Recently, the idea that teaching should be an evidence-informed profession seems to be everywhere. It is then important to ask what this actually means for teachers’ classroom practice and, most importantly, for students’ learning? Is being an evidence-informed teacher just another trend that will, ultimately, be short-lived?
The core grounding of evidence-informed teaching is that decisions made by teachers to support student learning should be informed by the best available evidence on ‘what works’ in their educational context rather than on ‘hunches’ or long-established practices. By drawing on evidence, teachers’ practice, and in turn, students’ outcomes, can then be improved.
Thinking is a central part of our DC learner profile. The ability to think clearly and rationally is important whatever we choose to do. Research shows that critical thinking skills are not restricted to a particular subject area. Being able to think well and solve problems systematically is an asset for any career. Critical thinking is championed by the World Economic Forum as being central in developing 21st century skills, and plays an important part in creating valuable character traits.
Ensuring that pupils engage critically but constructively with each other’s ideas and viewpoints... Prof Hattie identifies classroom discussion, where students are given the opportunity to respond to challenging questions posed to them, as being integral to accelerating students’ learning. Robin Alexander, in his book Towards Dialogic Teaching, highlights the over-reliance on IRF (initiation-response-feedback) in the British classroom. Much classroom discussion centres upon the teacher initiating discussion by asking a question, choosing a student to answer and then acknowledging whether the answer is correct.
This cycle is repeated several times with different students. Apart from the issue of how time-intensive this model is, there are two ways it obstructs challenge.
After Katherine's visit, some things have become clearer in our search for managing marking loads
It is feedback that has been shown to impact progress, which does not necessarily equate to marking though of course that is one form of it. Feedback should also include student to teacher i.e. their demonstrating verbally or in writing their understanding or mastery of the material.
Students should be doing most of the intellectual effort when it comes to correcting their work - this is what makes them improve. The eventual goal is to achieve independence from your corrections altogether so the more you can push them towards that, the better.
When assessing your feedback and how you gave it, you should always ask 'Is the next piece of work better because of what I/we/they did in the feedback process?' If not, it's not effective.
Feedback while students are working on something is more effective than after the fact. For your subject and/or needs, you'd need to figure out what that then looks like. Can you flip your classroom and get students doing the work in lesson so you can live feedback? Can you design an activity in-class that means they have to demonstrate their understanding/mastery in order to complete it or levels within it?
Feedback, in either direction, must be used to inform future teaching. You have to look at their work and see where the big misunderstanding are and perhaps re-teach. Or come up with an activity that will help them see it clearer.
There is very little research (practically none) out there to tell us what's best. So we're doing something very useful!
Planning achieves more than marking - use whatever feedback you garner by whatever method you choose to plan your way forward.
As discussed in an earlier post there has been a small handful of students who were not producing enough work in the digital classroom and that a larger amount of my time seemed to be being spent recapping and consolidating previous work, adapting and learning from experience is part of the process for both student and teacher and I needed to find a fix for some of my observations. In response I have begun trying to tighten up, and simplify some of the early tasks in lessons. I felt that in some cases a touch more structure would take away the "digital obstacle" that some students may have been facing and would allow for all students to benefit from more rigorous scaffolding of work.
The first half term has been based around students working, by enlarge, independently. Discussion and collaboration has been common place in lessons but not implicitly demanded. After some self reflection, and discussion with Katherine Burn (Oxford) & Dee Saran (Director Teaching & Learning Dubai College) a slight shift in the learning is going to take place. To put it in the context of Teaching & Learning and in terms of Luckin et al. 2012, the digital technology in these lessons is currently being used to support learning from experts (me, online sources, and others) and by enlarge students are working independently. Much of the time spent in lessons has been spent supporting students use of the technology alongside developing their geographical knowledge. Perhaps this is simply a necessary requirement and order to progress into the more desirable advanced levels of learning it is essential that the digital foundations are in place.
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Whole class feedback is an idea that has been gaining in popularity in the UK as a technique to reduce the workload on teachers but also to make reviewing student work more meaningful. A recent TES article describes how it allows students to break their 'to-do' lists into manageable tasks and a teacher to use formative assessment of students' work to help their future planning.
As part of our group, we have been exploring ways to incorporate whole-class feedback into our weekly classroom routines.
Dr Kathryn Burn presented staff with an informative and interesting take on ways in which the highest ability learners could be encouraged to work beyond their comfort zones to engage with their subjects at a higher level. Underpinning the philosophy of stretching and challenging our learners is Hattie’s idea of the ‘rope’ model of self-concept. Dr Burn highlighted to staff that our “major purpose of schooling is to enable students to back themselves as learners of what we consider worth knowing”. It is our job as facilitators to learning to find ways to engage the students in two-way dialogue where they see the value in each lesson and what is to be achieved.
All too often I find myself explaining that Harkness is an approach to teaching and learning that develops soft skills. At the same time as learning more about their subject whilst sitting around the oval table, deepening their understanding through rich dialogic exploration, students are also honing, refining and developing their ability to challenge, to question, to look one another in the eye and to think. Soft skills. Yet they aren’t soft, they’re hard.
It is not easy to confidently assert oneself in front of fifteen other people, to publically lay bare your thoughts, exposing them to critical dissection and potential disagreement. It is not easy for students who now spend increasingly more time isolated on devices, staring at screens, to look across a table into the eyes of a peer to endorse an idea or constructively challenge it – it would be easier to type or write their response. It is not easy to stop looking to your teacher for endorsement every time you speak, to stop relying on them for the development of your ideas and to vocally do it yourself, with your peers, collaboratively. And it is not easy for teachers to relinquish control, to allow students the freedom and opportunity to build their own understanding and to construct their own solutions to the problems posed at the table, or on the walls. Their solutions, their ideas, knowledge that they own. Hard skills.