“When is good behaviour no longer good enough?”

An Action Research post by Aleisha Woodley (Pupil Welfare)

Our Ofsted report in 2014 stated: “The behaviour of students is good in lessons and around the school.  Relationships are respectful and productive and learning is greatly valued.” Whilst I don’t always look to Ofsted reports for up to date reflections of school life in this case it gives a picture of the context of behaviour in our school. The Headteacher, SLT, and all staff model in their interactions that positive relationships are at the heart of all that we do. Not that we can say it is perfect but it runs through the heart of this Catholic school. Oftsed went on to say, “The school closely checks on students’ behaviour, including those in alternative provision, and sets high standards of behaviour.  Staff are effective in dealing with any issues that arise.  Rewards and sanctions are clear and well understood by students.”

As the behaviour lead in SLT for the past 8 years I was proud of the progress that had been made.  It saluted the hard work of all staff.  We had made many changes over that time including centralising some of our detentions, reorganising and changing our pastoral structure to include non-teaching staff.

As in any school behaviour of students and any disruptions to learning are an emotive subject for staff, students and parents alike.  Our students come from varied backgrounds and represent over 30 primary schools from the south and east of the city of Bristol.

Our school self-evaluation is robust and searching, it includes self-review with other members of SLT, Headteacher reviews as well as external reviews.  Each of these reviews produces searching and detailed recommendations. It is unfailingly honest.   It was through this process as well as informal visits to classes and data monitoring on a weekly and termly basis, that showed up some anomalies in behaviour data between different faculties and the same groups in different classrooms.  It made me reflect on a blog I had shared with new staff, NQTs and PGCE students from Tom Bennett 04/01/2017 @tombennett71.  He called his blogpost Leadership: Reboot your school’s behaviour 2017. In it he reflected on students’ behaviour that varies, he said. “Ever seen how a student will behave for one teacher but not another, as if they were two different people? They pick up cues wherever they go; they act one way in the playground and another at Grandma’s.” Our evidence showed that supply staff; staff new to the school and new teachers were struggling with some aspects of the behaviour system, it was not working for them all of the time in preventing low level interruptions to learning which is the most significant as far as our analysis was concerned.

I attended a training day by @pivotalpaul, it was an exceptional day calling upon his experiences in mainstream and PRU education.  Some of the key messages that led to further reflection and developments were as follows (please forgive any misinterpretation but this is what I took away):

  • If you want students to follow your rules make them simple and understandable – follow the rule of 3.
  • Ensure every adult is using and displaying the behaviour you want from them. If this is being on the corridor at lesson change-over or greeting pupils at the door. One of our SLT phrased it as, ‘every adult, every time.’ (which has become a key phrase and action for us all).
  • Check consistency amongst the adults; if it’s important insist on it.

At the same time I researched a successful behaviour system implemented by several schools in the Bristol, South Gloucestershire and the Somerset areas. This system was called Ready to Learn.  I am eternally grateful to Clare Braford, Headteacher and Nicole Cerullo, Deputy Headteacher from Henbury School; Dan Goater, Assistant Headteacher from Bedminster Down School and Tony Searle, Principal at Hans Price Academy. They gave their time and expertise generously.  Each school had implemented their own version of Ready to Learn but the core principle remains the same.  Ready to Learn is a binary system that is simple and clear for students and staff, that gives students a chance to be ‘ready to learn’.  On the second occasion they are not ‘ready to learn’ in a lesson they are sent to isolation to work independently of their class. The onus is back on the students to be responsible, follow the rules and be prepared for their learning with the right equipment, on time and with a work-focused attitude.  The expectations for our students are to:

  • Be prepared
  • Be polite
  • Work hard

They succinctly summarise the rules that previously expanded upon these expectations.  Students are able to articulate them and are clearer about what they mean.  After visiting the three schools referred to above, I reflected with the Headteacher and SLT about how this could work in our school context. I was reminded of the quote from Dylan William and his blog post @dylanwilliam on why teaching will never be a research-based profession and why that’s a good thing. He asserts that, “everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere.”  The schools we had visited had certainly adapted Ready to Learn to their school and context.  The way it was constructed had not diminished its core or effectiveness but did reflect the needs of each school and its context.  One school with  a high percentage of pupil premium students had invested heavily in support and intervention for pupils who were not getting it right in the early days of its implementation. Another had spent a lot of time working with staff prior to implementation so they could be familiar with every aspect of the programme and ensure its implementation was seamless.  A third school had worked extensively to ensure it permeated every aspect of school life and this was evident from the exercise books, to expectations of teachers in ‘Ready to Teach’ and leaders in ‘Ready to Lead.’ The extent to which the Principal had established the language, principles and culture within the school in a relatively short space of time enabled all staff new to the school to have the same impact with the students and therefore disruptions to learning were rare.

I took all the information from the visits and the advice received and put together the strengths and lessons learned.  Bill Rogers work, which I came across through Tom Sherrington some years ago at @teacherhead, also influenced my thinking and planning for our own introduction of Ready to Learn:

  • Positive correction- a non-confrontational approach to discipline based on positive teacher-student relationships. The Ready to Learn (RTL) system is clear about the warnings given and the expectations on pupils at all times.
  • Prevention – planning for good behaviour; teaching the routines and the rules. The level of detail in the introduction to staff, students, parents and Governors led by the Headteacher meant there could be no misunderstandings.  All non-teaching staff were also inducted in their part of this, empowering them in a way that we had not previously implemented universally.  Lab technicians giving ‘red card’ detentions for ignoring rules in the super lab for example.   This fed the ‘every adult, every time’ philosophy that underpins our version of RTL.
  • Consequences – have a clear structure that students understand and use to inform the choices they make. In our previous behaviour system pupils knew well that they could get warnings before a consequence kicked in, which were not universally applied with the same rigour in every classroom. With RTL warnings clearly displayed and a universal language, it is clear for all with a much swifter impact of  consequences.
  • Repair and rebuild – the imperative to work hard to build and repair the damage that is done when things don’t work out. Restorative conversations have become the absolute must for repairing that all important relationship with the student.  Staff have the restorative conversation the same day if possible.  Students then believe they can get it right.

Tom’s own reflections included the suggestion that teachers need to exercise assertive authority: a teacher should expect compliance but refuse to rely on power or the status of their role to gain respect. This last concept is one that we have worked on with staff over a number of years.   The assertions from Bill Rogers were exactly what we wanted to implement after considering what our data was telling us, coupled with classroom visits, as well as staff and pupil feedback.  The RTL video from our website ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhbVesuIcFE&feature=youtu.be) summarises the tenets of the approach with reflections from some our students as to why they wanted it.

I don’t have the room here to explain in detail exactly how we went about devising our version of Ready to Learn, the stages we went through with Governors, SLT, staff, parents and students to introduce, familiarise, embed and launch it with them all.  We had a three week trial in July that went really well.  It has now been in place since September and indications are very positive.  We are learning as we go but we are not changing or compromising on the fundamental principles which were introduced by our Headteacher to all staff back in March. The hard work and the level of planning that has gone on behind the scenes have been monumental.  The proof is in the classroom, as it should be.  Ask teachers at our school and they are planning more work per lesson due to the increased focus and attention of pupils. They are not running detentions except academic catch up ones for missed homework.  This has been a time-saver especially when previously they had to pass on for follow up a detention if the student did not attend.  RTL and Red Card detentions for poor behaviour are centralised (@tombennett71 blogged about the benefits for teaching staff of centralised detentions 20/01/2017 in “Sharing is caring: Why centralised detentions might save your sanity.”).  Staff so far are very positive about the benefits of not having to add detentions to their workload.

If behaviour was rated as good before we are thrilled and excited that this could improve the learning focus and time available for learning to meet the curriculum demands that we all face. But that’s another blog for another time…

References

Tom Bennett: ‘Teachers: reboot your classroom behaviour 2017’ –  http://behaviourguru.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/teachers-reboot-your-classroom.html

Dylan Williams: Why teaching isn’t—and probably never will be—a research-based profession – https://researched.org.uk/sessions/dylan-wiliam/#toggle-id-1

Featured image: ‘successful’ by 3dman_eu on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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Investigating the impact of Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies on pupils’ learning

An Action Research Project by Daniel James (Business Studies)

Reading time: 9 minutes

This is an investigation into the practical implications of using Kagan Cooperative Learning and its impact on pupils’ learning.

1.1 Introduction:

In the traditional taught classroom the teacher may provide some instructions or a knowledge based element followed by some activity and a question and response section to track progress. The teacher may also ask questions and expect responses from students; this is sometimes delivered in a differentiated manner where the questions are posed at differing levels depending on their ability level.

As outlined by Kagan (2009)[1] “Traditional learning is either whole-class, with the teacher leading the class, or independent practice work”, as such this can lead to an environment that is not as conducive to learning as we might think.  The traditional classroom creates a more intimidating learning environment where students are picked for their answers, where the teacher is in charge of learning and as such often lacks engagement.

Kagan offers a different approach to this where interaction is an expected part of the learning environment. This need not be at odds with the traditional classroom, as outlined Kagan (2009)[2] “Cooperative learning compliments rather than replaces direct instruction; it is used to cement learning that occurs via direct instruction”.

“[T]eachers believe Kagan Structures are instructional strategies designed to promote cooperation and communication in the classroom, boost students’ confidence and retain their interest in classroom interaction.”[3]

The whole idea behind Cooperative Learning is the act of allowing students to directly interact with their own learning. In this action research project I will explore some of the learning structures outlined by Kagan and report on their impact on attainment, knowledge development, enjoyment and confidence in the classroom.

1.2 The Structures

In Kagan (2009) they introduce the idea of the replacement cycle which suggests that with each academic cycle there is a new teaching and learning approach that replaces its predecessor.  The phrase “It is all cyclical” rings true here.  Kagan (2009)[4] says that because of this replacement cycle, experienced teachers get jaded and “give little or no effort… It is tragic for teachers who get turned off to the whole process of educational innovation”.

The ‘Cooperative Learning Structures’ approach has been designed to break this replacement cycle, getting rid of the need to plan one off cooperative learning lessons and instead implement structures that can be used as part of any lesson. “Don’t do cooperative learning lessons; make cooperative learning part of every lesson”. (Kagan 2009)[5]

2.1 My Approach

Throughout the last academic year I have used my year 9 Business classes as a focus for developing and researching the use and impact of Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies on the progress and engagement of students. The two classes have 31 students each, are roughly 50:50 in gender split and have a range of behavioral and learning needs, they are broadly mixed ability.

Throughout the year I have used a range of Kagan structures as outlined in the book “Cooperative Learning”. These structures were used multiple times across both classes, at points they were adapted to fit the subject specific content, and were evaluated as to their effectiveness.

2.1.1 How the structures were evaluated

The structures were evaluated on a three point scale these were:

  1. How time effective the structure was (Time needed to setup Vs. overall impact)
  2. Impact on student subject understanding
  3. Impact on student engagement

When evaluating against these three areas I used a 5 point scale with 1 being not effective, 5 being extremely effective. The judgements were based on students’ responses to in-class questioning, assessment of tests and exercise books and through observation.

Example judgement:

Fig 1

3.1 Findings

3.1.1 Fan-N-Pick

Each team of four has a set of question cards.  Pupil #1 holds a set of cards with questions on them, pupil #2 selects a question to ask, player #3 answers the question, player #4 checks whether the answer is right or wrong and praises or tutors, or in the case of opinion based questions,  paraphrases the thinking that went into the answer.  Roles rotate on each round.

Fan-N-Pick was used when teaching the topic of business structures. This was used as there were complex areas of ownership and control that the students need to grasp. The setup of this task was time intensive but once set up did highlight student understanding and areas where further consolidation was needed. This structure also enabled all students to take an active role in the peer assessment and challenge of one another and so improved engagement in the lesson. Overall, this structure was effective and once set up should provide a range of assessment opportunities for the teacher.

Fig 2

3.1.2 Find Someone Who

In this activity the teacher prepares a sheet/list of questions.  Pupils circulate around the class forming different pairs on each round.  Each person in the pair then take it in turns to ask and then answer a question for the other person.  Pupils record the answer on their sheet and their partner initials the answer they have given.  The activity continues with pupils moving to form a pairing with a new person.

This structure was used in a recap lesson on stakeholders, their objectives and the impact they can have on business. The idea behind this activity is that each student is given a sheet with a series of questions relating to the topic and they move around the room trying to find people who had the answer (hence ‘find someone who’). I liked the principle idea behind this and  it encouraged the students to move around the room, however with a class of 31 this proved to be a challenge with students shouting to find the answer and all too often the more able students were swamped with questions. The other issue with this is that although answers were recorded and they were correct, this did not lead to increased understanding because the responses were taken at face value and not examined in greater detail.

I further used this strategy following a series of lessons covering e-commerce. This time students were only allowed to ask a partner student one question and as such had to be strategic with which questions they asked which students. The other adaption was that the students had to stick to their side of the room and thus limiting access to only 14/15 other students. Overall, this structure needs time to embedded and strict expectations need to be applied so that no student gets a “freeride”.

Fig 3

3.2.3 Round Table

In Round Table pupils in a group take it in turns to add an answer, idea or contribution to a project the whole group is working on.  The use of a single task sheet/pen or pencil emphasizes the cooperative nature of the task.

This strategy was very effective when used to examine extended questions relating to how a business could improve its cash flow. This activity was simple to set up and the students were provided with an exam based questions where there were multiple answers, each of which were valid. The students took it in turns to add to the previous answer put down by their table and by the end of the time each row (table) had an answer that was backed up and justified. Most of the rows found this engaging and understanding of the topic was shown to have greatly increased among these students, however where rows did not engage this was due to no student in that row wanting to “take a chance” and put an answer forward. When I went to these rows and questioned their understanding they all had appropriate ideas but were initially unwilling to share with their table.

Overall an effective strategy, that if used regularly with student’s who have built up their resilience, will impact positively on engagement and understanding.

Fig 4

3.2.4 Timed Pair Share

In Timed Pair Share pupil A talks to pupil B on a topic given by the teacher for a set period of time.  Pupil B responds with a positive comment – these might be set up in the form of sentence starters, “One thing I have learned from listening to you is…’, ‘Your most interesting idea was…’, and so on.  Roles are then reversed and a new topic given by the teacher.

This structure like the previous one was very time efficient to set up and I found made for effective teacher assessment as part of a mini or full plenary activity. I was able to move around the room as students explained all they knew about the topic to their partner. Students were encouraged not to repeat what their partner had said but they could develop it if they felt some detail was lacking. Overall, this was effective and the only issue was when students did not correct their partners’ mistakes for fear of upsetting them. This is an area that could be worked on by teaching students how to give and receive constructive criticism.

Fig 5

Notes:

[1] Kagan, S. Kagan Structures: A Miracle of Active Engagement. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Fall/Winter 2009. www.KaganOnline.com

[2] Kagan, S. Kagan, K Kagan Cooperative Learning Pages 1.4. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. 2009.

[3] Kagan, S. Kagan Structures: A Miracle of Active Engagement. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Fall/Winter 2009. www.KaganOnline.com

[4] Kagan, S. Kagan, K Kagan Cooperative Learning. Page 6.5 . San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. 2009

[5] Kagan, S. Kagan, K Kagan Cooperative Learning. Page 6.6 . San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. 2009

Featured image: ‘Classroom’ by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

Developing independence and resilience in MFL Lessons

An Action Research Project by Joanne Whalley (MFL)

Reading time: 12 minutes

Context  –  Autumn 2016

Teaching is good within the department but there could be more focus on developing student resilience and independence as this is a subject which is traditionally quite teacher led and reliant on the teacher as the main resource. Evidence in lessons of students being more resourceful and taking ownership of their own learning would help us to achieve a greater degree of excellence.  In addition, this will bring about a welcome sense of student autonomy which could revolutionize current approaches which can be very teacher-centred (and at times, it could be said that the teacher is working harder than the students!).

With the introduction of new GCSE criteria and the removal of National Curriculum levels a whole school approach to grading has been introduced and the first step in developing student independence was to ensure that they understand what their next steps are. Students self and peer-assess using the grade criteria and grade criteria are shown alongside lesson objectives and assessments. This grade criteria document, which is found at the front of all students’ exercise books acts as a useful “how to” signpost for all students in identifying their next steps and setting goals for the coming term. Thus, students have a growing sense of security in what they can do well and what they need to improve in order to achieve a higher grade.

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See below an example of the assessment criteria sheet for Key Stage Four students. Through a series of self, peer and teacher assessments early in Year 10 prior attainment is plotted on the criteria (marked in red), the end of Key Stage Target is also marked on the grid (marked in green) and steps that need to be completed to demonstrate progress being made towards those target criteria are marked in yellow and dated by the student or teacher. Students or teachers can also identify current priorities or next steps after an assessment, this is done in blue and signed and dated by the teacher when achieved.

This has enabled students to have a very clear picture of what they are able to do, what they aim to ultimately achieve and what their immediate priorities are, which would bring about a step change in results. This strong sense of direction and ownership has enabled students to ensure that when they are completing new pieces of work that they include the necessary components in order to reach a particular grade.

More importantly it has given students a very clear pathway to follow and they have been able to begin to make significant “jumps” by trying techniques which they might not have ordinarily thought of including. In short, students have been more willing to take a risk rather than producing work at a level at which they feel comfortable, very close to their current level of attainment.

JWH - assessment

Figure 1: Grade criteria for MFL

Development – December 2016

After having completed a work book scrutiny and a peer observation of a colleague within the English department, I trialed marking with a highlighter to improve student engagement with written feedback and their ability to identify targets for improvement. I have adopted a three colour approach (red, amber, green) and have linked these to the success criteria for a given task. Students in Years 7, 8 and 10 have successfully used the guidance provided to peer and self-assess work, grading it, picking out what they have done well and then identify targets for improvement. This approach is more positive and although it should not be the sole type of marking employed as it does not highlight spelling or grammatical errors, it clearly shows what a student is doing well and then by the absence of the next colour, it shows what a student should work on next. In addition, this technique is quick and simple, as well as very visual and can help when undertaking moderation as you can clearly see which grade is the best fit by the colours shown on a particular piece of work. Samples of these pieces of work have been displayed in classrooms so students can see why a certain piece of work has gained a particular grade, furthermore copies of this have been kept centrally as a reference point for sample work at grades 2 – 6 so far ( and all the sub grades between). A development for the next academic year is to have some laminated versions of these to use as models for students when preparing extended written pieces.

Action

Having laid the foundations of student understanding of how to identify their next steps, I became more confident that students would engage with a more student led approach. Thus, I undertook a series of lessons focusing on student-led learning in January 2017 with Year 10 students.

Research before the lesson

In the first few months of this project, I read a number of short publications and blogs about risk taking and there seemed to be common themes emerging.

  1. As a teacher you should model failure / risk taking – we have a choice to do something simple or slowly forever or to try and improve your performance and risk making a mistake.
  2. If you don’t take a risk you are unlikely to get any better but you need to feel safe to take a risk.
  3. Don’t implement too many changes at once.
  4. You need to provide (decent) opportunities for risk taking, you need to invest time in it.
  5. Give students freedom in the way they approach a task
  6. Do something meaningful with a clear purpose
  7. Take student views on board

Risk taking lesson 1

From these key points I decided upon my approach to my first “risk tasking lesson”. I began the lesson by showing the group, my first ever attempt at skiing on my own without an instructor. It was a perfect example of how I was perfectly in control, very safe but taking no risks whatsoever, avoiding all inclines and I explained, that I would have remained at that level if I hadn’t found the confidence to take a risk. In order to make sure the students felt safe, I planned the lesson so that the tasks were achievable, I was working on the basis of proximal development, students needed to feel that the task was (almost) achievable if they were to be willing to keep going when it became challenging. Group work, provided support and in terms of reassurance that the students were on track to meet the challenge, I gave regular verbal feedback throughout the session. I did not direct the students as to how to tackle the task but put at their disposal some suggested resources. I explained clearly how we would be using the knowledge from the lesson in our later work.

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Planning

Students were divided into mixed ability groups. There were four groups. Three of the four groups had one more able student, due to the composition of the class, the fourth group was made up of three middle ability learners and one less able.

The groups were given an envelope with a series of 6 challenges to complete over a period of a two hour lesson. They were given a set of rules which outlined the resources they were able to access and what they were not allowed to do. Whilst I circulated the class, I would give hints, reassurance and guide the students through questioning, I would not give them answers to the challenges unless they used one of their 5 help cards, (interestingly, by the end of the two hour lesson the maximum number of cards used by any group was 3, which shows how independent they were trying to be).

The challenges were planned according to Blooms Taxonomy (Knowledge > Understanding> Application) and therefore became incrementally more difficult. The task set was to find out when to use the Imperfect tense, how to conjugate it, to apply it to key phrases on the topic of local area and then use this to translate a paragraph.

The plan for the 2 hour lesson:

Challenge 1 > Acquiring knowledge – When do we use the Imperfect tense?

Challenge 2 > Developing knowledge and understanding – How do we form the Imperfect tense?

Challenge 3 > Developing understanding and applying the rule – Are there any verbs which don’t follow the rule? Apply the rule to familiar verbs

Challenge 4 > Application in the context of current topic –  translation of useful phrases for describing where you used to live when you were younger

Challenge 5 > Application in a translation task.

Lesson reflection

It was fascinating to watch the dynamics of each group. Initially, two of the three most able students were afraid to commit ideas to paper and seemed to be worried about making mistakes. The middle ability learners demonstrated much more of a “have a go” attitude and were very motivated by the points awarded to each team for each challenge. The most able learners tended to monopolise their groups initially when the task was straight forward and the other members of the group initially deferred to them, thinking that their input was not as valid as other students who they considered to better at French than them. However, they demonstrated less resilience when the work became more challenging. A student who is a high achiever due to a very positive work ethic, hard work and determination was plagued with self-doubt and floundered much more than the less able students in the class. The final task completed involved translation and one of the most able students is nearly bilingual and at this point he began to take the lead, interestingly his level of accuracy was not good and the less able students in his group who were actively applying the knowledge that they had acquired by following the rules of the tense were able to correct his mistakes as he was relying on “gut feel”. His over confidence and reluctance to accept help from other members of the group resulted in the group not finishing the translation task as much time was wasted through guessing where he was going wrong rather than consistently applying what he had learned.

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The most effective group in terms of speed, accuracy and collaborative skills were the group of middle ability learners, perhaps because there was not a clear leader to defer to, they all felt that they had something to contribute which led to greater efficiency. I was most impressed with the way in which they sought to acquire knowledge, with everyone in  the team playing a part and then they rigorously applied the knowledge and when in doubt referred back to the resources available, showing a great deal of determination and resilience as well as resourcefulness.

Conclusions and next steps

Students were mostly positive about the way that they had been learning, though I would note that collaboration seems to be of most benefit to middle ability students who are keen to succeed and who like to receive affirmation from their peers that they are doing the right thing. The very least able can still tend to be passive but towards the end of the lesson was tentatively seen to make more contributions to the group. Most able students, who are used to being right most of time and who perhaps need this regular verbal affirmation from the teacher throughout the lesson, were the students who struggled with the concept most.

On reflection, this was a good first lesson of this nature. I perhaps could have been stricter, giving less hints and I could have forced students to use their help cards more. I could plan to make the task even more challenging, by giving students less obvious resources to find the information, thus making the investigation more open ended, with more chance of failure but for a first lesson this would have made students less likely to engage with this way of working. In this lesson, the level of challenge was appropriate. In the future, during the mid – plenary reflection I would encourage students not only to reflect upon what they are learning, and how they are learning but also the effectiveness of the way in which the group was working.

During the next lesson, I returned the corrected translations to the groups and asked students to consider the success criteria to identify why I have given those particular scores. (I used highlighter marking to identify key parts of the work). The final step was for individual students to undertake a translation task and a creative writing task so that I am able to gain a good understanding of individual’s grasp of the grammar and give personalised feedback to each member of the class. At this point students were better prepared for this challenge and understood what would make a more successful piece, they tackled the task and all performed well in relation to their ability , independently making use of resources to produce work of good quality.

The students were also given a similar type activity for homework. They were divided into 4 groups by ability and were given a research task appropriate for their ability. They had to research the element of grammar and produce a step by step guide of how to form it. They also had to produce a game or activity to practice this grammar point. They then presented their findings to mixed ability groups so that by the end of the lesson all students had presented their findings on a range of grammatical points concerning the perfect tense.

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In my opinion, this element of the “pilot” was less successful, students worked on this at home and as such two of the vital elements of the risk taking exercise were lacking; peer support and reassurance from the teacher. This meant that students no longer felt safe and therefore displayed less resilience. Several of the less able and less conscientious students, including the only disadvantaged student said they had been confused by the task and had not completed the homework, whereas those who were ordinarily hardworking, determined and well-motivated, tackled whichever task they had been set with a resilient approach. In addition, the homework task was set within the context of the success criteria for Key Stage Four and as such I had felt that the objective for the activity was clear, however, on reflection perhaps students were less comfortable with taking a risk because they could not see a clear enough link, or “the point” of learning in this way. In the classroom, with constant reinforcement and good student > teacher relationships, students are more likely to display a determined approach even when they find the task confusing.

As a result of what I had discovered through my Year 10 experimental lesson, I have drawn out the most successful elements and widened my use of them. Throughout the rest of the academic year I continued to use these strategies with several of my classes:

  • Setting independent research homework based around grammar points
  • Peer teaching of what they have discovered
  • Students producing resources to help each other consolidate knowledge (games mostly)
  • Regular use of these grammar points within classwork and homework, linking closely to assessment criteria
  • Peer assessment / highlighter marking / students showing not only correct use of the grammar but also that they know that by demonstrating use of more complex structures they will achieve higher grades.

These elements have been successful in giving students an increased sense of independence and self-confidence and a clear understanding of the relationship between how learning various grammar points allows them  greater opportunities to climb the grade ladder which we have created. When we have discussed this in class, students have stated that they like to be able to clearly see what ”ingredients” they need for each grade as it sharpens their focus on how to take control of their own progress.

Bibliography

If learning involves risk taking, teaching involves trust building – Marilla Svinicki – University of Texas (The Professional and Organisational Development Network in Higher Education)

Taking risks in your teaching – Maryellen Weimer PHD ( www.facultyfocus.com)

Creating a safe space for students to take academic risks – Kristi Johnson Smith (Learn NC – University of North Canada)

10 risks every teacher should take with their class – A J Juliani ( http://ajjuliani.com)

Creating a risk taking classroom environment – Mr Gilliespies’s Office – http://reedgillespie.blogspot.co.uk

Featured images:

‘Balance, high ropes, about paris’ by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

‘Freerider’ by Up-Free on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

‘African – Asian’ by OpenClipart Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

Using pupil workbooks and interactive PLCs to support learning

A Sharing best practice post by Daniel James (Computing and Business Studies)

Reading time: 2 minutes

The development of a structured approach to learning in GCSE Computing lessons came out of a detailed evaluation of students’ books, notes and revision techniques from the previous academic year. It was clear that there was, in some cases,  a huge difference between the quality of lesson notes and the pupils’ ability to find these notes and use them effectively for revision purposes.

It was from this starting point that we decided to create lesson booklets for all modules in the GCSE Computing course. This provides a structure for students when making notes,  removing the anxiety that some felt when they did not know what note to make in a lesson from all that they were being taught.

Structured Learning 2

Structure Learning

Figure 1 and 2:  Pages from the pupils’ workbooks

The lesson booklets also enabled students to find the notes they needed when revising more quickly and thus focus on undertaking the revision rather than trying to work out which of their notes they needed to revise from.

Along with the lesson booklets we have created end of module revision booklets that have a one page module summary sheet and then exam questions taken from previous exams (or the sample material for new GCSEs).  These support the revision process and ensure students get to the point of applying their learning to exam questions more efficiently, which is after all the ultimate goal in exam preparation!

Revision- notes

Revision- Exam Practice

Figures 3 and 4: Examples of revision notes and exam practice from the End of module revision booklets

This term we are introducing an online interactive PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist) that we have created to allow all students to RAG (Red/Amber/Green) rate their learning across the course.  This allows us as teachers not just to see how all the students in a class are doing but to tailor our revision lessons and final preparation to these needs in the run up to an exam.

PLC

Figure 5: Section of the online interactive PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist)

PLC- Analysis

Figure 6: example of the analysis section of the online PLC

Featured image: ‘Workstation’ by Open-ClipArt Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Common CC0

Learning with Games

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

Reading time: 2 minutes

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

Go fish

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

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

Jenga

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

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

Guess who - what's for dinner

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

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

Labelling game

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

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

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

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

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

 

Learning Outside of the Classroom

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

Focus

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diss High School (Norfolk) 21 March 2014

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

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

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

Actions

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

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

Outcomes

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

Impact

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

Conclusions

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

Next Steps

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

Sources/References

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

Supporting pupils with low-level literacy in Computing lessons

An Action Research project by Stephen Spurrell (Computing)

For my Action Research Project, I wanted to find various ways that allowed my Computing class in Year 7, which includes a number of pupils with low-level literacy and/or numeracy, to fully access the subject. Essentially, to differentiate for them and then use this research to modify future lessons.

I decided to write up my findings in a blog as I went along, and here are the posts from that blog in the period of this research project.

The blog can be seen at http://computingliteracy.blogspot.com/ and I do intend to continue writing in it.

Computing and Low Level Literacy:An Introduction

Hello! Thank you very much for taking the time to read my blog. This is something I am doing as part of my CPD at a secondary school in Bristol in the UK. One of the classes that I teach has a number of pupils with low levels in Literacy and Numeracy. Whilst that isn’t particularly unusual, all schools have pupils that struggle more than others, I have found it a particular challenge to teach this class Computing at the start of the year. Computing, like many subjects, is a subject where precision and accuracy are paramount. How, then, do you get pupils who struggle to read and write to compose a working programme where they will need to write accurately, spell correctly and work out where the errors are? How do you enable pupils who struggle to count to ten to experience the success of seeing something they have created work on the screen in front of them? I did a quick Google search for tips, advice, schemes of work even for Computing with low level and low ability pupils (note that it isn’t just SEND pupils although they do make up part of the group if they have low levels too). I had a look on sites such as the TES to see if there were any materials there. I came back pretty blank and still left scratching my head. So I thought that I would try out some ideas, see which things work, which things don’t. If they work, I’ll use that idea again. If they don’t, I won’t. With the support of the rest of the Learning Focus Group (the small group of colleagues who are working on similar issues with their classes as part of our CPD) I’m hoping that this will be a successful year. Expect to find blogs about things that fell flat on their face. Expect to find blogs of something that worked really well! I hope that you find it useful and are able to help me reflect on my practise and ultimately improve the pace and depth of my pupils’ learning.

Computing and Low Level Literacy: Using Worksheets

The first module that is covered in the Year 7 Computing Scheme of Work is Online Safety. Not just spreading the message that children shouldn’t talk to strangers, but looking at how they keep their information safe, how to avoid plagiarism and the importance of reporting things when they go wrong. One lesson looks at scam emails and how we can identify them easily. A really useful skill that the pupils will then have to avoid giving their personal information away and to ensure they are not a victim of identity theft. There is a really good worksheet that goes along side this lesson which is provided by Common Sense Media. The worksheet lists the features of phishing emails such as being too good to be true, spelling errors (as phishing emails are often written by people who don’t speak very good English) or asking the user to confirm their password. It then gives three examples of a phishing email so that the pupil can highlight the feature and tell me what it is. Now, I knew that there would be people in the class who would struggle if I just put the worksheet in front of them like I did for my other class. They would struggle because perhaps they can’t read or because perhaps they struggle to understand concepts. So to make things easier for everyone, I read the instructions of the worksheet word for word, slowly and clearly, making sure I paused every few sentences to ensure they all understood what was expected of them. I had also created an ‘alternative’ worksheet for some of the pupils where I had already highlighted the feature or features in each email, they would just need to tell me what that feature was. After giving the pupils an opportunity to complete the worksheet and going around the room and helping them, being honest it is hard to see how this activity was in any way a success. The pupils who can’t read fluently (a surprisingly high number) still couldn’t tell me which feature had been highlighted because of course they couldn’t read it. Those pupils who can read still struggled because they can’t understand concepts so couldn’t make the link between a statement such as, “You have won £10,000,000 in the latest raffle” and it being too good to be true because they hadn’t entered the raffle. They would just guess which feature was which. Of the 15 pupils in the class, I would say only 3 or 4 made any real progress with understanding what to look out for in a phishing email. Interestingly that wasn’t through a lack of trying on the part of the rest of the class, they just couldn’t do it. Although I did notice their heads drop when I pulled out the worksheets at the start of the lesson, an interesting reaction, almost as if they knew this was going be like pulling teeth. As soon as I realised this task was not going to work, I had a swift mooch round Google to see if I could find a video that would explain this for me. I found one and put it on for the last 10 minutes of the lesson. Back to the drawing board then! Worksheets appear to be a big no-no for this class. I am aware though that I do not want to have too many videos. They need to do some written work, and need to be able to understand what is on the screen in front of them when they are at home. Otherwise they won’t be prepared for the real world.

Demonstrations

The class I am working with who have low levels in Maths and some with Maths and Literacy are moving on to a topic of work that requires them to research, to write and to design an interactive quiz aimed at other people their age. Although on the surface a topic that might seem easy, for a child with low literacy/Maths and probably low confidence, this probably seems quite daunting. There is a lot of logic needed (which button goes to which location etc.) as well as having the confidence to use their imagination. The topic requires them to use specific knowledge – to know the answers to questions such as “How do I…?” Leading them to these answers, or giving them the opportunity to discover these answers involves demonstrations from the class teacher. So, how best to go about this? Recall is something that isn’t the best for pupils with low level literacy and low levels in Maths. So it is likely that they will be able to do something in one lesson, but then forget how to do it in another. I have decided to trial making videos available to them so that they can replay a demonstration over and over if they need it, or pause it when they need to think about an instruction.

It is also important that they are able to see a demonstration clearly, so I make use of Impero to broadcast my computer screen onto theirs so that they don’t have to strain or don’t end up too far away to see a detail. This appears to be working well although the proof of the pudding will be in the eating!

Helping Pupils with Writing

One of the many things I have noticed with teaching this low ability set is that they gain a lot of confidence from having things written down in front of them. This could be a word, a sentence, an instruction, information they need to copy or log in information. One of the pupils who has an LSA assigned uses a small whiteboard when he can’t spell a word they are researching, or when they need to remember an instruction for later. I tried this out with another pupil, and said to him to write down anything he didn’t know the meaning of whilst he was reading, or anything he wanted to ask me. Conversely, I wrote down things he needed to know or anything I wanted him to copy out. This massively boosts their confidence because they know that their exercise book will then only contain the right spelling, or the correct information and so be something that they are proud of. Perhaps this is because this is something they only associate the more able children with? It also helps them to plan a little bit more, as in think further ahead about something that they want to put into their work. As a consequence, I will be giving these boards to a couple of other pupils in the class. It will become a standard piece of kit for their lesson.

Coding with Low Level Pupils

One of the topics we have been looking at lately is coding. We use a fantastic website called code.org which is full of resources, challenges and different types of coding to help teach this module of work. The great thing about code.org is that you can easily differentiate the work pupils do because you can set them different courses depending on their ability. So the higher set that I teach will have a different course given to them than this low level set. The way code.org works is to give some instructions either via a video or written text. These instructions then need to be carried out over a series of 15 small tasks which get increasingly complex as they go along. Once they have completed these 15 tasks, they then move on to the next level and the next series of instructions. This website was very popular with the class. It allowed them to work at their own pace, it allowed them to correct their mistakes instantly (as the website told them whether they had built the code correctly or not) and allowed them to make games which they had seen previously (such as Angry Birds).  By marking their work instantly, the website also allowed the pupils to see what level they were at as I put the success criteria on the board each lesson. They were then able to know whether they were working below, at or above target and what they needed to do to keep progressing. It was also a really good tool for me too as it allowed me to look at what they would be encountering in that hour and help them to succeed by giving them a little bit of knowledge before they started (e.g. keywords or examples of this bit of code being used already). All in all a really successful topic because:

  • Pupils worked at their own pace
  • They were given instructions broken down into small chunks
  • Instant feedback
  • Constant context of their level 

Importance of Routine

It has become apparent over the past few weeks and months that routine is incredibly important to a class who have low levels and as a consequence probably low levels of confidence too. They need to know where they stand.  To establish routine, I always structure the lessons in the same way so that there are never any surprises or something that unsettles the class. Essentially the structure looks like this: – Come into the class and stand behind their chairs – Sit down and log in – Whilst logging in, think about a question on the board (I would have read this question out) and write the date, title and objective in their book. – Go through keywords for that lesson (usually a matching exercise using the internet to help) – Introduce the main task, often with a demonstration – Complete the task – Plenary activity This routine has helped the pupils to settle quickly, to not worry if they can’t log in quickly (they know that the others are busy and not waiting for them) and help to make the room a ‘safe’ place.

Short Instructions

When completing the module on Scratch (a coding program that allows the user to create games or puzzles), there were lots of instructions that needed to be remembered such as which block of code to drag in or which object to add code to. Giving too many instructions confused the group – they needed to have a short series of instructions (two or three things) written down or explained carefully. Once they had completed these instructions, they were given some more. This meant that they did not have to worry about what was coming but just concentrate on that small particular section. When it came to the end of the module and they needed to build a game to be assessed, we used videos from the scratch.mit.edu website to help the pupils. This would have an impact on the level they could achieve (maximum level 5) but by pausing the video every 15 seconds or so, allowed the pupils to experience success by building a working game well above their target level. This method made me realise that all tasks needed to be broken down into small chunks that were easily remembered.

Featured image: ‘learn school usb’ by geralt at Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

The effective deployment of Teaching Assistants in the classroom to maximise the progress of pupils with identified SEND

An Action Research Project by Aleisha Woodley

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers.

As line manager of the SEND team and in conjunction with the SENCO the need to research this topic was two-fold. After teaching staff Teaching Assistants (TAs) are the second biggest staffing cost in most schools, so deploying them in line with the latest research to maximise their impact on and in supporting pupil progress is vital in gaining value for money.  Secondly, after establishing how they should be deployed the best practice from teachers in engaging, supporting and directing this valuable resource is essential. The research phase was undertaken as a combination of a literature review of current research on models of deployment and impact studies on pupil progress as a result.  This led to a clear model in the context of St Bernadette’s for deployment of our TAs after observation of the current model and impact.  With the following aims:

  1. Teachers should be more aware of their responsibilities towards low attaining and SEND pupils
  2. Increase quality of TA interactions with pupils
  3. Create quality teacher and TA liaison time
  4. TAs have a clearer understanding of lesson plans, objectives and how to support pupils in meeting them
  5. Increase TAs self-esteem, value and confidence with a more clearly defined role.

This work was written up in full by the SENCO and implemented at the beginning of 2016-17 academic year. The quality of dialogue and parallel research meant that on-going discussions in learning focus time (CPD time allocated to staff across the school year) and line management time was clearly understood and developed a joint understanding of what was needed to improve deployment of TAs in class and for interventions.  The SENCOs project then focussed on developing the understanding for teachers and how they can best direct, support and deploy the TAs with the most advantage in their classroom to improve the progress of pupils.

My consideration for my own classroom practice then focussed on the targets in green (see exemplars below) and on classroom implications for those pupils that work well below the levels/grades of the rest of the class. In the academic year 2015-16 I taught a number of pupils operating well below the rest of the class academically who had a variety of learning difficulties preventing them from fully accessing and operating at the expected level of their peers. I interviewed pupils about their difficulties and how best to assess their understanding rather than their ability to record their understanding.  This produced key questions that would assess pupils’ learning and bridging the gap between their understanding and that of their peers as a key assessment tool in class.   The pupils’ preferences and recommendations were taken into consideration when developing and implementing these ideas.

Background & Literature Review of TA deployment

The school context:

The school is an 11-16 mainstream Catholic Comprehensive that has 750 pupils on roll with a wide ability range from pupils on P levels to working beyond A* at GCSE. 84 pupils were on the SEND register in the academic year 2015-16. This is 10.76% of the school population which is slightly below the national average. 8 pupils were covered by a statement of Special Educational Needs or an Educational Health Care Plan.

The primary need of each pupil is stated and shared with all teaching staff along with suggested strategies for meeting these needs in class. Specific strategies and external agency advice is sought and shared for those with complex needs or those pupils whose progress is very slow.  These external agencies range from ASDOT who are the Autistic Spectrum Disorder Outreach Team; BIS Behaviour Improvement Service: Speech and Language Team; Hearing Impairment Service etc.  The use of these additional agencies is identified according to the need of the pupil and their barriers to learning.

The SEN D code of practice states “Special educational provision is underpinned by high quality teaching and is compromised by anything less.” The school has for a number of years required teachers to publish ‘pen portraits’ for each class that highlights the needs of pupils in the class it highlights pupils on the SEND register; Pupil Premium or Disadvantaged; high ability; English as an additional language EAL. Teachers’ highlight the needs of pupils in each category as well as strategies they will employ in meeting those needs in the classroom.  This has sharpened the focus on meeting the needs of different groups of pupils and has proven successful in helping to reduce gaps.

Teaching Assistant deployment in class

The 1981 Education Act was the first legislation that outlined the responsibilities of Local Authorities (LAs) and schools in meeting the needs of pupils with Special Educational Needs. (SEN) The right of parents to request a mainstream primary or secondary school educate their child rather than a special school with a population of all SEN children was enshrined in law. Hence the birth of inclusion of pupils with significant additional needs in mainstream schools often referred to as inclusion. Statutory statements were also introduced that set out for pupils with significant or complex needs what help and support should be provided for them. Other SEN pupils without statements were also recognised and the need for teachers to ensure that they make adequate progress made clear. This inclusion of SEN pupils into mainstream schools led to an increased workload for teachers and for former volunteers or helpers to be paid to support SEN pupils in the classroom.  These early TAs were often unqualified and many of them were mothers, as school hours fitted around child care.  Although the first survey of the impact of TAs was not undertaken until 2009 with the DISS project. (Deployment and Impact of Support Staff) It demonstrated that TAs often worked with the lowest attaining pupils to support and help them access their work.  This conversely also meant that teachers spent the smallest amount of time with these pupils.  TAs with the least specialist training were working closely with those that arguably, needed the most help.  DISS also found that TA interaction with the teacher relieved the teacher’s stress, as they were able to complete administrative tasks and support but did not aid the progress of the pupils in their care as their training was not sufficient to develop their interaction with these pupils adequately.  The (MAST) Making a Statement Project found that TAs often had “more responsibility for planning and teaching statemented pupils that teachers.” Pg2.  TAs were expected to plan and differentiate on the spot once a lesson had started with little or no guidance from the teacher, (Webster and Blatchford 2013) concluded that one of the reasons was that teachers had/ have limited knowledge on how to meet the growing needs of the pupils in their classrooms, claiming that little or no additional training in their initial teacher training (ITT) courses (EEF 2015)

EEF 2015 showed that the more support an SEN pupil had from a TA the more likely that they would not make as much progress as someone similar with little or no support (Webster and Blatchford 2012) This was not the fault of the TA but how they were deployed and what additional training they had (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016). The DISS project had highlighted the lack of TA preparedness, they turned up to a lesson with no idea of what was being taught and how. The TA often had to respond as quickly as the pupils and support the SEN pupil to complete and record tasks often having to modify content as they worked. Using TAs in this way has been highlighted as poor Quality First Teaching in the Code of Practice 2014, which highlighted that the skills of the teacher are needed to focus on the SEN pupil. Blatchford 2012 highlighted the TAs lack of training hindering open questioning and not promoting higher order thinking skills. He went as far as to say that if this was not addressed then it would continue to hold back the progress of learning for those with SEN. Other studies have found that where TAs are trained and do know the content required then they can have a positive impact on progress and confidence of pupils with SEN.  Education for Everybody 2015 found that TAs inspire confidence in children, encouraging them to take part and helping them feel safe to participate.  Having an additional adult in the classroom also allows teachers to be risk takers, improvising creative ways and practical tasks rather than traditional seated work. (Alborz et al 2009)

Webster 2013 stated “TAs can only be as effective as teachers enable them to be. TAs need to ask what skills or knowledge the pupil they support should be developing and what learning teachers want them to achieve by the end of the lesson.”

The COP 2014 goes further by stating that “teachers are to be wholly responsible and accountable for SEN students in their classroom. Providing high quality teaching and differentiation for those requiring additional support in class; even with support staff in the classroom, and understanding the needs they have.”  It is from this point that I considered how best to meet the needs of pupils in my classes and their individual preferences in types and timing of support in lessons.

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers:

After completing the literature review and analysis of effective deployment of TAs, as well as the role of the teacher in Quality First Teaching I began to consider the effectiveness of my own practice in differentiating for and effectively assessing those pupils at Key Stage 3 and 4 that were operating at levels 1 to 3 in Key stage 3 and pre GCSE grades equivalent to levels 2 or 3 at Key stage 3 or grades G and F at GCSE. The Code of Practice for SEN states:

A pupil has a learning difficulty if:

  • They have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of other pupils of the same age or;
  • Have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010. Schools must not discriminate and they must make reasonable adjustments for disabled young persons.
  • The definition of disability in the Equality Act includes children with long term health conditions such as; asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and cancer. These children may not have Special Educational Needs, but there is a significant overlap between disabled children and young people with SEN.

It also states the school must:

  • Be able to identify the young persons with Special Education Needs and assess their needs
  • Adapt the curriculum, teaching and learning environment and access to ancillary aids and assistive technology
  • Assess and review the young person’s progress towards outcomes
  • Support the young person in moving towards phases of educations
  • Enable the young person to prepare for adulthood.
  • Secure expertise among teachers to support the young person with Special Educational Needs – This should include expertise at three levels; awareness, enhanced and specialist
  • Assess and evaluate the effectiveness of the provision for the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Enable the young person with Special Educational Needs to access extra-curricular activities
  • Supporting emotional and social development of the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Ensure the young person with Special Educational Needs takes part in actives with children who do not have Special Educational Needs as far as possible

Obviously some of these criteria have direct application in the classroom and must inform planning, teacher development and training to instil these skills and attributes in every classroom and teachers’ day to day practice.

The COP also spells out the direct responsibilities of the teacher in relation to pupils with SEN.

  • Teachers are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of the pupils in their class, even if they have support staff or a Teaching Assistant present.
  • Where a pupil is not making adequate progress teachers, SENCO and parents should collaborate.
  • High quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils with Special Educational Needs must be provided.
  • Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for lack of good quality teaching.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review the quality of teaching for teaching for pupils at risk of under-achievement.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review teachers’ understanding of strategies to support vulnerable pupils and their knowledge of Special Educational Needs most frequently encountered.
  • The quality of teaching for pupils with Special Educational Needs and the progress made by pupils should be a core part of Performance Management / Appraisal. Special Educational Needs should not be regarded as sufficient explanation for low achievement.

The COP goes on to spell out what adequate progress is for pupils on the SEN register especially if they have low starting points:

  • Similar to that of peers with similar starting points or baselines
  • Matches or betters the child’s previous rate of progress
  • Closes the attainment gap between the child and their peers
  • Prevents the attainment gap growing wider

The school system at St Bernadette’s for setting target levels or grades ensures that each pupil is intended or targeted to make at least expected progress even those with low starting points. The challenge for me in my teaching in a mixed ability class is accurately assessing and developing their progress to the next level or grade when the majority of peers are working at a higher level.  Targeted oral questioning is one way it has been addressed as well as assessing written tasks of all pupils against success criteria.  The use of TAs in some cases to support pupils has also traditionally been used to gauge pupil progress.  TA support is not always possible and is often targeted at those pupils with a statement or EHCP as their support is statutory.  Concerns in many of the studies have also been raised including this one.  “The most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils receive less educational input from teachers than other pupils” (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016 P18). To maximise the time spent and the impact with these pupils and to accurately assess their lesson by lesson progress was a real priority.  In order to establish current practice and the actions to be undertaken I interviewed the pupils I taught in 2015-16 who were operating below the average range of their peers.  All of the pupils I taught were also on the SEN register that were in this category.  All of them were receiving additional literacy support outside of the classroom.

Actions

To focus on the pupil perceptions of their progress and strategies that supported them to do well. I have summarised the most useful comments below each question.

“What do you like that teachers’ do in class to help you?”

  • Come and check if I have understood the instructions
  • Always have the same routine in class at the beginning and end of lessons
  • Come and sit with me
  • Give me time to think of an answer
  • Read through worksheets or information together
  • Point to where you are on the screen
  • Make reading simple.
  • Help me with presentation

“What don’t you like that teachers’ do to try and help you?”

  • Give me different work
  • Ask me a question I cannot answer
  • Tell me off if I’m asking someone for help because I’m stuck
  • Tell me in front of everyone just do this bit
  • Give me different worksheets
  • Never ask me questions in class on my opinion
  • Move on too quickly if I don’t know

“What do you find the most difficult in class to do or try?”

  • Lots of writing
  • Answer questions in front of everyone I am not prepared for
  • Read out loud without help
  • Read on my own
  • Write simplified information without help
  • Complete lots of written questions.
  • Answer yellow stickers
  • Read teacher’s handwriting on the board or in our book

“What makes you feel successful or happy in your work?”

  • Teacher praise
  • If I’m asked for my opinion
  • Leading something I’m good at
  • Completing a task well
  • The teacher checking on me and saying good stuff

As a result of the unscientific but helpful discussion with 6 of my pupils I decided to focus on the beginning and end of my lessons. All 6 pupils were working below the average range of the their peers for age related expectations, were all on the SEN register for mild learning difficulties and had received or were in receipt of literacy intervention outside of the classroom.  Pupils were all really clear they never wanted to be given a different worksheet or work to do.  They were quite happy to start on easy questions that got harder and try to do the more difficult ones if they could.  They also did not want to do lots and lots of writing every lesson.  Three boys in Year 8 all stated that thinking about writing as well as the question slowed them down.  The school expectation is that a lesson objective is shared with pupils for every lesson as well as success criteria and these are used a benchmarks of success at the end of the lesson.

figure-1

Figure 1. This is the type of slide used at the start of every lesson that highlights the objective as well as the success criteria. These are referenced to new GCSE measures.

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Figure 2.  These pre-planned or targeted questions have become part of my routine planning to assess the pupils in my class that would normally be operating below the age related expectations. Although I now have a TA for this class I sit with the pupils and assess their knowledge and am able to push their understanding further if they have grasped the basic concepts.  I then note progress towards the success criteria.  Pupils said they found writing plenaries quite difficult.

figure-3

Figure 3.  This is in addition to above in the application of the required knowledge. Again, verbal questioning and recording by me as the teacher ensures an accurate picture of the pupil’s assessment level in that lesson.  It is described and written in this manner so a TA would be familiar with it and could use it if necessary.  This planning takes little time, max 10 minutes per lesson and when it has been done it can be used again for different classes.  This has become their routine and allows me time to correct really fundamental flaws but also to celebrate their successes.

figure-4

Figure 4. Success criteria used with the whole class. This is still used with SEN pupils and they can tick where they have succeeded i.e. identifying bulbs or battery in a circuit is possible for them.

figure-5

Figure 5.  These key questions and exemplars break down for the TA or remind the teacher what can the pupil do and what does this mean in relation to the success criteria. It also helps the TA during the lesson to ask relevant questions to help the pupil access the learning.

figure-6figure-6afigure-6b

Figure 6. These three plenary slides have also been used for summative capture at the end of the module etc. The pupils reported fatigue by the end of a lesson so they want to use simple but effective strategies to summarise their learning.

figure-7

Impact & conclusion

The strategies for questioning at the correct level, developing TAs expertise in questioning and the plenary approaches are all simple tools that have been effective. Some of the pupils I am teaching for the second year will select their own plenary tool or ask for more direct help than they used to if it is not public.  A barrier to recording their understanding does not mean they do not understand and their verbal responses can demonstrate their higher understanding.  Spending more time with these pupils during the lesson means they become less frustrated and will engage more as evidenced with one pupil that I have taught for two years.  He has not received any negative referrals as his level of engagement have risen using these techniques.  I have a full record for all of these pupils of how they have performed in each lesson via verbal questioning as well as written assessments produced independently which measure their ability to capture this information.

I routinely use this planning and plenary tasks and this certainty helps the pupils to demonstrate their learning more effectively. Previously, I would have relied on the few verbal questions they do answer in class and their written work.

Sources/ References

Alborz, A, Farrell. P, Howes, A., Pearson. D, (2009) The impact of adult support staff on pupils and mainstream schools. London HMSO

Black. P and Williams. D (1998) Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. London GL Assessment Ltd

Bland. K and Sleightholme. S (2012) Researching the pupil voice: what makes a good teaching assistant? British Journal of Learning Support Nasen

Blatchford P., Russell A., Webster R.(2012) Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants. How research challenges practice and policy. Routeledge

DFE: (January 2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years – Statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities

(Featured image: GotCredit, Education key keyboard, CC BY 2.0)

The Awkward Mole

A sharing best practice post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

This activity sharpens up pupils’ ability to precisely follow a particular process to complete a specific task.  These examples come from Maths but they could apply equally well to any process in any subject.  For instance, ‘constructing a perpendicular bisector on a line’, ‘bisecting an angle’, ‘drawing an equilateral triangle’ etc., etc.

awkard-mole

Step 1: Pupils A and B sit back to back with Pupil A facing the teacher/board with an incomplete worksheet (see above)

Step 2: The teacher silently demonstrates the process to complete a task on the board.  Pupil A copies the teacher’s demonstration onto their worksheet.

Step 3:  Without changing position Pupil A now explains to Pupil B how to complete the process on their worksheet by giving clear verbal instructions (they are not allowed to look at what Pupil B is doing)

Step 4: Pupil A and B look at the results and discuss the instructions given (were they specific?, were they clear?, how could they be more precise? how could they be improved), in order to refine and perfect them.

Step 5: (Here is where the ‘awkward mole’ comes in!)  You now invite a ‘random’ pupil to come up to the front and follow the instructions they are given by another member of the class to demonstrate how to complete the process in front of the class.  Unknown to the rest of the class you have primed the ‘random pupil’ to be your ‘awkward mole’ and instructed them to be as awkward as possible when following the other pupil’s instructions – to take instructions literally, to deliberately ‘misunderstand’ ambiguous instructions and so on.  The onus is then on the pupil giving the instructions to refine their thinking and instructions until they succeed in getting the mole to ‘get it right’!

In one case a pupil instructed the mole to ‘draw an arc’, so that’s what he did with Noah and the animals too!

You can prime more than one pupil to be your mole in the lesson and don’t forget to reverse the roles for pupils A and B so they both get a turn.

Featured image: Mick E. Talbot, Mr Mole, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Mastery in Mathematics (5)

An Action Research Project by Elizabeth Drewitt (Mathematics)

Focus

In this report I aim to share how our departmental research into Mastery in Mathematics has impacted on the students I teach.

Context

There is no argument to the value of mastery as a life skill:

Director Dr Helen Drury says, “In mathematics, you know you’ve mastered something when you can apply it to a totally new problem in an unfamiliar situation”¹.

What better way to prepare our students for life after school than to give them the confidence to approach new situations and problems with confidence.

Mastery enables students to:

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

I decided to focus on the techniques we can use as teachers to get our students ready for the road to mastery.

All teachers have experienced that:

‘Students learn better when they are curious, thoughtful, determined and collaborative.’ (Nrich)

We spend vast amounts of energy nurturing these traits within our classes. But for some students, the experience of failure or fear of failure shuts down any chance of curiosity. Expecting failure often means students cannot even consider an alternative outcome and therefore determination, thought and collaboration are pointless and avoided. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I feel this is particularly the case in mathematics, often voiced by parents at Parents’ Evening, ‘I can’t do maths’. Here I propose that maths is not something that ‘can be done’ or ‘cannot be done’. I would like to challenge the parents as to whether they know their times tables or not. It is highly likely the case that it is not maths these parents struggled with but their times tables. They did not have the basic tools to face the rest of the subject with and so encountered difficulty at every turn. I believe that for many, it was not the PROCESS of expanding brackets that caused a problem but actually the MULTIPLYING.

DEVELOPING BASIC MATHEMATICAL SKILLS

The importance of times tables within the mathematics curriculum cannot be underestimated, yet the importance of learning times tables is still under debate amongst professionals:

Jo Boaler argued that the UK Government position, that every child must memorise their times tables up to 12 x 12 by age nine, is ‘absolutely disastrous’. In contrast, Charlie Stripp stated knowing the times tables supports mathematical learning and understanding.

“Here at Mathematics Mastery, we believe children who have a strong grasp of their times tables are more confident when learning new mathematical concepts and, importantly, enjoy the subject more.” But note here I’ve said ‘strong grasp’ and not simply ‘memorised’.

Here I put forward the view that the road to mastery must start with each student being equipped with a tool box and in that tool box must be curiosity, resilience and……times tables!

Some students cannot/have not/will not memorise the times tables. Some think that if they do not know the answer then that’s the end of that. Full stop! If we do not give these students tools and tricks to work out the answer then we are closing the door on Mastery, opportunity and the growth of a learning identity.

SOLUTION

Never accept I don’t know my times tables. WORK it out. ‘Not knowing’ does not equate to ‘can’t find out’.

TRICKS

Explicitly TEACH how to work them out.

  • count up in two’s on your fingers,
  • count sticks/dots,
  • write out the times tables each time,
  • use your fingers for the 9 times table.
  • Do 10 x {?) then add 2x [?] for the 12 times tables.

ACTIONS

  • Time must be dedicated to times tables each week if we are to provide each student with a fully operational toolbox.
  • Bell work: fill in 5 x 5 times tables grids with random numbers. Students self-differentiate by choosing different coloured grids that represent basic times tables, reverse times tables, lots of mystery headings, larger numbers, decimal numbers.
  • For KS3 or lower ability classes, 10 minute multiplication and division challenges, results recorded and tracked.

RESULTS

  • Practice makes perfect, whether they are memorised or worked out.
  • Students get familiar with the method they choose to work it out.
  • Students see an increase in speed, ease at completing grids and see their own scores improve over time.
  • Take control of their own Bell Work, empowering, safe and challenging.
  • Pupil ‘A’ counting up in twos on his fingers. yr11!!!
  • Pupil ‘B’ in Year 8 showing a peer the 9x table trick using your fingers

Ultimately, we have removed a massive stumbling block that lurks on the road to mastery!

DEVELOPING STUDENT CONFIDENCE

So many students do not know their times tables and believe that is the end of it…but now we have challenged this idea. Just as some people say they can’t do maths…now we can move on and challenge the idea that ‘I can’t do maths’. Mastery teaches students to move away from these barriers and

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

BUT to articulate their reasoning they must first have an opinion. To discuss their ideas they must first have an idea. To solve a problem they must first want to find a solution. They must first form an identity as a learner. Self-worth and confidence play an enormous part. Teaching lower ability classes can often (but not always) mean the students are largely disaffected. Through perceived/experienced failure their confidence has been eroded. We must challenge the perception of mathematics being all about right and wrong answers to build up a self-esteem that is positive enough to support the mastery platform.

When I asked a new group of Year 10s to GUESS the size of ten angles they were shown, half the group did not commit to paper, stating that they did KNOW the answers. Therefore these learners denied themselves the chance to feel good – others who guessed were thrilled when their guess was close but interestingly were not crushed when their guess was way off. Their learning identity was positive and it grew in a very simple exercise. I too joined in to prove that I do not KNOW all the answers, but have the tools to either guess or work it out.

Year 8 Extension task: (LOWER ability) Having studied the rule for adding and subtracting directed numbers, I asked students to write down what THEY THINK the rule could be for multiplying and dividing directed numbers. Some students wrote, ‘I don’t know, we haven’t done this yet’. Again, they didn’t have an opinion and again these students reinforced the negative image they have of themselves as learners. They needed choices pointing out to them and then they were able to take ownership of their choices and make it their idea by giving an example. Imagine their delight when some had predicted the correct rule. Again, those who had predicted in error were not crushed – it was just an idea. The students who had developed their own idea were keen to tell everyone what their prediction was, irrespective of being right or wrong, purely because it was their own idea.

TRICKS

  • Give students opportunities to GET IT WRONG and show it doesn’t matter.
  • Insist (‘encourage’) students commit an idea to paper- to have an OPINIION. Having an opinion gave them a vested interest in outcome which in turn made them more likely to come up with an outcome AND remember it.
  • Admit that as a teacher/ human/ adult we don’t know everything. I am not expecting my students to KNOW everything, the joy is in the working it out.

RESULTS

  • Students are prepared to guess, think, form an opinion, take risks.
  • Students are more likely to see a method through to the end to see if they were right (a win-win situation)
  • Students are more likely to have confidence in the next unfamiliar learning episode.
  • One Year 10 pupil could not even say true or false to a probing question. She has no confidence in maths and so does not think about maths, has no ideas about maths, cannot possibly articulate maths………I sat down with her and asked her to guess (we’ve been working on this idea). She chose False. I encouraged her to use an amount of money to see if she was right or not. We worked through the calculation and proved it to be False. She was thrilled, smiled (!!!!!) and wrote in her book ‘so I was right!!’. Anna believes she has been very successful and her confidence and enjoyment of maths has changed enormously in just a few weeks.

REFERENCES

¹ Drury, H. (2014) Mastering Mathematics. Oxford University Press, pp8.

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: ‘Central City Times Tables’ by Derek Bridges (www.flickr.com) CC. BY 2.0