Saturday, 29 March 2014

In terms of learning how different are children?

I read a blog on differentiation that listed, some, differences between children to justify the need for differentiation. I know we are all unique. After all, I would not want to be like you and I quite like being me.

But how different are children? I think the answer you give to this will probably strongly influence the style of teacher you are.

There are some clear differences. Big ones, small ones etc - That is the beginning to a rude song I partly know. But are these differences significant in terms of learning and hence do they dictate the learning environment(s) we should provide? How individualised, or not, should we try to be.

Are children as different as:

Or are they as different as:

These two?                               

Or are they different like these:


Are different children as different as a bicycle and a car?  

Friday, 28 March 2014

Obey - A Dalek Instruction?

While I agree with lots of what the folk who would identify themselves, on Twitter, as traditionalists I am less comfortable with the term obedience as applied to children in school. As always it will depend on what we mean by obedience. Do you, for example, see obedience as blind obedience? Do you react with some concern about the thought of a child obeying unquestioningly?

I wonder of there is a single word that could be used to express the idea that, I hope, the traditionalists mean by the idea expressed as obedience?

Are there two states? Obedience or disobedience? Is it a choice between one or the other? I can't imagine any other than some de-schoolers, perhaps, who want children to be in an education system that values disobedience.

Disobedience is not the same as questioning, thoughtful reactions to an authority. Some in authority would see any questioning as a challenge to their authority.

Perhaps it is the time of the questioning that might matter. I would support obedience in the classroom. I do not want to have a discussion, child initiated, about why we should be learning this, or whether the teacher should be able to instruct a child. I take this view as I believe the teacher does know best. It is not a power thing but is a professional view. I have an expertise in how children learn and I do want them to work in the way I have planned. This is not a stubborn, unbending process but it says that there is a time and a place for such discussions. The time is not while we are learning in my lesson. I am totally happy to discuss with children why I believe learning should happen in a particular way. I am not unbending and I would try a different way on supporting children's learning as a result of such discussions.

I wonder how those teachers who do not agree with obedience in the way I have tried to explain it would react if a child in their lesson asked to be taught in a traditional fashion rather than in a more progressive way.

'Sir, I learn best when you tell me the answer rather than allowing me to discover it!' Would you change the way you taught that child or would you spend the lesson time discussing the merits of your preferred method? Would you do that 30 times each hour and repeat the process 5 times per day? Would you, perhaps, fall back on the need for children to obey you and work as you had decided? I wonder.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Dangerous fun

Today, I have read two blogs that are explaining that lessons should be fun for children. They both say that fun in lessons is fine and also desirable. They miss the point. Let me make it clear that I would not want any teacher to plan, deliberately, a dull lesson. To squeeze any possible enjoyment that a child might have in taking part in the learning of the lesson.

Too often, in education, we seem to set up this polarisation. 'Ah, you're the one who says lessons should not be fun. So that means you want children to have a boring experience in your classroom!'

Poppycock. Nonsense. That is not at all what is being said by those that add a degree of caution tot he 'fun' lesson. There are several reasons for this. In no particular order they are:

Working memory is easily disrupted and if we are to learn something, other than skills like riding a bike, it has to go through working memory to get into long term memory. Working memory is a little more complex than this but the best model is by Baddeley and Hitch. This model is quite old and was proposed in 1974. When designing a lesson we have to put the learning up front and be very careful about the way in which we present that learning to children. Daisy Christodolou in her YouTube video explains what children remembered in a lesson she gave on the apostrophe. The lesson was full of fun and based around children planning a day in the life of a village. Far from remembering anything about the apostrophe what they remembered most vividly was that a chin saw was used to cut down the tree. One problem with planning fun. The fun was motivating but also the distraction.

If you think children need to be having fun you might well avoid or minimise particular learning as that particular piece is difficult to make fun. practice is not always the most fun thing one can do and practising to mastery and beyond can be quite a slog. If we believe children should be willing to put up with the boring stuff then we will organise our lesson and our expectations that they will do what is required for learning. We will explain to them, in assemblies perhaps, that to learn requires you to put in the effort even when it is not sugar coated. We might even have a reward system that credited children who showed the grit needed. If we believe they need to learn we will create systems that value those behaviours.

Fun                                              No Fun.  It is not either or. It is a choice we make that ensures the learning content is front stage and that we don't distort that learning for the sake of fun.

Ask yourself how much are you worried by the fact that your children might misbehave if they do not find the learning fun? Is your learning plan predicated on stopping children misbehaving? Going off task? Not being focused? Is that really what happens if you plan quality learning and don't mix in enough fun?

Have you ever significantly altered or even removed a part of a lesson because you could not make it fun enough?

Stop it. Plan good lessons and expect good learning behaviours.

' I think planning for fun is fine....if we want pupils to remember only the fun.@Benneypenyrheol

Sunday, 9 March 2014

How might we start to 'see' learning in a classroom?

My brain hurts and I have a dreadful cold with the nose blockage from hell. But I have been trying to make the idea of 'seeing' learning make sense in my head and can't. So I am going to try and write thoughts down. Sometimes the view becomes clearer when I do this and sometimes not. Have to see what happens as I type. Actually, I am not sure I know what all my thoughts are!

Firstly, it has worried me that we can't see learning. @learningspy blogs about only being able to see performance in a classroom and that teachers who try to make that performance visible to themselves and to an observer might be damaging the learning that eventually results from the lesson. That, I think you will agree, would be quite a worry.

I am not sure if that view is at odds with Hattie's requirement to make learning visible to the teacher. Will our trying to make learning apparent so we can do something about those children who are not learning as well as they might actually make the possibility of learning less likely?

Also Robert Coe's views that we kid ourselves, and Ofsted kids itself, that by observing a lesson they can say something sensible and valid about the learning in that lesson. He identifies that we don't really see learning in classrooms but we use a number of proxies, some better than others, but all somewhat distant from the intention of observation which is to see and evaluate learning. He suggests that observing lessons is fraught with inaccuracy. Different observers see and value different things and that there is no evidence of a link between lesson observation and improvement in the quality of the teacher. Presumably we would all agree that one of the main purposes of lesson observations would be to, in some way, lead to teacher improvement. Bit worrying of the process is so flawed that there is little chance of that happening.

Party this depends on the definition of learning we use. My working definition is that a child has learned if:

  1. there is a change in their behaviour
  2. they know or understand something new, or more deeply
  3. they have remembered the learning for long enough for it to be valuable
  4. the learning has some validity

I think that one of the reasons we are not able to see learning happening in a lesson is simply that fact that learning happens over time. They may be able to answer a question during the lesson but will they be able to answer that question some time after the lesson?

I at trying to accept that we can't see learning in a lesson but that we might be able to identify the proxies we can observe that will allow to be able to say that it is likely that learning will happen. What are these proxies? That is what I have been puzzling over with my semi-solid filled nose! Sorry!

Change in behaviour.

I think this is most obviously seen in whether or not children can answer appropriate questions posed by the teacher. the questions will have been planned so that the teacher is trying to make the learning visible, as Hattie says.

There will be other opportunities such as children being able to do the work set; the practices that teachers give for children to see if they can apply their new understandings to similar but different problems. How well are they able to use the intended learning?

What do they write and take note of? Are these the critical things that relate to the learning? Are they able to identify what matters?

They know or understand something new, or more deeply.

I guess this is tested by the behaviour changes. Can they answer the questions and how difficult are the questions they can now answer? Are they using their previous knowledge to help them find answers to the more difficult problems? What does the teacher do to get them to use their previous, relevant knowledge?

They have remembered the learning for long enough for it to be valuable

This is an area I have been thinking about for a while. It is the need to support children to remember what they have learned. What does the teacher do that evidences the need for children to remember?

There will be things like the clarity of the initial introduction of the material. How is the confusing mass of information pared down initially so that the learner can focus on that which really matters in the early stages of learning? How are the potentially distracting features minimised so that working memory is not overloaded? If we make the hook so engaging the hook is remembered rather than the learning intended.

What strategies has the teacher used to make the content memorable? Not making the event surrounding the learning memorable but the actual material that is meant to be learned? For me the difference between these two is critical. Don't try to make the learning fun as the fun itself can easily distract the learner. They might just remember the fun! I don't want you to try to make it boring, just make it not distracting when they are first learning. If you allow for too much interpretation by the learner you risk allowing too much misinterpretation by that learner.

So what do we see the teacher doing that will support remembering? Could be a homework that requires the learner to commit to memory the work covered.

The learning has some validity.

This has a couple of elements. Firstly is the work that which should be covered. Is it part of the scheme of work for this class?

The second is about the match of the difficulty of the work with the current abilities of the class.

I am dismissing this element in quite a cursory manner not because I think it is unimportant but because it is, I believe, easier to evidence than the other three.

So, a lesson observation proforma for the process might look some thing like:

What is going on in the lesson?

Is material from previous lessons being used?

Is the material being presented clearly with minimal distraction?

Are key learning points emphasised?

Is there then graded practice?

Is the teacher choosing when to intervene?

Are students focussed and working hard?

What is done to secure the key learning? What memorisation techniques are used?

Is feedback making children think? Is the feedback on the task? (Given we can't see learning)

D I RT  Is time given to improve work following feedback?

Robert Coe says that “Learning happens when people have to think hard.” Perhaps this is the key. When observing can we evidence children thinking hard?
That could well be it. I guess there would also be some quality measures.

I wonder what else and what other strong proxies for the possibility of learning to happen?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Alternative Bloom's, bespoke for different subjects

Alternative Bloom’s








A blog post by @xris32 considered Bloom’s and what it might have a form that was less useful for the way he sees English teaching and learning. While I like Bloom’s I have always had problems with it as a taxonomy. It is not an ordered list where the base is used to build the layers upwards. I will not go into why this is but it is quite easy to show it does not work in the way a taxonomy works. As an aside, for me, SOLO is a much more effective taxonomy.

He has a much more detailed exploration of his English Bloom’s.

I thought I would have a god at seeing what happened if I tried to create, top level Bloom’s stuff, a science Bloom’s and a maths one just to see if I could.

I left a column empty to see if you thought there were different lists that would logically apply on different circumstances. Be interested in any thoughts you have.