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

Twilight INSET 19/1/16 – next steps with observations…

Having experienced generally very positive feedback from staff about the first round of observations that took place over the Autumn term (our first without grades and using our own Challoner 10 as the framework for discussion, rather than Ofsted criteria), we are now keen to get moving on the next round. And so, at the start of a twilight intended for developmental work in departments, we brought all teaching staff together to outline how the next round will work.

The general principles are the same as for the first round: the observations will be developmental (i.e. they won’t be graded and discussion after the observations will be focussed on reflective questioning and dialogue rather than ‘feedback’ per se) and we want to support teachers with everyday practice rather than one-off showpiece teaching.

At the same time as this, we want to create the opportunity for Subject Leaders to take some ownership over the process in terms of setting the agenda, in order to try and find opportunities for the observations to support departmental development priorities as well as the priorities of each individual teacher. Furthermore, we want to involve staff at all levels of the schools with the actual visiting of each others’ classrooms.

In order to do this, we are setting out to observe a department at time, seeing each member of the team on several occasions for 15-25 minutes at a time, as part of a series of Learning Walks, rather than observing each teacher once for a full lesson. The hope is to be able to schedule the Learning Walks to ensure that each team member is seen once with a priority group (the priority having been determined by the Subject Leader and their team), as well as visiting each teacher on a further couple of occasions on a more ‘impromptu’ basis. Each Learning Walk will be led by a member of the L&T team plus another member of the department.

In addition to identifying themes to be discussed with each class teacher at the end of the cycle, the intention is also to use the opportunity to develop the co-observer, partly in terms of their own noticing skills, but also in terms of their career development. For example, if I conduct a Learning Walk of a department and take the Subject Leader (or someone who is realistically aspiring to middle leadership) with me to co-observe, then the discussion with that person might probe their thoughts about what to raise in discussion with the class teacher afterwards, and how to go about doing so in order to stimulate a reflective dialogue (rather than just a retelling of events observed with some sort of judgement placed on it). If the co-observer who is on the Learning Walk with me is a newly- or recently-qualified teacher, the discussion may revolve more tightly around what we are seeing and the merits of the approaches being observed.

It seems like a good model to run with having already observed everyone once formally (and alongside regularly seeing staff across the school on the occasional whole-school Learning Walks and on our SLT Tours (which all of SLT are scheduled to do weekly, but which are more about showing interest in what the students are doing, showing support for staff where necesssary, generally ‘checking the temperature’…)), but it is going to be a big challenge logistically…

Twilight 19-01-16

INSET Day 7/10/15

INSET Day  07-10-15 focus The brief opening slot of today’s INSET provided an opportunity to set out some of the priority areas for the coming year: the inextricably linked ideas of shared success criteria, effective assessment and students knowing how to improve…

Prior to the INSET day, everyone was organised into groups of about 8 staff (to ensure staff were working in groups containing a range of subjects/ experiences/ characters) and an email went out with the subject ‘Important information for the INSET day (worth flagging)…

The body of the email repeated the hint: ‘You might like to flag this email ahead of tomorrow’s INSET… (and yes, it will help your team stake their claim on a prize)‘ and then provided a piece of information (each group had a different email, though they didn’t know this and nor did they know who was in what group… a sure way to create some intrigue in the staff room in the days leading up to the INSET! A nice way to get people talking about the INSET day in positive terms before it has even happened!)

Examples of the sort of information each group was given included:

Your population is 15.74 million, you produce most of the balsa wood in the world, and your capital city is Quito.

Your population is 8.098 million, public performances of your national anthem usually only involve the final verse and chorus, and your capital city is Tegucigalpa.

Your population is 22.92 million, you have 143,700 landlines in use, and your capital city is Antananarivo.

And so on for 13 different groups. The only bit that anyone needed to think about was the capital city, but the random facts added to the intrigue! Most staff googled the country, but not all had then taken the hint to look at the flag for their country!

running out of retort stands in the lab!

Watching staff run around the school hall (flight of the bumblebee blaring out) trying to work out which flag was theirs, shouting at each other for help in order to be able to start the first challenge (and win themselves a breakfast hamper of croissant, pain au chocolat and juice to consume during the rest of the morning!) was a great way to start the morning. The first challenge was a L&T Tarsia (if you haven’t discovered Tarsia, you’re missing out! Free, easy to use, kids love it)

And so to business…

INSET Day  07-10-15

First we took a look at some of the research headlines to provide some context for the decision to place some emphasis on the three specific areas of our Challoner 10 over the coming months.

INSET Day  07-10-15 research



This, combined with the fact that we have a new assessment and feedback policy in place this year which we are seeking to develop and embed, provides good justification for taking some time to think about these three areas!


Terminology and general rationale…

I started by suggesting that it doesn’t matter a great deal whether we call them objectives, outcomes, success criteria, aims, WALTs, WILFs,  etc. Rather, what matters is that we have a shared conception of the ideas, why they are arguably important, and how we might use them effectively. Given the seeming preference within the research literature (and my own personal preference for what I think is greater clarity than objectives/outcomes), I framed the session (and continue to frame my conversations with colleagues) using Learning Intentions and Success Criteria.

Learning Intentions & Success Criteria


Having explored, in groups and as a whole staff, what Learning Intentions and Success Criteria can be/ should be, we focussed our attention specifically on Success Criteria. The full slides from the session can be seen below, but the focus of much of the discussion was on the importance of students being able to operationalise and internalise the success criteria, through modelling and assessement (of various sorts). Unfortunately, there was little time left to really get into the value of modelling and some particular strategies for how to go about using modelling and collaborative assessment, but this is certainly something we’ll come back to… (in the meantime, check out this post over at ClassTeaching)


And here is a nice little video from John Hattie…


Full session slides below…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.