Tag Archives: children’s learning

Kaizen Network and Collaboration

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.


Lesson Study – school research findings to date

As the end of the spring term approaches we have set aside time as a school to reflect on the first cycle of lesson study.   The research within school can be broadly divided into four key areas: learning partners, resources, use of praise/feedback and questioning.  We have chosen to present the findings as a booklet for staff to take away and consider.

We have kept the findings deliberately brief and hope that further dialogue will be generated after the Easter holidays. The four areas are outlined below in terms of findings, questions arising from the findings, actions and resources.

1. Learning partners

Findings– very much established as part of the school culture.  Clearly embedded and used throughout the school at different stages of development. Not all children clear about the role of a learning partner.  When best used the length of time was appropriate for the outcome and made clear to children e.g. 20 seconds to generate answer, 1 minute for discussion etc…  Some children were very passive when working with a learning partner, while others dominated.  Roles were not always equally shared.  Learning partners were seen to give lower ability children more confidence. “When you have ideas and your friend has ideas you can mix them up and get a better idea.” Y5 pupil.  Learning partners clarify learning and understanding for children. “I didn’t know what they meant (AFs) until my partner told me.” Y5 pupil.

Questions arising – how are learning partners chosen? How often are they changed?

Actions – clear guidance and clear success for learning partners needed.  Agreed protocols around successful learners and how to be an effective learning partner to be shared and displayed in classes.  Reward systems to include recognition of good learning partners.

Resources– AfL inset and staff meetings.  Bill Thompson’s work with staff and pupils, materials on server.  Ideas for turn taking shared.

2. Resourcing

Findings – resources available but not always used to maximise learning.  Resources generally out but children not always clear how to use them and what to use them for e.g. number squares, multi link.  Evidence of gap between stages of a child’s learning and resources given to support them causing confusion e.g. children still trying to understand cardinal numbers had been given number squares.  Evidence of pre learning being an effective resource to support lower ability children in accessing learning during lesson. This was most effective where the strategy to be employed in the lesson was made clear and addressed gaps in the children’s learning. AfL cups were used to good effect in one class.  Working walls, where used, were seen to have a positive impact and children were able to access this to support learning.

Questions arising – are tangible resources taken away from the children too soon?  Is training needed for teaching and support staff in effective use of appropriate resources and developmental stages of resources e.g. subitising

Actions – staff training on use of key resources

Resources – spelling booklet to support working memory.  AfL cups for each class

3. Use of praise/feedback

Findings – positive climate in all classes involved in research to date. All children displayed positive attitudes towards learning. Very little use of empty praise (orally).  Children understood why they were being praised due to teacher/adult’s clear explanation of the reason.  Clarification of praise was a strong feature of the research.  Quality learning and discussion with peers sometimes limited by constraints of the lesson which could hinder learning.

Questions – do all adults have a clear understanding of the purpose of praise and the impact this can have? How do we incorporate response time into children’s lessons and learning? How does this impact on lesson planning and timetabling?

Actions – develop further the language of praise (minimise ‘well done’, ‘good work’ comments and replace with comments related to effort and specifics). Further training based on growth mindset.  Amend marking and feedback policy.

Resources – Barry Hymer materials from Inset on server.  Feedback and marking policy (to be amended following work with Bill Thompson and Barry Hymer)

4. Questioning

Findings – questioning was seen to be most effective;

  • When children were given clear wait/thinking time either on their own or with a learning partner.
  • When children were given a leading role during discussions (e.g. basketball not ping pong)
  • When differentiated questioning was targeted towards individuals. (Differentiation to aid understanding through use of appropriate language and blank level questioning)
  • Where strategies were actively employed to promote whole class engagement rather than limiting questions to a number of enthusiastic respondents (e.g. lolly sticks, name generator rather than hands up).
  • Where pre prepared questions gave children time to think before responding (e.g. asking questions before a video clip)

A good range of open and closed questions were evidenced to reinforce, clarify, challenge misconceptions and to lead discussions.

Questions – is there any purpose to a ‘hands up’ approach? Do we need a whole school approach to effective use of questioning, e.g. lolly sticks, wait time?  Are all staff clear about children’s understanding of language?

Actions – school to further explore a ‘no hands up’ approach to encourage full participation and sustained engagement.  Training for support staff.

Resources– blank level questions posters, lolly sticks, Barry Hymer and Bill Thompson’s materials on Growth Mindset and AfL and information on server, question stems.

As stated previously, the above information will hopefully provoke further discussion as we move forward with lesson study.   Next term we will follow up the actions and fine tune our approach to LS in light of our findings.   It would be great to hear from anyone who is using LS or wrestling with the development of these key areas.

Ping Pong or Basketball? Effective use of questioning

One of the key areas of AfL development in school is questioning.   We have been looking at effective use of questioning for some time and staff have embraced the work of Dylan William, Shirley Clarke and, more recently Bill Thompson, who has been in school working with our AfL group.   The introduction of Lesson Study this term has enabled us to really progress this work.

We made questioning the overarching area of Lesson Study.   In addition to the focus on three pupils representative of different learner groups we decided to look closely at questioning.   This enabled us to observe Bill’s recent input at close quarters and also gave us an area that would allow for repeated research regardless of subject or theme.  With each Lesson Study we have been able to learn from the questioning observed in the previous one.   We began by looking carefully at wait time.  Many teachers were surprised by how little time they left after asking a question.  Following Lesson Study, staff are consciously making an effort to pause for longer, to give children more time to consider their response rather than rushing for an answer.   We have also looked carefully at the ping pong v basketball argument, questions and answers that bounce back and forth between pupil and teacher as opposed to being passed around the room by the children to their peers for a range of responses.   As with the ‘no hands up’ sessions this approach ensures all learners are alert and ready to respond rather than only the confident few.  Through Lesson Study we have been able to observe learner response and have noticed that in some cases, if children put their hand up and are not chosen, they become more passive in their learning.   We have also observed that many will not put their hand up and simply ‘opt out’ seeing this selective process as optional participation.   Where ‘no hands up’ has worked best staff have been explicit about the session, explaining to the children that for this particular session they will be using lolly sticks or a name generator.   Where this has not been clearly stated some children will continue to put their hand up as a kind of default for each question asked, regardless of whether they will be asked or not.

A recent research lesson gave us the opportunity to look at pre questioning.   The teacher told certain children that after a film clip he would be asking them specific things about what they had seen.   The questions were targeted to key children and differentiated accordingly.   This gave the children a focus and time to consider their responses.   The class were also told that those answering would be able to chose peers to help them, using the basketball technique thus engaging the rest of the class.    Asking a question and giving the children time to discuss responses with talk partners before answering has also enabled pupils to give more thoughtful and considered responses and again, the opportunity to observe this process through Lesson Study has furthered our understanding of how such an approach to questioning can have a positive impact on learning.  As with all aspects of Lesson Study, the conversation and professional dialogue generated around the use of open and closed questions, wait time, learner response, talk partners and more has been powerful and positive, leading to changes in approach that we hope with have a lasting impact.   None of the techniques and approaches are new, some have been used to good effect in school already, but Lesson Study has enabled us to really get beneath the surface of questioning and support each other in developing and furthering classroom practice in a way that no other form of professional development has been able to.

Pre Lesson Learning

One of the early successes of our Lesson Study has been the use of ‘pre learning’ sessions with key pupils. This simple idea came from one of our vice principals @glynnlee who suggested rather than supporting key pupils to catch up with learning after the lesson, they are given a pre lesson session that introduces them to the key concept about to be taught. This short session enables staff to look at resources and strategies that will help them access the learning in class and ultimately give them a greater chance to succeed with their peers.

These sessions have been delivered by teaching assistants who work closely with the class teacher and go through their planning to ensure a common approach is adopted that benefits  key individuals who might normally struggle in the lesson. Interviews with pupils post research lesson have revealed just how powerful this technique can be. One Y4 pupil commented that he had just had his best lesson in school ever! He was able to access the learning and contribute more fully to the lesson due to a sharp, focussed pre lesson session that prepared him for the learning ahead.

Cameras in the Classroom

The recent introduction of lesson study at school was greeted with enthusiasm by staff.   They quickly saw the benefits of such an enquiry based, collaborative approach to professional development.  The only problem some had with the form it would be taking was that we intended to film the lessons.   We have used cameras in the classroom before with varying degrees of success.   Staff would come back into school after taking the video home recognising certain idiosyncrises about themselves and reflecting on what they observed in their classrooms, “don’t I sound broad!”, “have you heard me? I can’t shut up”, “I can’t believe how many of my own questions I answered”.  I’d question to what extend such an approach changed practice but we all recognised it was a powerful vehicle if used in the right way.  Enter Lesson Study.   We firstly reassured staff that the filming would only be used to support this process and not broadcast across the school for end of term amusement.   In fact, the footage would only be seen in its entirety by the staff who were being filmed – if they chose to sit through it.  For the purpose of LS it would simply be a reference point, a chance to discuss some small detail, a momentary response from a pupil or an unexpected reaction to a teaching point raised by a member of the group during the post lesson discussion.   All those involved so far have watched the recorded footage and gained something from it. As part of the Lesson Study, staff are asked how they think the case study pupils will respond.   The observers then record how those pupils did respond and this then leads to discussions about what we think is happening as opposed to what is actually happening.   The filming helps with this as it gives staff the opportunity to observe the things they can miss during the cut and thrust of classroom delivery, it enables them to reflect on, replay and pause their teaching at key points to move learning forward in the future.  Amongst other things we have been able to discuss key areas of AfL that we are developing; response and wait time, approaches to questioning and peer to peer work all with the assistance of recorded evidence.   Staff have taken to this aspect of the Lesson Study process probably because the filming doesn’t really feature them! It focusses on the learner response and gives teachers the chance to view something they rarely get to see, their own classroom practice.  It enables them to hold up a mirror to their teaching.  They can also check how broad their accents are!

Letting go of the reigns – freedom to learn

Our children are wired up differently.   I remember getting new ‘hardware’ at home and having to read through the instructions before switching on!   I remember my dad doing the same.   My children think it’s very strange to approach technology in a linear way.   They approach it from a completely different view point.   They explore, question, play, find out, analyse, pull apart and put back together but they don’t follow numbered instructions to learn how to do anything.   Any instructions are usually thrown out with the packaging!    Is this method of working utilised in schools? I wonder…
I remember that most of my learning in school was linear, it had a clear beginning and end.   You started at the top and finished at the bottom.   Writing is a good example of how our thoughts and presentation were shaped by such methods.   You had to get your head round each sentence, paragraph, section in order, one at a time – that’s how I remember being taught.   With word processing children can dip in and out, they can allow their thoughts to wander around a subject, writing a bit here and a bit there.  Changing ideas as they go.   How different to the straight line schools followed in times gone by.
I recently took a group of children from school to an evening performance at the theatre.   While we were waiting for the show to start one of them asked me if they could have a go on my phone.   I passed it to her and within a couple of minutes she had handed it back to me with a series of morphed photographic images playing across the small screen.   ‘That’s great!’ I exclaimed.   “Have you got this phone as well?’ ‘No’ she replied, “I just had a play!’   My youngest son made animations on my old phone when he was seven using plasticine, flip books and playmobile (a creative freedom to learn not permitted in school) he will tell you now at 11, that his real learning begins when he walks through the door at home.

At Hawes Side we try to make the most of the children’s interests, creativity and naturally inquisitive nature.   Pupil forums such as the Teaching and Learning group and the Web 2.0 group regularly try out technology and new approaches to learning; we encourage them to explore and experiment (not that they need encouraging!) Their findings always amaze me and the way they approach their learning shows just how much things have changed from yesteryear.

Learning, at it most excting is about exploration.   There are more opportunities today to  exploit such an approach than ever before.   We need to trust children, to let go and give them the freedom to learn and discover things in their own way.   We may just be surprised by the results!

Specialists – teaching the subject or the child?

The Cambridge Primary Review, the first comprehensive report on primary education since Plowden in 1967 challenges a lot of the prevailing assumptions about what schools should be delivering.

The report makes a number of recommendations. One that was discussed today was the use of specialist teachers in primary schools.

On the one hand we all want our children to have the very best learning experience possible, from the right people. On the other, a central tenet of primary school is  pastoral support and a more holistic education than other sectors are able to provide, do we lose this by adopting a more specialist approach where children will have a number of teachers?   If we adopt specialist teaching does it mean those vital relationships and understandings of individual children and their needs will be harder to achieve.   How would the use of a range of specialist teachers impact on consistency across the school?

Many teachers in primary will tell you they chose this route as they wanted to teach the whole curriculum to children, that they want to see children’s development in it’s entirety. There’s an often used expression that secondary school teachers teach subjects and primary school teachers teach the child! The report suggests in this day and age we should consider who is best to deliver the most effective learning experience to children. It states that in the past it has always been the case, particularly in music and PE, that somebody might be better placed to deliver these subjects and that schools should look to exploit such specialists.   Since the introduction of PPA time, any schools have looked at these two areas as an opportunity to try a different approach, using coaches and musicians to provide the statutory cover for staff.

Ultimately the review asks us to question assumptions and challenge ourselves as school leaders to review our staffing structures to ensure children have the best learning experiences possible. Our we accessing all expertise in school? Sometimes a simple survey of staff strengths and specialisms can unearth a bed of untapped talent. I have found this recently with languages.

As @andrewme tweeted recently, its about a balance of the two: retaining the pastoral support while embracing the expertise of those best suited to deliver key curriculum areas.   The Cambridge Review asks us to look at our own practice and ask ourselves questions.   A great vehicle for change both at school level and (hopefully) and nationally.

Is all that teaching getting in the way of learning?

All that teaching - getting in the way of learning!In our school, one brave teacher allowed himself to be filmed – on viewing the lesson we noticed how much time was taken with delivery from the teacher and how little interaction there was between the learners.   So much of what the learners were doing was stil locked into the ‘passive recipient’ mode.   Sometimes we need to see ourselves in action and reflect on our practice to get a clear picture of the diet we are serving up in the classroom.   The balance has to be right, it varies according to what you are doing but we must be conscious of the dangers of allowing too much teaching to get in the way of real, active learning

Teaching and Learning groups

As part of our work on teaching and learning at school, we felt it was important to have a group of children to represent their peers. These children meet each week with myself and other staff to discuss T&L and talk about how we can become more effective learners. Over the past three years, different groups of children have produced some great research, presented findings to their peers and collaborated with children in staff in our partner schools both here in the UK and in Australia via video conference.

In the beginning the children led surveys into preferred learning styles and MI which they then presented back to the rest of the school through assemblies and powerpoint. The rest of the children loved fnding out all about how they learned best and the findings also helped teachers plan and become more aware of their children’s needs.

The group made films entitled ‘What is Learning?’ where they interview children across the school and ‘The Ideal Teacher/Ideal Learner’ where they used the findings of research they had done with the different classes to create an informative film which we shared with our partner schools (who all made a similar piece based on their own findings.)

The films provoked some great discussion among staff and children and helped make us all aware of how we can become more effective as both teachers and learners.

This last year the children have worked on Guy Claxton and Chris Quigley’s research into learning. Along with all our partner schools the children have worked through Quigely’s five Rs of learning. The first R we looked at was reflectiveness. The children decided to create a learning mat with prompts for children to be more reflective. They chose to work with a Y3 class who they observed and then discussed with the teacher before deciding how the learning mats could hep them. They then led a session with the class on how to use the learning mats and went back a couple of weeks later to see how they had been used. Some small alterations were necessary but the mats helped the children reflect on their learning.

Other projects this year have included a learning inventory to help learners become more resourceful and a poster campaign to help children become more resilient. All this work is shared with our partner schools as we agreed the themes in advance. The children enjoy looking at differences and similarities in the work of their peers in other schools. We ended the year with a T&L conference where the children presented thier findings to each school’s T&L group, reflected back on the year and agreed ways forward for the groups next year.