Are they REALLY learning?…

Challoner 10 poster CLASSROOMAmongst our Challoner 10 you will find ‘high expectations’, ‘total engagement’ ‘differentiation to challenge and support’ and ‘effective questioning’. Although as a starting point for our journey which sets out a shared vision for learning & teaching it has been a very useful document, I do sometimes think that by drawing out the distinct themes in the way we have, we run the risk of implying to staff that they should be viewed as discrete areas of classroom practice. The reality is far from this – the intricate web that these related areas form is almost too complex to disentangle.

The relationship beween these four areas in particular has been at the front of my mind in the last few weeks as we’ve continued our process of developmental learning walks and seen a fantastic range of learning strategies and teaching approaches in a range of subject areas, across a range of teaching groups. With public exams at KS4 and post-16, and internal exams for years 7 and 9, a lot students have their heads in the books revising, both in lessons and in study areas around the school. It has been interesting to see how some students, when given autonomy to choose how best to revise, end up just sitting and re-reading sections of notes or of a textbook, moving me to ask the question:really learning

This observation was connected, at least in part, to the reflections from our recent 15 Minute Forum on using summative assessments for formative learning activities, where we explored the idea that reviewing a test or assessment should rarely (if ever) involve simply giving the students a correct answer – far better to engage them in thinking about how their existing model of understanding needs to be adjusted or developed in order to reach the correct answer themselves. Equally, the review of evidence on marking from the EEF which I discussed here, raises an important question about whether our marking (and perhaps our feedback more generally) requires pupils to work to remember or to reach a correct answer.

In a lecture given by Professor Rob Coe (@ProfCoe) a couple of years ago entitled ‘Improving Education: a triumph of hope over experience’ (available as a written report here), he explores the idea, amongst many others, that ‘learning’ is not easily observed…


David Didau (@LearningSpy) has written a nice blog post looking at the idea of proxies here, which is worth a few minutes of your time.

So what are we to do?

Well, amongst Professor Coe’s suggestions are striving for clarity around what learning actually ‘is’ and how it happens, and then investing heavily in sustained professional development to share this understanding and strive to embed learning and teaching strategies that are truly focussed on an informed understanding of what learning ‘is’. This will be the backbone of our professional development plans for 2016-17.

In the mean time, he also offers a simple suggestion:

think hard

By his own admission, “obviously, this is over-simplistic, vague and not original”. However, if it forces us – and our students – to ask themselves the question…

‘Where in this lesson will students have to think hard?’

…it may be a very useful rule of thumb.


Photo Credit: paulgabrinetti via Compfight cc

Author: L&T Magpie

Assistant Headteacher (L&T)

2 thoughts on “Are they REALLY learning?…”

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