Wednesday, 25 February 2015

What does modern Assessment for Learning look like?

What does modern Assessment for Learning look like?

It is now 16 years since Paul Black and Dylan Williams wrote the publication Inside the Black Box and shook the world of education with the importance of Assessment for Learning. To many it was common sense that we must find out what students know before approaching content to be learnt. Teachers certainly already did this on an individual, one to one basis with students but over the last 10 years we have developed many ways of assessing the progress of large groups of students more effectively. This enables us to pitch and differentiate content more appropriately with whole classes. We must not forget that at the core of Assessment for Learning is the individual student and their own personal learning needs.
Common misconceptions
Assessment for Learning is exclusively for the benefit of the classroom teacher and their students. It is not for the benefit of an observer and should not be used merely to signpost progress that has been made. A good observer will see all of the forms of Assessment for Learning that are being used and whether they are effective.

Mini-plenaries are still valuable. At appropriate times they are important in providing evidence as to what students have learnt so that a teacher can decide on the future direction of a lesson. They may also have an important role in memory retention and engagement.
Assessment for Learning Do’s and Don’ts

We must look for robust evidence that students have made progress. Self-assessment against learning objectives can be problematic as students will often overstate or understate their own ability. It is better to ask questions of students that really test whether they have grasped a concept. As a learner, often we don’t know whether we have learnt something until we make a mistake.

I find it quite hard to see a better tool than whiteboards in enabling a teacher to see the thoughts of a whole group of students as opposed to one or two individuals. It can be difficult reading a large number of long answers so either mainly short answer questions can be used or students asked to underline the key terms in their answer. Good Assessment for Learning will involve the use of a range of evidence. The most important thing is then that we are able to respond to such evidence effectively.

-          Answering questions on whiteboards

-          Naming/Matching/True or False activities

-          Looking at work that students have completed

-          Interaction with individuals whilst walking around a class

-          Question and answer

Do we still need learning objectives?
Establishing learning objectives is clearly an important part of the planning and differentiation of a lesson as it forces us to think about what we intend to cover in a lesson. This can be open to change however and learning objectives should never constrain a lesson. They can be useful to students who may use them to identify what they need to do to improve in the future but we should perhaps question whether students writing them down in full is an appropriate use of classroom time.

Some of the best lessons I have seen in recent years had learning objectives posed as questions. This has given a real sense of flexibility and dynamism to the lesson.  Learning objectives should always be directly addressed by the activities or questions posed in the lesson as well as providing effective challenge for all students in a class.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Philosophy behind the leadership of Learning and Teaching

Why are learning and teaching important to us?

Learning is the cornerstone of everything we do. Our top priority is, and always should be, to plan and deliver the best lessons possible on a consistent basis. This will ensure that all our students are afforded every opportunity for success and happiness in their future lives.
Teachers inspire students through the innovative ways in which they bring their subjects to life. They pose considered, challenging questions that serve to engage students and facilitate meaningful learning. The provision a teacher makes should enable learners of all abilities to reach their full potential. In the longer-term, a teacher’s passion and subject knowledge should help to instill in students a lifelong love of learning. The classroom should be an exciting place to be and the way in which a teacher delivers material should serve to create a sense of enjoyment within the classroom.
What do we want our lessons to be like?

Teaching is essentially a communicative art-form and a ‘great’ lesson will always be better than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, we are looking for all our lessons to be ones in which students learn. To a certain extent we can measure our success through exam results but we can also get a sense of this learning in the classroom itself. Whilst exam results have an obvious importance, a student’s experience of education should be about much more. There are also certain aspects of a young person’s cognitive and social development that are extremely difficult to measure in books or by exams.
Learning itself is complicated, messy and multi-faceted. We recognise the importance of both skills and knowledge and we strive for an approach that provides an effective balance between the development of both. With these strong foundations, we look to promote the development of creativity and independent thinking in our students. Every young person in our care, irrespective of background, will be empowered to think for themselves and thrive in the modern world. The quote below outlines the conditions in which we believe our students will flourish.

“I would like to propose that we let imagination taken its place at the heart of learning, and that we create a climate in which it can flourish. We need discovery; making; doing; exploring; creating; critical thinking; seeing; hearing; experiencing. Children have to be introduced to the arts in every form.” Michael Murpurgo
Ofsted have recently instructed that they favour no particular teaching style when observing lessons. It is up to us as a body of teachers to ascertain what it is that we think works with our students. Ofsted will then simply look to validate this. Learning can take many forms and if we as teachers are confident that our students are making progress in lessons then it is very likely that an inspector will agree. The check-list below outlines what someone should look for in great lessons as they walk around our school. This is of course to be used in conjunction with talking to students and other longer-term supporting evidence of learning.

The factors in the table above can sometimes represent unreliable indicators of learning. They are indicators however, that past results lead us to believe make learning more likely. They therefore provide clear guidance to members of staff as to what an effective classroom may look like. This will inevitably change over time such is the evolving nature of education, society and our knowledge itself. We recognise the importance of marking and feedback in facilitating the progress that our students make. It is this subsequent progress that we then seek to monitor. We emphasise that feedback should be effective and not just for show.

Different lessons and different subjects will require different approaches. Any one successful lesson may also take a variety of different forms. As stated in the table, we place a high value on active student participation and enthusiastic discussion. We also realise that there will be occasions when knowledge must be imparted. We won’t necessarily bemoan a teacher taking a more leading role in a lesson if it is clear that students are being made to think and fully engage with the lesson. We value the importance of independent learning and group-work but we fully appreciate that it might not be seen in every lesson. Our principal measure of success is whether we think the students are learning. We will always look to highlight and share examples of good practice whenever we see them. These examples may be identified by an observer, teachers themselves or even the students.

How do we ensure that our lessons develop in line with this vision?

The heart of whole school learning and teaching improvement lies with the individual teacher. It is therefore our responsibility to ensure that every member of staff is provided with the support and guidance they need in order to continually strive to improve their practice.

It is possible to crudely split the various developmental opportunities that we provide into two groups. It will always be difficult to say exactly when and where significant breakthroughs will be made in an individual’s professional development and there will inevitably be some overlap between the two groups broadly outlined below.  

1)      Skill development based on existing knowledge of good practice

2)      How different areas of pedagogy will evolve in the future

Skill development based on existing knowledge of good practice

Ongoing skill development: We value the importance of a teacher’s classroom skills and the development of these skills over the course of an entire career. We must recognise that this development is never complete and every individual should take responsibility for improving their own practice. It is crucial that staff are able to effectively reflect on and evaluate what they do in the classroom. These reflections are confidentially shared with performance managers.
Example: We provide a comprehensive calendar of internal CPD opportunities for staff. These are delivered by a team of lead practitioners and cover a wide range of areas of pedagogy. We also frequently pay for external training where there is a clear need for outside expertise.
Evolution not revolution: It is vital that staff get a clear message as to the type of practice that we have found to be successful in the past. It is also vital that there is a clear understanding that every individual is in charge of their own classroom and we do not prescribe one single approach to teaching. In every case there will be a huge number of positive things that teachers already do on a day to day basis. We look to build on these positives rather than deconstructing everything and starting again. Every teacher has their own style and they have the ultimate decision as to how they might look to evolve their practice in the future. We recognise that a less threatening and judgemental approach to lesson observation will enable staff to reflect on their own practice more effectively.

We have high expectations of our staff and there may be occasions when some staff require additional support and clearer guidance as to how they can develop their practice. It is important that the systems that we have in place are always productive, consistent and fair. Occasionally a member of staff may feel they have received unhelpful feedback. Of course this doesn’t mean that all feedback should be dismissed. It should be used as an important part of a teacher’s own reflections.
The idea of ‘evolution not revolution’ also reflects our approach to the leadership of learning and teaching. Good reforms build on failed ones and learn from their mistakes. They are incremental and based on existing best-practice.  

Example: We are currently building a prominent coaching scheme which will become an important part of the development of learning and teaching in the future. The scheme is voluntary and involves no formal or written record.  The coaching approach looks to build on and develop the good practice that already exists around the school. The coach will simply provide a fresh pair of eyes and will look to ask key questions of the coachee. In many cases the coach themselves will gain just as much from the partnership. The coach might occasionally offer their own experiences but won’t simply suggest wholesale changes based on what they would do.
Sharing good practice: Learning and teaching takes a prominent role in every meeting that we have and we look to share examples of good practice at every opportunity. Good practice is modelled in a way that enables all members of staff to access and benefit from it. It comes from across the whole school rather than just a select group of people. Positive feedback from lessons also comes from the students themselves. They are included as a valuable voice in our discussions around what constitutes a great lesson.

Example: Every term we run ‘Golden Lesson Week’. This is a week in which the timetable is filled with showcase lessons that staff are able to drop into at any point. The Golden lessons are delivered by strong, confident practitioners and seek to model what we are looking for in outstanding/great lessons. Peer observations of this kind are also now happening within and across different faculties.

Example: The work of individual learning groups is shared at morning briefings as well as through the new inspire@..... email address.

Example: The student council recently took part in a session on ‘effective questioning’. They now have a better understanding of why we teach through questioning and are therefore more able to contribute to discussions around learning and teaching. They report their confidential  ‘WOW moments’ on a regular basis.

How different areas of pedagogy will evolve in the future

Internal collaboration and innovation:  Any model of learning and teaching development that we adopt should be personalised to every individual member of staff.  Within such a ‘bottom up’ approach, there must also be accountability. A system must have a clear structure, direction and coherence if it is going to become an integral part of school life and operate effectively. Heads of Faculty and other middle leaders should be empowered as the main focus of leadership in driving a model’s success.
Example: This year we have set up a model of collaborative focus groups within the school. Individual faculties identify their own specific areas for development. They then put together small learning groups (2, 3 or 4 people) who then endeavour to address these challenges. Individual teachers have a say as to the group within their faculty they would like to be a part of. An individual learning group has a responsibility and motivation to improve the provision that their faculty is making for students. The learning groups from across the school looking at the same areas of pedagogy meet together in larger collaborative groups at set meeting times. Their work and development is overseen by one of the lead practitioners who lead each of the collaborative groups. This means that the lead practitioners are able to share the good practice that has developed at subsequent learning and teaching meetings. Innovative new practice must not be simply forgotten so it is recorded in the constantly evolving and updated Teachers’ Bank of Ideas.
External collaboration and innovation: Education is constantly evolving. What was successful in the past may not continue to be successful in the future. Society, exam specifications and technology all continue to change along with the needs of our students. Therefore, we must constantly ask ourselves how we are can improve or develop what we do. We must also continue to look beyond our own gates to what we can learn from others. We embrace research into new technologies that have the potential to improve the provision we make for our students. 

Example: A local teachmeet partnership of schools has been started in order to share ideas and good practice. The events take place every term and have largely been organised online. They will ensure that our doors remain open to new ideas and current thinking.
Example: The new 'online network' is currently embedding into school life. It is being used to share resources between members of staff as well as between staff and students.
Driving the education agenda:  It is important that we now become an integral part of the national education debate. We must drive the changes that we believe will most benefit our students. We are the most highly qualified people to do this.