Using SPDS to draw together our T&L foci

At Durrington we have Subject Planning and Development Sessions (SPDS). These are fortnightly meetings within curriculum teams, that provide the opportunity to develop subject and pedagogical knowledge and ideas within the subject domains You can read more about our SPDS here.

As a school our whole school approach to improving teaching and learning is revolving around 5 main foci:

  1. Developing metacognitive skills and self-regulating learners
  2. Formative assessment
  3. Disciplinary Literacy
  4. Memory
  5. Cognitive load theory

These themes are embedded into everything we do, with them being regularly revisited at staff meetings, INSET’s, leader’s meetings and also being used to form the basis of our teacher inquiry questions (read more about these here). The purpose of SPDS is to consider and plan for how these principles should look in the subject specific and forthcoming teaching content, rather than a generic discussion of these principles. This is vital to successful implementation, as many of these principles themselves are only ever successful when applied in subject domains. For example, the metacognitive approaches to completing a piece of art work will differ in some ways to those involved in completing an essay in English literature, while what is formatively assessed and how this will be done will be different in a PE lesson to a Computing lesson.

SPDS offer an opportunity to consider how these priorities can be applied to what we are teaching in the coming weeks – they are the conduit for us as subject experts and teachers to draw these ideas together into actionable plans for teaching. This can be easier said than done, and it is important to remember, that we shouldn’t be trying to shoe horn aspects of each foci into every lesson.

I have been talking about this with other staff recently, and this provided me with the opportunity to reflect and plan how this can be best achieved. In one of these conversations I used an example of a how our Geography department might use a SPDS to plan for the upcoming teaching of plant adaptions in the tropical rainforest. We would normally spend a minimum of two lessons on this. Having decided on this we would begin to think about what of the T&L priorities would best fit and be the center of our focus when teaching these lessons; and consider how these would look in the context of these lessons.

Disciplinary Literacy:

You can read more about disciplinary literacy in this blog by Fran Haynes, but in a nutshell it refers to the reading, writing, talking and thinking practices that are unique to specific subjects. As reading and writing are entwinned, students that are better at reading within their subject are likely to be better writers within that subject. In an attempt to develop this, the SPDS prior to teaching this above lessons may be used to look for a piece of academic text on the challenges of the tropical rainforest environment or the adaptions of tropical rainforest. Discussions in SPDS may involve the staff reading the text, identifying vocabulary that students may struggle to understand and considering how we may explicitly teach what makes the piece of work a successful piece of geographical writing -for example the causal connectives used to link adaptions to climatic characteristics. In doing so we can support students to apply these skills in their own talk and writing.

Formative Assessment:

The second lesson is likely to begin with a review of the first lesson’s learning, the SPDS may be used to create a set of multiple-choice questions to include common misconceptions and plausible incorrect answers to act as distractors. The SPDS discussion may be used to plan how the answers to this can be elaborated on to ensure students are asked to think deeply, fully assess understanding and to ensure staff have considered how to re-teach material if an incorrect answer is given. For example, if the question was “Name the process by which nutrients are washed from the soil by precipitation”, the potential answers may be as follows:

a) Leaching              b) Surface Runoff             c) Latosol             d) Uptake

The correct answer here would be leaching, but the SPDS could be used to consider why students may choose an incorrect answer and what to do if this is the case. For example if the students chose answer B, this would suggest a misunderstanding of dead matter being washed directly off the surface vs the loss of nutrients from within the soil – as such this part of the nutrient cycle may need re-teaching and staff can prepare for this.

The second lesson would likely conclude with students answering a 6 mark question such as “Explain how tropical rainforest vegetation has adapted to its physical environment”. SPDS can be used to come to a consensus across the team in regards to what we are looking for in this answer when reading student books, the extent to which this is seen can then be used to direct future teaching.

Metacognition and Self-regulation

By planning to use a 6 mark question as the end point of the lessons, the SPDS also provide a great opportunity for the Geography team to discuss how they will explicitly model the metacognitive approaches we as subject experts would take to planning, monitoring and evaluating a response to this question. This may even take the form of one member of the team modelling to the rest of the department how they would answer this question with their students – for example demonstrating the questions they may use to draw out student planning (i.e. how many parts could you split this task into – in this case 3 developed points) or showing when/where/how they would explicitly direct students to monitor their progress through the answer.

Cognitive load theory

Learning about tropical rainforest adaptions has a high level of intrinsic load – for example there is a vast amount of tier 3 vocabulary for students to learn (i.e. latosol soil, buttress roots, epiphytes) and these need to be explicitly connected to the environmental conditions which requires factual knowledge (i.e. 2% sunlight reaching the forest floor). It is therefore important that any SPDS intended to support the teaching of this considers how we can reduce the extraneous load of how we deliver the material. The SPDS may be therefore used to create a work sheet template making links between the adaption and the environment explicit, or as we often do in Geography consider how dual coding theory can be used to utilize imagery to support learning and retention.

An example of using imagery to reduce cognitive load and support retention

Hopefully the example above shows how SPDS (or general department meetings if this is what you use) can support the implementation of teaching and learning strategies. While I have chosen a Geography example as that is my subject, I know that similar discussions are happening in SPDS all across Durrington

By Ben Crockett (@BenCrockett1)

Ben is an Associate Senior leader at Durrington High School. He is also a Research School Associate for Durrington Research School and will be delivering our training on “Effective Use of the Pupil Premium Fund” with Marc Rowland.

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