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.
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.
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!
I have blogged before about our Kaizen network of schools, a small group of primaries who share common beliefs about education and learning. We began to work together about six years ago to improve the learning experiences of our pupils, we weren’t funded by any external agency and followed no external agenda but grew ourselves from the ground up, following our own instincts about what our schools needed. Within our network we agreed from the outset that as Headteachers we were privileged to be able meet and work together on areas of common interest. We support each other and challenge each other benefitting from such collaboration. We share common Inset days which provide all staff with the chance to meet up with peers in partner schools and work together on mutual areas of interest. The sharing of costs and resources has enabled us to move all our schools forward through a collegiate and supportive model of sustainable and relevant professional development. Recent shared Inset with the likes of Tim Rylands, Zoe Ross, Lane Clarke and others has been extremely well received by staff who are then able to build on what they’ve seen through school visits and joint working within the network.
This year we are once again taking advantage of ‘uncommon’ Inset days. This is when we put a working day aside for all our staff to get into partner schools to spend time in someone else’s class, working together, observing, taking in new ideas and approaches, and sharing good practice. Each school chooses a day when all the others are in full operational mode (not straight after a half term) and organises staff to visit one of the network, in small groups, to be let loose to spend the day being part of a different environment. These visits are followed up back at school with discussions and actions, further targeted visits and future projects. We have find these uncommon Insets to be invaluable. It is reported by McKinsey, that to improve teachers need to see best practice in an authentic setting, our approach gives staff the opportunity to do just that.
There are lots of inspirational practitioners in schools, piloting new approaches and ways of working, but often the ideas and initiatives they are exploring never make it beyond one or two classrooms. How do we move from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation?
One of the most important ways to make this transition it to develop a culture of coaching. There obviously needs to be encouragement from school leaders to run with new ideas; to trial different approaches, to fail, evaluate and modify, but beyond this peer support can be a powerful lever for change. The development of blogging is an example of how such an approach can be effective.
In many schools the development of blogging is limited to one or two classes where the teachers are confident in their use of technology, have the right attitude towards innovation and can see the tremendous possibilities of this medium to further children’s learning. Our first attempts at blogging would fit this model. With the encouragement of the head, one or two teachers with a passion for ICT made fantastic use of the blog, they got their children and parents on board and really enjoyed developing their learning and engagement. We looked at where we wanted blogging to go (a campus style blog with every class and pupil group represented) and knew that for us to reach our goal we had to have all staff comfortable in developing their skills in this area.
As with any new initiative, we anticipated, reluctance, fear, worry and concern across a large staff. We had already begun to look closely at coaching in other areas of classroom practice and staff development and consequently explored how this might support us in promoting blogging. Through careful planning and management we were able to arrange one to one support at various times, pairing up confident staff with those less so. We had broad agreement that the use of web 2.0 would be a whole school objective for performance management and in pm meetings we outlined how this might be supported. The introduction of staff surgeries (see earlier post: the staff surgery) each term, to support each other and share concerns and ideas has also been helpful in promoting blogging across the whole school.
We spend so much or our time in schools isolated, working alone with children in a classroom, pressed for time and too tired at the end of the day to consider our own professional development. Arranging coaching meetings gives staff time to reflect on their practice, to talk through things with their peers and to explore innovative approaches with the support and encouragement of those around them. Sometimes the best resources are close at hand, we just need to create the time and space for coaching and support to develop.
Tonight we held our ‘Meet the Teacher’ forums. This is an opportunity for parents to pop into school to meet their children‘s new class teachers before the summer break. The evening has grown to be a very popular event on the calendar and something we are delighted to see being so well attended.
The idea for Meet the Teacher came about several years ago but it wasn’t until the last few years that we really looked carefully at how the sessions might best benefit parents. The meetings used to take place early in September but this was too late to allay many parents’ fears. By then we’d had the first manic morning back and dealt with parental uncertainties as to which class, which door, who is Mrs/Miss/Mr so and so and what does she/he look like? Through our Home School Group, parents suggested that ‘Meet the Teacher would be more helpful at the end of the summer term rather than the beginning of the autumn term and we subsequently moved the meetings.
A common format was agreed with staff that had enough space and flexibility for teachers to decide how they would best like to share information with parents. For some, the sessions began as informal one to one chats while other parents looked around the class but this year most teachers gave a short presentation before speaking to parents individually. When we first set up these meetings we would be lucky to have more than two or three parents in each class, but over the years the numbers have steadily grown and it was pleasing tonight to see that most classes has upwards of half the parents there.
I spoke to several families and asked if they had found the opportunity to come in and meet their children’s new class teacher useful, their response was overwhelmingly positive. They appreciated the chance to meet staff new to them, to found out about the systems and procedures for September, the curriculum, class blogs, the opportunities for them to come into school, to help the children with their learning logs and much more. Most importantly, those parents who came into school this evening now know their children’s new teacher, they have begun a relationship with them that will last for the next academic year and beyond. Meet the Teacher helps us to build a strong positive partnership with parents and families from the outset, a hugely important aspect of school life.
Last term staff filmed themselves teaching, noting the key areas they were happy with and those they wanted to further develop next year. This approach to observation filled some with dread however discussions with everyone suggest that most teachers got something out of the experience and found it a powerful tool for reflection.
All staff set up cameras in their classrooms and filmed a lesson of their choosing. They then watched the results in the comfort of their own homes (most with a large glass of wine!) and completed a pro forma which was then used as the starting point for a discussion with their phase leader. The observations were revealing to staff and the initial thoughts of many were similar e.g. ‘Do I really sound like that?’ ‘Don’t I say err a lot!’
A common revelation was the ‘over teaching’ staff felt they were doing. The amount of time spent ‘delivering’ to the whole class in relation to the amount of time the children spent ‘on task’ engaged in their own learning rather than listening to the teacher. This is an area many have decided to focus on following the observations.
The filming of lessons can be daunting for staff but ultimately the process proved to be very powerful and one worth using again.
Tonight’s ukedchat prompted me to think about a really powerful model of professional development we introduced at my last school. The school was in special measures when I took up the post of headteacher (my first – I figured there was only one way to go!) We came out of the category early and I was keen to keep up the impetus that saw us make such rapid gains in a short space of time. We got involved in a project around thinking skills with a neighbouring school and this gave us a strong focus as we moved forward however it was the summer research project that I want to talk about here.
The Deputy and I felt that getting staff to engage in a short piece of research would be a great idea and hugely benefit staff individually and collectively. We knew from observations and discussions, and the range of information we had from HMI the individual strengths and weaknesses of teachers so we looked at a range of books, journals and online support to find something bespoke to each teachers current needs. We then met with each of them individually and agreed their personal area of research. We collapsed some inset days to give time for everyone to work on their project; they read articles, discussed their research and we bought them each a book on their chosen area. We asked that when they returned after the summer break they give a presentation on their research. The first staff meeting in the September was given over to our first ‘researcher’ to share for 10 minutes their findings – it was as simple and straightforward as that.
We didn’t ask for handouts, or insist on presentations but to our delight that first staff meeting contained both. It set the scene for the following few weeks of staff meetings when, one by one each teacher shared their findings in similar ways. We covered a range of areas in those sessions and really developed professionally in that first half term. Did the research have lasting impact? I believe it helped staff as practitioners and benefitted the children in the classrooms. It also increased professional dialogue as teachers who hadn’t really engaged in a high level of educational discourse suddenly felt empowered to do so. This approach to CPD really helped the school move forward, it was a powerful model that was very simple to execute and had a lasting impact on the practice of all involved. What more could you ask for?