students (in years 7-10) were experiencing ‘mastery’ style lessons.

While we felt as a department it was vital that we started to look at Mastery this year for our students, I have also been interested in this style of teaching for a while. I have become more and more conscious since I began teaching that the mathematics we were delivering to our students wasn’t necessarily preparing them for the real world but for an exam that we could pretty much second guess in terms of what it would look like. Like most other mathematics teachers I have worked with, I felt the problem solving skills and fluency that we should be teaching our students was being lost and replaced with teaching students how to answer a seemingly random set of questions in order to pass exams and this meant that they did not have a deep understanding of the concepts they were being taught. In my opinion, Mathematics should be an exercise in problem solving, it should stretch a person’s mind to work in a way that no other subject does and this was being lost as result of the pressure which falls heavily upon teachers shoulders to hit target grades. The new mastery curriculum while daunting for maths teachers in the short term, I saw and still see, as an exciting and hugely beneficial thing in the long term for our future generation of Mathematicians. How exactly this would look in my classroom, how I could ensure I was preparing them to problem solve and enjoy mathematics, while at the same time preparing them to pass their exams in maths is something I was grateful to have the time to do while preparing this Action Research Project.

Actions

As a department there are several ways in which we have modified our teaching since working together as a learning focus group1.

Research into Mastery and how this affected our work

All member of the department undertook their own individual research into what mastery was and we the brought it together in our learning focus meetings. We found that the most important factor when teaching the mastery curriculum was that of fluency between topics. We decided after our reading that for our students, especially those that would be facing the foundation curriculum this was something that we were not currently doing successfully, building their resilience in mathematics was paramount.   If they were to be successful mathematicians we needed to instil some confidence in them that it is completely fine to get things wrong in mathematics.

We also discovered various ways in which other countries have approached the teaching of Mathematics. We looked at the potential impact adopting Eastern Asian styles of teaching would have on our students and decided that some time would need to be dedicated to our students ‘learning’ facts and methods in maths so they had access to them at all times when completing more open ended tasks. Things like learning times tables for our younger students is something we often presume the students know from primary school but this is often not the case and we spent some time with our weaker students actually learning things like this as home works or in class.

We discovered after conversations between the team that articulating mathematics is something that is important for our students in order to ‘master’ a topic and that again our current methods weren’t necessarily allowing enough opportunity for this skill to be developed. We have therefore spent much more time on questions where students have to prove answers and in my lessons I questions students in a slightly different way, emphasising the importance of clarity in their working, asking questions like “Are you sure about that? Prove it to me as your current working doesn’t convince me”. This form of questioning also forces my students to think more precisely about what they are writing and the way in which they are presenting their work.

We researched different methods that we could use every lesson that wouldn’t necessarily link directly to individual topics. For example, asking questions like:

“Where does this fit into what we did last week?”

“Can you show me another way to do that?”

“Is that the only way to do that question?”

Adapting Assessments

At the beginning of the year we were working from a scheme of work called ‘Kangaroo’. We have worked on this for the least 4 years as a faculty but with the new curriculum changes Kangaroo have also updated their aims and lesson objectives. We continued to follow this scheme of work but adapted our assessments to include mastery style questions that we found on the Kangaroo website as well as the AQA website (which is the GCSE board we will be following) at the end of each unit of work. This meant that our students now needed much more fluency between subject areas and we were working at dispelling the myth that ‘a Pythagoras question looks like this’, ‘an expanding brackets question looks like this’ etc. We were starting to force our students to think of Mathematics as a puzzle and that each individual topic was just one piece and that they would need all the pieces to answer these new style questions.

Over the last 3 years we have been developing our schemes of work to incorporate more and more ‘Nrich’ challenges (Nrich is a website created by Cambridge University which has open ended questions and what we now recognise as ‘Mastery challenges’). While we have informally taught Nrich lessons once a fortnight for the last few years, one member of the department has now formally added appropriate Nrich lessons to our schemes of work where they naturally fit into the subject areas we are teaching. The rationale behind this is that the students will get used to being ‘stuck’ (no Nrich challenge is a 5 minute problem with a yes or no answer – each one takes at least an hour and the students will become more and more familiar with getting themselves unstuck as part of the experience). One adaptation I made during these lessons during the year was to only allow students to ask 3 questions of me the teacher per Nrich lesson. This forced them to have to really think about whether they needed to ask the questions or whether they were actually being too teacher reliant.

While this year was very much an experimental year in terms of the best way to adopt ‘mastery’ in the classroom, one thing that we were keen to get right was our assessments. We felt it was essential that the assessments the students were doing to inform our data on their learning resembled closely what their final assessments would look like in order to make our data as accurate as possible. In some cases (especially in year 10) this has meant students’ progress data has taken a hit, however we felt preparation for the new mastery curriculum was paramount. This also meant that we could build resilience, not just in the classroom when we are teaching and when they have the luxury of checking their answers and ideas with their peers and teacher but when the students needed to transfer this to the exam hall and feel as though they needed to at least attempt questions (especially the larger 6-8 mark questions which we have not seen before) without fear of getting them wrong.

Changing plenaries

In order to prepare our students for the new style curriculum we started to use plenary questions that paired more than one topic with that which was taught during the lesson. In the Appendix you will find two plenaries which show how mastery could be demonstrated once a topic has been covered.  There is also a full lesson which shows Levelled learning objectives and how we now must link subject content to other areas to secure ‘mastery’. Hopefully these will show how fluency between topics is now essential to completing most of my planned plenaries this year. While there was some resistance from students initially, the students do recognise the importance of doing this and have adapted accordingly.

Peer Observations

In order to help each other and compare our work, myself and another member of the faculty paired up to complete some peer observations. We used the time to discuss ideas and how the topics taught could be connected to other areas of maths.  This helped both of us to plan appropriate mastery style questions for the main bulk of the lessons and the plenaries. The joint planning that went into these lessons allowed us to think about the fluency between other areas and topics, as well as standardising the way we delivered our plenaries and most importantly, the different ways in which we were trying to build resilience in the subject.  As a faculty we plan to complete at least one peer observation per term to see how mastery is developing.

Impact and Conclusion

The impact our actions have had on the faculty will be felt in time. While there is no concrete evidence that can be shared in this document, I think that from my perspective, it has forced me to think about my practice and the fluency and links I make when teaching. My mathematics has certainly improved as a result of teaching the new curriculum, especially since I have a very able top set in year 10, who need to be challenged to reach their potential – the new assessments that we have even challenged me, which has been great!

While many students are still not comfortable with the new curriculum and style in which we now have to teach mathematics it is definitely improving, my students, especially the most able, are always very excited when they realise we are having an ‘Nrich lesson’ and now ask me at the start of lessons whether that is what we are doing today. This is an improvement on where we were at the start of the year since they didn’t tend to enjoy and therefore excel in these lessons because they were being pushed out of their comfort zone.

My key stage three classes have improved greatly in terms of their resilience and are now much more able to access mastery plenary questions that I give them to practice. At the beginning of the year many, especially my least able in year 7 and 8 would simply freeze when they were confronted with a questions that didn’t directly relate to the subject we had been focused on during the lesson. It is a gradual process but it is certainly a picture that is improving.

As I have mentioned above, the first mock our year 10 students took in June did not necessarily show strong progress, however in terms of my class, their reaction certainly showed maturity and resilience which is what this new curriculum requires our students to show. They worked solidly on their mock papers once they had been marked to understand as many questions as possible. Since they now understand the importance of keeping going – they are keen to do so.

Next Steps

Continuing our work on mastery is essential if we are to mould students to being successful not just in maths but in terms of their resilience to tackle problems and overcome their fear of getting things wrong. It is important that our work continues over the next few years and that any new team member understands why this is so important. Next year we will continue developing our lesson plans and assessments.  We will continue to work on Nrich challenges with our students and the peer observations that myself and another colleague completed will be rolled out to all members of the faculty. The standardisation of our lessons is important so that our students recognise that when they come to the maths corridor they will be challenged and need to have access to all areas of maths, not just those that they have been taught in the last 45 minutes.

This project is certainly an ongoing piece of work that we need to build on over the next few years. Our students will certainly become more comfortable with the mastery curriculum as we move forward, especially as this year Key Stage 1 & 2 have also been introduced to the new ‘mastery curriculum’ at their level, which should mean students are being moulded to move more freely between topics and solve problems independently. I look forward to seeing how our students develop as our teaching styles become more accustomed to the new curriculum.

Footnotes

  1. Learning Focus Groups – For professional development purposes staff work in small groups who share a common interest in developing an aspect of their teaching practice. These groups provide a forum for discussion, support, sharing and joint activities to help each teacher develop their own individual Action Research project.

Appendix

Plenary 1

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Plenary 2

 

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Full lesson

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Plenary

 

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References

Department for Education (DfE). (2013a). National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, J. Swafford, J. & Findell, B.(eds.)(2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Mathematics Learning Study Committee: National Research Council.

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/45776 [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/40529 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2015). National Curriculum Assessment Materials. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/46689 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

Ofsted  (2015) Better Mathematics Conference Keynote Spring 2015. Paper presented at the Better Mathematics Conference, Norwich, Norfolk.

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (1)

(Featured image: ‘Multiplication sentence written in multiples of three’ http://www.freeimages.co.uk/)

Mastery in Maths: Research and lesson adaptation to fit the new criteria in Maths

An Action Research project by Clare Mondair

Aims

The aim of this investigation was to explore aspects of Mastery in Maths to improve my own understanding of what Mastery actually means and what it would mean for the students in my lessons. In addition, my aim was to change my own teaching where necessary in order to best help the students in my classes achieve of their best. As a Faculty we aimed to work together to develop lessons that would contain a ‘Mastery’ element as well as developing resources to add to the new Scheme of Work which was quite thin on the kind of Mastery resources required.

Literature Review

Although there are many differences between the education systems in England and Eastern Asia, the ‘mastery’ approach to teaching commonly followed in these countries can teach us much.

According to the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. (October 2014), the main principles and features characterised by this approach are that:

  • Teachers reinforce an expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards in mathematics.
  • The large majority of pupils progress through the curriculum content at the same pace.
  • Differentiation is achieved by emphasising deep knowledge and through individual support and intervention.
  • Teaching is underpinned by methodical curriculum design and supported by carefully crafted lessons and resources to foster deep conceptual and procedural knowledge.
  • Practice and consolidation play a central role. Carefully designed variation within this builds fluency and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts in tandem.
  • Teachers use precise questioning in class to test conceptual and procedural knowledge, and assess pupils regularly to identify those requiring intervention so that all pupils keep up.

The intention of these approaches is to provide all children with full access to the curriculum, enabling them to achieve confidence and competence – ‘mastery’ – in mathematics, rather than many failing to develop the maths skills they need for the future. In addition, it has been recognised that for many schools and teachers the shift to this ‘mastery curriculum’ will be a significant one requiring new approaches to lesson design, teaching, use of resources and support of students. It also focuses on giving students the skills they need to make sensible choices and to use their knowledge to tackle problems in all sorts of situations. It also aims to develop their resilience for when the road gets tough.

There is a real need for a balanced approach here.  Of course having key facts at your disposal is very helpful when it comes to solving problems, especially when in an unfamiliar context but the need to be flexible and adaptable is too. Also helpful is being able to use what you do know to get you facts you don’t know.  For some students when learning their tables it can take a while to get 11 x 12 to “stick”, but if they are confident with 10 x 12 = 120 then they know how to get to the answer pretty quickly by adding on another 12.  Therefore, it is their understanding of the structure and not just my knowledge of the facts that helps out in tables tests. This is what sets students out on the road to mastery of the times tables!

Mastery of the Mathematics curriculum encourages ‘intelligent practice’ to enable students to develop conceptual understanding alongside procedural fluency.  It is important to use multiple representations to support this understanding and to encourage students’ reasoning.  Students are also encouraged to solve problems from the very start of the curriculum journey, not seeing it as some ‘add on’ that can only be considered when all the facts are in place.  The challenge is developing these skills and understanding alongside mastering different aspects of the Mathematics curriculum.

Asking students to think of more than one way to answer a question not only forces them to think more laterally but it also allows discussion of methods of true ’mastery’. These types of tasks enable students to:

  • Develop mathematical language.
  • Articulate their reasoning.
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving.
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas.

The key to this success is strong peer support which must be built up over time. In addition a good pedagogic tool to use in mathematical problem solving is instead of finding one way to solve a problem find three ways. Working in pairs is key to problem solving tasks as students come up with different ways of starting and after establishing one solution they are able to share alternative ideas. A core value of ‘mastery’ is partnership, listening to each other and showing respect for different views and ideas. Allowing students to explain their thinking, asking for and giving support and encouraging feedback is very important to establish and maintain mastery of mathematics.

Research Methods

Having researched and established as a Faculty what ‘mastery’ actually meant in maths we had to think about the way in which it would be developed. An agreement was made that we had already been attempting to develop mastery in terms of problem solving over the last year but lessons were intermittent and often lost out on due to other factors of school life.

An agreement was made that we would continue to develop lessons as normal but that a majority of our lessons would now contain an aspect of mastery. Nrich lessons would continue but would be incorporated in to the new Scheme of Work where possible (Nrich is a website created by Cambridge University which has open ended questions and what we now recognise as ‘Mastery challenges’). In addition, teachers in the Faculty would make lessons that they had produced available for the whole team and we would observe mastery lessons being delivered so that we would have a good understanding of what it ‘looked’ like. This would enable consistency throughout the Faculty. Many lessons would contain the format below so the students would know that was Nrich.

nrich-cm

The lesson would then progress through a series of steps so that there was enough challenge for everyone. Students were encouraged to work at their own level, however they were also encouraged to go for the higher level challenge where possible. This would result in those students who were less able working alongside those who already had a good ‘mastery’ of mathematics. The advantage of this system meant that students were working with and supporting peers and learning from one another in their language and at their own level.

find-a-whole-cm

The above would not apply to Year 11, but all other year groups should benefit from this thinking. It would of course be especially important for the Year 10 classes as they would be sitting a new exam which would call for resilience as well as thinking outside of the box in order to tackle some of the new material.

Main Findings

Asking students to think of more than one way to answer a question not only forces them to think more laterally but it also allows discussion of methods of true ’mastery’. These types of tasks enable students to:

  • Develop mathematical language.
  • Articulate their reasoning.
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving.
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas.

The key to this success is strong peer support which must be built up over time. In addition a good pedagogic tool to use in mathematical problem solving is instead of finding one way to solve a problem find three ways. Working in pairs is key to problem solving tasks as students come up with different ways of starting and after establishing one solution they are able to share alternative ideas. A core value of ‘mastery’ is partnership, listening to each other and showing respect for different views and ideas. Allowing students to explain their thinking, asking for and giving support and encouraging feedback is very important to establish and maintain mastery of mathematics.

Using Nrich we were able to appreciate that the current mastery approach encompasses two key aspects of mathematical learning, conceptual understanding and procedural fluency, which we agree are essential for nurturing young mathematicians. In addition there are five aspects of being able to be a Master at Maths, conceptual understanding; procedural fluency; strategic competence; adaptive reasoning and productive disposition (Kilpatrick, Stafford & Findell, 2001).

  • Much of the curriculum has been moved from higher levels to lower levels resulting in students now being expected to suddenly achieve at a much higher level than previously expected.
  • Many of our students do not have the basic mathematical fluency or reasoning skills in order to access much of the new curriculum.
  • Resilience in students is key in helping to ensure that students stay on track and improve.
  • Peer support and discussion is vital if students are to succeed in mastering some of the problem solving activities and questions which will come with the new curriculum.
  • Nrich allows students to explore Mathematics in a safe environment where they don’t feel threatened by their lack of basic knowledge.

Discussion and Conclusion

Mastery can only be developed over time and is unlikely to have much impact for the first two years of the new curriculum changes. The current difficulty we face is the fact that our Ks4 students have not been brought up with this habit of mastering Mathematics and it is therefore difficult to develop these skills and follow a Scheme of Work designed for a new exam which is already challenging to our average ability and less able students.

The mastery of Mathematics is however, being thoroughly embedded in the curriculum where possible for the Ks3 students and the impact of this should be felt when the current Year 9 group begin the GCSE course.

Mastery in Mathematics will enable students to articulate their ideas, build resilience, build mathematical fluency and think about problems from a different angle which in turn should have an impact on many aspects of life as well as Mathematics.

References

Drury, H. (2014) Mastering Mathematics. Oxford University Press, pp8.

Mathematics Learning Study Committee. Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. National Academies Press, 2001.

National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. October 2014.

Williams, H. (2014) Approach, Research. Mathematics Mastery Acting Director of Primary.

 

 

 

Making the most of Personal Learning Checklists

(Featured picture: ‘untitled’ by AJC1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Kate Rolfe (Humanities)

Whether you call them Personal Learning Checklists (PLCs), RAG lists or as we refer to them, Module Outline/Review Lists, you have a tool which if used effectively, can cover a multitude of uses to support learning.

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Picture 1: A Module Outline Sheet

In Humanities where pupils study two subjects (Geography and History) with the same teacher, we use our ‘module outline sheets’ and ‘module review sheets’, as a way to signal the beginning and end of topics. The first module outline sheet is used with pupils to discuss the structure of the term and key assessment points. It also allows pupils to engage with success criteria and the objectives for the term in order to select a target to aim for based on past progress and predicted targets. Finally, the RAG (Red, Amber Green) aspect of the sheet allows pupils to judge their current understanding of a topic and accept that red sections provide opportunities for new learning. It is also helpful for the teacher as it can highlight areas of overlap between subjects, where pupils may have already covered some of the content, so teaching of these topics can be modified accordingly.

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Picture 2: A Module Review Sheet

The module review sheet allows pupils to reflect on their progress on a termly basis and over a longer period of time than specific assessments. By completing the RAG section a second time pupils are able to compare easily their perceived progress over time. It is also useful for the teacher as if there are any common “red” areas then these can be addressed through revision or other means. The right hand side of the page is a chance for the pupil to reflect on particularly strong areas of a topic and areas they could improve on. This could be related to specific skills or general attitude to learning. This has become more explicit in lessons through our school ‘Excellence Programme’, where pupils are asked to find a piece of work that they are particularly proud of in order to reflect on how they achieved excellence in learning. The teacher WWW and EBI section allows the teacher to give more generalised feedback to a pupil about their attitude to learning/response to feedback/homework etc.

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Picture 3: A GCSE Geography Module Outline Sheet

At GCSE level module outline sheets use the terminology of the exam specification. This is because this is where a large number of questions originate from. For example, during a mock exam, a question referred to “how vegetation is adapted to the soil and is in harmony with it”. The term “harmony” was used on the exam specification but had not been used explicitly in the textbook or lessons. As such, although the pupils had the knowledge required to answer the question, the wording had thrown them. The module outline sheets can also be used to track topics and completed work. Now that the Geography GCSE exam has much more content, each topic can take up to two terms to complete. By dating work pupils can track any lessons they have missed in order to catch up on that work.

 

Engaging Disaffected Learners (3)

An Action Research project by Megan Dunsby

Project overview

Working with two other members of the department (Anna Watkins and Hannah Gale), we established the following aims:

  • To develop our pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection;
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners;
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence.

These give an overview of our foci, and from here we endeavoured to use different strategies to engage disaffected learners. We decided to all concentrate on year 10 students and boys in particular. Having a shared year group meant that we were able to support each other and help each other to develop strategies.

There are a myriad of reasons why students become disaffected, but in the experiences that we had had in our year 10 classrooms we felt that these were the central reasons why:

  • Disaffection hides a literacy weakness;
  • Pressure of year 10 GCSE (especially with current changes);
  • English is compulsory and relevance isn’t obvious to all.

Initial Research

The National Literacy Trust had the following to say on boy’s literacy levels:

  • “Research consistently shows a gender gap in children’s reading. Boys’ attitudes towards reading and writing, the amount of time they spend reading and their achievement in literacy are all poorer than those of girls.”
  • “Unfortunately it is those boys who are least likely to be socially mobile who are often most vulnerable to these triggers. For example, white working-class boys are one of the groups with lowest achievement in literacy”.
  • By GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, the changes to the examination system at GCSE mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Caroline Bentley-Davies suggests that a teacher must “signal exactly why you are doing something” (2010, p.165) when improving standards of boys.

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

My personal project overview

After a number of discussions with Anna and Hannah, I decided that I would look at ways in which it is possible to re-engage students through tasks that are influenced by a project based pedagogy.

The literature surrounding project based learning regularly demonstrates its effectiveness at embedding skills and knowledge in a way that all students engage with on a meaningful level. Polman sings its praises stating that, ‘the most significant contributions of PBL have been in schools languishing in poverty stricken areas; when students take responsibility, or ownership, for their learning, their self-esteem soars. It also helps to create better work habits and attitudes toward learning. In standardized tests, languishing schools have been able to raise their testing grades a full level by implementing Project Based Learning (PBL), (2000).

Initial research undertaken indicates that boys who are ‘less socially mobile’, (The National Literacy Trust), are likely to be amongst the lowest literacy levels compared to their socially mobile peers. Patton’s research seems to indicate that it is this demographic of students who are likely to benefit from the autonomy and ownership of PBL experiences.

However the beneficial effect of PBL is certainly not limited only to these students, autonomy is a powerful motivator for all learners, according to Rowe et al, ‘in order to feel any intrinsic motivation whatsoever, students mist feel a sense of autonomy, like thy are in control of an element of their learning’. On boys literacy they comment that ‘In the early years of secondary schooling boys constitute 75 – 85% of students identified at risk of poor achievement progress in literacy. Of some concern is the flattening out of boys’ literacy achievements from year 4 to year 9,’ (Rowe et al).

When reading this research I began to investigate whether this ‘flattening out’ was a feature of my most disengaged year 10 student, Richard. After looking at his spotlight assessments from year 7 to 10, he was a perfect example of the pattern that Rowe et al discuss. After having taught Richard for six months I could see that his dis-engagement came from his belief that he could not achieve in English, together with the fact that he felt the subject was completely irrelevant for him. I began to focus on how I could create a project that would make learning the skills he required to pass English, obvious and attainable.

Spotlight entry 7.1 7.3 7.6 8.1 8.3 8.6 9.1 9.3 9.6
APP Level 4b 4b 5c 4a 5b 5b 5b 5b 5a

(Richard’s Spotlight assessments from Years 7-9)

I began looking at what constituted a project, and Thomas in PBL; A Handbook, (2000) provided a very helpful five point checklist for educators designing projects. He instructs that projects must be:

  • Central not peripheral to the curriculum:
  • Central concept and principle of a discipline
  • Projects include constructive investigation
  • Projects are usually, but not always, cross curricular
  • Projects are realistic, not ‘school like

Thomas’ pointers focussed my creation of a project, but also provided realisation that projects were a time consuming endeavour. Further research acknowledges this as one of the main pitfalls of such learning. Wethers et al have found that, ‘subject orientated secondary teachers have been less inclined to embrace cross disciplinary curriculum, in the form of projects or a more traditional approach, despite it being proven successful in reengaging previously disengaged secondary students, (2012).’ Hope goes on to explain that even though teachers are, ‘frustrated by national standardised tests that are a primary reason for disengaging boys from their learning’ (2010) PBL takes time and commitment that the majority of secondary schools simply don’t have. Wethers surmises that a lack of resources (time and financial) are a ‘fundamental reason that PBL is not a regular feature of the secondary school classroom, (2012).

Despite this, all of these articles unanimously measure a greater level of success from students in all walks of life when given the opportunity to learn in a project based environment. I became interested in investigating whether the disengaged students in my year 10 class, particularly Richard, could benefit from a version of PBL that I was able to facilitate with a deficiency in time and financial resources.

My project in the classroom

Hi Tech High, California became my next area of investigation. This American High School facilitates an entirely project based curriculum and 94% of their students in 2014 went onto college and university. I decided to replicate a project that they call the visual essay for my year 10 English students.

By considering a knowledge, process product model for differentiation I examined my current pedagogy for teaching essay writing skills to boys with low literacy.

md-diag-1a

By investigating what I actually meant by ‘learn how to write an essay’ I automatically referred back to the exam boards assessment objectives. In Hi Tech High’s case, they take to raw knowledge and work out a way of presenting it in an informative and engaging way that is open to the public. I decided that my raw knowledge would be my assessment objectives.

md-diag-2a

Richard decided that he would focus on the subject terminology knowledge, and created a glossary to put on the essay.

md-essay

Strategies and an evaluation of their efficacy

What worked about the task:

Richard was engaged in the task and through assessment it became clear that Richard knew a number of subject terms that he did not before. Richard also felt a sense of achievement at having completed his section of the task and became aware of a crucial element of the success criteria. Richard stated, ‘It was a good task because I just got on with it. I didn’t have to write loads’ and ‘I got to choose what I wanted to do and just focussed on one bit’

What needed improvement:

On reflection I decided that the project was too ‘school-like’ and it didn’t really hit the real world criteria set out by Thomas. Ways to overcome this might include an open evening where parents come to see a display of a series of visual essays or a competition. Once Richard had decided how to incorporate his subject terminology he did not constructively solve much of a problem; this was another of Thomas’ project criteria and time limitations prevented this from becoming a reality.

Conclusion

The most valuable element of this research for me was to fully recognise the power of and potential of allowing students to be creative, curious, problem solving and autonomous. Whilst there are time restrictions placed on us as teachers, I will endeavour to create as many opportunities for students to practise being these things as possible. I fully agree with Sir Ken Robinson, who advocates that, ‘designing your curriculum around project-based learning is a dynamic way of engaging learners and of cultivating their powers of imagination, creativity and enquiry, (Robinson, K. 2011).

References

Bentley-Davies, C. (2010) How to be an Amazing Teacher. Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing.

National Literacy Trust (2012) Boys’ Reading Commission. All-Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Commission.

Patton, M. (2012) Subject to Change, New thinking of the curriculum ATL The Education Union.

Polman, JL (2000) Project Based Learning in the Secondary School Classroom, a constructive approach Cambridge Journal of Education, (46) 4. pg 12-26.

Thomas, B (2012) Work that matters; a teacher’s guide to project based learning, London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Hope, S (2006) The Constructive Classroom, Journal of Problem Based Learning in Higher Education, (6) 34. Pg 76-90.

Engaging Disaffected Learners (2)

(Featured image: ‘untitled’ by stupidmommy is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Engaging Disaffected Learners

An Action Research Project by Hannah Gale

Objectives

  • To develop my pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection, particularly in Year 10 boys.
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners.
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence in my students.

Background

“…by GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, Changes to the examination system at GCSE, mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Jim Smith suggests that one of the most effective ways to establish engagement is to give learning purpose and to show its relevance to students (2010).

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

Context

The focus for this action research project has been disaffected boys in my Year 10 GCSE groups, with a view to achieving the following aims:

  • To increase engagement in lessons;
  • To promote a resilient and problem-solving attitude among my most disaffected learners;
  • To use the coaching style as a means of building relationships.  

I have focused on three learners in particular: Andrew, James and Peter.

Background Reading and Research

This project began after my first-hand experience of Coaching with my NQT mentor. In the education sector, coaching is a mentoring technique used in a 1:1 setting to enable a colleague to combat a problem or concern that they are facing. It involves the mentor giving no advice at all, but simply asking probing questions that encourage the mentee to take an independent approach to the problem and to discover their own solutions. This made me consider how the technique might be adapted for students, particularly those who are so disaffected that they lose a desire and/or ability to combat their difficulties. I know that I have very often defaulted to giving answers to my most disaffected learners, never considering that asking them the right questions could prompt them into helping themselves. As Carol Dweck, establishes, learning will happen when students start to ask “What can I learn from this? What will I do next time I’m in this situation?” (2015). Of course, it’s easy to go to a default ‘OK, I’ll explain it again or I’ll help you with that’. What we should be doing is encouraging students to elicit their own solutions and/or to at least pinpoint their own difficulties.

If my mentor could influence me to become more problem-solving and resilient in my approach to difficulties, could I establish that in my students too? I began by reading up on the coaching technique and reading Carol Dweck’s, ‘Growth Mindset’.

According to The MRT Group, these are the benefits of coaching upon an individual:

  • improvement in individual’s performance, targets and goals
  • increased openness to personal learning and development
  • increased ability to identify solutions to specific work-related issues
  • greater ownership and responsibility
  • development of self-awareness
  • improvement of specific skills or behaviour
  • greater clarity in roles and objectives
  • the opportunity to correct behaviour/performance difficulties  

Actions and Results

I tried two different strategies in order to meet my aims and explore a range of techniques to re-engage these students and promote resilience and confidence. Firstly, I used coaching style questioning within my Year 10 lessons. For example, during one lesson observation I combated one statement of disaffection (‘I always fail’), with ‘What could you do next time to help you succeed at this?’ which allowed the student to focus on the solution and not the problem.

In addition I trialled a 1:1 coaching conversation, to see what results this would glean. I chose Andrew for this individual study because I wanted to build a more supportive relationship with him in particular, as well as allow him to identify his own barriers to learning in English and elicit his own solutions for overcoming them.

I was astounded with the result: Andrew spoke eloquently and specifically about his difficulties and was able to arrive at his own solutions. Here are some snippets from our dialogue:

What can help you to be in the right frame of mind for learning?

‘It depends what kind of day I’ve had. If it’s been really boring and I’ve had to do loads of writing throughout the day, then I probably won’t be bothered to do English when I arrive.’

‘If I know I’m gonna be doing something creative where I can let my imagination go then I’ll want to do it.’

What helps you to learn best? (Andrew particularly dislikes analysing texts, which we do a lot of in English. When asked what might help him to engage in the task of analysing a poem, he said):

‘I find thinking of ideas hard, so I think I’d find it easier if you kind of gave me the answers and then I had to find where that was happening in the poem. I think I’d be pretty good at that actually.’  

After this conversation, I put into practice Andrew’s suggestions and saw a new determination in him across a number of English lessons. It is apparent that “self-awareness and confidence are internal processes essential to ongoing growth and development” (‘Why Coaching?’, Wales, 2002). Indeed, when Andrew believed he’d found the solution to his barrier to learning, he was so much more engaged and willing to overcome his difficulties. I believe that the Coaching process can empower disaffected students to take responsibility for their learning and realise that they can make a change.

Sources/Links/References

Dweck, Carol (2015). ‘Growth Mindset’.

National Literacy Trust. ‘Boys’ Reading Commission’. https://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4056/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf

Wales, Suzy (2002). ‘Why Coaching?’ http://contextcoaching.com.au/Suzy%20Wales%20(2002)%20Why%20Coaching%20EBC.pdf

Smith, Jim (2010). ‘The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook’

Engaging Disaffected Learners (1)

(Featured image: ‘English Dictionaries’ by John Keogh is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

An Action Research project by Anna Watkins

Project overview

Working with two other members of the department (Hannah Gale and Megan Dunsby), we established the following aims:

  • To develop our pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection;
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners;
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence.

These give an overview of our foci, and from here we endeavoured to use different strategies to engage disaffected learners. We decided to all concentrate on year 10 students and boys in particular. Having a shared year group meant that we were able to support each other and help each other to develop strategies.

There are a myriad of reasons why students become disaffected, but in the experiences that we had had in our year 10 classrooms we felt that these were the central reasons why:

  • Disaffection hides a literacy weakness;
  • Pressure of year 10 GCSE (especially with current changes);
  • English is compulsory and relevance isn’t obvious to all.

Background

“…by GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, the changes to the examination system at GCSE mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Caroline Bentley-Davies suggests that a teacher must “signal exactly why you are doing something” (2010, p.165) when improving standards of boys.

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

My personal project overview

After a number of discussions with Megan and Hannah, I decided that I would look at ways in which it is possible to re-engage students through marking strategies. After reading David Didau’s comment that ‘“…apparently, 70% of all feedback given by teachers to pupils falls on stony soil,” I knew that I had to do something different and adapt my normal marking style. Therefore, my aims for this were:

  • To make DIRT more effective with my year 10 boys who initially rejected it;
  • To challenge them through my marking and feedback to ensure progress;
  • To use marking as a means of building relationships.

I had two year 10 classes and therefore used boys from both classes, who were clearly disengaged, to try different strategies with. Recent research points clearly to the importance of valuable feedback as shown in the diagram beneath:

According to Hattie and Timperley (2007) feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative.

In a recent paper on formative assessment, Dylan Williams (2014) suggests that:

“Indeed, assessment can be thought of as the bridge between teaching and learning—only through some kind of assessment process can we decide whether instruction has had its intended effect.”

The idea of assessment being a ‘bridge’ between teaching and learning struck a chord with me, and it was from this research that I based my project. In the same paper, Williams also advocates the idea that marking and assessment should be a process which ‘activates students as owners of their own learning’. I decided that I wanted my year 10 students to feel more in charge of their learning, and I planned that my marking would be the means by which I would try this.

Strategies tried and an evaluation of their efficacy

I decided that throughout the year I would try different strategies to re-engage some year 10 students. In fact, these evolved and developed as I got to know my students better, and as I learned what did and didn’t work. Here are the three most prominent techniques I tried:

  1. Highlighting WWW (a department initiative) and providing a code based on a clear success criteria.
  2. Providing regular feedback (in lesson and through marking).
  3. Giving clear tasks or questions of what I wanted them to do to improve, and using this as a form of differentiation.

I soon realised that the first strategy did not have the intended effect I had hoped for. My hope was that if the students could see precisely where they had got it right, they would be clear as to how they could improve. However, I made the common mistake of trying to provide both summative and formative feedback, resulting too often in a disengaged attitude towards marking. The boys who I was targeting also did not appreciate that they had to copy down the highlighted code from the Interactive White Board, and this actually caused a lot more hassle than it was worth. This is an example of a disengaged student’s response to my marking:

aw-ys1

And so I realised that the ‘little and often’ approach was necessary for these boys, and I endeavoured to provide them with feedback as much as I could. This was both throughout the lesson and after during marking time. I wanted them to recognise that I valued their written work, especially extended responses and I tried to mark their work as quickly as possible. This definitely helped to improve engagement, and a more positive relationship was created based on their work.

The final strategy that I developed (born out of the failure and success of the previous two) was to provide very specific feedback on what exactly needed to be done to improve. I realised that these boys needed to feel a sense of success, and it was only once I had really got to know them that I could do this accurately. I learned that my marking needed to be a balance of stretching these students enough, without making them feel like they couldn’t do the work. This really helped me to form relationships as they became much more engaged in both the lesson and their own progress. Here are two examples of particularly great work:

aw-ys2

aw-ys3

Conclusion

The most valuable element of this research for me was to fully recognise the power of feedback in establishing high expectations and good progress. It was through developing good relationships with these students that I was able to understand their strengths and areas for development, and I then used this knowledge to inform my marking. By allowing these students to feel like they can succeed in English, I believe that their engagement in the subject has improved.

References

Bentley-Davies, C. (2010) How to be an Amazing Teacher. Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing.

Didau, D. (2015) The Learning Spy. Website: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/

Hattie, J and Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research 2007 77: 81

National Literacy Trust (2012) Boys’ Reading Commission. All-Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Commission.

Williams, D. (2014) Formative assessment and contingency in the regulation of learning processes. Institute of Education, University of London.