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The Evidence Informed School Blog

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  • Rethinking Lesson Observations

    Published 23/11/20, by Paul Butler
    Lesson Observations

    I recently went on a course and we were asked to write down the first words or thoughts about lesson observations. Here are a few of the table I was on:

    • Box ticking
    • Fear of judgement
    • Contentious
    • Monitoring
    • Reflecting on practice
    • Supportive

    It is an emotive subject, and potentially has a huge impact on the culture of a school and morale of staff (Edgington, 2013). Further to this, O’Leary (2013) found the following:

    • 89.7% agreed that unannounced observations would lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety amongst staff
    • 83.2% disagreed that unannounced observations were a welcome addition to the quality improvement process
    • 85.2% disagreed that graded observations were the most effective method of assessing staff competence and performance
    • 76.3% agreed that ungraded observations were more effective in assessing staff competence and performance
    • 74.8% disagreed that graded observations had helped them to improve as classroom practitioners
    • 67.4% agreed that graded lesson observations should no longer be used as a form of teacher assessment
    • 65.7% disagreed that graded observations were essential for improving the quality of teaching and learning
    • just 10.6% agreed that graded observations were the fairest way of assessing the competence and performance of staff.

    It doesn’t make for great reading, but as we know, reflection and identifying our strengths and weaknesses are essential to us improving and developing our practice. As school leaders, we also need to have a clear understanding of the quality of teaching and learning across school and support staff to improve, take risks and adopt new evidence-based pedagogy.

    How do you use observation in your workplace? What is the impact of lesson observations on teaching and learning? How has it influenced the culture of staff and how they respond to their feedback? Is it effective at improving teaching?

    An Alternative?

    The UCU (2014) argues that the best model for lesson observation is based around research and enquiry into how your pupils are learning. This needs teacher and observer to become ‘equals’ – with a focus on pupil learning and outcomes, rather than individual performance of the teacher. So how do we do this in schools?

    Coaching Model

    Figures 1,2 and 3: Coaching Model Example

    The pictures show an example coaching model disseminated at a CPD event around Lesson Observation. We have piloted this at Copthorne Primary School, with myself acting as the coach with a member of teaching staff. We followed the format as closely as we could.

    Our thoughts were that:

    1. The pre-observation meeting help establish a more equal relationship and challenged the pre-existing notion of ‘observer’ and ‘observed’. The teacher said she felt more relaxed throughout the observation process following this meeting. It also allowed me to go and consolidate my subject knowledge of Year 5 SPAG before the lesson meaning I was much better prepared to see how the children were learning during the lesson.
    2. The pre-observation meeting allowed us to discuss and question the different elements of the lesson, such as the learning objectives, AfL tasks or how challenge had been planned in. This allowed us both to consider how effectively the lesson had been planned and how it built upon the children’s prior knowledge.
    3. I still had to grade the lesson as part of our performance management cycle, this undermined some ‘equal relationship’ I had hoped to establish.
    4. Developing a role as a coach takes time and training. It was a skill that I began to develop when piloting this, but I really needed more training on how to do this effectively.
    5. The teacher gave extremely positive feedback from the entire process.
    Observation in your own setting

    A few questions to consider:

    • What is your current observation policy? What are the stated aims for its use? Do the outcomes match these aims?
    • Who benefits from it? How do staff feel about it?
    • How do you monitor teaching and learning without formal judgements?
    • How do you train staff in effective coaching style?
    Biblography

    Edgington, U. (2013) Performativity and Affectivity: Lesson Observation in England’s Further Education Colleges, unpublished PhD Thesis, Canterbury Christ Church University, November 2013

    UCU (2014) Damning report calls whole process of lesson observations into question https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/6714/Developing-a-national-framework-for-the-effective-use-of-lesson-observation-in-FE-Dr-Matt-OLeary-Nov-13/pdf/ucu_lessonobsproject_nov13.pdf accessed 28 April 2019

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  • Digital technology

    Published 16/11/20, by Paul Butler

    My class would love for me to use digital technology in class more often. I know this because we recently completed a reading assessment. One of the texts in the assessment was on the use of tablets in the classroom. Afterwards, while we were discussing the text, the children were very keen to share their thoughts and opinions on tablets with me. The text itself was balanced and discussed the pros and cons of tablet use but a particular extract stood out for Year 6. Their feelings were mostly based around part of the text, which was written from the perspective of a teacher, which envisaged children playing interactive games to help them learn maths. Obviously, they thought this was a great idea; most ten-year-olds would. Having a tablet each, on which they could play games, would be exciting, at least to begin with. But, would the increased prevalence of digital technology help them to make progress? Does the introduction of technology improve education? Would – as my class argued – having a tablet each be a ‘great idea’?

    What does the evidence say?

    The use of digital technology is discussed in detail in the EEF’s most recent guidance report. It makes clear recommendations, based upon the best international research, aimed at teachers and school leader. This blog will focus on the recommendations made in the report.

    Implementation is Crucial

    The EEF convey very clearly that implementation is key if the use of digital technology is to be successful. When considering a new digital technology it is important to take into account the following:

    • A learning need must be identified

    In order for technology to most likely improve learning a clear need must be identified.

    • Understand how technology will improve learning

    Three questions must be asked at this stage: How tightly does the technology link to the problem that has been identified? How will it change teaching? How will it improve learning? By answering these questions you can then consider how the use of technology links to existing pedagogy.

    • Supplement, enhance or replace existing teaching

    The EEF has found that technology is most effective when it supplements or enhances teaching. When it is done best, it is carefully integrated into lessons alongside existing practice.

    • Decide how to support the implementation

    The evidence supports a focus on implementation: teachers must be given the appropriate training and support for the use of technology to be successful. Most teachers, I am sure, will be able to give an example of innovations happening in the school that fall by the way side for this reason. Highlighting the need for training and support, Lowther and Ross state that, “CPD can better prepare teachers to be highly qualified by building positive teacher beliefs and increasing readiness to integrate technology.”

    Complementing Teaching

    Unsurprisingly, even the best technology cannot replace good teaching.  In writing about digital technology, specifically interactive whiteboards, Neil Mercer discusses this point, “This new tool does not replace the need for professional expertise, subject knowledge and pedagogic skills.” The EEF, likewise, highlight the importance of a teacher’s pedagogic skills, namely explanations and modelling. The report explains that these skills cannot be replaced by technology but they can be enhanced. Examples given in the report include using videos to introduce new content or using visualisers to project examples of work onto a whiteboard. A more complex example of using technology to complement teaching is ‘lesson flipping’. This is when an application is used to allow pupils to access lesson content at home, prior to a lesson.

    Pedagogy, it seems, is more important than technological equipment. The guidance reiterates this point and that teachers, who are trained in its effective use, should use it to enhance their pedagogic approaches.

    Quality and Quantity of Practice

    Technology can be used to benefit practice. As practice is an essential aspect of learning, this is an important recommendation to consider. Potentially, technology can increase the quality and quantity of pupils’ practice either at home or at school. A simple example could be using a quiz app to support children in remembering key information.

    My Year 6 class were excited by the thought of using digital activities as part of their learning. However, the relationship between the two is complex according to the report. Pupils might be motivated to use technology but the motivation might not consistently translate to learning. The evidence states that children need a range of cognitive and non-cognitive skills to benefit from applications that support practice. Children with low attainment or disadvantages may not have these skills; the result of which is the attainment gap is exacerbated.

    Assessment and Feedback

    According to the report, “Technology has the potential to improve both assessment and feedback, particularly in terms of speed and efficiency.”  Similarly to other areas of the report, pedagogy and implementation are the key to whether the potential to improve assessment and feedback is realise. There are numerous ways that technology can be used to support assessment. Examples include using online tests that are automatically marked (something that is beneficial for teacher workload) and ‘learner response systems’ that provide immediate feedback to teachers. However, as with any assessment strategy, these methods are only valuable if the gathered information is used effectively by teachers.

    Conclusion

    What emerges quite clearly, after reading the guidance report and other sources of evidence, is that the use of technology alone is not enough to ensure effective teaching and learning. It is pertinent, when thinking about technology, to remember Mercer’s view that technology can’t replace expertise, subject knowledge and pedagogic approaches. However, when coupled with a teacher’s professional skills technology can be beneficial to learning. It must, though, be implemented carefully and staff given the appropriate training.

    When considering the use of digital technology teachers must think about the following:

    • How can it be implemented successfully?
    • How can it be used to enhance existing pedagogic approaches?
    • How can it be used to improve children’s practice?
    • How can it improve assessment and feedback?
    References

    Education Endowment Foundation. (2019). Digital technology. Available: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/digitalTech/EEF_Digital_Technology_Guidance_Report.pdf. Last accessed 2019.

    Lowther, D and Ross, S. (2010). Professional development the key to integrating technology. Better Evidence Based Education. 3 (1), 4-5.

    Mercer, N. (2010).Interactive whiteboards and classroom interactions. Better Evidence Based Education. 3 (1), 8-9.

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  • What do successful mentoring conversations look like?

    Published 17/10/20, by Paul Butler

    What do successful mentoring conversations look like? I feel like this is a question which has been weighing on my mind ever since I became a mentor. The first time I had a teaching student in my class, I wasn’t sure where to begin, I often felt like I was making it up as I went along, drawing upon the only experience I had – being mentored myself through my own teacher training and NQT year. I wonder how many other teachers feel like this when they first get a trainee? The scary thing is, I know how important good mentoring is, having nearly dropped out of teacher training myself due to (what I now know is) poor mentoring.

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  • The knowledge rich curriculum: Could knowledge organisers be the solution?

    Published 25/09/20, by Paul Butler

    The forthcoming changes in the Ofsted inspection framework have prompted many schools to look at their curriculum and consider whether the curriculum they teach is ‘knowledge rich’. Recent Ofsted research defined a ‘knowledge-rich’ approach as one in which curriculum leaders have a clear idea of the ‘invaluable knowledge they want pupils to know’. In order for this to be achieved it has been suggested that schools need to make choices about what they are teaching and keep these choices clear and focused. It has also been suggested that schools should consider how the learning is sequenced and how this sequencing will facilitate pupils in remembering what they have been taught. For some schools, the introduction of knowledge organisers has been a way to promote the focused and sequenced teaching of the curriculum.

    What is a knowledge organiser?

    Knowledge organisers work on the principle of backwards planning. The first step of creating a knowledge organiser is to figure out what you want pupils to know by the end of the teaching unit. A knowledge organiser specifies, in detail, the exact dates, events, characters, facts, concepts and definitions that pupils are expected to know by the end of teaching, and, most importantly, retain in their long term memory.

    A knowledge organiser can make it much clearer for everyone exactly what is being taught. They allow teachers to prioritise certain learning and keep the lessons focused and sequenced in the best possible way to facilitate learning.

    Knowledge organisers are not just for the benefit of teachers. They are given to pupils at the start of a unit of work so they know what they will be learning. The knowledge organisers also allow pupils to easily recap their previous learning. Instead of forgetting what they learn from one lesson to the next, knowledge organisers give pupils the opportunity to continually revisit their previous learning, increasing the likelihood of the information being remembered in the long term.

    Below is one example of what a knowledge organiser could look like. (Taken from ‘Beyond Knowledge Organisers; Building The Best Curriculum in the World’ – A blog post written by Jon Hutchinson, 2018)

    Can you over use knowledge organisers?

    A potential problem with using knowledge organisers is the temptation to over use them. If knowledge organisers are over used, then pupils are merely taught a selection of facts. This leads to pupils having ‘inflexible knowledge’, meaning they cannot apply the knowledge nor link it to other knowledge which they have. Therefore, when using the knowledge organisers teachers must ensure that the explanations of the facts and the connections between the facts are provided for pupils. This explanation of facts and their connections makes the knowledge more memorable, flexible and transferable.

    What about teaching skills?

    One critic of knowledge organisers is the sole focus on knowledge and a lack of focus on skills. As teachers, we want to develop a young person’s ability to think critically, therefore, using a knowledge organiser, which seem to promote mindlessly regurgitating facts, is not the way to do this.  Hutchinson answered this critic in his blog post ‘All Knowledge? What about Skills?’. Hutchinson references empirical evidence from Daisy Chirstodoulou who argued that there is no such thing as a ‘generic skill’. So trying to teach the skill of critic thinking directly is not attainable. A pupil’s ability to think critically about a subject is determined by their underlying knowledge of that subject. The more knowledge a pupil has on a particular topic the more critically they can think about that topic. More knowledge leads to more discussion, more debate and more questioning of the subject. Therefore, even though skills do not feature on knowledge organisers they are still the ultimate aim when delivering a unit of work.

    Are knowledge organisers enough?

    Another critic of knowledge organisers is that, potentially, they are not enough. Even if teachers plan a focused, perfectly sequenced unit of lessons based on the knowledge organiser there is still the question of whether this is enough for all pupils to develop memorable networks of powerful knowledge. David Perkins wrote about ‘fragile knowledge’ and this demonstrates how a focused, sequenced curriculum may not enough for all pupils. ‘Fragile knowledge’ can be broken down into four parts.

    1. Missing knowledge – important knowledge that is simply missing. Perhaps it wasn’t on the knowledge organiser so hasn’t been taught, perhaps it has not been revisited so has been forgotten.
    2. Inert knowledge – knowledge that is present but lacks the ability to be applied to different scenarios.
    3. Naïve knowledge – knowledge that takes the form of naïve theories or stereotypes, even after discussion and instruction.
    4. Ritual knowledge – knowledge that is useful for academic tasks but not much else.

    Knowledge organisers do not account for ‘fragile knowledge’ nor do they take into account how different pupils learn. Therefore, it has been suggested that we should, instead, focus on developing pupils’ knowledge of; themselves as learners, of different learning strategies and of different tasks. This may then give us a higher chance of ensuring that pupils’ learning is secure and memorable. However, this could potentially be developed alongside the use of knowledge organisers to create a ‘knowledge-rich’ curriculum.

    How can I use knowledge organisers in my classroom practice?

    • Think about what knowledge you want your pupils to have by the end of the unit. Including different aspect of the unit such as facts, definitions, concepts etc. Make your own knowledge organiser which includes this knowledge. Templates can be found here: Blank Template
    • Use the same knowledge organiser for all pupils but differentiate the input or task.
    • At the start of the unit give the knowledge organisers to your pupils. This allows pupils to know what they are learning and recap any information when they want to.
    • Recap the knowledge regularly. Don’t just recap something once and assume that it is learnt. For the knowledge to secure in long term memory pupils must revisit it on numerous different occasions.
    • Allow pupils to use the knowledge organisers as self-evaluations. Pupils can highlight the knowledge which they are secure with, allowing both themselves and you to keep track of their learning.
    • Use the knowledge organisers as assessment tools. Complete regular quizzes for the children based on the information on the knowledge organiser. If, by the end of the unit, pupils can answer questions based on the knowledge organiser then they have met your expectations for that unit of work.
    • You could incorporate different aspects of learning into the assessment, such as a completing a piece of writing which links with the topic, allowing pupils to include the knowledge which they have learnt.

    References

    John Hutchinson’s Blog posts:

    ‘Using Knowledge Organisers in Primary School’ (2016)

    https://pedfed.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/using-knowledge-organisers-in-primary/

    ‘Knowing Stuff is Cool’ (2017)

    https://pedfed.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/knowing-stuff-is-cool/

    ‘Beyond Knowledge Organisers; Building The Best Curriculum in the World’ (2018)

    https://pedfed.wordpress.com/2018/09/29/beyond-knowledge-organisers-building-the-best-curriculum-in-the-world/

    EEF Blog post, written by Alex Quigley (2019)

    https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/news/eef-blog-what-do-we-mean-by-knowledge-rich-anyway/

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  • Behaviour

    Published 24/09/20, by Paul Butler

    The EEF recently released their latest guidance report: Improving Behaviour in Schools. If you keep up to date with education news, it would seem that it has been written at an apt time. Article after article has appeared in the press concerning the behaviour of children in British schools.

    On the 11th June, TES reported that:

    • 82% of teachers surveyed felt that pupil behaviour was a problem in their schools
    • 57% reported being verbally abused by a pupil in the last year
    • 18% had been threatened with physical violence and 14% had been physically attacked

    The Guardian has published articles in the past few months with the headlines: Education Secretary Calls on Schools to Expel Fewer Pupils, Number of Primary School Children at Referral Units Soars and Teaching Union Calls Zero-Tolerance School Policies ‘Inhumane’.

    The behaviour of pupils – in some schools – is clearly a major concern for staff. So, what does the research say about preventing poor behaviour and dealing with it when it happens?

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