What is preventing the higher attaining children from taking on the chilli challenge in maths? Why is Charlotte afraid to put her hand up in class? Why do pupils in Year Four believe Florence Nightingale came before the Ancient Egyptians?
It is easy to make assumptions in such situations. The higher attainers do not want to get things wrong, Charlotte is shy, disengaged etc…
Post Lesson Pupil Interviews can shed light on what children really understand and help us to plan accordingly. In the case of the higher attaining pupils in maths, the simple answer came down to the children’s lack of understanding of key mathematical vocabulary used in the chilli challenge. The children could all answer the calculations but the use of such words as simplify, justify and explain threw them and prevented them from taking the challenges. Lesson Study and subsequent Pupil Interviews clarified what the problem was and a focus on mathematical language meant this was easily resolved. It’s easy to assume the children understand the mathematical terms as they are used so regularly however, the interviews revealed otherwise.
In Charlotte’s case, a Post Lesson Study Interview highlighted the problem. Charlotte’s father, with the best of intentions no doubt, had told his daughter that in class it was important to get things right. For Charlotte this advice acted as a real barrier to her learning. In a growth mindset classroom environment parental influence still held sway and it was fantastic to see the change in Charlotte once the teacher had taken the time to speak to dad who recognised the issue. She changed from being a child afraid to contribute for fear of failure to one keen to engage and learn through discussion and collaboration.
The fact that Year Four pupils studied Florence Nightingale in Year Two led them to believe she came before the Ancient Egyptians they were now studying. It highlighted to us the importance of developing historical timelines and a clear understanding of chronology. It is important to regularly question the children on their learning and their understanding of lessons. Post Lesson Pupil Interviews are often very revealing and insightful, they can provide a platform for real pupil voice and lead to changes in curriculum delivery, for the better.
In an attempt to keep Lesson Study going in some form or other, we have developed a partnership with a local supply agency that is proving mutually beneficial. Our problem at school is that due to budget constraints we cannot release three members of staff at once to run with the traditional model of LS. We have therefore taken the key tenets of the model and created an approach using two teachers from the agency to join us as co researchers in the classroom.
Following a lengthy discussion around the purpose of Lesson Study we agreed and signed the protocol and planned out our approach. We were fortunate to get such buy in from the agency and the two members of staff who joined us fully embraced what we were doing. They took the research role seriously and came away with a wealth of additional information for the class teacher (lead researcher) on learner response and (the teacher’s area of focus) partner work.
The researchers provided the teacher with a real insight into the learners’ behaviours through careful pupil tracking and post lesson interviews. The agency staff also gained a real insight into learner response and the power of lesson study to affect change in the classroom. Both are teachers and neither had used such an approach before. Neither were familiar with Lesson Study and the notion of the focus in class being the learner and not the teacher seemed to be a genuine light bulb moment. The class teacher, a strong advocate of Lesson Study, was very clear about what she wanted the researchers to focus on and was impressed with the level of detail they were able to feed back. The supply agency is able to advertise that their teachers have an opportunity to engage in classroom research which allows them to develop professionally whilst working for the agency. As a school we benefit from having additional classroom researchers available to support us with Lesson Study.
In recent weeks we have been looking closely at the purpose of Lesson Observations. When it comes to developing classroom practice it seems to be a fairly redundant model. Experience suggests that most teachers will default to something they already know they can teach, stalling improvement. It would be very risky and indeed, very rare to find staff trying out new approaches when being observed. Our profession, in the UK at least, is a top down, judgemental one so it’s hard to operate outside of that remit. The move from grading lessons has done little to advance classroom practice and it’s a sad indictment of our education system that a fear factor and nervousness still accompany any ‘visits’ to class.
I talked recently at #TMBpool about the benefit of a Lesson Study approach in moving practice forward. While the logistics of running an authentic LS in primary schools is difficult due to poor funding and the number of staff required, such an approach is not impossible. I have blogged before about a school to school approach and the possibility of involving support staff as researchers. We are also looking at the use of other adults in school (as a Confucius Classroom School we have additional staff) and are in conversation with local universities and supply agencies about the possibility of utilising their students and teachers as research assistants. This model not only enables the school to run with a form of LS it also provides insights in what does and doesn’t work in the classroom and professional development opportunities to all involved.
With the class teacher taking the role of host researcher and additional adults acting as research assistants, the LS model outlined in previous posts can be adapted to suit this approach. With Lesson Observations, observers spend the majority of time watching the teacher teach (as Dr Neil Hopkin said ‘the only thing we can be sure of as teachers when we leave the classroom is that we have taught something‘). A Lesson Study approach with it’s emphasis on the learner’s response allows us to assess whether that teaching is having the desired impact.
On Monday we held our tenth annual Kaizen Conference. This is a day all schools in the partnership set aside each year for a shared Inset day. The Kaizen Inset day is the first date we all mark on our school calendars – usually a year or so in advance. The first Monday after the spring half term holiday is always our designated day to work together, share ideas and hear different speakers engage us with a range of educational thinking. This year, nine schools were involved from Blackpool, Preston, Wigan, Bolton and Liverpool. The morning was led by Dr Andrew Curran, a pediatric neurologist who specialises in ASD. Andrew’s messages about how the brain develops, how children learn and the barriers to learning were positively received and many of us wondered if such fundamental information was taught in initial teacher training, as without such understanding the role of the teacher is made all the more difficult. Andrew gave us an insight into how different parts of the brain act, the role of dopamine and serotonin and how we can create the optimum conditions for learning. His practical, no nonsense advice gave those present something to reflect on and consider when thinking about the pupils in their care.
As is the pattern each year, the afternoon was given over to a Teaching and Learning Exchange. At each Inset we run a series of workshops that allow staff from each school to share their practice on a range of different areas. This year, the afternoon was simply titled, The Love of Learning. Staff were invited to share something they really enjoy teaching. These practitioner led workshops ranged from hot seating, using picture books to develop critical thinking and developing characters through the use of props to forest schools, outdoor learning, yoga and mindfulness. Staff had the opportunity to choose three workshops from the fifteen on offer. The sessions provide a great opportunity for staff to find out more about what is happening in partner schools. It can lead to classroom visits and collaboration leading to focused, specific school to school support. The annual Kaizen Inset day is something all those involved look forward to. In a world where schools can easily become isolated, or forced into awkward and unwanted partnerships, we relish the opportunity to work together. Over the last ten year we have benefited from the input of some inspirational and passionate educators, we have worked together on a range of initiatives and learnt from each other through practitioner led workshops, where staff are comfortable to share with their peers and give an authentic take on things. We have built a strong, robust network that has grown from strength to strength and influenced the teaching and learning in each of our schools, more than any top down initiative or missive. Alongside our peer reviews, lesson study, pupil teaching and learning conferences, HT briefings and subject leader meetings, the annual shared inset is a great way for us to work together and learn from each other in uncertain times.
Last year we set up and ran as series of interviews with pupils in Y6 from April through to a similar time in Y7. The purpose of the interviews was to see what happened to their attitudes and approaches at the point of transition. We have engaged in a range of transition projects in the past but they have all tended to be based around learning experiences and we felt it important to look at the children’s attitudes and how they might change over that most important of years so that we might be better informed to deal with transition from primary to secondary education.
The six pupils involved in the project were carefully chosen to ensure that they would be receptive to the initiative, that they would be happy to share with us their thoughts and could be relied upon to provide us with an honest account every step of the way. We worked closely with our high school colleagues but they did not attend the interviews until the last couple, as they did not want to inhibit the children’s responses. The semi-structured interviews revolved around the same questions and left space for the children to elaborate and expand on given themes (What makes a great teacher? What makes a great learner? What are the features of the best lessons?) The children’s responses remained consistent in key areas. They all believed good subject knowledge, good classroom management, interesting lessons and getting to know students individually so they can help them learn were the key components. The latter response was interesting because this was not mentioned at primary school but something they talked about regularly at high school. This was informed by the fact they had experienced a range of teachers and some would regularly have supply staff covering regular staff absence. All very different to the primary model they had been used to. They all believed that where staff really made the effort to get to know them, they benefitted and the learning was more successful.
None of the interviews gave us any great revelations and we were not surprised by their answers however the interviews informed staff meetings at the high school as they recognised the value of hearing the thoughts of new students who were meeting their primary school head and deputy each half term to talk about the teaching and learning. When it came to classroom management they very quickly recognised the teachers who made idle threats. They cited many examples of teachers threatening those displaying unacceptable behaviour with detentions and other such sanctions but not following them through. They said that all students grasped these matters very quickly and those prone to ‘playing up’ would know they could do so without any further recourse meaning those who wanted to learn were potentially distracted. The children also stated that the higher the position of the member of staff, the more respect they had in the classroom. It was apparent that supply and cover staff were viewed on the whole as those who dealt with the brunt of poor behaviour and were the least effective at dealing with it. Lessons were covered by staff who weren’t specialists in that subject so the quality of teaching and learning could be a cause of behavioural problems. The number of teachers the children had during a week was a big factor in their changing attitude to teaching and learning and their comments about staff getting to know them were obviously informed by this impasse. How do all their teachers get to know them?
They stayed firm to their views that the best learners were resilient, didn’t give up, could avoid distractions and sought to challenge themselves. They spoke about the importance of a growth mindset and it was good to hear that the same messages were being given at primary and secondary about the importance of failure as part of the learning process. They told us about children who had left primary school with them who now misbehaved and would tell us we ‘wouldn’t believe’ how they had changed. We pondered on this and privately thought about the level of emotional support that some of these children had needed at primary and whether the high school was able to replicate this model given the different approaches at secondary and the difficulty in engaging with parents once they leave primary. The influence of older students also seemed to have a bearing on behaviour and perceptions of the school environment. Children who were big fish in a small pond suddenly became small fish in a bigger pond, this was clearly something they all wrestled with and overall seemed to have grasped positively, knowing where and who to avoid as if by osmosis.
The children’s views on the best lessons didn’t waver over the duration of the project and largely the key factors for them were found in exciting lessons that challenged their thinking and help them learn. They talked about the importance of engagement and questioning, being comfortable enough to make mistakes and to know that they weren’t going to be in trouble for make them. The best lessons were, again, where they knew the teachers and the teachers knew them.
It would have been interesting to keep up with the interviews as the group progressed through high school. They were still excited to see their primary school staff but I guess that would have cooled off over time! By the end of the project high school staff sat in with us and we had a good enough relationship for the children to continue to inform us and in doing so enable to us look again at transition. How do we build and develop the kind of relationships that are necessary following transition to high school? How do we limit the number of staff and so enable those who do teach the children to really get to know them? Is it possible to do this when each subject requires specialist teachers?
I hope the high school have kept the group together as a teaching and learning forum and continue to meet with them. When we want to know about teaching and learning who better to ask than those in the class.
I recently blogged about our changing approach to Lesson Study. Having operated in a number of different ways, we have moved to a school to school model that we hope will be sustainable in the face of cuts to school budgets. Our existing model requires a lot of release time for staff, and although every cycle of lesson study has proved to be extremely valuable, such as model is operationally challenging as we move forward. The school to school model requires less release time and has other benefits that we are beginning to see from our early forays into this CPD research field.
As blogged previously, we have tried out different approaches and engaged in some school to school research but are now planning more strategically to build on our previous work. We recently completed a first round of school to school lesson study with three Y4 classes. One class acted as host and the research lessons took place in this class over a two week period. The three teachers involved followed the same approach as we had successfully employed in our own setting with joint planning time and post lesson pupil interviews and review built in to the process. As is often the case with such things, staff gave their own time over and above the release each school allocated, simply because the research findings and conversations enthused them.
The research in this round focussed on the language used in maths. The findings suggested that children in the class were put off tougher problems if they didn’t understand the words being used in the problems. Some children didn’t have a clear understanding of the word ‘explain’ and therefore avoided any problems using this word, even though they could solve the actual calculations. In response to this the teachers decided to create a bank of words often used in maths, and find simple explanations and meanings to display in classes next to them. From the post lesson pupil interviews it was felt this would help the children access the questions. The research shows that we may assume children’s understanding of some of the words we regularly use in maths and that it is worth spending time unpicking meanings carefully with children in order to give them the best chance of answering the word problems.
The staff involved in this latest round of research have now planned a presentation to deliver in staff meetings in the schools after the Easter break. This opportunity to share their findings in more than one school is also a great CPD opportunity and I am sure, it will open up further rich dialogue around this area. Following this successful trial, we plan to extend the model to other year groups during the summer term.
On Friday, we held the official opening of our Confucius Classroom. This special celebration recognised the school’s work over the last five years and enabled us to look confidently towards the future. We are keen to develop the children’s understanding as global citizens and look for every opportunity to do so. Our mandarin teachers are not only teaching the children to speak Chinese but are also providing lessons in calligraphy, paper cutting and a range of other activities that the children fully enjoy. We are fortunate to be able to provide Wu Shu and Tai Chi classes so the provision extends across the curriculum. Beyond the visible though, our partnerships have also seen changes in classroom practice prompted by some of the lessons we’ve learnt from our peers in China.
The mandarin lessons in school give the children the chance to learn a new language from a native speaker. From the earliest years the children are learning songs, rhymes, games and stories and as they move through the school they build on these early activities developing their vocabulary and eventually moving onto some basic characters and writing. We recently hosted a group of Y6 Chinese pupils who were visiting the UK. It gave our children the chance to converse with their peers in mandarin building on the penpal letters they had sent in preparation for the visit.
The school also provides outreach for a number of schools in the area and we are keen to expand this support. Moving forward we intend to provide opportunities for the children to work together with peers in local schools, to share their learning and perform together. In this shrinking world we believe it is important to provide the children with real global experiences that not only excite them as learners today, but also give them an understanding and respect as tomorrow’s global citizens.
We embraced lesson study wholeheartedly a couple of years ago. The developmental approach to teaching and learning sits more comfortably than the judgemental. It encourages research and innovation and enables staff to improve their practice in a supportive and collaborative environment.
The problem with the Lesson Study model we adopted is that to run it successfully there’s a lot of release time required. We have worked in triads thus needing three teachers out of class to plan and review with two out of class for each research lesson (we work with a cycle of three research lessons). To sustain this model of LS is a challenge and we have therefore thought carefully about how we can continue to reap the benefits but without the financial costs and potential disruption to timetables.
Earlier this year we trialled a school to school Lesson Study with a partner school in Birmingham. Two Y6 staff worked together on a small research project and this gave us the incentive to take the idea further. We have decided this time around to work with two partner schools closer to home. This means each of us releasing just one teacher for each round of Lesson Study rather than three. In January we will begin a Y4 maths Lesson Study which we are all very excited about. It will build on the successful approach we have employed in school but with the added benefit of insights and ideas from beyond our own community. It further develops our school to school work and gives staff a great opportunity to learn and research with other practitioners. We still aim to continue with the distance LS using technology as much as possible to enable us to successfully work beyond local confines. Staff will still present their findings to their peers and the opportunity to deliver staff PD meetings with colleagues in other schools provides yet another opportunity to share research and learn from each other.
In this era of austerity with educational funding decreasing, it is important to continue to move forward as a profession and school to school Lesson Study provides a great opportunity for us to work together, share research and learn from each other.
Tomorrow it’s our annual Kaizen Inset Day. Each year we agree one common training day for all our staff. We pool our resources to bring in the best people to lead a day in one of our schools. This work can then be further developed in our own settings with collaborative approaches informed by a shared message.
Kaizen means small steps to continuous improvement. The name of this Japanese business model suits our aims perfectly. We set up this informal network as a group of new (ish) head teachers around ten years ago. Our initial aim was to support each other in our burgeoning leadership roles. We shared a common set of values and beliefs and we were all keen to work closely, to develop a school to school support model that would help our schools grow, and help us grow as school leaders.
Initially our network was a leadership support mechanism but it quickly grew to a body which included pupil teaching and learning groups, digital leaders, debating societies and subject leader clusters. Recently children from each school visited Houses of Parliament. This followed a joint pupil teaching and learning day looking at school values. Before half term the teaching and learning groups shared presentations based on findings amongst pupils in their own schools on ‘what makes the ideal teacher, the ideal learner?’ Debating societies at the same pupil conference debated whether the government should pay for homes for the homeless (this topic was chosen by the pupils from a number of options). The work the pupils are engaged in is shared back in their own schools via assemblies and school council meetings. A focus on speaking and listening is developing the confidence and understanding of those involved, and the more we can involve, the better!
Staff work together on key aspects of their roles and this is something we will be developing further this year with our focus on collaborative improvement and lesson study. Subject leaders find it useful to moderate beyond their school and local clusters (Kaizen involves schools from across the region and internationally) and in this new age without levels, such sessions are more important than ever. Last year our Kaizen Inset Day was led by Professor Barry Hymer, we looked carefully at the research into Growth Mindset and how such work could impact on our schools’ approaches. This year the day is being led by Dr Pete Dudley, to build on our approaches to Lesson Study. Plans are already afoot for inter school research using the Lesson Study model. The afternoon will be given over to a Teaching and Learning Exchange, where staff from Kaizen partner schools share a range of pedagogical approaches that they are having successes with in the classroom. These practitioner led workshops provide a ‘warts and all’ view that is refreshingly honest and helpful to colleagues in developing their own practices.
The Kaizen network grew organically. There was no top down initiative, no external funding and no outside agenda. The strength of the partnership is the shared belief that by working together, supporting each other and collaborating, we can improve the teaching and learning in our schools and provide a better all round education for our children.
Following our first year of lesson study, we have changed the format in school for this academic year. As a staff we spent time at the end of the summer term discussing the impact of LS to date and deciding on the best way forward. We were all convinced that this was the right way to develop teaching and learning but felt it worth tweaking our approach to get more out of it.
As a three from entry primary we are well suited for the model we’ve developed. Each term a different class in each year group becomes the research class. The ‘host’ teacher works with their two year group colleagues to plan the lesson study and the three teachers (along with any support staff involved) write up their research. This research is then shared by the host teacher at a lesson study staff meeting the following term. Over the year each class in each year group will be the research class once, all teachers will take on the role of researcher/research teacher, and each will present research findings to staff. All staff will have taken part in at least three lesson studies. As in the past, we are restricted to two ‘formal’ research lessons during the cycle, due to timetabling and class cover required however, the impact of the research goes beyond the formal process and is instrumental in driving developments in teaching and learning. .
The cycle below outlines our current approach to lesson study
Planning Meeting 1
Agree and sign Lesson Study protocol
Agree on lesson to be taught, who is to teach it and area of focus from AfL work
Plan lesson in detail together as a research team with area of AfL focus in mind, considering any resources necessary and any pre lesson preparation.
Research lesson teacher to identify three pupils, broadly representative of the differing learning groups in the class. Teacher to identify how they think the pupils will respond at different points in the lesson, researchers complete proforma (planning, observation and discussion sheet)
Research Lesson 1
Camera set up prior to lesson to enable inconspicuous filming for class teacher’s reference. Researchers complete proforma whilst observing identified pupils (emphasis is on the learner response)
Researchers also record thoughts regarding AfL focus for feedback in post lesson discussion.
Post Lesson Pupil Interviews
Each researcher interviews identified pupil following the lesson using profroma (suggested questions for post lesson interview) encouraging pupils to answer fully and share any thoughts on the lesson and the learning
Post Lesson Discussion
Following the first research lesson (RL1) and pupil interviews, research team come back together. Session follows format below:
a) Teacher shares thoughts on the lesson/learning
b) Researchers take turn to share findings (notes) on pupil’s response to learning (how teacher thought they would respond/how they were observed to respond)
c) Researchers take turns to share post lesson pupil interview findings
d) Film footage shared (if necessary) to support findings. Footage then provided for teacher to view later
e) AfL focus discussed in general terms and researchers share any notes made during research lesson.
f) Next lesson discussed in light of findings from RL1, changes/amendments made as appropriate, children for observation agreed.
Research Lesson 2
Cycle begins again
Research is then written up by year group team and saved on the school server. The host teacher then uses the research notes to inform presentation to staff.