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.
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.
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.