For the first post of the year I wanted to focus on confusion, stress, overload, that weird bonkers feeling you get by about Thursday, and a fear of getting everything wrong and nothing right – apart from the wrong things. And how about exhaustion, irritability, memory loss, acronym-overload, data-oppression and marking strain.
And now that I’ve said those things out loud, let’s move on. Yes, move right on, double-quick, don’t look back, eyes front. Because 2015 has got to be better. Not Bells And Whistles Better or Shiny New Stuff Better – just better. Systems are being developed and improved to allow us to be great in our own classrooms, teaching what we know best. We will be with our own teams, sharing ideas – old and new, developing our practice with one common purpose: to make sure that all our students can benefit from great teaching. Back to basics, and back to core values.
As part of due diligence report shared with us at the last staff meeting. Andrea outlined the immediate issues that we need to work on as a whole school. The most important slide focussed on what our students need:
With the HMI report from last month, we should feel encouraged that the strategies that we have put into place, and are developing for this year, are those which have enabled us to make reasonable progress. After these inset days, when departments and teams will regroup and re-gird (yes, I’ve just made that up – think rugby haka), we have a real opportunity to start from strengthened positions and focus on how our students learn in our classrooms.
Which brings me to my first edu-book recommendation of the year. The crashing Christmas Day realisation that I’d only read four books all year (and that was in a tent) hurtled me headlong into a pre-New Year’s resolution: Read More. After dithering with various contemporary thrillers and the new David Walliams book (are all his characters cross-dressers??), I picked up Graham Nuthall’s The Hidden Lives of Learners.
The premiss in Nuthall’s study is that just because we’re teaching, it doesn’t mean that they are learning. Vastly oversimplified as this is as a summary, the book nevertheless documents the factors both inside and out of the classroom that enable students to learn and retain concepts. The real-life transcripts of conversations with students and their teachers provide clear, sometimes funny, sometimes rather alarming, reasons why teaching the way we do doesn’t always work. It also discusses memory in detail – perhaps not new in itself, but worth considering when we have so many different abilities to cater for in the classroom . For example I have often thought that learning styles for the least able makes sense, but Nuthall states that to build memory, students need to make connections with new knowledge and known concepts. For knowledge to be retained students need “several different interactions with relevant content for that content to be processed into their working memory and integrated into their long-term memory in such a way that it becomes part of their knowledge and beliefs.”
Nuthall’s study doesn’t exactly unturn any stones. But when we are planning lessons, it might be worth remembering that ‘the way students understand tasks and how to carry them out depends on the kind of metacognitive judgements they make about the significance of the tasks and how these relate to their own abilities and knowledge’. So you might want Joe to use a geographical compass to work out where North is. But Joe knows how to use a compass because his grandad’s got a really nice one so he won’t be listening to your silly instructions. And Joe needs to make progress because he missed three weeks last term…. etc.
So this term I will be attempting to use more ‘remember when we…..’ question stems when starting lessons, or at any point where I need students to activate some prior learning, rather than just assuming that they will do it all by themselves. Of course some might need cajoling… ‘yes you remember how brilliant you were at identifying 6 causes of the English Civil War!’ (depends greatly on our own teacher-memories, mind). Because the response we all fear when we admonish students for not knowing something because ‘we only did it last term’ is …. ‘did we?’
Happy New Year everyone – here’s to a brighter 2015.