Brad's Blog

Great Lessons

Monday 30th January 2017

Discover two new CPD programmes within the workshops page. Great Lessons draws upon the latest academic evidence-based research of what works in terms of effective teaching, learning and assessment. Whereas Great Learning focuses upon the increasingly urgent need to address the learning deficit experienced by young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The latter was powerfully exposed on 16th November, 2016 by the release of the government report, 'State of the Nation 2016: social mobility in Great Britain.' The report highlighted the high levels of underachievement by young people from low income backgrounds and reported, 'just 5% of children eligible for FSM gain five A GCSE grades. The income gap is larger than the ethnic or gender gap.' This is not new but as the report makes clear it is time for more decisive interventions.
Great lessons
There is an increasing demand from teachers for evidence-based teaching practice following the misleading cod science that we've all been exposed to since the 1990s. However, as a history teacher I am well aware that one person's evidence is another person's flawed study.
Already question marks are starting to appear around some of the conclusions of Professor John Hattie's hierarchy, Professor Dylan Wiliams theories of Assessment for Learning and Carol Dweck's theories of 'mindset'. All three were set in concrete only a short time ago but now they appear to be crumbling. Research tumbles out of our newspapers every day. The latest in today's Times 18th November, 2016 is that having a nap before an exam boosts your performance. So what can we trust and what do we respond to?
My new textbook Great lessons will be published summer 2017 and I have identified five core themes that embrace the significant peer assessed evidence of effective practice. The core themes I have adopted are knowledge, questions, analysis, (although the concept of 'elaboration' in preference keeps creeping into the literature), feedback and challenge.
All five themes identify the significant steps in building learning starting with how knowledge is effectively presented, explained and reinforced. Questions follow to build a learning dialogue, to probe, identify and correct misconceptions. Analysis addresses the need for space and time to reflect on new learning in individual, paired and/or co-operative group tasks including opportunities to recast, extend and elaborate new learning and to engage in reciprocal teaching. Feedback has to be frequent, whole class as well as individual and built into every lesson often linked to spaced topics and interleaving learning at different stages of the lesson. Finally, the concept of challenge is significant but challenge for all rather than just some. This may take the form of regular extended learning suggestions and challenge tasks linked to effort and application.
The subtitle of my book is 'theory into practice' because I am a great believer that research will remain on the shelf and in a report unless it can be translated into practice. Consequently I present many suggestions to translate the theory into effective classroom and team practice but as a starting point rather than an end point for teaching teams to respond to the evidence and to arrive at their own strategies. The best CPD is to empower teaching teams to discuss and confirm their own good practice in the spirit of Geoff Petty's 'supported experiments.' Ultimately I think we need to be aware of the evidence but also to be pragmatists and to decide for ourselves what works.

Great learning
In 2004 Ofsted published the report, 'Why colleges fail' and it included the following statement;
'Many young people arrive in GFE colleges with little enthusiasm for what they are doing, with poor basic skills and negative memories of 11 years of compulsory schooling which have equipped them poorly for independent learning. Where colleges have not understood the need to enthuse and reinvigorate these young people and where staff have few strategies for dealing with the range of learning and behavioural shortcomings presented by at least some of this cohort, they struggle to teach them successfully.'
The same statement could be repeated today and the 'State of the Nation 2016' report is a stark reminder of the continuing scale of under achievement and the need for a more fundamental appraisal of the issues.
Why do some learners enjoy high achievement, most just manage and some struggle to meet the course standard and even fail? We are very familiar with differentiation and regularly refer to above average, average and below average learners in our review meetings. However, we need to adopt a more holistic view and to look at each individual's circumstances.
Our learners are very different in terms of their ability, motivation, organisational skills, study skills, behaviour, effort and the extent of the home support they enjoy. This is before we address the issues of adolescence, peer influence, well-being and the impact of poverty. Consequently the terms independent, dependent and directed learners embrace this wider agenda and in particular a focus on learning and how these factors promote or inhibit learning.
Teaching teams need to decide relevant strategies to address the learning and support requirements of each broad group and from there to fine tune to address the support and guidance needs of each individual to help them fulfil their full potential. We have to regularly remind ourselves that we do not teach classes. We teach individuals who all happen to be in the same room. Consequently our target setting has to be lesson to lesson and week to week and in the form of achievable individual and group study targets.
I address this whole complex area via three major interlinked strategies, 'Why learn? What to Learn? How to Learn? There are no magic answers. The answers lie in the consistency of agreed team good practice across these three major considerations to build aspirations and application, to clarify the learning targets coupled with explicit scaffolding and to address effective study and organisational skills.
Both CPD programmes and the textbook to follow reflect the emerging consensus of what constitutes great teaching and I hope they will make a contribution to your own debates and discussions on the significant strategies to promote effective teaching, learning and assessment.