Brad's Blog

Success in Six Weeks

Tuesday 2nd May 2017

In 2015-16 over 33,000 students dropped-out of their college programmes within the first six weeks. It is a rising trend. In 2013-14 29,000 dropped out followed by 32,000 in 2014-15. Level 1 courses suffer the highest drop-out rates with 10% within the first six weeks followed by Level 2 at 8% and Level 3 at 4%. Some of the students may join other programmes but a significant number become NEET at significant personal cost to their life chances and a significant cost for colleges in respect of lost income. Success is the answer. Within the first few lessons of a new programme students will be silently absorbing the programme goals, assessing their understanding, observing the actions and demeanour of the teacher, watching their peers and silently considering whether they think they have made the right choice or not. Clearly too many decide not. Six weeks is the maximum window with four the optimum to ensure that every student gains not only a sense of progress but knows they are making progress. Clear progress lesson by lesson within the first four to six weeks can transform attitudes, build self-belief, generate a 'can-do' spirit and a commitment to achieving the relevant study goals.
Consider the following seven key steps to success in six weeks:
Upbeat induction
Be warm and welcoming. Emphasise a fresh start and your high expectation that all will at least pass the course. The only question is what grade individuals will get. Highlight any examples of progress from previous years i.e. learners from similar backgrounds going on to successfully complete. Better still point to a relevant information display. Focus on future benefits, higher courses, relevant future employment. Highlight things to look forward to in the college calendar, visiting speakers, trips etc. Showcase the college sports and leisure opportunities. Take time to build bonds and initial friendships via suitable fun games and activities. Professor John Hattie highlights that students who become isolated drop out.

Parental aspirations
Design a bright, upbeat circular to parents explaining the benefits of the course programme and next steps. Promote career pathways, highlight key study kit, recommended websites, VLE resources, recommended books etc. Provide an overview of key curriculum topics, contact details and date of first 'Progress evening' Aim to gain a 'push' from home. Education Policy Institute data highlights that 75% of low achievers are not living in poverty. The issue is a poverty of low parental and individual aspirations. Hattie rated parental involvement in terms of parental aspirations at 0.51 well above the 0.40 threshold for influence on learning.

Advance organisers
Issue a learning plan or some other form of advance organiser for the first topic area setting clear step by step study goals and SMART targets. The learning plan should provide a clear overview of what is to be covered, plus relevant resources for exploration beyond the classroom. Specify expectations to arrive equipped to learn and discuss and apply a learning contract. Learners relax more when they know what is expected of them and respond to boundaries.

Positive climate
Apply the Teacher Expectation Project (TEP) research findings published by University of Auckland and consciously build a warm, positive rapport through tone of voice, circulation, encouragement, eye contact and 'can do' confidence. The positive teacher behaviours emphasised by the TEP project included, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration and awe. Link this to Professor Carol Dweck's fixed and growth mindsets. Too many students believe their ability is fixed and unchangeable but it is all about effort not ability.
Chunk the lesson

Do not talk for too long - remember attention spans. Think of yourself on a training day - how long do you last? Explain or demonstrate something for about 15-20 minutes maximum before dropping into a paired or group task and keep this within tight time parameters too. Limit the opportunities for any off task behaviour by keeping the lesson moving along from one task to the next. Praise for completing each step but be careful not to lavish praise on minor tasks. Praise must be earned. More a question of being on-target and pleased by speed of completion and working hard etc. Build the 'feel good' and 'can do' spirit. Rosenthal's research plus the recent TEP findings demonstrate the impact of high expectations,' when teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do.' Feed in positives about the skills they are going to acquire, the sorts of courses or employment they can advance to. Lift their horizons. Apply Dylan Wiliam's 'all response' fast-paced questioning approach at the end of each step to gauge pace and progress. Step back as necessary. The key is for all to gain a sense of progress.

Engaging tasks
Select open ended paired and group tasks that are primarily factually based but permit the more able to apply their creativity and take further and deeper e.g. design a publicity leaflet to advertise X, research a fact sheet on a future employer or leading figure, design a poster, write up as an article in the style of a newspaper headline, create a video, create a Powerpoint presentation or a podcast or a photo slide show, a learning wall display or a display to cover a corridor noticeboard or to display in the foyer. Ensure the content is demanding and coach how to layout etc to a high standard. Students know when they are completing 'filler' activities.
Assessing progress
Apply SMART targets that all can achieve. Set straightforward tasks that do not demand high ability but commitment and effort. Design an assessment checklist in the style of a Marzano proficiency scale to give concrete progress references and evidence of meeting the first study goals. Success within six weeks.

The above are the core steps ( there are more) which collectively deliver a high impact on building self-belief, raising self-esteem and demonstrating that the past does not have to dictate the future. All can step forward.

Success in six weeks is CPD programme aimed at supporting curriculum teams between now and August to focus their energy and creativity on the design and content of the induction course and first six weeks of lessons. Go for high impact. Email bradley@collegenet.co.uk or mobile 07919557053.