We are very fortunate to have Dr Brian Marsh as a school governor at Durrington. Brian has been a science teacher and a Deputy Head and is now Principal Lecturer (Education) at the University of Brighton. Brian leads the science PGCE at the university and has a research interest in teacher professional learning. He has been invaluable to the school in recent years, supporting us with our teacher research projects and this year, getting a bespoke school based masters programme off the ground for us.
With this in mind, it was a pleasure to walk around the English, maths and science departments with Brian last week, visiting lessons and enjoying so much good practice. Some particular highlights follow.
- Relationships were clearly strong in all lessons – this made it easy for staff to challenge students and push them to think hard and learn from their mistakes – and students felt safe to do so, because of the classroom culture created by the teacher. Students were being skilfully kept in the ‘struggle zone’. Many aspects from this post were exemplified.
- Scaffolding – this was being developed through modelling and questioning and allowed high order concepts to be explored and high order tasks to be completed. Examples of exam questions being broken down into sequential steps was seen on a number of occasions. Teachers then planned to remove the scaffolding to give greater independence to the students, as their confidence grew.
- Feedback – this was personalised and specific rather than generic and bland. We saw written feedback in books – DIRT marking was acted upon, feedback sheets and very effective live marking with immediate responses from students. Verbal feedback was also regular and very specific. Two particular example of effective feedback – a Year 10 English group who had undertaken an exam question in the previous lesson – had their books marked overnight and highlighted feedback for improvement given – the students had an excellent structure to help them improve, which they then did that lesson. Similarly, in science a Y10 class had just completed an assessment. Their teacher had given them all an improvement target, based on their individual performance and weak areas, which they then had to answer a question on – having had some input from the teacher on that topic (in order to fill the ‘knowledge gap’)
- Challenge – although these were only snapshots of lessons the majority of lessons were characterised by concepts and content that stretched the students. Of particular note was:
- the demand at KS3 was very high (often described as the forgotten key stage, it is so important to get challenge right in KS3, to build strong foundations for KS4)
- work undertaken in a high starting points maths class (sectors and secondly powers) where the students were supported to achieve high demand outcomes.
- low starting point science class, where students were supported through scaffolding to work with the abstract concept of photosynthesis, right at the start of the lesson. They were having to ‘think hard’ from the outset and weren’t being patronised by a dumbing down of the curriculum content. Expectations were high.
- Allowing the struggle – in these high challenge lessons, teachers very skilfully ‘allowed the struggle’. They would ask a difficult question, and when the student struggled with the answer, they didn’t just jump in and save them, by giving them the answer. They allowed them to struggle, waited and maybe asked another question to prompt their thinking, until they got there.
- Challenging of misconceptions – where students expressed misconceptions these were sensitively explored and corrected. Time was taken to get clarity. On a number of occasions, we heard the first answer from a student to be wrong but through effective questioning the student was able (and often publicly) to self-correct- with confidence. It was good to observe learning environments where students are able not just to make mistakes but can learn from those mistakes in a supportive atmosphere.
- Modelling – we saw new skills and concepts modelled by the teacher supported by skilful questioning. A particularly good example was a table completion activity in Year 11 English based on comparing texts, where the teacher questioned students on the two texts and then used their responses to model what information to put into the table. As they grew in confidence, the teacher then allowed them to move on to doing this themselves.
- Questioning – a mix of closed and open questions were appropriately used. It was good to see that from time to time, answers being put back into the body of the class, in the shape of further questions, so that commentary came from students and their thinking was further developed – and superficial responses were not accepted.
- Use of teaching assistants – just under half the lessons observed involved a teaching assistant. In all cases the teaching assistants support was to the whole class as well as individual students giving opportunity for the teacher to interact with those students who required support.
Posted by Shaun Allison