Tuesday, 22 October 2019

In Praise Of The Written Lesson Evaluation (And The Motivating Power Of Success)

Remember when, as a trainee, you had to have that pristine file (or two) that contained all your paperwork? I can't even remember what on earth all that junk was, only that I was constantly in trouble with my tutors for not having my file up-to-date.

What I do remember, and resent, was the lesson evaluations that we were supposed to write. Inevitably, after a day full of teaching and an evening full of planning (repeat ad nauseam), they were never filled in whilst the lesson was fresh in my mind.

Well, 13 or so years after finishing my degree I've finally discovered that written evaluations actually can be quite useful.

The other day, after working with a group who had been selected as ones who would potentially struggle with a research and present task, I resorted to writing down some thoughts after a somewhat difficult time with them. Here's exactly what I wrote in my notebook that lunchtime:

Not a Torture, But a Joy (principle of the Kodaly Concept)

Today was not a joy. It was torture for all involved. 'Pulling teeth' was the phrase used by the head who overheard me 'teaching'. I was tortured by the lack of interest and engagement, as were the children (who were tortured by my frustration).

The task - research and present - has been dragging on for a few weeks now. Every session I scaffold the time and activity even more to try to combat the inactivity. But there is no drive, no determination, no will to research and present. It's not, I think, that the ancient civilisation of the Indus Valley means nothing to them, but that reading books, locating information and then preparing to re-present that information does not interest them.

I'm also fairly sure that the children in my group, selected for this very reason, don't know how to carry out such a process. This lack of skill has led to past experiences where they have felt unsuccessful in such a task - I assume. And this lack of feeling of success, I reason, must have led to the lack of desire to make an effort today.

I talk so often of 'lack'. I see that they need to experience success. Must some success be my main goal, then? By what means? What must I jettison in order to gain this success? Must we put something aside, at least for now, in order to gain what they currently lack: success, motivation, confidence.

A tentative yes - I must prioritise their experience of success over what I am currently trying to get out of them. And what is that? The skill of reading for a purpose: gaining knowledge. The skill of writing coherent sentences, paragraphs, texts in order for them to then present it verbally.

What will I give, then? How will I ensure that what I give provides them with something from which they can derive the experience of success, without attributing all the success to me and my provision?

What if I asked them what they wanted? Would that reveal what they are truly motivated to do?

Beyond this particular piece of work, how can learning become a joy rather than a torture for these children?

Next session:

  1. group discussion: ides for the presentation
  2. finish off revision of text - teacher-led/modelled
  3. edit text - shared work
  4. back to organisation of presentation - what needs to be done? Assign roles
  5. children prepare presentation; teacher to provide assistance where needed
4 and 5 rely on 1. 2 and 3 should be inspired by 1. If the children are motivated by their own decisions about the presentation they will hopefully be more motivated to get the script right.

Let's see...

After some more thought (those moments of solitude - in the car, on my bike, in the shower - can always be relied upon for further reflection and inspiration) I decided that I would complete steps 2 and 3 myself, bringing a complete script, informed mostly by their reading and notes, to the next session.

I sat down with the group and showed them the script I'd brought. We read it through. They recognised that the majority of it was their hard-won work and, seeing it all typed up, seemed pleased with what they had, with my help, produced. They fell to assigning parts of the script with gusto and, impressively, no arguments - everyone got the bit they wanted to say (nearly all of them chose to present the information they had researched and contributed to the script - a sign of ownership and pride, I think).

They began to rehearse it, ad-libbing and adding new bits in to make it more of a presentation and less of a standing-up-and-reading-from-a-piece-of-paper affair. Some of them even set about learning their part by heart (which they succeeded in doing). One particular child who often finds it difficult to focus for various, real reasons, took a lead role and did a great job of organising the team. They decided they needed visuals and went off to find some big paper (they agreed to avoid powerpoint as they had previously presented work in this way). They returned with a roll of paper and decided to make a long poster which followed the timeline of the script. Accepting my suggestion, they used some of the research materials I had prepared, cutting out relevant images to display based on the content of the script. They practised - I'll admit it was rowdy at time - and when the day finally came, they presented confidently (even if nerves did lead to very quick speaking) and proudly to their gathered parents.

I'm glad I didn't press on with forcing them to revise and edit the text as a group - I think I made the right decision to finish that bit myself in order to move them onto something that they would get a little more gratification out of. By completing everything I outlined in the last paragraph, the group surely felt motivated by their little successes.

Here's to hoping that next time, buoyed by this experience, they will feel more motivated to complete similar tasks - that is, if I actually decide to inflict that upon them again! Research and present is a little dry...

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Responsiveness and the Release of Responsibility (A Model)

Flexible lesson design can often be difficult to grasp - let's face it, 30 children all with their own needs with only one or two members of staff is quite difficult to manage. It's often easy to resort to doing lots of whole class teaching which inevitably leaves some children behind and at the same time isn't challenging enough for others. The upshot of this is that the teacher then tries to cater to these differing needs under the umbrella of a whole class input, for example. This gives the appearance of all needs being catered for (when done well) but if you add up the moments when higher prior attainers are being addressed and challenged you will get the amount of time that lower prior attainers are not having their needs met.

In this instance, a split input would be useful, but it's not only during the 'input' part of a 'lesson' that children might need differing provision. Some will need more adult support, some will be working on a different step within an objective and others might be on a different objective with different activities altogether. How do can this be managed?

First of all, the idea that children can be doing different things at different times needs to be considered as a necessary reality. This is easier to do when you understand learning as a sequence that doesn't always get started and finished within a 1 hour lesson, or even within a week. When you understand learning as a sequence, and you know children, you will also understand that children will be working at slightly different points along that journey at any given moment in time.

For more on planning and teaching learning sequences, please read my HWRK Magazine article 'Planning For Learning Sequences (Instead Of Planning Lessons)' : http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2019/07/planning-for-learning-sequences-instead.html

The second thing to be grasped is that all learning might have a process of going from not knowing something to knowing something (or being able to do something). The EEF KS2 Literacy Guidance suggests one such process: The Gradual Release of Responsibility. This process consists of children first receiving explicit description of a strategy, skill or piece of knowledge, then having it modelled to them. Following this, children engage in collaborative use and guided practice. Finally, they use the strategy, skill or knowledge independently.

With these two concepts in mind, then, I propose the following model as a way of thinking about how to structure learning time/lessons/sessions:



Looking now at the diagram above:

Within a teaching sequence (most) children begin in Stream 1. As time goes by they move into Stream 2, however some may need to remain in Stream 1. As time goes by some may then move into Stream 3, however some may stay in Stream 2. At most points in the teaching sequence it may be possible that you have children working in all three streams.

Children move stream based on dynamic assessment - this is a form of responsive teaching which allows children to be challenged appropriately. It is not necessary to wait until the end of a 'lesson' to move a child into another stream, this can be done whenever they appear to be ready.

The dotted line could be seen to represent a point in the sequence where a new 'lesson' or session is started. At this point, some children are ready to begin the 'lesson' or session in Stream 3 and won't require further explicit description, modelling or guided practice (Streams 1 and 2). Others might need to start the session in Stream 2, others in Stream 1.

One aim would be to siphon children into Stream 2, and then 3, as soon as they are ready.

It might even be the case that some children could BEGIN a sequence working in Stream 3, especially where the learning focuses on using and applying previous learning - this would be based on prior assessment. A child working in Stream 3 initially could always be moved back into Stream 1 or 2.

Similarly, a child who has been moved into Stream 3 but struggles, can always be moved back to work with children who are still working in Stream 2.

Making it work in the classroom


The theory above is simpler than the actual practice. To put it into practice, teachers will need to plan carefully, for example working out what children can do independently whilst the adults are working with those still in Streams 1 and 2. It helps to have a sequence of activities planned and ready for children to move onto - tasks which need minimal explanation. However, for example, it's not too difficult for a teacher to work with those in Stream 2 to get them going and to then nip over to those working in Stream 3 to quickly ensure they are on task and know what they're doing, before going back to guide the practice of those working in Stream 2.

Another thing to think about when trying to make this work is the role of the adult in the classroom. I've written about that here in my blog post 'What Should Adults Be Doing When Children Are Working?': http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2019/01/adults-classroom-role-guided-interaction.html

For more about making this approach work, please read my TES article 'Ditch the three-part lesson and remodel with these 8 things in mind': https://www.tes.com/news/ditch-three-part-lesson-and-remodel-these-8-things-mind