Monthly Archives: June 2014

Creating a Curriculum for Excellence in Languages

This post is part of an ongoing series on how we are creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.

The story so far:

This latest blog in the series was written by Lee Ferris, our Curriculum Team Leader for Internationalism, Language and Culture.

How does an MFL department at an 11-16 secondary school prepare for the rigours of a Curriculum for Excellence? Read on to find out.

What’s in a name?

Well, quite a lot actually. For a long time, I have been convinced that ‘Modern Foreign Languages’ is no longer fit for purpose as the name of a department whose work goes way beyond teaching languages. Of course, the idea that languages teachers instinctively and necessarily incorporate cultural awareness into their pedagogy is not a novel concept. Indeed, it formed a key tenet of my own teacher training at Durham University. Whether you call it ‘intercultural competence’ or ‘cultural awareness’, it is universally agreed that deeper language learning can only take place when the student has an appreciation for the people, traditions and culture of the Target Language country/countries. However, this is rarely formalised in Schemes of Work or Programmes of Study – when it is, it tends to be, frankly, inadequate for the needs of 21st-Century learners, instead paying lip service to a concept so indisputably crucial to the rounded, balanced curriculum we all aspire to provide for our students.
With that in mind, I submitted a proposal to the school’s SLT to change the name of our department from MFL to ILC – the Department of Internationalism, Language & Culture. The aims of the department would be:
• To be a ‘deliberate practice’ department, constantly seeking to improve Teaching and Learning through active research, collaboration and sharing of good practice.
• To promote academic excellence through cooperative, collaborative and independent learning.
• To be an ‘e-Learning department’ with a commitment to the full and natural integration of new technologies in Teaching and Learning.
• To promote contextualised linguistic spontaneity, creativity and, ultimately, fluency.
• To work with our partner schools, local, national and international cultural organisations (e.g. Tyneside Cinema, British Council, Goethe-Institut), as well as other departments within the school (e.g. Belmontvision with Performing Arts, Berlin Wall 25th Anniversary project with History) to promote knowledge and appreciation of the culture, history and people of the Target Language countries.
• To fully incorporate internationalism and culture into Schemes of Learning so that they are an integral element of language learning and not an ‘added extra’.
• To provide opportunities for students to gain experience of work and study in areas with an explicit international dimension.
• To raise aspiration and attainment in languages at GCSE level.

The SLT approved the name change and it was with renewed vigour that we proceeded to our intensive curriculum planning, beginning on 16th and 17th June.

The ‘Big Picture’

Before starting to think about what our ILC curriculum would look like and what we would want it to achieve for our students, I had been heavily involved with a ‘hub’ focussed on learning intentions – more specially, formulating suitably challenging learning intentions befitting a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. I had also attended sessions in school on ‘assessment beyond levels’, at which Curriculum Team Leaders and others pooled ideas to come up with an assessment system that would reflect our overarching ambition to improve Teaching & Learning while effectively exploiting (in a positive sense) the national move away from National Curriculum levels. It was at these curriculum conferences that we discussed, as senior and middle leaders, what a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ could and should look like.

The first activity the ILC department undertook in our curriculum planning sessions was an open discussion about ‘the big picture’ in our department. As we talked, openly and freely, about the role our department currently plays within school, I quoted almost ad verbatim what my colleagues had to say in the table below, avoiding the use of overtly formal language:

ILC1

The findings of our initial discussion on the context of our department. Click to enlarge.

A clear picture emerges from this discussion of a department with a united sense of ambition and a shared vision of the core purpose of language teaching. Clearly, the concept of broadening horizons is an umbrella intention with implications way beyond the simple transferral of linguistic knowledge. The table also betrays a unanimous desire to stretch, challenge and support our students to achieve beyond their expectations. It suggests a genuine will to facilitate sustained progress while ‘having fun with language’. In short, it gives an impression of a department with laudably lofty expectations of what it can achieve while maintaining a distinct person-centred humanity so essential in education.

The national circumstances

We spent a considerable amount of time as a department looking at the DfE’s published Programmes of Study for Languages at KS2/3, as well as the current guidelines for the new GCSE. From this, we deduced that the KS2 PoS looks like a recipe for potential chaos. A significant dilemma for secondary languages teachers in recent years has been taking account of the incredibly divergent prior knowledge among each Year 7 cohort, depending on the actual language covered at primary school, the amount of time (and effort) dedicated to it and the wild variations in content covered. However, what we gleaned from the PoS document is that these are the basic expectations of language (ancient or modern) teaching at KS2:

  • Describing and opining in writing and orally.
  • Writing phrases from memory.
  • Using authentic sources.
  • Actively engaging in the Target Language.
  • Communicating facts, ideas, needs and feelings.
  • Basic grammar: gender, high-frequency verbs, differences between the Target Language and English.
  • Phonics of cognates.

This struck us as being very ambitious indeed – not necessarily a bad thing in itself, as long as we can be certain that primary schools can and will deliver these elements adequately. To that end, a conversation with Dan Brinton, our Deputy Head Teacher, later in the day reaffirmed the need for solid collaboration and synchronisation with our feeder primary schools. This may, for example, take the form of a series of in-house conferences to train primary teachers in the delivery of the essential features of the KS2/3 PoS to ensure fluidity of transition in Year 7, as well as sustained progress building on prior knowledge, an ambition previously impossible to realise.

The department then decided that in the absence of specified content in the KS2 PoS, we would put together our own ‘wish list’ of linguistic content we would like our students to arrive at Belmont Community School equipped with at the start of Year 7:

  • Numbers 1-60
  • Days, months and birthdays
  • Simple greetings and introductions
  • Classroom objects
  • Alphabet and spelling
  • High-frequency verbs, including avoir and être
  • Awareness of gender of nouns
  • Colours
  • Simple adjectives with agreement
  • Animals
  • Weather
  • Likes/dislikes

Next, we cast our beady eyes over the KS3 PoS to pick out the core elements in preparation for curriculum planning. These turned out to be:

  • Communicating orally and in writing in a range of time frames
  • Give views and opinions on a range of topics
  • Transcription
  • English translation of short texts
  • Translation of short written text into the TL
  • Listening, speaking, reading, writing
  • Understand and communicate personal and factual information
  • Initiative to expand beyond minimum response
  • Literary texts in the language (stories, poems, songs and letters)
  • Deepening vocabulary
  • Increasing accuracy
  • Writing prose

Items shown in red above refer to skills and knowledge not present in previous PoS and skills which we would need to develop from KS3 into KS4. The links between the ‘new’ knowledge and skills and the outline of the new GCSE are clear:

ILC2

The requirements in Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing in the new GCSE. Click to enlarge.

Our organising concepts

We had already discussed in professional time meetings what we felt would be the measurable skills we would want to assess at KS3 in the post-NC level era. The ideas put on Padlet ranged from broad areas such as ‘comprehension’ to more specific, GCSE question types such as ‘Positive, Negative, Both’. In the end, we decided that our assessment skills would be identical to our key organising concepts for our curriculum. Therefore, our first task on our curriculum planning days was to discuss and agree on a maximum of six concepts around which our curriculum would be built. These turned out to be:

  1. Mechanics of Language (MoL)
  2. Communication (CMC)
  3. Comprehension (CMP)
  4. Culture (CUL)
  5. Internationalism (INT)

The thinking behind these concepts is relatively self-explanatory. When discussing our name change proposal as a department, one proviso expressed by a colleague was that any formalisation of internationalism and culture within our curriculum should in no way detract disproportionately from our core aim of achieving the best possible results for our students in whichever language they take up at GCSE. The core concepts above mean that the active and passive skills of language learning are both covered by Communication (CMC) and Comprehension (CMP), while knowledge of grammar and structures are explicitly assessed via the Mechanics of Language (MoL) concept. This will ensure rigour in the teaching of grammar, something which we all felt had diminished noticeably under the Listening/Speaking/Reading/Writing assessment model. The addition of Culture (CUL) and Internationalism (INT) means that we will have the means, via suitable Schemes of Learning and assessment mapping, to regularly evaluate the students’ development in this area.

The next stage involved looking more closely at each of the organising concepts and determining the knowledge and skills we would wish the students to acquire over the course of KS3, with Belmont’s new assessment threshold model (Establishing > Developing > Securing > Advancing > Excelling > Beyond) in mind. This led us to these conclusions:

ILC3

The core knowledge and skills for our organising concepts. Click to enlarge.

Threshold assessment

We then felt confident moving forward to determine what our threshold assessment descriptors would be in each context (NB we decided at this stage to move away from ‘concept’ as ‘Assessment Context’ seemed more appropriate). It was also at this point that we made the decision to combine Culture with Internationalism so that the two will be assessed together. We divided into pairs, each pair focussing on two of the Assessment Contexts and working back from Beyond to ensure that the most challenging, rigorous knowledge and skills were at the forefront of our planning. Reading through the descriptors, there is a clear route of progression from bottom to top – rigorous, geared towards excellence but infinitely achievable:

ILC4

Assessment Context 1: Mechanics of Language (MoL). Click to enlarge.

ILC5

Assessment Context 2: Communication (CMC). Click to enlarge.

ILC6

Assessment Context 3: Comprehension (CMP). Click to enlarge.

ILC7

Assessment Context 4: Culture and Internationalism (CUL/INT). Click to enlarge.

It is clear from the tables that Assessment Context 4 will require a cross-curricular delivery strategy. How to actively teach and promote ‘Culture and Internationalism’ formed the basis for one of our lengthier and most intense discussions. We envisage having greater organising input into Belmont’s ‘Challenge Days’. These are sporadic days in the year when the students are taken off timetable to focus on a particular strand of PSRE. We also foresee consistent collaboration with other departments in the school. Our recent Belmontvision event, organised and implemented in conjunction with our fantastic Performing Arts department, was proof positive of the innate possibilities in exploiting cross-curricular links to support tangible and practical culture and internationalism. We also plan to work with the Humanities department on specific strands of AC4. For example, this October, we will work with History to carry out a ‘Berlin Wall 25’ project, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The basic outline for the project? History will teach the students the factual information behind the history of the wall; we will exploit this knowledge to encourage the students to think (in German) about how they would have felt in a similar situation, using a range of feeling/emotion vocabulary with the conditional and connectives. Their thoughts will then be written on a reconstructed small-scale Berlin Wall. A simple yet incredibly powerful example of how AC4 could be delivered by fostering cross-curricular cooperation. Other avenues can – and will – be pursued.

Another ‘Eureka!’ moment during our discussion about the delivery of AC4 was centred on the potential power of ‘takeaway homework‘. We have been keen to implement this independent learning strategy since being introduced to it by Sam Bulmer from our English department at one of our ‘Magic Monday‘ T&L events earlier in the year. However, we have found it difficult to put together a suitably rich ‘offer’ in our specific curriculum area. We are now exploring the idea that takeaway homework can be used to fantastic effect as the stimulus for ongoing independent research on a range of culture and internationalism-related themes. This will involve the students choosing each week from a ‘menu’ of tasks of varying degrees of challenge, all of which involve independent research on a cultural/internationalist theme. Vivos will be awarded depending on the complexity of the task chosen from the menu and awards given out each half-term to the students who have collected the most Vivos. In doing this, the students will gradually build up a Culture and Internationalism portfolio. We are also looking into the use of QR codes to stimulate the students’ curiosity about the culture of Target Language countries. This may take the form of simply sticking a QR code into the students’ books when they are marked. When scanned, the code will take them to a Target Language music video or film trailer.

Schemes of Learning

Naturally, all of this planning is futile without effective Schemes of Learning which roadmap the year. Simon Thompson (Assistant CTL) and I looked at a range of resources designed to support the changes to the curriculum and finally identified one that we felt was suitably rigorous for our Curriculum for Excellence. The next stage in our planning involved piecing together a Teaching and Learning framework for Year 7 and 8, to include interleaving of topics, reference to our new Assessment Contexts and explicit links to Culture and Internationalism. This is still very much a work in progress – here is a sample:

ILC8

A sample of our developing Scheme of Work for Year 7 and 8. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, under ‘Skills and strategies’, the relevant AC has been identified, along with its ‘level’. So, CMP-D would indicate that this is a Comprehension skill at Developing level. Similarly, CUL-A signifies a Culture skill at Advancing level.

It is clear the tracking progress and reporting to parents will be much more transparent and meaningful in a system where you identify that a student is, for example, ‘Advancing in Communication’, rather than Level 4a in Writing. This can only be a positive development.

The way forward

Clearly, there is a long way to go in developing ILC’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. As has always been the case, a curriculum fit for purpose is one that is constantly reevaluated and adapted to the evolving needs of students. The next few weeks will be spent honing the Year 7 and 8 SoW so that we have a watertight plan for KS3, which incorporates elements of KS4 to allow students to go Beyond their expectations. Further consideration will be given to how we carry this momentum through KS4 so that the ever-present risk of Years 9-11 becoming a soulless exercise in dragging students through a GCSE is eliminated. Rather, we envisage a culture whereby students are independent, collaborate, culturally competent/curious and outward thinking learners with a sense of their own place in the world and the wealth of opportunities open to them.

It’s a grand vision. It’s a Belmont vision.

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Designing a new post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch

This is the 5th post in a series about how we are designing our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.

The story so far:

This latest update contains a miscellany of information and ideas that I’ve shared at our second curriculum conference and most recently at the Dare to imagine – Education for the 21st century conference and the Cramlington Festival of Learning TeachMeet.  It attempts to pull together more detail on:

  • context and why we are moving away from levels
  • the interplay between curriculum planning and assessment
  • tracking of progress

It also includes a number of curriculum planning tools that could be used to adopt a common planning framework.

A new taxonomy?

Most of us are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy and the SOLO taxonomy, however, the end of statutory levelled assessment has brought with it a new kind of taxonomy that can be used to describe the various behaviours people often seem to exhibit in response:

a new taxonomy?

  • IGNORING – pretending it’s not happening
  • PANICKING when you realise it is happening
  • PROCRASTINATING – accepting it’s happening and deciding to deal with it later
  • WAITING for “something” to come along
  • SEARCHING what are others doing?
  • BUMBLING  trying to move forward without any real plan

Despite exhibiting a number of these behaviours ourselves this year, I’m pleased to say we are now at last well on the way to creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model.

Some thoughts on levels

  • Although originally intended to provide information on progress, there is a danger they have become a label that discourages a common intellectual mission and perpetuates a fixed mindset.  “Joe is a level 5” or worse still “I’m a level 5.”
  • The temptation to move up levels quickly in the name of “progress” is at odds with our desire to secure a deeper understanding of the big ideas, not just isolated content, and to allow more time for mastery of fundamental knowledge and skills.
  • The various models used to aggregate test scores, APP and the use of sub-levels by schools makes them unreliable.
  • High performing school systems don’t use levels

Can you re-think assessment in isolation without re-examining your existing curriculum?

Despite levels becoming non-statutory at Key Stage 3, the freedom to innovate and deliver the curriculum we want has always been there.  The limited amount of change in some cases between the old and new National Curriculum could offer little incentive to change, with some schools deciding to “stick” rather than “twist” or bolting on new assessment systems to their existing curriculum.

round-hole-square-peg

On the other hand, it also represents a golden opportunity to design curriculum and assessment systems that teach and assess what we value.

  • To make links and connections between big ideas explicit
  • To develop individuality and the ability to think
  • To specifically develop skills and habits of learning as well as knowledge.
  • To go “beyond” the traditional programme of study, to provide real stretch and challenge
  • To provide our students with formative feedback that means something
  • To allow for simple, meaningful reporting to parents and carers

Re-designing curriculum and assessment isn’t easy though.  We have to ask ourselves searching questions and think hard.  It takes time and we have to allow for that and ensure we provide ample opportunities within school.

Big ideas

Each of our subject areas have determined their own ‘organising concepts’ or ‘big ideas’ as well as the key knowledge and skills that weave through their curriculum – the golden threads.

For example, in science:

Slide04

Planning for excellence (and beyond)

Progression is then mapped out for each big idea by asking:

  • What does excellence look like?
  • What can my students do?
  • What do my students need to understand next?
  • What does this enquiry prepare students for next and how does it build on what they have already done?
  • How can we go beyond the boundaries of the existing Key Stage?
Slide09

Big Idea 1: All materials in the Universe are made of very small particles

Cognitive science and curriculum mapping

We’ve also looked at how a knowledge of cognitive science might support the way we construct programmes of study in each subject.  In particular how it could help us to:

  • encourage students to engage emotionally with content by ensuring appropriate degrees of challenge
  • avoid overloading working memory by linking to the big ideas / building on prior learning
  • build storage and retrieval strength by mapping our programme of study to incorporate spacing and interleaving

Slide1

Here’s an example of how we might space and interleave some of our big ideas to ensure progression of knowledge and skills across our science programme of study:

Slide07

A threshold assessment rubric is then developed for each unit that:

  • Sets the bar high
  • Focuses on assessing the key knowledge and skills for that particular unit
  • Scaffolds down from the beyond threshold
  • Supports the development of deeper understanding and skill development
  • Enables provision of formative feedback that supports progression to the next threshold

Slide08

It is only at this point that the lesson-by-lesson overview is then created, containing links to the last interleaved sequence; the learning intentions; specific, pre-planned probing questions that encourage thinking as well as the “products” we expect students to create.

Slide14

How often though, do we begin our planning at this point, rather than defining our…

  • Purpose
  • Big ideas
  • Key knowledge and skills
  • Progression
  • Mapping
  • Assessment criteria

…in advance?

Tracking

Establishing progress necessitates the need for a baseline, which can be a tricky business.  In the past, we have tended to lean heavily on KS2 test data,  however in our initial discussions we see this as an opportunity to use a wider range of data to include:

  • KS2 English + Maths test scores
  • KS2 Teacher Assessment and dialogue with feeder schools
  • MidYIS / CAT3 ability testing
  • FFT estimates
  • Internal tests on entry
  • Reading ages
  • etc.

Once a baseline has been established for each student, progress could then be measured relative to this using simple statements about progress relative to it, rather than targets that place ceilings on student achievement.

Slide16

Threshold performance could then be used to discuss “flight paths” to GCSE using the current grades A*-G or the new GCSE points system.

Slide17

e.g. if a student’s was currently working at the “securing” threshold they might usually be expected to progress to grade B/C (using current GCSE grades) or point 7/6

If they were working at the “developing” threshold then we might expect them to progress to grade C/D…etc.

What concerns me at the minute though, is how the use of some of this data fits with our thinking about a common intellectual mission and that all students are capable of excellence.

In fact, after months of reading, discussing, thinking and investing significant time (and cost) to allow joint discussion, planning and collaboration sometimes this feels as close as it gets to where my head is at right now.

Slide18

We’ve still got lots to work out and will need to evaluate the efficacy of all our work as we progress, however, in choosing to design a curriculum and assessment system that we value, it’s clear we share a real excitement, hope and optimism about the future.

Slide19

Here’s a link to an Excel version of our curriculum planning tools.  There are a number of planning sheets contained in the workbook, including some “Big Picture” questions by Pete Jones.  Feel free to use and adapt as you see fit.  I would love to hear from you if you decide to use any of them in your school.  Feedback is always welcome.

Dan

 

 

Assessing without levels

We recently held the first in a series of voluntary curriculum conferences for mid-leaders to share their ideas about what might influence the design of our new post-levels curriculum. Ideas that were shared during our first meeting:

  • Designing a new English curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch (which you can read all about here)
  • An Ethic of Excellence (which you can read all about here)
  • Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design (which you can read all about here)
  • Assessing without levels

assessing without levels 1 The chance to break free from using National Curriculum levels for assessment offers us real opportunity:

  • The opportunity to provide our students with formative feedback that means something
  • The opportunity to create an “Ethic of Excellence” – where excellence is expected and everyone can improve and aim for excellence
  • The opportunity to develop a curriculum that instils a growth mindset – no glass ceilings or self-labelling by students, e.g. “I’m a level 5”
  • The opportunity to develop a curriculum that goes “beyond” the traditional programme of study, to provide real stretch and challenge
  • The opportunity to develop more meaningful reporting for students and parents

In February of this year, a number of schools submitted applications to the DfE for Assessment Innovation Funding to develop post-levels assessment systems that could be shared with other schools.  Durrington High School were one of the 9 schools that were successful, and whose ‘Growth and Thresholds’ model is very closely aligned with our own thinking.  Much of the initial ideas on ‘assessing without levels’ shared at our first curriculum conference were informed by this model.

 

Thresholds and progression

New thresholds based on mastery of core knowledge and skills will need to be determined.  Our English department’s recent work with David Didau saw the development of our initial threshold names.  It also saw the birth of the “Beyond” threshold, which we are keen to adopt in all subjects to ensure we ‘keep the bar high’ and extend our students beyond the traditional confines of their current Key Stage and into the next. Progression to the current and new GCSE thresholds could then look something like this: Slide4

 

Organising concepts and threshold knowledge & skills

Each subject area will need to determine their own ‘organising concepts’ or ‘big ideas’ as well as the key knowledge and skills for each of the six thresholds.  An example for Science is shown below: Slide6 Assessing only the key knowledge and skills that continue into Key Stage 4 and beyond, will allow our students to develop a deeper understanding of concepts.  It will also provide our teachers with an opportunity to give focused and meaningful formative feedback to students and parents on how to progress further.

 

Baseline determination

A range of data could be used to determine a baseline for each student, including, for example:

  • KS2 English + Maths test scores
  • KS2 Teacher Assessment and dialogue with feeder schools
  • MidYIS / CAT3 ability testing
  • FFT estimates
  • Internal tests on entry
  • Reading ages

baselines Professor Robert Coe’s blog has also been useful in developing our understanding of what makes a ‘good’ test.

 

Achievement focused tracking and reporting

Once a baseline has been established for each student, progress could then be measured relative to this.  For example, a student with a baseline of “Excellence” would be making Expected progress if assessed as achieving the “Excellence” threshold, Good progress if they were assessed as “Beyond” and Less than expected progress if assessed as “Confident” etc. Slide8 This model supports our aim that all students can move through the thresholds, aiming for the “Excellence” and “Beyond” thresholds, providing they have demonstrated the required mastery of key knowledge and skills at those thresholds. Tracking could also incorporate numerical values broadly aligned to the new GCSE thresholds. Using the previous example, a student with a baseline of “Excellence” would be allocated a score of 9.  If the same student was assessed as achieving at the “Confident” threshold (allocated a score of 8), their achievement would be -1 for example. Slide9

 

Postscript

There was wide support during the meeting for agreeing a set of common thresholds to be used by all subjects.  Ideas were then discussed in subsequent department meetings, prior to pooling them via subject leads using a padlet wall. thresholds consultation We then decided upon the following thresholds to be used in all subjects: agreed thresholds

 

Preview

We have since held the second of our curriculum conferences for mid-leaders.  In the next blog in this series, we will share our ideas on Designing a post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch, including more detail on:

  • why we are moving away from levels
  • suggestions on how to move from organising concepts to a lesson by lesson overview
  • curriculum planning tools that could be used to adopt a common planning framework

Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design

We recently held the first in a series of voluntary curriculum conferences for mid-leaders to share their ideas about what might influence the design of our new post-levels curriculum.

Ideas that were shared during our first meeting:

  • Designing a new English curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch (which you can read all about here)
  • An Ethic of Excellence (which you can read all about here)
  • Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design
  • Assessing without levels

Super Glue

Why do students struggle to retain information from one week to the next?  What can we do to help make things stick?

Head of Maths Neil Siday, shared his thoughts with us on how cognitive science might help us to achieve this by planning smarter.  Much of Neil’s thinking has been informed by reading Joe Kirby and David Fawcett’s brilliant blogs on cognitive science and memory, as well as the work we did recently with David Didau.

Getting the content and challenge right

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham states that your memory is a product of what you think about and not what you want to remember – in other words, if your students aren’t actually thinking and making meaning then it won’t be learnt.

Memories are created by the release of chemicals, like dopamine.  If we pitch the challenge just right, we create an emotional response that releases dopamine.  Too little challenge offers too little reward, too much challenge and students won’t engage emotionally.

Memory is also thought to be domain specific – which means that we need to fill it with meaningful subject content.  Making sure that tasks are designed to provide opportunities to actually think and solve problems are therefore key to retention.  Time should be spent building up structural knowledge with practice to achieve automaticity first, before extending to deeper learning.  Sharing worked examples, modelling, building time for students to think and asking questions that encourage students to think is important.

Willingham’s simplified model of the mind

Slide1

Working Memory

  • deals with ‘the here and now’
  • is used to process and filter what we teach, make meaning and form our understanding
  • has fixed, limited space, which is easily overloaded with distractions or irrelevant information, which leads to misunderstanding
  • is key to transferring information to our long-term memory

Long-Term Memory

  • provides background info to working memory to help make sense of info
  • is almost unlimited
  • is where retention occurs

When the working memory is dealing with new information it calls upon the long-term memory to help make sense of it.  This retrieval process in itself aides long-term retention.  The information needs to be worked on in the working memory for it to be retained.  It is therefore paramount that we plan tasks so that what “sticks” is what really matters.

Storage and retrieval

Memories have a storage strength and a retrieval strength.

Retrieval strength is basically how easy it is to recall information at a later date.  This decreases over time, which is why you struggle to recall some things that are “on the tip of your tongue”

Storage strength is basically how well information has been learned.  Deeper learning = greater storage strength.  With low storage strength, retrieval strength decreases quickly.

It is therefore desirable to have high storage and retrieval strength, although even when information is buried, it can quickly be re-mastered.

storage centre

Spacing and interleaving

Robert Bjork’s New Theory of Disuse describes how making learning easier increases retrieval strength.  However, without the deeper processing that encourages long-term retention, this retrieval strength quickly diminishes.  Contrary to our intuition, it is thought that forgetting is actually key to increasing our storage strength.

Hermann Ebbinghaus first introduced the world to his forgetting curve and the spacing effect back in 1885.

Slide15

The graph shows how the amount of newly acquired information we retain declines over time without any attempt to retain it. To increase retention over time Ebbinghaus thought that spaced repetition could help.  Spacing works on the idea that we learn better when information is spaced out in intervals over a longer time span rather than when information is repeated without intervals (massed presentation).  Each repetition is thought to increase the length of time before the next repetition is required.

Bjork also argues that spacing reduces the accessibility of information in memory and in doing so fosters additional learning of that information.  Building in opportunities to revisit information at the point of ‘almost forgetting’ for students is good, as it means they are more receptive to learning new information.

Spacing may well be one of the most effective ways to improve learning, but what do you do in between repetitions?  Bjork argues that an effective strategy might be to interleave our study, which requires learners to constantly ‘reload’ or retrieve information, allowing them to extract more general rules that aid transfer.

With careful curriculum design, interleaving multiple topics allows us to space them out, rather than blocking them together and gives us an opportunity to revisit and build on prior learning.

Slide2

Massed presentation

  • rapid improvement
  • performance
  • poor retention

Spaced presentation

  • sustained improvement
  • learning
  • improved retention

Activating prior knowledge

Knowing things makes it easier to learn new things.  When designing and mapping out our curriculum it is important we:

  • Build on prior knowledge as connections are built between the prior knowledge that is in long-term memory and new knowledge
  • Plan to return to, and draw on previous knowledge (build retrieval strength)
  • Make links / connections explicit

Connecting_the_Dots

Testing Vs re-study

Frequent testing is also thought to help us remember.  Testing does far more than assess knowledge or skills – in fact it provides opportunities for learning. The very act of retrieving information from memory makes it easier to recall in the future.

Practice testing has been shown to outperform re-study, where 4 blocks of study with practice tests outperformed 8 blocks of study without practice tests.  In this way, shorter, more frequent (e.g. once per week) testing would appear better than testing once per Half Term, as more retrieval from long-term memory occurs.  When mapping out a curriculum, building in plenty of opportunities for students to practice may be advantageous.

Pre-testing is also thought to aid long-term memory – even when students perform poorly on them.

Types of testing

We also need to think more about low stakes/high impact testing and other ways can we get students to demonstrate their understanding, apart from traditional test questions in traditional test conditions, e.g:

  • A quick pre-unit quiz – which has the potential to set up triggers and create a ‘cognitive buy in’ for students, who are more likely to want to know the answers
  • Multiple choice questions – which means more decisions and therefore more thinking as more potential incorrect options are opened up to them
  • Cumulative knowledge testing – e.g. questions from units 1 + 2 also appear in a unit 3 test

Key messages

  • Get the challenge right
  • Avoid overloading the working memory and focus on meaningful content
  • Activate prior knowledge, build concrete content and develop applied thinking
  • Build high storage and retrieval strength
  • Plan for spacing, interleaving and practice
  • Utilise low stakes, frequent, cumulative knowledge testing

Daniel T. Willingham’s book “Why Don’t Student’s Like School” is available from our Teaching and Learning library

Why don't students like school, Willingham

 

#NTENRED 2014

Deputy Head Veronica Waldie recently attended a conference jointly hosted by the National Teacher Enquiry Network and researchEd at Huntington School in York.  Here are her reflections on the day.

NTENRED logo

Why I went

I went to the ResearchED Conference hoping to be inspired, hoping to learn.

In school we are beginning conversations around “big issues “ such as how we can define, assure and improve the quality of teaching and learning.

I went to this conference to both deepen and clarify my own thoughts and to find ideas and practices which we could develop in school.

What I learnt

The conference undoubtedly helped me to do did this.

Part of this was because so much resonated with where we are as a school – with fires lit; a resurgence of interest in teaching and learning and the beginnings of curiosity about how research could help us to improve further.

match_strike

However, there was also a buzz, an enthusiasm and a level of intellectual challenge which I have rarely encountered at CPD events. The speakers were all warm, engaging and inspiring. Above all, I felt the conference was a reflection of a positive and passionate movement for change, which we are starting to feel at the heart of our school.

What follows are my summaries of the sessions I attended. These deliberately concentrate on those aspects of most significance to us.

John Tomsett- Research Matters

This focussed on the question of how to get teachers interested in research and how this can make a difference.

Key points were:

  • A key role of SLT is to create conditions for growth for teachers. More specifically, to develop a professional culture where teachers are working at the margins of their practice and are using research to help improve this. Part of how we will do this is by removing a culture of fear – for example, by taking away judgements from lesson observations.

Plant in a hand

We also need to:

  • Keep a clear focus on impact – on “the Golden Thread “linking research to improving student outcomes.
  • Think very carefully about processes. Implementation really matters.
  • Put energy into evaluation.

 Mary Myatt- High challenge, low threat: Micro research in a macro world

This started by “de-mystifying” research, defining this as:

“actively thinking about practice and its impact on learning “

Other key points were:

  • We all need challenge and stimulus – the converse is sterility.
  • Innovation and research should not be high stakes – we need high challenge but low threat
  • Mistakes can be a trigger for renewed insight – as long as what we do is legal, honest & decent we can afford to be wrong
  • Don’t wait for everything to be in place to start. Go for brilliance not perfection
  • Keep research manageable, very specific in focus and related to immediate practice
  • Recognise that what we learn through a focus on one practice or on one child can impact much more widely
  • Engaging in research can release huge amounts of positive energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

ripple effect

David Weston – What methods of “knowledge transfer“ and CPD will help teachers use research?

This started with a reminder that learning happens when:

  • We are motivated to pay attention
  • We are motivated to remain resilient; to put in time and effort; to reflect; to practise and to seek new knowledge
  • We have the opportunity to connect new learning & skills to existing experience
  • We are able to do this over time

For CPD to be effective it needs these characteristics.

Other specific points were:

  • The value of NTEN lesson study is that it makes tacit, implicit, habitual knowledge explicit and draws on the power of the interplay between theory or expectation and reality
  • In schools we need CPD toolkits with different strategies to inform, to influence and to embed
  • Clarity of evaluation should start before we engage in any research or innovation – by asking ourselves: “which students will benefit; in which way and how will we know?”

Keven Bartle – Bottoms up

Keven focussed on teaching schools, with a theme of inverting hierarchies.

Key points were:

  • The need to remember what it feels like to be at the bottom of a hierarchy
  • The importance of “doing it well; doing it right; ensuring it lasts”
  • The value of a “Trojan mouse” approach – empowering teachers to make small changes for big impact – rather than top-down “Trojan horse” initiatives
  • Developing these ideas in practice-for example, teacher rounds – rather than (SLT) learning walks

Trojan mouse 2

Jill Berry – How to grow the next generation of school leaders

This focussed on behaviours and attributes needed to take organisations into the future. Jill identified that leaders need to:

  • develop different professional persona and support networks
  • deal sensitively with legacy – with “ ghosts of principles past”
  • have hope, humanity, humility and humour (quoting from John Dunford)

Tom Bennett – Idiocracy – how did we get so stupid?

This presentation highlighted the harm muddled thinking and “bad science “ can and have caused in teaching.

More specifically, caution is needed in accepting “evidence” as:

  • There is difference between RCTs conducted on buckets of water and on people
  • Social science is useful as a commentary on human behaviour but does not provide normative laws
  • We should always question the agenda of those who present “evidence”
  • This doesn’t mean we should not engage with research. We actually need to bring research and practice closer – we need to ask the right questions to find what works for us, for our learners
  • Suggestions for how to do this include “wise line management “ or “constructive tasking“ and creating research champions in schools

Stephen Tierney – The Babylon and Jerusalem of Professional Development

Stephen explored the tensions between the Jerusalem of professional development – where we gather people in one place at one time to “deliver what the new ritual will be“ and the Babylon – “wild”, more personal professional development , focussed on creating rather than passing on wisdom.

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' Roberti

He suggested that Joint Practice Development may be a way of bringing these together and developing “Disciplined Innovation”

Further key points included the need to:

  • Create opportunities for people to grow
  • Give time and allow time as most innovations are abandoned before they reach maturity
  • Be pragmatic– doing fewer things better leads to improved outcomes
  • Evaluate – quantitative & qualitative evaluations are both valuable & valid – not evaluating is not

Specific ideas included creating or providing:

  • Innovation Fellows
  • System Redesign TLRs
  • R & D communities
  • Voluntary INSET
  • Seed funding

Summary

Overall the speakers conveyed a passionate belief that when research and experience align we can create a growth culture for teachers and students alike. It also helped demystify research -research is already happening in schools and is profound in its ability to raise energy and passion. Clearly we need to recognise strengths and limitations – research evidence is complex; can be flawed and subject to conflicting agendas but can also be of real value. As John Tomsett pointed out, however, to have real impact, research must help us move from what we know to what we do.

research

What difference will it make and why it matters

At the point where we are planning for next year – and at time of massive curriculum innovation in school – I believe having these ideas as part of our dialogue from the start will make a difference.

As a first step, we want to make even more sure that the “good stuff” we already do is caught, shared, lifted and trialled. (Eduflections).

To develop further, joining NTEN and investing in technology, such as IRIS, could help.

We also want our professional development to be the best – to be “aspirational, collaborative, relevant, differentiated, sustained, underpinned by research and evaluated” (David Weston) Having this as our goal from the start, and planning meticulously for this, means it is more likely to happen.

More fundamentally, however, as a school I believe we are highly motivated by the need to make a difference, by a moral imperative to narrow gaps and improve outcomes for all. We know we will do this most effectively by improving teaching and learning, and everything we spend our time on should support this. Systematically reflecting and questioning all our practice is an essential part of this.

I will finish with an extract, quoted by John Tomsett, which I believe shows how doing this can help us create the school we all want:

“I would welcome the chance to work in a school characterised by a high level of collegiality, a place teeming with frequent, helpful personal and professional interactions……..where a climate of risk taking is deliberately fostered and where a safety net protects those who may risk and stumble……..where important differences…….were celebrated…….and which accorded a special place to philosophers who constantly examine and question……….”

Roland S Barth – A Personal Vision of an Idealised School Culture

An Ethic of Excellence

We recently held the first in a series of voluntary curriculum conferences for mid-leaders to share their ideas about what might influence the design of our new post-levels curriculum.

Ideas that were shared during our first meeting:

  • Designing a new English curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch (which you can read all about here)
  • An Ethic of Excellence
  • Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design
  • Assessing without levels

Ethic of excellence, Berger

For those of us that have already read ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ by Ron Berger, I’m sure most of us would agree on the deep and lasting impression it left upon us.  For many of us, myself included, it has had a transformational effect on our work as teachers and school leaders.

Here, Head of Performing Arts Laura Jackson, shares her thoughts on the book and how it has influenced her thinking.

“It’s not a quick fix, it’s a way of life”

Ron Berger was an American Elementary School teacher .  He was a craftsman, a carpenter by trade.  He believes that “work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same.”

An Ethic of Excellence

The book is written as a personal account of his findings, more like a story than an academic style book.  In it he talks about the culture he has embedded in his own school and then in others as a consultant – that excellence cannot be achieved first time.

An Archiver of Excellence

Berger collects student work for his portfolio which has been built up over many years.  The sharing of student work for the purposes of modelling and critique is central to his teaching repertoire.  Archived work is shared with students.  It shows development and progression – from first draft to “excellence”.  Students spend time discussing the work of others and receiving critique on their own.

We were then treated to this, now legendary video of Ron Berger in action.  It demonstrates the power of archived work in supporting students to achieve excellence, through the process of critique and re-drafting.

A School Culture of Excellence

The culture we create rests in our community – “in every effective school I’ve seen has a strong sense of community….staff and students in all these settings feel that they are part of something – that they belong.”

Positive Peer Pressure is used to create a safe learning environment, where striving for excellence is encouraged.  Here, the positive critical feedback outlined above is crucial in achieving this.

Bigger is better?  WE ARE LUCKY! “in a small school students and staff are highly accountable – it’s hard for the students to fall through the cracks”  this is a privilege for us – we can make a bigger difference!

Work of Excellence

“We can’t first build up self-esteem and then focus on their work. It is through their own work that their self-esteem will grow.”

Project based learning is at the heart of the curriculum.  The curriculum is “thematic” containing multidisciplinary themes over weeks and even months.  High quality projects are celebrated everywhere so that the ethic, understanding and motivation are there right from the start.

Literacy and numeracy are built in throughout the curriculum – from basic to higher order skills.  Work completed is genuine, of integrity and requires students to carry out their own research.

Assessment is continuous and used to build stronger students.  Multiple drafts of work are the norm.  Critique is used prior to each new draft, which must be:

  • Kind – safety
  • Specific – no wasting time
  • Helpful – to help the individual not the critic

“Students need to know from the outset that quality means rethinking, reworking, and polishing. They need to know that they will be celebrated, not ridiculed, for going back to the drawing board.”

At the end of the year all student work is presented to a panel and made public through exhibitions or performances.  Work is recorded to show the next intake what is expected in a year.  Deadlines must be met – positive pressure is used throughout to ensure excellence.

Teaching of Excellence

The critique process doesn’t just apply to students, however.  Teachers also critique each other’s work, and are expected to present and explain strategies that might be recommended.  Teaching is seen as a craft – and with ‘expert’ status requiring as much as 10000 hours, feedback on practice is welcome and supports improvement.  Relationships are seen as central to getting the best out of each other.

“Teaching isn’t about papers and pencils, it’s about relationships”.

Building strong relationships makes it much easier to ask ourselves and each other the fundamental question:

“How do we make the work stronger?”

Impact

To finish, Laura shared some of the ways in which the book has already impacted on her practice:

  • Critique – first draft listening marked by students and re-written.  This may take time away from “music” but when doing a similar task for the first time several weeks later, there was a marked improvement in first drafts.
  • Excellence – Displaying the work for others to see, collecting a portfolio of “excellence” as a hard copy and a visual file to show students and staff.
  • Adding context / value – Year 9 “showcase” performance – showing their best examples of performance work, Year 7 “Creative Arts Celebration Evening”
  • Collecting examples of excellent work, evidence of excellent performances and practice work to display.  Once it’s set up it is easy to update and develop.

Music examples of excellence wall zoom

Music wall of excellence 2

An Ethic of Excellence, by Ron Berger is available from our Teaching and Learning library