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  • Writer's pictureAndy Hind

Previous Teaching Blog - Get the basics right

Getting the basics right

It’s all about consistency, so let’s go back to basics!

Singapore Maths, Shanghai Method, Mastery Learning...Just a few approaches to teaching and learning that have been introduced into schools across the U.K. over the past few years. Now...each will have their benefits! They may have a significant impact on progress and achievement. However, in many schools where these new approaches have been adopted and developed, the basics are still inconsistent. A clear and agreed set of pedagogical approaches and techniques that every member of staff agree are essential for highly effective teaching and learning, which are fully understood by all staff and which each individual embeds into their own classroom practice.

So, back to basics!

What are your school’s set of pedagogical approaches that result in highly-impact teaching and learning? Very specific approaches to classroom practice that have been agreed by all staff, not simply adopted, and are fully understood. It is important that these principles focus on the art of teaching and clearly highlight what the teacher and teaching assistant must do, continually, to offer the highest-impact teaching in every individual lesson. Once established, these approaches form the basis of all systems and processes of professional accountability. Lesson observations, learning walks, Joint Practice Development (JPD) and other processes that are used to evaluate the quality of teaching and learning have these generic, specific pedagogical approaches at their heart.

2 key words are central to effective teaching and learning within any school. EXPECTATIONS and CONSISTENCY.

The main issue facing many schools in this country is not the variation in achievement between schools but rather WSV or Within School Variation. WSV is the variation in teaching and learning between one classroom and the next and can result in as much as a 53% difference in progress, for an individual child, over a 3 year period.** If we are not careful, it can become a lottery as to which teacher the pupils get next year. If a child is in a class with Teacher 'A' they will end up making more progress than if they had been with Teacher 'B'. This can't be right and almost becomes a moral issue for all staff in every school. It becomes a vital aspect of collective responsibility in which every teacher and teaching assistant takes responsibility for the progress of every child across the school...not just the children in their own class. Consistency is a key factor that will determine the effectiveness of teaching and learning in any school. Consistency can only be truly achieved once every teacher and teaching assistant is aware of, and fully understands, the school’s agreed set of principles or pedagogical approaches for highly effective teaching. Any teacher or teaching assistant should be able to walk around the school and recognise where these principles are happening and where there are obvious gaps.

Two worthwhile questions that focus on consistency:

• What does high-impact teaching look like?

• Does every teacher and teaching assistant feel confident in being able to recognise high-impact teaching if they were to observe it in a classroom?

As an example, take a look at the diagram below.

Clarity procedes competence.

How do the teachers and teaching assistants, in your school, aim to achieve more and more of the top-right quadrant?

Shallow learning is not ‘bad learning’ and it essential that every pupil experiences it in all curriculum areas. Therefore, Quadrant 1 is absolutely appropriate, at times. However, deeper learning does not happen in the same way as shallow learning and, therefore, different approaches to teaching are required to ensure Quadrant 2 is the achieved outcome.

So, how often do you and your colleagues explore and discuss these key questions ?

•Is Quadrant 2 understood by all staff in our school?

  • How do we know?

•Does Quadrant 2 happen more in some classes than others?

  • How do we know?

•If the answer is ‘yes’, why?

•Does Quadrant 2 occur more in some curriculum areas than others?

  • How do we know?

•If the answer is ‘YES’, why?

•Are some ability groups, experiencing more of the Quadrant 2 than other ability groups?

  • How do we know?

•If the answer is ‘YES”, why?

•What are our agreed pedagogical principles for Quadrant 2?

  • What are our agreed pedagogical approaches that we are certain are required in order for Quadrant 2 to be the achieved outcome?

Be clear...we are talking about specific pedagogical approaches and not the outcome of planned teaching and learning experiences. ‘Independence’ is not a pedagogical approach but rather of a desirable outcome of a wide range of approaches. Effective retrieval of prior learning is a pedagogical approach, but is it clear enough for all staff? What does it actually look like if it were happening within a classroom? To ensure all staff fully understand the pedagogical approaches, a school might need to go one step further and agree on a set of specific, concrete examples of what you might actually see, in any classroom, if the principle was being achieved. For example, a set of pedagogical cards that have been agreed by all staff and that everyone will hold themselves accountable to. One side of the card could highlight the specific approach e.g. TIP No 1 - Effective use of retrieval techniques. On there verse side could be 10 specific example or activities for how this could be achieved e.g. Each One Teach One.

Not every teacher or teaching assistant is as creative in their thinking as others. Sometimes we all need a little support or a few suggestions on how we could achieve success with our teaching. Deeper learning experiences should be an aim for all teachers and teaching assistants, whether their audience is a class of 4 year olds or 14 year olds. Essentially, the process is the same, whatever the age of the learner and we should be challenging ourselves as to why the professional practice used in early years is so different to that used in Year 6. The effective use of higher-order questioning, by the adults in a classroom, is not a pedagogical approach that is more relevant for Key Stage 2 than it is for Early Years. It is a generic pedagogical approach that is essential for highly effective teaching and every class. In many schools, the observed practice in EYFS and in Year 1 is often so different to the teaching of Science in Year 4 or the teaching of writing in Year 6. We should be continually be asking the question ‘Why do we do what we do?’. This is not to say that what we do is wrong but we must continue to ask ‘why?’. Acceptance should never be an option, until we have it right for every single pupil.

Perhaps a professional dialogue, amongst the adults in your school, could start with the premise that shallow learning is more about ‘knowing’ and that deep learning is more about ‘understanding’. If that is accepted then we can begin to explore further the notion that the two do not happen in the same way. do they happen?

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