Tag Archives: teacher training

School to school lesson study 2

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.

 

 

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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 – the story so far

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.


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.


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!


Uncommon Inset

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.


Can I come back to you later?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first thing that impresses you about working with Tim Rylands is he doesn’t just talk about it, he does it.   Before we agreed to our two days with him as part of our Kaizen staff training and development, Tim urged me to put him in front of children, so that staff could see his ideas and approaches in action.   It meant a lot.   It gave him credibility with staff because he got up and delivered.   To sixty children at a time! Y2, Y4 and Y6.   Three demo lessons that had the children reaching for language and stretching their imagination like never before.   Staff were invited to get involved and enjoyed the opportunity to watch the children but also to immerse themselves in the virtual worlds being created.   It was great to see some of our more reticent children rising to Tim’s challenges, growing in stature and having a ball.   Staff observed Tim using a range of strategies to draw the maximum out of pupils, to plant a seed, to nudge, provoke and promote thinking.

One of the devices Tim used with the children was to speak to them, listen to them for a while and then ask if he could come back to them later – which he always did.   This enabled the children to think about what they were going to say next – a sort of drip feed that encouraged, prompted and helped them push their ideas along.   Facial expression, tone of voice and use of props all played a part in the demo lessons.   Staff took a lot away from the sessions and reported that it helped the next day make all the more sense.

Tim’s reputation comes from his fantastic work with Myst but it would be doing him a disservice to suggest it rests solely on this.   His work with the staff in our network took us beyond technology and gaming.  He paused scenes in a number of games and encouraged staff to think about what they could see, sense, feel, smell.  He asked them to picture scenes, take on the role of characters and imagine journeys, lives and outcomes.   Just as he had with the children the day before.   The same approaches could be taken with pictures and artifacts, through role play and much more.   At its core Tim’s work is about the art and craft of teaching, a creative, questioning approach used to great effect to draw the very best out of the children, to make learning an exciting adventure.


Leadership Day

Before the start of term we held a Leadership Day to review our valaues and vision.   It was a great opportunity to look anew as a team, at the things we’re passionate about and check our progress and development towards our shared vision.

The day began with a review of ground rules in order for everyone to feel comfortable, their opinions and ideas valued, their contibutions respected.   The following agreed words enabled us to set the right tone:

  • Respect for all views
  • Freedom to speak and confidence to disagree
  • Confidentiality
  • Support and encouragement
  • Clear, effective communication
  • Consider the bigger picture
  • Generate outcomes/follow through actions

Last year we held a Leadership Day for all staff with the University of Cumbria and they introduced us to the work of Lencioni.   We took this opportunity to revisit Lencioni’s work on the dysfunctions of a team and spent some time discussing how these can create disharmony and what we need to do to ensure we always take the opposite approach.

Lencionis’ Five Dysfunctions

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

The opposite, positive approach would be:

  1. Trusting one another
  2. Engaging in unfiltered conflict around ideas
  3. Commiting to decisions and plans of action
  4. Holding one another accountable for delivering those plans
  5. Focusing on achievement of collective results

Looking again at this work made us all aware of our own responsibilities as part of a team and as leaders of our own teams.   

We have previously used the dream/nightmare staffroom scenario to help us all see the kind of place we wanted school to be and the kind of place we should work hard to ensure it wasn’t.  This time we used the question ‘what makes Hawes Side, Hawes Side?’ It got us all thinking about the things that are special to our school and that give us a sense of pride in our work.  

We then reviewed what had gone well over the last 12 months and what our priorities were for the next academic year at a personal, team and school level.   This opportunity to reflect, review and think ahead gave us a clear indication of where to focus our attention when shaping this year’s development plan.   

The chance to spend such a day with staff is all too rare.   To be able to engage in professional dialogue, share ideas, philosophies, values and vision at length is something we’re not geared up for in school.   Time is always pressing and conversation usually brief, caught on the hop.  So much of our time in school is spent firefighting  that we rarely get our heads above the parapet to see the bigger picture, to reflect on our practice and share our ideas, our hopes and fears.  The Leadership Day gave us the time and space to do the things it is difficult to do once the cut and thrust of term begins.


Getting the balance right

In a meeting with our teaching and learning group last year, we discussed how much time in lessons is spent actively involved in independent learning as opposed to teacher directed.

We decided that at some stages (beginnings of topics etc) and in some lessons, a strong teaching input was needed. At most other times however, it was felt students benefited from being more actively involved in their learning.

To gauge how much time in lessons was generally teacher led/student passive and how much time students were active we decided to chart a lesson. Using a simple time chart (a sheet of paper with a horizontal time line through the middle. Above the line, teacher led, below the line, student active) the children tracked the lesson with a pencil going above and below the horizontal timeline minute by minute as appropriate.

The results showed that much more time than necessary was being spent with the teacher talking, not enough time was being given over to the active learning.

What did all of this tell us? Well firstly it surprised the teacher how much they spoke. It made it clear to them that student engagement didn’t rely on them in a didactic role and that we often overestimate how much we need to say before real, authentic learning can begin.

This experiment would work equally well if a teacher were to film their own lesson and play it back in private using a similar time chart. What it does is help teachers recognise whether or not they have got the balance right between teacher led and student centered learning. It can be a very useful took in shaping classroom practice.


Peer Observations

Something we’ve tried a couple of times at school is peer observations. The idea is really to build on the sharing of good practice combined with a supportive approach to lesson observations. We wanted to make the process a supportive, rather than a judgmental one, to take the fear and worry out of the equation and make it something staff would value and be able to build on and progress from. The process is refined a little more each time we do it but the feedback is positive and staff see this as something that is about building on existing strengths rather than criticising weaknesses.

When we first had a go at peer observations we left the focus down to staff to agree. This time around we have chosen an area that fits in more closely with our school development plan. The most important aspect is that this way of conducting observations gets staff out of their own class and into colleagues rooms to talk, share ideas, offer advice and agree one or two action points to take forward. The process asks staff to think carefully about a colleagues’ approach to support their professional development – this in turn asks staff to consider their own practice. It makes them think about what is working well for them, why and how it might be shared to benefit others.

We have also seen staff developing projects and collaborative approaches following peer observations which is really exciting. Y5 and Y1 children had a great time working together following last year’s round of peer observations, others too, have chosen to link up to create exciting learning opportunities for their classes following initial peer observations and discussions.

We are now considering how this approach might work across our network, enabling staff to build on this with colleagues in other schools. This is already happening with one or two classes in an informal way and the children are benefiting from the opportunity to work with their peers in other settings as much as the staff.

Does this process need formalising any further? I’m not sure. Would this ‘kill it’ for staff making it too much like regular observations? We ask for minimal paperwork – just enough to monitor and support the process. It will be interesting to see how this next round of peer observation develops, the process has changed each time following review and discussions. Staff see this way of operating as far more beneficial to their professional development and it has certainly supported professional dialogue, both formally and informally – not a bad thing at all.