What can we learn for our future practice?
Good friends from the retired headteachers’ community are entertaining each other with tales from the home front. They are discovering that IT is not a mysterious world inhabited by the young but an exciting avenue into following their interests and exploring new places: playing in a huge online orchestra, singing in Gareth Malone’s choir, visiting the theatres, galleries, faraway lands. And they are clearing the loft! An opportunity to throw out unneeded items that must have been useful once, but you have forgotten why – but also to rediscover lost treasures, hidden gems, that deserve to be brought back into the home, polished and put to good use. Perhaps this period of home schooling is our chance to clear out the curriculum and pedagogy loft, to discard what is not useful and to rediscover and polish up the gems of our principles and practice in the light of what young people are telling us.
NACE’s core principles include the statements:
- Providing for more able learners is not about labelling, but about creating a curriculum and learning opportunities which allow all children to flourish.
- Ability is a fluid concept: it can be developed through challenge, opportunity and self-belief.
In its chapter on Teaching for Learning, The Intelligent School (2004) presents a profile of the Learning and Teaching PACT – what the learner and the teacher bring to learning and teaching and, in turn, what they both need for the PACT to have maximum effect. Features of the PACT are visible in the accounts of rising stars, where both learner and teacher bring:
- A sense of self as learner;
- Mutual respect and high expectations;
- Active participation in the learning process;
- Reflection and feedback on learning;
And where the teacher brings:
- Knowledge, enthusiasm, understanding about what is taught and how;
- The ability to select appropriate curriculum and relevant resources;
- A design for teaching and learning fit for purpose;
- An ability to create a rich learning environment.
“Place more emphasis […] on the microlevel of things […] It encourages a culture that is more open and caring […] It requires genuine connection.”
– Leading in a Culture of Change (2004)
Chapter 4 of Michael Fullan’s Leading in a Culture of Change is entitled “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships”. Young people are letting their teachers know that personal conversations are enabling their learning. One group of Key Stage 3 students have asked their teachers to stop using PowerPoint presentations, which they feel unable to understand – “But it all makes sense when we talk about it with you.” Learning conversations may be a rediscovered gem in some schools, worth bringing down from the loft of forgotten treasure.
From the same chapter:
“When you set a target and ask for big leaps in achievement scores, you start squeezing capacity in a way that gets into preoccupation with tests […] You cut corners in a way that ends up diminishing learning […] I want steady, steady, ever deepening improvement.”
Motivation comes from caring and respect: “tough empathy” in Fullan’s terms. The rising stars are being noticed in a learning environment free from classroom tests and marking. We may need to take a close look at assessment practices in our loft clearance and rediscover the gems of self-assessment, academic tutorials, vivas and reflective discourse.
Can we improve young people’s chances of stardom by considering some fresh thinking, as we prepare for more of them to return to school?
- What will “homework” mean? Can we build on what we are learning about best practice in home schooling?
- How will we inspire (rather than push) young people to high aspirations and outcomes?
- How can we listen better and build respectful, healthier learning relationships?
- Can we design learning for depth and mastery rather than for assessment/testing and quantity?
- How can we open up the curriculum and learning to creativity?
- How can we exemplify and model best learning in our lessons?
- How can we give young people time, resources and personal space to learn how to learn, to become the best they can be?
References and further reading:
- The Intelligent School (Gilchrist, Myers & Reed, 2004)
- Leading in a Culture of Change (Michael Fullan, 2001)
- Engaging Minds (Davis, Sumara & Luce-Kapler, 2008)
- Knowledge and The Future School (Young, Lambert, Roberts & Roberts, 2014)
- Reassessing Ability Grouping (Francis, Taylor & Tereshenko 2020)
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