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.
We have been using lesson study for a while now and although it isn’t new, it is still fairly new to us. I have written previously about the approach we have adopted in school and it is a constantly evolving model. We have embraced this practitioner based classroom research with enthusiasm and commitment. We are a school of advocates! We have developed a model of lesson study based on the work of Dr Pete Dudley (@DrDudley13) and it has transformed our approach to CPD.
Rather than waiting for the next course/training/magic bullet to change our practice, we have developed an ongoing, devlopmental model that everyone buys into.
Many courses have very little impact beyond the delivery. Changes and development in classroom practice are rare and impact on pupil learning scant at best. Rather than invest time and money into such tried and tested approaches we adopted lesson study. We have found that educational research is at it most potent in its native environment and classroom practitioners its most powerful exponents.
Lesson observations are a passive experience – teachers choosing to teach a safe lesson to avoid unwanted judgements does not move practice forward. The scenario often played out goes something like this – teacher has observation looming, choses to teach something (previously taught) that shows them in a good light, observation sheet is completed by observer, evaluation is shared with teacher, teacher files away observation and process closes. Until the next round of observations. This evaluative, judgemental model does little to improve teaching and learning when compared with lesson study.
Because lesson study is research based it encourages staff to take risks, try new strategies and reflect with colleagues on the impact on pupil learning. Because lessons are co- constructed and focus on learner response, teachers do not feel threatened. Lesson observations can feel more like a personal judgement of the teacher than a supportive developmental process. Lesson study encourages a collaborative approach to classroom practice and a level of (often collective) reflection seldom seen with the traditional lesson observation model. It promotes a rich professional dialogue around teaching and learning and through carefully planned research lifts the lid on many of the tacit practices lived out in the classroom on a daily basis. The evidence based approach and powerful pupil voice (learner response and post research lesson interviews) so important to lesson study make it a developmental model of classroom cpd that is proving instrumental in moving practice forward.
We have just completed our first cycle of Lesson Study and the response has been extremely positive. A more explicit focus on pupil learning and a deeper understanding of how they learn has been a prominant feature of this first round of research. The shift from teacher at the centre of an observation to learner at the centre of the research is significant. Where traditional observations tend to warrant a quick post lesson chat before the handing over of a judgemental, evaluative A4 sheet, Lesson Study has encouraged us to look in fine detail at the process, to develop practice and collectively reflect on findings. The high level of professional dialogue, both in the joint planning stage and during the post lesson discussions has reflected the interest and enthusiasm of those involved. I am sure not all were completely sold on the idea of four adults and a video camera invading their classroom, followed by a thorough dissection of what had occurred, but once through the process all recognised the power of such an approach and believe it is worth developing across the school.
As with any new initiative in school, the Lesson Study model still needs work for it to be successfully embedded. There are potential issues around cover and creating the time and space needed to run Lesson Study properly. We are probably still too kind to each other when it comes to professional discussion and I am sure the gloves will come off given time. We placed great importance on the protocol and everyone signed up to this but we will revisit it in the next round and ensure everyone really does feel safe to disagree, to challenge assumptions and beliefs and to share ideas and approaches, however outlandish they may sound. The level of dialogue generated following each research lesson has been staggering and I believe that will only grow over time. The protocol is important in clarifying to all involved that there is no hierarchy rather equal research partners co creating lessons and reflecting on the findings. This takes away the notion of one teacher and their work being the focus and encourages a sense of collaboration and joint professional development.
In the next cycle we are keen to involve support staff more as they have such a crucial role to play when it comes to learner response. We have not yet settled on the right way to collate and share the research findings. For this first round it will be disseminated through staff meetings and electronically via the school server but in the future this could take the form of teacher demonstrations, presentations, handouts, booklets or videos. As our overarching focus for this first round has been questioning, we have begun to run a series of staff meetings to share the research and open up ways to move practice forward as a result. The use of praise, learning partners and resourcing also featured significantly in this cycle and sharing the findings of these areas is planned over the next term. For us to develop teaching and learning it is important that we move away from simply evaluating lessons and their effectiveness to a system that promotes professional development by allowing staff to experiment with new ideas and strategies in a safe and supportive environment. I believe Lesson Study gives us that opportunity.
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.
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!
Technology continues to change many aspects of our lives and in school it is no different Each new cohort of four year olds enters Foundation Stage more familiar with technology than their slightly older peers. Picking up a tablet, a handheld device or sitting at a computer holds no fear for them. They don’t look for the instructions before testing its capabilities, their approach to learning with technology is not a linear model more of an exploration fired by an inquisitive mind. Using technology with young children presents educators with a great opportunity to develop basic skills. A natural curiosity for learning can be further enhanced with an iPad or similar device. Our reception children tend to use iPads as a social tool – they huddle in small groups to share, discuss and debate whichever app they might be using. Such dialogue would seldom develop unassisted without technology to provide the stimulus.
@glynnlee and I have often discussed the power of blogging with primary children and, as Lee stated, if you replace the word ‘blogging’ with the word ‘writing’ it can give you some indication of the difference the use of technology can have on learning. In the early years class blogs are mainly used to provide a window on the children’s learning for parents and families, but the junior classes tend to give more ownership to the children who use it as a vehicle for their writing. Children enjoy blogging, it looks good, its appearance can be changed, it can be shared, has a potentially wide readership and is easily edited. Regular contributions to a class blog also gives children their own digital portfolio. Using technology to support writing in such a way is a positive application of the tools many children are increasingly familiar with out of school from an early age.
Making use of green screen technology is also a great way to develop basic skills. Children respond readily to scripting, filming and re drafting and are often blissfully unaware that these steps are supporting them in their writing, speaking and listening. The chance to write auto cues for their friends to speak often raises the bar in terms of their expectations and listening carefully before re drafting is also a key skill that needs to be successfully employed to improve results. Using the green screen gives children a strong stimulus for a whole range of basic skills. If you suddenly have the chance to film your historical report about the beheading of Anne Boleyn from in front of the tower, it might just inspire you to greater achievements, to think more carefully about what you are writing. If you are creating a micro tutorial on how to convert fractions into percentages, you will need to ensure you fully understand the process before sharing your learning with others. You could argue that such approaches would work without technology but the opportunity for children to watch themselves, to share their learning, to get feedback from beyond the class makes the use of technology an attractive way of developing and enhancing their learning. Embracing technology in the primary classroom can provide practitioners with exciting ways of developing basic skills, many children already enter school familiar with a range of devices, we need to ensure we build on their early interest and curiosity to the benefit of their future learning.
The way schools approach professional developed has changed dramatically over the last few years. The rise of teachmeets and similar models has seen a shift away from the content driven courses run by consultants and advisors of the past. Many now prefer the engagement and active involvement of peer led training as opposed to the passive learning model that is the diet of many traditional courses. The kind of course that generally takes staff away from their day to day practice to tell them how they can do their job better. The problem for many with such delivery is that it can lack credibility, practitioners like to hear from those who are walking the talk, who understand the day to day pressures and recognise the difficulties that can be encountered. Practitioner led training is popular as it not only gives its audience a ‘warts and all’ account of tried and tested approaches, but it also gives those presenting it an opportunity to develop professionally themselves.
A number of practitioner led approaches at cluster and network level can be replicated to good effect in individual schools. Below are a few approaches that work well both with groups of schools and within single organisations:
Staffroom teachmeet – this sharing good practice model is a great way to get staff up and talking about what they are doing in class that is proving successful. It promotes conversation around teaching and learning and a quick five minutes in front of peers doesn’t necessarily worry people in the way a longer slot in front of a larger audience might.
Learning walks – many staff rarely get into their peers classrooms and giving a couple of staff meetings over to learning walks means they will be able to spend time learning from each other, getting ideas, discussing how the learning environment can support learners and informally planning future developments. We spend an awful lot of time moving around school to meetings, classes, assemblies etc… so it is nice to actually slow down and make the walk around school purposeful in itself. A meeting on the move!
Moving the meetings -asking staff to host a staff meeting in their classroom is a good way of encouraging them to talk about learning and the learning environment in more detail. It is also a way of sharing the leading role and developing leadership skills in others. Having staff meetings in different classrooms can effortlessly put teaching and learning high on the agenda. It is amazing how much dialogue around practice can grow out of a simple question about a classroom display.
Staff Surgery – I have posted about this approach on this blog before but simply put, we make use of this model to support staff in developing their use of technology. Each term we have a staff meeting where everyone brings along a device (or we use the IT suite) and we share what is working well, what people are doing with their blogs, what they are struggling with or have heard about. It is a real collegiate environment and has become a recognised opportunity in school to develop collective and individual use of technology to support learning. Recently phase meetings have also introduced an ‘app of the week’ where staff will share an app they have been using in class on their iPads.
With a range of external directives and initiatives competing for space and time on an already crowded staff meeting agenda, taking a step away to develop such sharing is hugely valued and seen by many as the best way to approach school level cpd.
Lucy’s out of school business!
The countdown to the animators next upload!
I visited a partner school a while ago and as I walked through the Foundation Stage I looked over at a group of children on the class computers. The teacher laughed as he explained to me that when the children had started school in September they went immediately to the computers, picked up the mouse and pointed it at the screen! Their pre school experiences with gaming platforms clearly dictating their understanding of how to approach this new experience. I recently recounted this story to a friend who explained that his three year old had stood in front of their television, put his hand in the air and attempted to ‘pinch’ to control its content as he was already comfortably doing with his iPad!
These two incidents illustrate the stark difference in experiences with technology for our youngsters and older generations. They also highlight the need for us as educators to understand the out of school experiences of children in order to bridge the formal and informal learning gap. For many pupils their out of school experiences with technology and their inquisitive, exploratory approach to each new device only serve to widen the learning gap. Celebrating their skills and developing understanding in school provides us with an opportunity to build on their out of school interests, benefiting their learning and sense of achievement.
In the last few weeks I have been sharing some of the children’s out of school hobbies with their peers in assemblies. Lucy from Y5 has her own business out of school which she advertises on her website http://www.yummycupcakes.webeden.co.uk/
Adam, Josh, William and Regan make their own animations and upload these onto their website http://theanimators1.weebly.com/animation-page.html Such enterprise and innovation are celebrated, supported and where possible, these out school interests encouraged within the school setting. We plan on ordering staff cakes from Lucy!
Our older children now bring their own devices into school to use as learning tools where appropriate. The technology they so often hold in their hand while out of school has such potential in the classroom that it makes sense to embrace it and explore its learning potential. The challenge is for us as educators to find ways to blur the children’s formal and informal learning, to bridge the gap between in school and out of school experiences in order to support their development, and where appropriate using the tools they are becoming increasingly accustomed to.
On Monday we are taking a group of pupils to visit one of our partner schools, Robin Hood in Birmingham. The visit will go beyond pupils meeting their peers, being given a tour of the school and discussing teaching and learning. On this visit the children will be donning the uniform of Robin Hood and spending the day as a pupil. This small scale piece of ethnographic research is intended to give our teaching and learning group a real understanding of how different schools operate. Following the visit, the children will present their findings on how our schools are similar, how we differ in our approaches and what we can learn from each other. A reciprocal visit is planned for later in the year and ongoing online collaboration via class blogs will aid communication.
Over the years, our teaching and learning groups have enjoyed looking at a range of approaches to classroom practice, the use of effective questioning and the work of educators such Guy Claxton, Chris Quigley and Dylan Wiliam. They have visited partner schools, made videos, led assemblies, given presentations, collaborated on projects and even organised a teaching and learning conference. The groups have furthered their own understanding of teaching and learning and regularly share their findings to support developments in pedagogy across our schools.
Through our networked approach to teaching and learning we have facilitated opportunities for staff to visit partner schools and experience the day to day practice in a colleague’s class. This is always hugely appreciated and staff benefit from such an open and collaborative relationship. This will be the first time we have undertaken such a venture with pupils, the outcomes are eagerly awaited.
- Sharing our learning (smichael920.wordpress.com)
I’ve been reflecting on the simple things that can have a profound impact and wondering what we can do more of to further the children‘s learning experiences. Something that was successful last year and is worth taking further is sharing our learning. Pupil to pupil, class to class and school to school. The children really enjoyed sharing their learning with others. Not only did it help consolidate their own understanding, but it also made certain areas of learning more attractive and easier for others to grasp. We made good use of assemblies to share the children’s recorded learning, they enjoyed using the class blogs, the ‘show me’ app for screen casting and the school’s green screen studio to produce ‘micro lessons’ on a variety of themes. Children were very keen on suggesting ‘micro lessons’ they felt might help others and much of their content was produced by themselves, in their own time – a real sign that they were enjoying the process. Below are some examples of how pupil to pupil, class to class and school to school sharing helped children further their learning.
Pupil to pupil sharing
All classes make good use of learning partners, which is a simple way of encouraging the children to share their learning, discuss their ideas and provide peer support. In addition to this beneficial approach the children also made tutorials on the iPad using the ‘Show Me’ app. They reduced concepts down to two or three minutes and recored simple screencasts to help their peers with tricky areas of learning. We kick started the idea by showing some of the first few in assembly which galvanised the children to create more. They were embedded on the school blogs which enabled children (and parents) to easily access them as often as they wanted.
Class to class sharing
As a three form primary I often feel this is an area we should be making more use of. Older and younger classes really enjoy pairing up, as do classes in the same year group. The older children loved dressing up on character day and reading to the younger children in costume! Groups of children going to other classes to share a project or present findings not only gives them a real sense of purpose to their learning but makes a great starting point for further learning for the class. This year we are keen to look at how class to class sharing can help further the children’s speaking and listening.
School to school
Working closely with a small network of schools can provide some fantastic opportunities to develop projects beyond the classroom. I have written here previously about the Y6 Space Museum, that not only opened to other classes and parents at our school, but went on the road enabling the children to share their learning with their peers at Heathfield in Bolton. I have also written about how a group of children used the green screen to make adverts which acted as a lesson starter for children in Hall Park in Bradford. We have fully enjoyed hosting kidsmeets which is another great way of school to school sharing. This year I hope to further explore the potential for such approaches to sharing learning. It would be great to hear from others who are doing something similar.