Weekly Round-Up: 26th May 2023

Blog of the Week

Pete FosterAttention First

Sometimes we should heed a good education truism, in this case: “If they aren’t paying attention they won’t learn anything.” Pete Foster explains how we can tackle attention.

Class Teaching

Andy Tharby – We are what we do: the case for explicit and consistent school-wide routines

It’s been a while but Andy’s blogs are generally worth the wait. Lots of us are finding behaviour a real challenge at present, Andy gives some solutions.

Research School Blog

David Scott – Artificial Intelligence in Education

Computer science teacher David Scott explains and explores AI in education.

Other Useful Links

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Weekly Round-Up: 19th May 2023

Blog of the Week

Tom Sherrington – 10 Lessons learned about instructional coaching within a CPD programme

As naturally happens after a wave of enthusiasm, much has been written recently about the difficulties implementing instructional coaching. Here Tom gives some really useful advice on getting it right.

Class Teaching

Andy TharbyWe are what we do: the case for explicit and consistent school-wide routines

It’s been a while but Andy’s blogs are generally worth the wait. Lots of us are finding behaviour a real challenge at present, Andy gives some solutions.

Research School Blog

Deb Friis – Collaboration

Research School associate Deb Friis writes about how teams and departments in schools can collaborate effectively.

Other Useful Links

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We are what we do: the case for explicit and consistent school-wide routines

By Andy Tharby

There is a growing national picture suggesting that poor behaviour has become more prevalent in British schools since the pandemic. In a blog last month, Geoff Barton wrote of the ‘sheer volume of responses’ and ‘the bleak depiction’ of the current situation shared by ASCL members who had been asked about their experiences of behaviour in their schools. The daily survey app Teacher Tapp recently asked teachers: ‘If you could wave a magic wand and drastically improve your proficiency in just one aspect of how to do your job, which one of the following areas would you choose’. From a choice of nine options, ‘managing classroom behaviour and routines’ came in at number one at 23%, up from 18% in 2019.

The national evidence points to a gradual and complex decline in behaviour standards in certain groups of children, the causes of which are not yet fully understood. Sadly, genuine system-wide solutions may be many years away. In the meantime, schools and teachers are scrambling to pick up the pieces.

It is fair to say that many of the factors that contribute towards poor behaviour are out of the locus of control of the average classroom teacher. These include the lack of mental health services, ineffective parenting, the impact of smartphones and the complicated legacy of multiple lockdowns.

However, we must avoid fatalism. By adopting explicit and consistent routines, all teachers can still positively influence the narrative around behaviour and improve the prospects and wellbeing for the children in our classrooms.

A pre-pandemic EEF report based on the evidence around behaviour in schools (2019) points out that ‘consistency is key’ when it comes to the implementation of behaviour policies. The report also suggests that while schoolwide changes take longer to embed than single-classroom approaches, ‘behaviour programmes are more likely to have an impact on attainment outcomes if implemented at a whole-school level.’

There are two key steps towards achieving this that are within the grasp of every school and every teacher:

1. Leaders must develop and define a set of explicit school-wide routines and phrases that are designed to promote pro-social behaviour norms and reduce the likelihood of poor behaviour.

2. Teachers must actively teach these routines and apply them with consistency.

Crucially, the success of a whole school approach depends on whether we are all prepared to cede some of our personal autonomy to the greater good. The current national picture suggests we really should.

Let’s look more closely at why a consistent approach in secondary schools is so powerful.

1. Consistency supports our most vulnerable students. These may be children with a defined SEND, children whose home lives lack stability or children who struggle to regulate their behavioural choices amid the multiple stimuli of a busy, thriving school. Typically, transition points of the day are difficult times for these students: the starts and ends of lessons; moving between lessons. This is why a school-wide policy of ‘meet and greet at the threshold’ and ‘orderly dismissal’ is so powerful. Not only do these strategies actively target the needs of vulnerable children by reducing the opportunities for poor behaviour choices at the crunch points of the day, but they also make the school a calmer, more purposeful place for all.

2. Consistency builds character. Aristotle purportedly wrote: “Our actions become our habits, our habits become our character, our character is who we are.” In schools, the consistency of routines is the starting point for the growth of the habits that help young people develop into the adults we want them to become. The regular routine of starting every lesson with a quiet ‘do now’ task develops independence, patience and studiousness. A warm and welcoming personal greeting at the door – every day, five times a day – creates a sense of belonging and encourages friendliness and openness. These are attributes and behaviours we want children to take into their adult lives.

3. Consistency supports our most inexperienced teachers. Teaching is so much easier for ECTs, trainees and new staff when there is a clear set of successful routines and phrases to take off the shelf and use right away. For example, ‘Pens down, eyes on me’ is a brilliantly simple phrase (with accompanying hand gestures) that calls for attention from all. When the most experienced teacher and the least experienced teacher in the school are both using this phrase, the gap in status between the two teachers becomes narrower. The common language codifies the expectation for attention as a whole-school expectation rather than the pleadings of an isolated individual teacher. To enable this, it is essential that experienced staff swap their favourite go-to strategies for the new routine, so that they too are contributing towards the common sense of purpose and team spirit.

4. Habits and social contagion are inevitable. If schools do not explicitly design the school-wide habits they want to see, then the students will create their own instead – these may involve pushing, running, inappropriate language, lateness and other undesirable behaviours. Social contagion is also unavoidable: we unconsciously imbibe the social norms around us. When a child sees another child being pushed, they are more likely to do the same to another student and so on. This kind of social contagion is probably one of the main reasons why behaviour incidents spike across a school on certain days. Thankfully social contagion can work in our favour: when everyone else sits down quietly to complete the do-now task, you are primed to do just the same yourself.

This post has argued that the adoption of schoolwide routines and language are important and urgently needed in the current climate. While they will not solve all the problems we face currently, they are certainly an achievable first step.  

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Weekly Round-Up: 12th May 2023

Blog of the Week

Sarah CottinghamNovel experiences: do they help students learn?

Sarah gives us some solid reasons for keeping the main thing the main thing when teaching, and why we should always interrogate what students are most likely to remember from our lessons.

Class Teaching

Fahim Rahman – Mr Rahman on mini-whiteboards

In line with our whole-school implementation of effective use of MWBs, Fahim blogs about what he has learned this year.

Research School Blog

Deb Friis – Collaboration

Research School associate Deb Friis writes about how teams and departments in schools can collaborate effectively.

Other Useful Links

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Weekly Round-Up: 5th May 2023

Blog of the Week

Geoff BartonWhat we need to know is why behaviour is a significant issue

Some fascinating insights from Geoff based on feedback he has been receiving from ASCL members and articulating what so many are experiencing at present.

Class Teaching

Fahim RahmanMr Rahman on mini-whiteboards

In line with our whole-school implementation of effective use of MWBs, Fahim blogs about what he has learned this year.

Research School Blog

Chris Runeckles – The Problem of Enactment

As teachers, we can know something is the right thing to do, but still not change our practice. In this blog I explore how we are attempting to mitigate this at Durrington.

Other Useful Links

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Mr Rahman on mini-whiteboards

During the pandemic, social distancing made it difficult to circulate, and even though the pandemic seems far behind us now, I found myself struggling to return to routines that I had established long before, in particular live marking. I also found that the layout of my room often subconsciously dictated who I would give feedback to and who received it more often, with areas that I would naturally gravitate towards having the highest level of book checking. I have therefore been recently re-evaluating my systems for formative assessment and giving feedback. 

Despite the difficulties in the logistics, mini-whiteboards have become a lot more embedded in my practice this year. Primarily as a means to check for understanding. They provide a quick and easy way to get information quickly and to check an entire class’s understanding in a relative short amount of time. This coupled with properly planned multiple-choice questions (a useful guide I found to creating them can be found here) can often give quick results. The caveat to this though is ensuring students are keeping their answers to themselves and revealing them at the same time. Utilising a “Means of Participation” approach to the question can often accommodate this.

“I want everyone to write down the answer to the question I’m about to ask, keep it to themselves, then when I say reveal the answer… What organelle carries out protein synthesis.”

“Similar to before, write the answer, keep it to yourself, reveal when I say… name an organelle not present in an animal cell.”

I also have established a culture of students only rubbing off their answers from their mini whiteboards when I have told them too. Often students get embarrassed when they get the answer wrong, or their answer does not conform to the majority. By ensuring they don’t immediately correct them it enables discussion to take place about why they go the answer incorrect, what they may have thought and how they can ensure they get the correct answer next time.

Whilst searching twitter for the opinions of other teachers on mini whiteboards, multiple users suggested revealing the answers row at a time in a “Mexican wave”. This could be a particularly powerful method in my classroom as it would limit students trying to see what other students have put and adjusting their answers, whilst also giving me more time to check each one.

One thing that concerned me using mini-whiteboards, was the lack of evidence in their book of students’ working. Tom Oakley makes the point that students’ books are for students, that recording for the sake of recording has little benefit. Also, that we should be encouraging them to model their thinking and mini-whiteboards can train them to do so for when the bookwork is required. I personally have found students are much more willing to have a go and attempt a difficult exam question if they are using mini-whiteboards. It is low stakes and students can erase mistakes without ruining the presentation of their books. Another observation I found is that students plan their answer with more modelling of their thinking than they would in their books. I have found students using mini-whiteboards to draft their answers, bullet point the facts or draw diagrams of the required practicals they are about to talk about.  

One part of my practice that needs to develop is encouraging students who don’t know the answer to demonstrate that either by using a “?” or as some users have recommended, adding a “G” if the question was a guess. This would not only destigmatise getting the answer wrong, or attempting it. But it would also limit the number of students who feel compelled to copy the answer just so they can have a correct one.

Overall mini-whiteboards have started to become a lot more embedded in my practice, and while I need to work on the organisational routines surrounding distributing and collecting them they have had a great impact on upping the think and participation ratio of my questions, as well as knowing when and how to follow up with the appropriate feedback.

A great summary of mini-whiteboards can be found here by Greg Thornton, collaborating the findings of others into a simple one sheet page.

Fahim Rahman is a science teacher at Durrington High School. He is also a Research school associate for Durrington Research School

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Weekly Round-Up: 28th April 2023

Blog of the Week

Harry Fletcher-WoodQuestioning for retrieval: five mistakes to avoid

Drawn from Ambition’s recently conducted research comes these practical insights into the types of questioning behaviours teachers should avoid.

Class Teaching

Chris Runeckles – Re-visiting the Six Principles

A fresh look at the six principles at Durrington. A bit of a health check on how they are going, and some signposts for where we going next.

Research School Blog

Chris RunecklesThe Problem of Enactment

As teachers, we can know something is the right thing to do, but still not change our practice. In this blog I explore how we are attempting to mitigate this at Durrington.

Other Useful Links

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Weekly Round-Up: 21st April 2023

Blog of the Week

Pete FosterWorking Too Hard

I love a blog that immediately takes me into the classroom and reflecting on my practice. This one from Pete Foster does it for me, really useful honest reflections on shifting the thinking load in teaching.

Class Teaching

Chris Runeckles – Re-visiting the Six Principles

A fresh look at the six principles at Durrington. A bit of a health check on how they are going, and some signposts for where we going next.

Research School Blog

Ben Crockett – Reflections on ​“Modelling Evidence-based practice in initial teacher training: causal effects on teachers skills, knowledge and self efficacy”

Assistant Director Ben Crockett gives us a review of the main findings from Ambition Institute’s recently published research on modelling in teacher training

Other Useful Links

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Weekly Round-Up: 31st March 2023

Blog of the Week

Ben NewmarkThe Teaching Life

Loads of love for this, Ben certainly struck a chord. We all need something uplifting (now more than ever) and this blog definitely provides it.

Class Teaching

Chris RunecklesRe-visiting the Six Principles

A fresh look at the six principles at Durrington. A bit of a health check on how they are going, and some signposts for where we going next.

Research School Blog

Ben CrockettReflections on ​“Modelling Evidence-based practice in initial teacher training: causal effects on teachers skills, knowledge and self efficacy”

Assistant Director Ben Crockett gives us a review of the main findings from Ambition Institute’s recently published research on modelling in teacher training

Other Useful Links

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Re-visiting the six principles

The six principles are getting on for a decade old. If they were a child they would have SATs on the horizon and we would be starting to think about the right secondary school.

For the uninitiated they are:

  • Challenge
  • Explanation
  • Modelling
  • Practice
  • Questioning
  • Feedback

The principles were the brain child of my wonderful colleagues Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby and were (and still are) a synthesis of what research evidence suggests effective teaching looks like. They were shared with the world outside of Durrington High School in 2015 through the book Making Every Lesson Count. You can read a blog detailing Shaun’s 2014 thinking about the principles here. MELC went on to become a series, with subject specific iterations written, including my one, the history version.

That is the outward facing aspect of the principles.

However, the home of the principles has been and always will be here at Durrington High School. This is where the principles launched and they remain the core of our approach to teaching. We have never wavered in our commitment to them and while new thinking has added layers of detail to each of the principles, we have not yet found a need to change them. For example, as metacognition became better understood in our school, it shaped the way we modelled and questioned, as disciplinary literacy was introduced it changed the way we explained and thought about challenge. However, the principles remain, steadfast and reassuring.

The challenge for me as the person in charge of teaching and learning is the careful and constant maintenance of the principles. This involves ensuring that they stay at the forefront of teachers’ thinking and that there is no assumption that they are still shaping every-day classroom practice. One thing I think I have come to understand is that the principles can be used to elevate the teaching of our curriculum. Lessons (in general) can be delivered in a manner that simply puts the curriculum in front of the children and whether it is learnt or not is hit or miss. However, if challenge is in the sweet spot, explanation is sticky, modelling is live, chunked and full of expert thinking, practice is purposeful, questioning is getting everyone thinking and feedback is precise and ready for action, then so much more is possible. Done well and with subject specific contextualising the six principles give our curriculum the best chance of being learned for the long-term. What this means then is we must regularly return to the principles to ensure they remain useful to our teachers. The principles have never been a lesson plan, but when they are most effective they enter a teacher’s thinking as they sit down to work out how they will teach that Y9 lesson tomorrow period 6.

Recently we have been focusing most on questioning. It was a thread that came out of our Ofsted inspection last year and having done some of our own triangulation we decided it was an area that would benefit from some extra attention. As such we’ve been supporting our teachers change their habits around some key aspects of questioning, particularly participation and think ratio and metacognitive questioning. We’ve had some good success in the past 12 months on this, and you can see real change in that habitual behaviour which is so hard to shift.

Now, the downside of having a particular focus on one of the principles is that the others can naturally take more of a back seat, and before you know it some of the best practice in the other five areas is starting to slip. To gauge were we were I carried out some trace observations, categorising what I saw under the six principles in terms of bright spots and where the missed opportunities were. This involved spending time in around 25 lessons across all subjects over a couple of weeks. I recently shared the headlines with our curriculum leaders. Here are the results:

So, as you can see, lots to be proud of. This is not a surprise as our staff are super and we are hugely proud of the work they do in our school every day. Also, perhaps not surprising that having really prioritised work on questioning this year, that it was here that I saw the most consistent examples of excellent practice.

In terms of the foci it has given us going forward, one area is definitely live modelling. I think this could be a slight Covid hangover with a little bit of falling out of the habit of performing the process in the moment, and it also could be just that I wasn’t in at the right times to see it, but it gives me a thread to follow. Another area for interrogation is challenge and increasing the time students spend in the struggle zone. A really tricky area to get right for all sorts of reasons, prime among them being the differences you find across a class of 25 or 30 students. Again though, there is something there for me to look at in more detail in conjunction with our curriculum leaders.

In general though it has been a great opportunity to re-visit the six principles and be reminded of how special they are in our school and why, as far as we are concerned, they are going nowhere.

By Chris Runeckles

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