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A Profound Shift in Relationships

The new version of How good is our school? has come out and it makes for interesting reading. There are a few shifts of emphasis which I welcome, but I also like the new layout. The more detailed level five illustrations are helpful, and the omission of the other level illustrations is a good move also I think. I also like the short and sharp descriptions of effective practice and the challenge questions for each QI. I think this will prove a useful tool for self-evaluation at all levels.

I’m also really pleased to note that digital learning, practitioner enquiry and creativity are writ large throughout the document, however the focus of this post is on something else which leaps out from HGIOS4 to me.

Here’s what I mean…

1.2 LEADERSHIP OF LEARNING

  • We provide a wide range of opportunities and support to ensure children and young people can take responsibility for their own learning, successes and achievements. Our learners are developing the necessary resilience and confidence to enable them to make decisions about their own learning and to lead others’ learning.

2.2 CURRICULUM

  • Our curriculum is grounded in our commitment to securing children’s rights and wellbeing.

2.3 LEARNING, TEACHING AND ASSESSMENT

  • Learners exercise choice, including the appropriate use of digital technology, and take increasing responsibility as they become more independent in their learning. They understand the purpose of their learning and have opportunities to lead the learning.
  • Learners are fully involved in planning learning

2.4 PERSONALISED SUPPORT

  • Children and young people are at the centre of all planning, as active participants in their learning and development.

3.1 ENSURING WELLBEING, EQUALITY AND INCLUSION

  • We ensure children and young people are active participants in discussions and decisions which may affect their lives.

3.3 CREATIVITY AND EMPLOYABILITY

  • They are motivated to explore and challenge assumptions. Children and young people take ownership of their own learning and thinking. They are imaginative, open- minded, confident risk-takers, and appreciate issues from different perspectives. They can ask questions, make connections across disciplines, envisage what might be possible and not possible, explore ideas, identify problems and seek and justify solutions.
  • They feel supported to make suitable, realistic and informed choices based on their skills, strengths and preferences. They are supported to develop an international mind-set equipping them for the rapidly changing and increasingly globalised world.

How good is our school? 4th Edition

It’s clear to me, that meaningfully involving learners in the learning and teaching process is going to become a bigger and bigger element of school self-evaluation and inspection processes. Now, this isn’t exactly news. Back in 2009, when I first read Building the Curriculum 3, it was this shift which I identified as being the biggest challenge to my own practice. Back then, I jumped straight into giving it a go:

Since 2009, I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading and enquiring into this change to my approach to learning and teaching and I have become increasingly convinced that it is the way forward, however I have also concluded that it is not an easy change to make. Here is just a selection of the posts I’ve written on this blog about all this:

Every time I’ve tried this approach, it has been fantastic for both the learners and me. Everyone is more engaged, the learning is richer, deeper and more relevant. So why haven’t I done it more? Partly this is due to having been out of the classroom for 18 months on secondment and two extended periods of absence due to illness, but it’s also because it’s not easy, and is it any wonder?

I’ve just begun a course in Childhood Studies and Childhood Psychology through the OU and there’s an interesting section in the textbook on the issues surrounding the participation aspect of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 12 states that:

Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This right applies at all times.

If the six hours of learning in classrooms which young people undertake each day isn’t a matter which affects them, I’m not sure what is. However, as my OU textbook states in relation to this:

Participation rights have been particularly contested because they represent a profound shift in relationships between adults and children, and challenge conceptualisations of children as unknowing, passive and needing adults to act in their best interests…participation rights have been seen as threatening and upsetting to the status quo. (Farmington-Flint & Montgomery, 2015)

As well as this, there’s also Dylan Wiliam’s point that asking a teacher to change their teaching practice is like asking a golfer to change their golf swing, it’s not simple!

Asking teachers to make wholesale changes in their practice is a little like asking a golfer to change her swing during a tournament. Teachers have to maintain the fluency of their classroom routines, while at the same time disrupting them.

Now, I’m not saying that no-one is doing this already. But I don’t think many teachers are doing it particularly well in the Secondary phase in particular. I have heard of a few noble attempts, but for the reasons outlined above, many of these attempts don’t become a sustained and meaningful change in practice. Quite often they’re tokenistic and are doomed to fail as the teachers are only doing it because they think they should. Or, they have limited impact because although students are asked for their input, this is then largely ignored as the teacher then has to proceed with the preplanned teaching and assessment.

So given all of this, how do we move forward? In my most recent post on this (which if you haven’t already seen you should definitely look at now) my students shared their ideas on how to go about this, so I thought I’d share my own suggestions in this post…

  • Believe that it is desirable, and possible, to involve learners in the learning process and it is worth trying. If you don’t, or are not sure, read this (free) book.
  • Try to take an enquiry approach to your change. Don’t just do it because you’re being told to by Education Scotland, your leadership team or even me, research it for yourself. As well as enhancing what you do, if you propose the change as an enquiry you are more likely to get approval from your leadership team if that is an issue for you.
  • Start small. Choose one class which you think you could work with on this to give it a try. Talk to them about it in advance and explain why you’re doing it. Some classes in the past have thought that I was just being lazy when I’ve not explained it properly! Aim to do it for just one topic and then evaluate it after that.
  • Don’t try to do everything at once. This may be new to the learners as well as you, although it may not be if they’ve experienced this at primary, which many will have in some way at some time. When I first tried it I wanted the learners to collaborate on the planning, teaching and assessment…it was all a bit much. It takes time for the class as a community to work together in this way so don’t rush it. You can involve them a little to begin with, and if it works, involve them a little more in the next topic.
  • Make use of ICT as much as you can. Digital tools are fantastic for supporting this approach to learning and teaching, use them and encourage the learners to find their own ways of using them.

Here’s a list of the sorts of things I do with a topic with a new class if that’s of use as an idea to get started:

  • As mentioned above, I explain in advance how we’re going to learn and discuss with them why we’re going to learn in this way and how best to learn in this way.
  • I don’t start with the title of the topic. In fact, I never tell the class what the topic is called in our schemes of work. I start with a hook. Challenging, interesting and relevant questions which get them thinking, discussing, debating and questioning. I then capture and rationalise these questions either on post-its, or in a Google Document.
  • I bring out the experiences and outcomes for the topics and we unpick their meaning as a class. We decide what questions we would need to be able to answer to satisfy these experiences and outcomes.
  • We then bring in their own questions from the stimulus discussion. Do these overlap with any of the questions from the experiences and outcomes? Do any of them fit in with the experiences and outcomes? Which ones don’t fit in?
  • We then decide how we’ll approach the topic. We discuss which of the experiences and outcomes we should do when and how we’ll address their questions which didn’t fit in (this is quite often a research and present task).
  • They then come up with possible names for the topic and vote on it.
  • I then use all of this to go off and modify the schemes of work to what we’ve planned together. I normally find that this can just be done by making a few tweaks to what was already there because they were made with the same experiences and outcomes that we’ve just explored as a class. In terms of any summative assessments for the topic, if these have been well written from the experiences and outcomes then they shouldn’t be a major problem either…however, I’ve sometimes found that the topic tests have been tests of the scheme of work rather than a test of the learning outcomes and in these cases I adjust the test questions so that they relate to the actual learning outcomes in the experiences and outcomes, but maintain the same structure and numbers of marks etc.
  • As you and the class become more confident you can then do the above more quickly and begin exploring learning outcomes, success criteria, assessment and evaluation…but one step at a time!

Ultimately, if we’re serious about this, we have to get away from the idea of standardised learning and standardised testing. I believe that we should have a core set of knowledge which all children should  learn, but not so much that it (more than) fills the time they have to learn it. There should be sufficient space and time in the curriculum for young people to be able to contribute to the learning and teaching process, and the flexibility in the system to support and encourage it.

What is the point in asking learners for their questions if we don’t (or can’t) then make the time to answer them and check that they understood the answers? It is for these reasons that I think we need to reduce the number of experiences and outcomes, in the third and fourth level sciences at least, and support and encourage teachers to take the time to try out the approaches I’ve described above.

This is a hard change to make and to make it well is going to take leadership and support.

Farmington-Flint, L. and Montgomery, H. (2015) An introduction to childhood studies and child psychology. Open University, Milton Keynes.

EDIT

This post was so well received, I decided to try and condense down the thoughts in all my various posts on this approach into one page for ease of reading: fkelly.co.uk/switch


So, what do you think ?