Progress Progress Progress…
Education has changed. 18 months ago I experienced an Ofsted inspection that appears to have been a blueprint for the new 2012 September inspections. How do I know this? Because I recently had the pleasure of one of them. In September no less!
It’s a tough schedule that’s for sure. It’s taken me a while to get my head around since the previous inspection but the long and short of it is all Ofsted cares about is children’s progress. “Progress progress progress.” Not an exciting mantra is it? Certainly one that sits a little uncomfortably with me in some ways. Particularly the end measure of progress being SATS. I got into teaching, as many people do, to make a difference in the lives of the children we come into contact with. Of course at the heart of this is moving them on in their learning but more than that, watching a fire that you have lit begin to burn brightly in a child’s eyes, making sure the child is switched on to learning in all its forms, supporting them becoming an able social personality in their own right. I could go on but this post is not supposed to be knocking the mantra. Instead it’s designed to show you how I have tried to embrace it and use it to develop my own teaching, which will hopefully be of some use!
I trained under the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies and I was a slave to them for several years (with the occasional righteous deviation). Both have their strengths and weaknesses. I like the structure of the Maths with the revisits and the breakdown of objectives. The Literacy is good for giving a text structure but if I’m honest, I think that’s about it. Whilst they have never been statutory many schools have followed them as if they were and the exciting part of the progress agenda is that it really doesn’t matter how you get there (or to be more precise, how the children get there) as long as you do. So I began to think, if I have the freedom to break away from everything apart from the overall structure of the Strategies with the goal of giving the biggest opportunity for all children to make progress in every lesson, not just when being observed as this is really just paying lip-service, what model would work? Well, for me, in essence there are 3 essential features of a lesson that you can set up in your practice:
- Assessment for Learning underpinning everything. And not just everything. I mean EVERYTHING. I’m a huge fan of assessment for learning. Not particularly sharing objectives and deciding on success criteria (although they do play a part – they’re just fairly dull). What makes me enthusiastic about it is getting the children to take responsibility for their own learning. Self assessing and peer assessing are the key, along with peer support in various forms and progress checks/mini plenaries throughout the lesson. Targets also play a role. Getting all the assessment for learning strategies up and running and flowing throughout everything takes time but is well worth embedding into your teaching because then you can have…
- Dynamic groupings. This is where it can get scary. “My Fish table are not my Fish table anymore? Some of them are sat with the Lions?!” I hear you say. Well, some of you. Basically that’s it. Imagine you’re covering objectives related to time and you find that some of your lower ability are actually your higher ability and that bolshy boy who is brilliant with mental maths appears to never have seen a clock before. You naturally move the children to different activities to meet their needs, or maybe you aren’t really sure what a few of their needs are and you give everyone the same thing and use talk partners for the children to support each other. Disclaimer: I’ve done both of these. Now imagine you are teaching multiplication. It’s the second day and the main bulk of your children are going to be learning how to use written arrays. You have a few children that still need practical equipment to create arrays and you have a small group of children who are ready for the grid method as the next stage of calculation. Nothing revolutionary there, sounds like differentiating 3 ways. Except the children are from differing tables to your usual maths groupings. You need to make a few changes, not loads just a few. You’re in control of the dynamic groupings for that day.Now, say that you are on the next day and your grid method children are flying so your giving them TU x TU grid method independently. The children that needed practical equipment yesterday still need it today but they just need to opportunity to ‘overlearn’ (not ‘consolidate’ or ‘practice’) there skills and understanding but your main bulk of children are a bit all over the place. Some you think could be ready for an expanded grid method, some appear to get it then forget and some seem to have gone backwards and might need practical apparatus. What do you do? You give them choices and they set their own groups, dynamically. You could give them the same multiplication calculations and offer different support resources. You could offer differing levels of difficulty in the calculations. You could offer a problem context as well for those that think they understand the method well. There are many options but the key is the children are responsible for their own learning. Yes you might need to prompt or push a few towards the right choice (in my experience there is more of an issue children choosing something that could be too difficult rather than too easy but it will happen both ways, particularly when starting to set this up). Very quickly this settles down and children push themselves, within realistic boundaries.There is no reason not to mix the above to methods. You know there is a group of children from that middle group who didn’t get it yesterday and one child who is ready to move from the practical equipment to a written method. You are going to work with them. The rest of the practical equipment group are all good to go overlearning but the rest of the class choose from a range of options (this shouldn’t be onerous).It is clearer when using dynamic groupings in Maths but it can also work in Literacy however, the different groupings can cause a problem. Keeping your head around what is going on in the classroom, being able to manage all the learners and support them in making progress (progress, progress). Which is where the third feature comes in…
- Changing your lesson plan structure and lesson structure. Before going on, you have make it manageable. Having a wonderful plan with 8 way differentiation is not sustainable. Nor is it necessary. Planning is where, for me, everything became clear. In short, I have been writing a progression of objectives horizontally across the top of my plan with the success criteria underneath each one. Usually 5 boxes for 5 objectives ***Not 5 differentiated levels in each lesson, all will become clear in a minute! At a strategic whole school level, you could have this progression of skills for each area in Maths and Literacy all the way through school. Then teachers could cut and paste whether looking at a year 2 objective in year 5 or visa versa. You could have a school (mini) crowd sourced list of activities or resources for each objective and you could ensure a certain quality of teaching by agreeing the success criteria for each objective. But I digress. Your lesson plan itself is then treated as a continuum. Mine are currently split into 2 sections under the 5 objectives box. Firstly, Teacher Input and secondly, Independent Learning. No other boxes. Free your mind! In the first box I write in order what will be happening until the last group leave teacher input (in other words, groups disappear off when teacher input is not necessary or relevant for them – occasionally at the start of a lesson if input is better later on). I have resources I will need to prep in one colour, ICT systems used in another.
If the image above appears cut off, click it and it will show 2 full days plan. I’m not saying my plans are great, but I thought it would be easier to show as well as explain what I mean. I have only planned 2 days as I may have to alter day 2 let alone day 3 and 4. This plan shows both days I am setting the dynamic groups. The numbers in brackets (3) refer to the objective covered by that group from the other image (which is at the top of the plan). Please note I am not about spending ages planning. For me, having the objective and success criteria at the top of the plan, plus one word (model) in the plan is enough for me to know what I am going to do. There is no point in wasting my time on a plan if it doesn’t translate into the children’s learning.
You may well ask about a plenary. Well with this method, mini plenaries would take place throughout the lesson and the type of plenary will change depending on the learning. For example, I might want to use a visualiser to highlight something well understood or a misconception held by several or I might think it is more important for the children to peer assess. It all depends so there is not much point in writing it down as long as it actually happens! I have found this format very freeing and a great way to integrate dynamic groups and assessment for learning consistently into teaching and learning.
So, to recap in this most mammoth of posts, to focus on children’s progress I have found the 3 key elements explained above to completely change how I go about planning my teaching and children’s learning in Literacy and Maths. Whilst it is early days I have found that planning takes hardly any time more (less, but more frequently). I am simply meeting the needs of the learners in my class more closely. Going back to the start of the post, the recent Ofsted experience vindicated this approach. As a word of caution, there is one caveat that I am still working on minimising. That is what do you do with group ‘a’ if you are teaching group ‘b’ and they really need your input. This is the part that can drag your lesson from Outstanding to Requires Improvement quicker than you can say ‘Michael Gove’. I believe technology has a big part to play here, as a resource to support learning, as does other children in the class through peer support (linking back up to AFL, If a child can explain something to someone else, it really helps them make sure they have understood it as well as helping the other person). Other strategies at this point could be to give that group a relevant, quick activity for a few minutes (not a holding activity) whilst you finish with that group and can then support them. I think experience will help build a bank of these type of ‘that group are stuck but I can’t get to them right now’ situations until you can draw on them as and when required.
I am really only at the start of this journey and would love to hear what others think. I hope that this post inspires someone else as it has certainly been a while in the making!
Image curtosy of dingatx