Why I oppose the SATs resits in Y7 so strongly

It’s a tale of two sittees.

Picture this:

Primary school class
One student relishes the opportunity to sit slap-bang at the front of the classroom all year, as she masters every single academic and developmental KS2 expectation, and prepares for the exciting transition to secondary. Amelia cashes in daily from the wealthy bank of correct answers she seems to have on tap; clearly proud of the intelligent identity she has become renowned for among these parts.
aa

The other sittee, placed at the back of the room, head in hands, never dares putting so much as a toe outside of the 2-metre radius he has established over the last few years with Mrs Davies, the teaching assistant. That safe bond, which may have just edged into the ‘overly-dependent’ zone, is at least a comfort to Tom as he grows increasingly aware of the knowledge gap that lies between him and his classmates. He dreads the move to secondary school, anxious to go-it-alone without the familiarity of class 6R and his trusty neon putty that is supposed to be improving his fine motor-skills (not that his handwriting would be a good advert for this).
aaaa

The middle of May arrives. It’s SATs week. Amelia and Tom both attempt the reading comprehension SATs paper – one with ease, the other with utter frustration. When results come in, they reflect entirely the early forecasts the classteacher had made back in September. Amelia’s glowing score is worlds away from Tom’s failed attempt, which scored him a total of 3/50. As a result, Tom automatically gains himself a firm place on the list for a chance to resit the test this time next year, after three short terms in secondary. To the untrained ear, this may sound like a good opportunity, but this is no cause for celebration.
aa

sad-kid.jpg

 

aa
I’m not quite sure what the thinking is behind the DfE’s proposal for these resits but, if they know much about children’s development at all, they will know there are no magic fixes. A student who arrives at secondary school unable to read and write, extremely vulnerable as a result of little primary progression (for whatever reason), needs invested support. I’ll forever argue that one of the highest priorities for this transition period is to ensure that ALL students by the end of KS3 can read and write at a functional level. Those few who managed to slip the literacy net in KS2 must slipeth the neteth no longer.
aa

In a good secondary school, baseline assessments and further diagnostic testing will highlight the specific area of weakness in reading that a student possesses. If reading accuracy is identified as the focus area, Tom will be streamed into a rigorous and systematic synthetic phonics intervention, intentionally scheduled for the same time each morning, ensuring that every effort is being made to ensure positive progress. Over the next few months, Tom’s reading development will be monitored using pre and post standardised scores, formative sounds assessments and a regular dialogue with his parents, tutor and mainstream teachers. If successful, he will make good progress and, by the end of the year, will begin to show signs of increasing independence in reading. His confidence will improve, learning for himself that repetition and rehearsal is key to any progress he will make. To compare his reading in the summer term of Y7 to this time last year, Tom has made great gains and can now read at a functional level, carefully breaking words down to decode and make use of the toolkit he has built, to help him read unfamiliar, longer words.
aa

However, what Tom doesn’t show – and won’t for a while yet – is the ability to read with total fluency or at any quick pace close to the demands of a KS2 test. It is not always true, but quite often, that students with reading accuracy difficulties also possess a more limited range of vocabulary. This could possibly be a direct result of a) not being able to access more challenging texts that offer exposure to new words, b) a lack of word variety in the home, or c) a multitude of other reasons! Whatever the root cause, I’m quite certain that students who make good reading progress in Y7 will not be able to demonstrate it through a resit of this paper.
aa

Slide1.jpg

aa
If those in power are set on building evidence to confirm that the ‘catch-up’ funding they offer to schools is being used wisely, this is not the way forward. There are no silver bullets. Just as one meal is not enough to rectify a lifetime of malnourishment, one academic year (which, let’s not forget, sees a colossal change in a child’s life) is not enough to fix years of literacy famine. A more longitudinal approach to measuring progress in this area, I believe, is necessary.
aa

With no recent mention of this proposal on official sites, I’m very much hoping there’ll be news in the coming months of this being another educational U-turn. It would be great if those in office could meet with those in the classroom to consider what success might look like through a different lens.

Metacognition Series: 3 of 6

Meta Session 3 8Dec
This is the 3rd blog post of a 6-post series on Metacognition. You can find post 1 here and post 2 here.
(If you’ve read the previous posts, skip straight to the key themes below. I’ll keep the intro the same at the top of each post.)

 

INTRO
In my recently-appointed role as a Lead Learner, I have been charged with delivering a series of six enquiry sessions for teachers on the theme of Metacognition*. Both a challenge and a privilege to lead such a great, diverse group of teachers with varying levels of experience and responsibility, I’ve been taking my research very seriously. (*For more information on our CPD Programme, designed by my colleague, Phil Stock, see his blog post here.)
aa
The sequence of posts I intend to write over the course of this year will 1. outline key areas addressed in sessions, 2. share questions that have arisen from our group discussions (sometimes as a result of the pre-reading that has been set), 3. offer points of interest from research studies that I continue to contemplate at each stage.
aa
I should make it clear from the outset – I have no doubt in my mind that metacognitive strategies can significantly enhance the learning of an individual, be they 5 or 95. With a grandparent of 89 who recently completed a BA degree in Humanities, I (and I know he does too) fully adhere to the notion that a high dose of metacognition and self-regulation can vastly improve the educational journey for a learner. It is the whos and whys and whens and hows that I believe need further thought.


 

Prior to this session, teachers were asked to bring two items that would aid them during the planning time allocated within the session:
1. Their research and enquiry question* – these were written independently by teachers, who selected a very specific teaching element and target group to base their research on. Questions were devised in accordance with the guidance* shared with staff and agreed by line managers during appraisal meetings in the first half of the Autumn Term.
2. Any planning or knowledge of subject content due to be covered in the New Year.
*Screenshot taken from Phil’s post
aa
Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.06.19

aa
8 themes from session 3:

  1. We addressed a query that arose in session 2
    During one of the rich discussions we have shared as a group, a question was raised regarding the difference between two the concepts of ‘self-control’ and ‘self-regulation’. At the time, I admitted to not knowing what the research would suggest on this and could only speculate at possible answers. After some reading around this, I found the following quotes that served as a basis on which to summarise that:

Self-control: definitions seem to possess a shared trait of explaining a physical reaction to a stimulus. Self-control requires an individual to make wise decisions in the moment.

Self-regulation: definitions suggest that this concept helps an individual to guide or adjust their behaviour in pursuit of some desired end state or goal.

Meta Session 3 8DecbMeta Session 3 8Deca

 

 

 

 

 

aa
It is worth mentioning that these two terms are also often used interchangeably, so it is not quite as black and white as it may initially seem.

2.We recalled key themes from session 2

Once again, teachers were presented with a challenging multiple-choice quiz in order to familiarise themselves with themes from the first two sessions. These were completed independently, after which the answers were shared and discussed as a group. I should declare here that, despite the success of my first recap quiz used in session 2, I came under significant – though entirely civilised – attack from teachers present, for the phrasing of one or two of my questions.

In one section of the test, teachers had to judge statements to be true or false. For one of those statements I had written, “A regimented classroom culture can discourage self-regulation.”

Now, the response I had expected to receive was ‘true’, which was a little disconcerting when the choir of united voices before me replied ‘false’. This harmonious moment of unison soon became a cacophony when I overconfidently responded ‘WRONG!’.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.49.13

In my mind, the word ‘regimented’ looked like a classroom of learners who lacked autonomy, conjuring visions of a teacher who was spoon-feeding curriculum content, denying students opportunities for deep thinking.

In the minds of everybody else, the word ‘regimented’ looked like a calm, orderly classroom.

It was evident where I had gone wrong and apologised without reserve. Needless to say that everybody scored a point for that question, irrespective of the answer they had given.

This was a fruitful learning experience for me, reminding me how careful one needs to be when constructing questions for formative assessments. A high quality test is critical if we hope it might reveal any valuable window of insight into the on-going learning processes of our students.

  1. We shared reflections on the pre-reading**

As has been the case in all three sessions so far, teachers were brilliantly forthcoming in sharing their personal reflections on the reading we have engaged in. Conscious of time constraints on this session (mindful of reserving time for planning), we didn’t spend huge amounts of time dwelling on this though, again, some very interesting points arose. Two comments of note included:
a) The video talk by Dr Derek Cabrera greatly helped in provoking one to think about the value we place on thinking in our lessons. It leads us to question whether the pedagogical approaches we employ to share information about our subjects are the right ones.
b) Reference was given to a concept discussed in John Hattie’s chapter on self-control, called ‘ego depletion’. Many studies, including the work of psychologists such as Roy Baumeister et al (1998), propose that, “Self-control is a finite resource that determines capacity for effortful control over dominant responses and, once expended, leads to impaired self-control task performance, known as ego depletion.”

Teachers discussed the implications of this concept in relation to the demands we put on our students in a variety of learning situations.

**Pre-reading list focus: 
Dr Derek Cabrera, How Thinking Works (online video clip)
John Hattie, Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn
Chapter 26, Achieving Self-Control

  1. We took a shallow dip into the field of Executive Function
    In response to a dialogue that arose in session 1, a brief amount of time was spent considering the concept of Executive Function. An overview video from Harvard was shown, outlining the premise that EF is, in essence, the CEO of all cognitive processes. According to Harvard,

“Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”

We are taught that EF skills depend on three types of brain function:

  1. working memory
  2. mental flexibility
  3. self-control
  1. We attempted a task that challenged our Executive Function ability

To understand the demands our EF skills are consistently required to monitor, we looked to the unfaltering wisdom of the Two Ronnies. While not technically qualified as cognitive psychologists, these men have been pioneers in broadcasting the complexities of EF. Watch their informative Mastermind sketch here.

Following this, teachers were challenged to attempt the same task in pairs, responding with an answer to the previous question instead of the current one. Here is one of the two sheets I devised to test teachers’ mental flexibility.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 16.28.08

After a few hot minutes of serious brain activity (and much laughter), we reviewed how the task had gone. The two main comments that arose were:
1. It was more difficult to ask the questions, since your brain is having to read, listen, look ahead and score at the same time.
2. It was much more difficult to answer when you had to complete an operation in order to reach an answer, while also storing the next question in your mind.

One teacher raised a concern that this could have a significant negative effect on our learners. A student might easily fail to cling on to an influx of information we have given, if we have not considered the demands we are placing on their working memory at any one time.

6.We made associations between our questions and the Metacognition session content
As mentioned in the intro of this post, staff referred back to their individual research and enquiry questions, making connections between these and the content we have covered so far in sessions. This was a brief discussion, before moving into more tailored groupings for effective planning and preparation time.

7. We regrouped according to enquiry question focus and began planning
Prior to this session, I had spent time reminding myself of teachers’ enquiry questions and carefully grouped them according to the focus of their upcoming trial (not necessarily by department). These were broadly grouped around themes including: self-assessment or self-monitoring, applying technical or higher level vocabulary to work, social or emotional attitudes to learning, ability to apply strategies taught. This list is not exhaustive but incorporates many of the key focuses shared by teachers in our group.

In these subgroups, teachers discussed their hoped student outcomes as a result of new strategies they will seek to implement in the New Year. They also identified relevant strategies from a menu I had collated to best suit their subject area and enquiry focus. Strategies were selected from a range of research studies and articles I’d read in preparation for these sessions, including a reference table outlining many of the great techniques explored in Doug Lemov‘s book ‘Teach Like a Champion 2.0‘.

Meta Session 3 8Decn

8. We looked ahead to January, considering how to monitor any progress
While a six-week period is a short time in which to measure improvement in the deeper learning of students, we will intend to pause and consider how the trial is going in February. Teachers were informed that, when we meet on February 10th, it would be great to hear from each member of the group:
a) what strategies have been implemented
b) what has / has not worked so well and
c) what improvements to learning, if any, have been noticed in that time
aa
Any evidence can be simply anecdotal, video footage, photo evidence, student work, formative assessment, student interviews or surveys etc. It is left to the teacher to make the best decision as to how to measure any change, though it was advised that some form of pre and post comparison might be useful. The trial will continue for the remainder of the year, though this next session will serve as a good review point along the journey to reflect and revise the metacognitive approaches employed.
aa
Following the session, I shared a step-by-step timeline of actions that need to take place between now and February. This includes arrangements for planning, delivery and reviewing. I will also be sharing any reading I find that links to teachers’ questions in the interim period, as well as being available for on-going support.
aa
I’m geekily eager to see how the next phase goes.

Metacognition Series: 2 of 6

Metacognition Session 2daa
This is the 2nd blog post of a 6-post series on Metacognition. You can find post 1 here.
(If you’ve read post 1, skip straight to the key themes below. I’ll keep the intro the same at the top of each post.)
a


INTRO
In my recently-appointed role as a Lead Learner, I have been charged with delivering a series of six enquiry sessions for teachers on the theme of Metacognition*. Both a challenge and a privilege to lead such a great, diverse group of teachers with varying levels of experience and responsibility, I’ve been taking my research very seriously. (*For more information on our CPD Programme, designed by my colleague, Phil Stock, see his blog post here.)
aa

The sequence of posts I intend to write over the course of this year will 1. outline key areas addressed in sessions, 2. share questions that have arisen from our group discussions (sometimes as a result of the pre-reading that has been set), 3. offer points of interest from research studies that I continue to contemplate at each stage.
aa

I should make it clear from the outset – I have no doubt in my mind that metacognitive strategies can significantly enhance the learning of an individual, be they 5 or 95. With a grandparent of 89 who recently completed a BA degree in Humanities, I (and I know he does too) fully adhere to the notion that a high dose of metacognition and self-regulation can vastly improve the educational journey for a learner. It is the whos and whys and whens and hows that I believe need further thought.


8 themes from session 2:

  1. We recalled session 1 themes
    Teachers were presented with a challenging multiple choice quiz in order to familiarise themselves with themes from the first session, putting metacognitive strategies into action from the start. These were completed in silence (I know what a bunch of cheaters some of them are*). Following that, answers were shared in pairs and then “official” answers were revealed and discussed as a group.
    aa
    *Joking. It’s all of them.
    aa
    Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 20.52.49aa
  2. We grappled with the complexities of the pre-reading
    Engaging in a superb reflective conversation regarding the pre-reading material**, we discussed whether some of the research available on self-regulation might cause a teacher to feel somewhat impotent in attempting to promote metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies. One teacher questioned what impact we have as educators in developing a learner’s metacognitive skills, since the role of genetics appears to play such a significant part in this area. This was a heavy but fruitful discussion and, as the session progressed, many of the questions that were raised at the beginning were responded to in one way or another, thus leading us to resolve that we do have a big responsibility in this area – particularly with regard to:
    a) nurturing a calm, focused learning environment,
    b) modeling thinking strategies we expect our students to use, and
    c) continuing to establish effective teacher-student relationships, all of which can greatly enhance the learning journey.
    aa
    **Pre-reading list:
    1. Daniel Willingham, Can teachers increase students’ self-control?
    2. John Hattie, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, Ch. 9: Acquiring complex skills through social modelling and explicit teaching
    3. Education Endowment Fund, Metacognitive and Self-Regulation Strategies
    4. Research Leads Improving Students’ Education (RISE), “Metacognition Short RISE Case Study” (not available online)
    aa
  3. We observed a metacognitive strategy in action
    Soon after the first session was over, one teacher informed me that they had completed the pre-reading and had planned to explicitly model a metacognitive strategy in their lesson the following day. Being the eager soul that I am, I requested that we filmed it and used it to share in Session 2, to which he kindly agreed. As a group, we watched a short clip of this strategy in action. The footage demonstrated the breaking down of a paragraph structure into smaller steps, with the students and teacher together verbalising the process before attempting to write. We considered the strengths of this model, with the teacher commenting on their lesson and expanding on details of the actions that followed.
    aa
  4. We contemplated our current education system
    The question was posed to teachers regarding how much space we allow for thinking to take place in our education system. When we are planning and researching as teachers, we think. Of course we think. I’m certain that any half-decent teacher will be thinking when preparing for an upcoming lesson or series of lessons. I’m also pretty sure, though, that a good teacher will go one step further and think meta-cognitively about how to deliver an idea to a class full of pupils, structuring their lessons in accordance with that. Those good teachers are characterised by their initiative, prompting them to consider these questions when planning:
    aa
    What should I teach? Why is this important? How will this connect to previous sessions? What prior knowledge do my students already have in order to make necessary associations with this new information, to enhance memory storage and future retrieval? What hurdles do I need to anticipate in the learning process? Which questions should I plan to ask that might lead to a greater understanding of this concept? What positive learning outcomes will we see if this is a successful lesson?
    a
    It is the difference in the thought processes between those half-decent teachers and those good teachers that matter.
    aa
    As a profession, we need to be asking,
    ‘Does [our education system/my school/this unit of work/the lessons I plan] provide enough opportunities for learners to think deeply about ideas and concepts? Are we fostering a culture that recognises the value of independent thinking? Or have we taken the burden of thinking away from our students who wait at the ready, through no fault of their own, to be fed from the metaphorical spoon? <- Definitely a loaded question.
    aaa
    Two relevant clips from the same TED Talk by Dr Derek Cabrera, a cognitive psychologist in the US, were shared. The intention was to offer teachers an opportunity to contemplate how vital the process of deep thinking is for learners.
    aa
    Metacognition Session 2b
    aa
    Clip 1: Watch from 3.40m-5.13m
    *Spoiler alert*
    Clip 1 Summary
    Cabrera: “We are, as curriculum designers and teachers and educators, over-engineering the content curriculum, and we’re surgically removing the thinking so that our kids are simply following instructions, painting by the numbers and getting the grade.”
    aa
    Clip 2: Watch from 7.45m-11.50m
    *Spoiler alert*
    Clip 2 Summary
    The 4 universal thinking skills Cabrera insists are essential for learners to engage in are:
  1. Making distinctions: the ability to define terms and create more sophisticated, nuanced ones. If learners can grasp definitions and take ownership of meanings and distinctions, they are “bringing something into existence”.
  2. Looking at the parts and the wholes of systems: the ability to identify the smaller parts that make a whole and that a whole is a combination of smaller parts – “they can construct new ideas and deconstruct old or existing ideas”.
  3. Recognising relationships: the ability to make connections between subjects. Our education system pockets learning into discrete subject areas, isolated from one another. Cabrera acknowledges the stark contrast between this format and the rest of the world. He argues that, “the world is a very interconnected place”.
  4. Taking multiple perspectives: the ability to view a situation/idea/relationship from a number of different perspectives. Cabrera suggests that, “everything looks different when you take a new perspective” and advises that this skill leads to increased empathy, increased compassion, increased pro-social thinking and emotional development.
    aa
  1. We considered the infamous ‘Marshmallow Test’
    Studying the complexities of Walter Mischel’s notorious experiment on self-regulation and its findings, we acknowledged the vast contribution to education that this study and subsequent similar replications have made. Accepting the high correlation between those children who were able to deny themselves one marshmallow in the valiant effort to wait for another (after a substantial amount of waiting time) and their positive SAT scores/ healthy BMI scores/ lower rates of addiction or divorce etc., we agreed that this study did demonstrate plausible helpful findings in the area of metacognition. However, as a result of much research from later studies and the analyses of cognitive psychologists who have publicly critiqued the Marshmallow Test, it remains unclear whether we can safely assume that the results really did demonstrate different levels of self-regulation or not. Critics who find fault with Mischel’s early findings question whether the test revealed less about self-regulation and more, in fact, about an individual’s respect for authority or their response to a reliable stimulus. From this perspective, it could be argued that children who have greater respect or trust in authority are more likely to wait longer in a timed trial, in comparison with those who have lesser respect or trust for authority and are, therefore, less likely to wait.
    aa
    In order to provide a balanced overview of the Marshmallow Test findings, one subsequent research study in particular was shared. In 2010, Rochester University in the USA replicated the study with one additional stage prior to the marshmallow test.
    aa
    Metacognition Session 2aa
    Participating children were asked to sit in a room on their own, where the marshmallow test would be carried out later on. Before the test, each child was asked to wait in the room and decorate a piece of card that would be used to make a personalised plastic cup. All of the children were told by an adult that they could begin decorating the card with the few measly pencils available. The adult promised to return with a much better range of art materials in a few minutes, but the children were encouraged to make a start while the adult was gone.
    aa
    Group 1 (the ‘reliable environment’): After a few minutes, children in this group received the better resources, as promised.
    Group 2 (AKA the ‘unreliable environment’): After a few minutes, children in this group were visited by the adult again but without the resources, apologising that they did not have the art materials they had promised.
    aa
    It was after this additional stage that the original marshmallow test was then carried out. The findings were astounding. The average wait time in the marshmallow test for both groups are shown below.
    aa

Metacognition Session 2 (1)

aa
Average wait times:
Group 2 (the ‘unreliable environment’):   waited 3:02 secs
Group 1 (the ‘reliable environment’):      waited 12:02 secs
aa
This is big stuff.
aa
If these studies reveal what they appear to reveal, this depth of understanding of our learners could offer some serious insight into the influences that shape self-regulatory behaviour. It is this contextual information that teachers could then lay as a firm foundation on which to establish the most effective pedagogical approach for a particular group of students.
a

  1. We learnt that self-regulation is not inherently individualistic
    According to John Hattie, educational researcher and author of ‘Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn’ (2014), one’s capacity for self-regulation is not predetermined by their genetic make-up, but is more a result of the social constructs to which they have been exposed.
    aa
    In his book, he states,
    “What has emerged over recent years is a conception of the individual placing self-control, determination and willpower, at the core. But there is a twist: the ability to use self-control is not an inherently individualistic matter. It is neither stoicism nor moral rectitude. Instead, it is a matter of social development and learning.”
    aa
  1. We identified four possible categories of self-regulation
    A meta-analysis of self-regulation studies carried out in the Netherlands (2012) identified four key headings under which a plethora of self-regulation strategies could be grouped.
    aa
    These are:
    1. Cognitive
    2. Metacognitive
    3. Management
    4. Motivation
    aa
    Metacognition Session 2aaa
  1. We compared ‘self-regulated achievement’ with ‘self-regulated learning’
    Acknowledging the pressures of an education system where teachers have been continually judged on student performance rather than a more natural, steady progression of a much deeper learning, we engaged in a very civil but stimulating debate, where contrasting perspectives on the overall purpose of education were discussed.
    aa
    I’m paraphrasing, but this was the general gist:‘What is our ultimate goal as educators? Are we teaching self-regulation simply for our students to then reach the work force and become exploited by employers? Or do we have a responsibility to guide and support them in their thinking as independent and mindful citizens?’
    ‘But don’t you have to demonstrate compliance in order to fit into the social construct of a workforce?’

    ‘Is an understanding of social norms, then, the same as churning out factory-educated children who are incapable of thoughts?’

aaaa
Questions prompted by this session:

  • In light of the research around the huge influence of those early formative years, what strategies can we employ to enhance the self-regulation habits of our learners?
  • How can the social constructs within a school environment (adult-student, student-student, adult-adult) positively model the power of metacognition and self-regulation?
  • Do we allow our learners enough time to think deeply about new ideas and concepts on a daily basis?
  • Do we offer opportunities for learners to make distinctions/ identify the parts of a whole and the whole as parts of a system/ recognise relationships/take multiple perspectives?
    aa
    It was another energising session, fuelled not only by the research but also by the minds and experience of the teachers present. Following next week’s session (3 of 6), each member of the group – myself included – will have roughly six weeks to trial a number of recommended strategies, deeply rooted within their own subject domain, ready to share feedback on early observations when we meet for our 4th session in February.

Metacognition Series: 1 of 6

 

In my recently-appointed role as a Lead Learner, I have been charged with delivering a series of six enquiry sessions for teachers on the theme of Metacognition*. Both a challenge and a privilege to lead such a great, diverse group of teachers with varying levels of experience and responsibility, I’ve been taking my research very seriously.
(*For more information on our CPD Programme, designed by my colleague, Phil Stock, see his blog post here.)
aa

The sequence of posts I intend to write over the course of this year will 1. outline key areas addressed in sessions, 2. share questions that have arisen from our group discussions (sometimes as a result of the pre-reading that has been set), 3. offer points of interest from research studies that I continue to contemplate at each stage.
aa

I should make it clear from the outset – I have no doubt in my mind that metacognitive strategies can significantly enhance the learning of an individual, be they 5 or 95. With a grandparent of 89 who recently completed a BA degree in Humanities, I (and I know he does too) fully adhere to the notion that a high dose of metacognition and self-regulation can vastly improve the educational journey for a learner. It is the whos and whys and whens and hows that I believe need further thought.
aa

Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15k.jpgaa
8 themes from session 1:

  1. We defined the term ‘metacognition’
    Put simply, metacognition is ‘thinking about thinking’. It is the process by which a learner becomes aware of their own cognitive processes and, as a result of this, makes a deliberate response to any given stimulus.

  2. We considered the theoretical background
    A summary of Jean Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development were shared, comparing the similarities and differences between this earlier work and the later work of John H. Flavell on the Theory of Mind; namely that Flavell perceived metacognition as a skill that occurs much earlier on in development than Piaget first thought.
    aa
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15maa
  3. We acknowledged the distinction between cognition and metacognition
    Cognition
    = all mental processes and abilities in which people engage on a daily basis such as memory, learning, problem-solving, evaluation, reasoning and decision making
    Metacognition
    = thinking about thinking. It allows us to complete a given task well through planning, monitoring, evaluating and comprehending, making a person more aware of his/her cognitive processes
    aa
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15daa
  4. We identified the two main strands of metacognition
    a) knowing about cognition and b) regulation of cognition
    We considered learning activities that would fall under each of these two headings, understanding that many cognitive psychologists would not consider metacognition to have taken place unless the regulation of cognition stage had been completed. If knowing aspects of one’s own learning does not lead an individual to adjust their working habits in order to lead to greater learning capacity, then the full process of metacognition has not yet finished.
    aa
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15z.jpgaa
  5. We analysed research ratings of metacognition
    Sharing the Education Endowment Fund’s (EEF) Toolkit rating, we acknowledged the positive impact that metacognition can have on learning, aware of the low cost and high strength of evidence in employing metacognitive strategies in the classroom.
    aa
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15laa
  6. We recognised the importance of teaching metacognition explicitly
    As teachers, we cannot possibly assume that all learners possess an innate ability in metacognition, a skill often determined by inherited traits or exposure to various models witnessed in the home. There is a real need for us to demonstrate how to employ metacognitive strategies in order to enhance the learning journey. Back in 1999, the DfEE stated,
    “There is a need to be explicit about what we mean by better forms of thinking. If students are to become better thinkers – to learn meaningfully, to think flexibly and to make reasoned judgments – then they must be taught explicitly how to do it.”
    I then illustrated this by showing a video clip on John Tomsett’s blog post (the student-student clip at the bottom of the post), where a student verbalises his own thought process, which he undertook to reach a correct mathematical answer. It is this environment of sharing thoughts and strategic steps that will give students the opportunity to question and reflect on their own thinking.
    aa
  7. We considered effective formative assessment techniques
    Drawing on the wisdom of educational researchers such as Dylan Wiliam, we looked at why and how multiple choice questions can act as a great metacognitive teaching strategy for learning, posing a demand on learners to adopt higher order thinking techniques to reach a particular answer.
    aa
    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15p.jpgaa
  8. We learned that metacognitive strategies MUST be rooted within a subject domain
    A tecnique that requires students to step back from the learning process and consider their own thinking can not be taught as a discrete tool, isolated from a subject area. The purpose of metacognition is to reflect on your own learning in order to enhance understanding and, by the nature of learning, this can only be attributed to a particular subject area at any given time. Without the foundation of subject knowledge, metacognitive tools could be considered somewhat redundant. As Joe Kirby, Assistant Headteacher and Head of English at Michaela Community School, Wembley, states,
    “Over the last three decades, cognitive science has come to a conclusion that is scientifically robust: critical thinking skills require broad background knowledge. This is the reason why teaching abstract skills devoid of facts such as ‘evaluation’, generic strategies such as ‘skimming’ and unchallenging content like celebrities, TV, Twitter and Cirque du Freak doesn’t help academic achievement: the opportunity cost.”
    He goes on to say,
    “When my class struggles to think critically about a text, it’s often because I’ve starved them of the deep knowledge they need.”
    aa

Questions that arose during the session:

  • Aren’t some of us employing some metacognitive strategies already in our classrooms?
  • Do some learners already possess strong metacognitive strategies and therefore require little instruction on how to employ?
  • Is there time to teach these strategies on top of curriculum content pressures?
  • How great is the role of genetics and do we have much influence?
  • What is the role of executive functioning in relation to this?
    aa

It was a super first session with a great range of contributions from the teachers present. Biased for sure, I struggle to think of a better way to enhance our own classroom pedagogy than through collaboration with other teachers who possess a wealth of knowledge and experience that is different from our own. Surely gathering as a group of professionals to wrestle with these complex but game-changing concepts could potentially have significant impact on the lives of our learners.

My Starter for Five Contribution: SEN at Secondary

Starter for Five is a UK based advice blog for new teachers. You can find it on twitter here. Each post gives 5 quick pieces of advice on a particular topic for new teachers and trainees submitted by experienced teachers.

Here’s mine:

Name: Josie Mingay
Twitter name: @JAMingay
Sector: Secondary
Subject taught (if applicable): English and Literacy
Position: Literacy leader / Lead Learner
What is your advice about? SEN at Secondary

aa
1: No SEN label should cause you to lower your expectations of students. Do all you can to remove specific obstacles to learning in order for students to reach ambitious goals.
aa
2: Be explicit about praising students for effort and hard work, rather than achievement. Students with SEN need to see that the journey to the destination is rewarded too.
aa
3: Make use of your SENCo/Learning Support dept – a great resource, often with a wealth of knowledge. Utilise their expertise to aid your planning/teaching.
aa
4: Talk to your students! More than any official document listing suggested strategies, students usually know their obstacles best and can tell you what support they need.
aa
5: Model using metacognitive strategies. One of the best tools for students with SEN is the ability to think about their learning and select strategies to apply to given tasks.
aa
If you have a topic you’d like to contribute advice about, click here.

Should reading ever be discouraged?

An article written in the TES News this week caught my eye and got me thinking. John Boyne, author of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, claims that we should be encouraged to read well, or not at all. He believes that there is little point in reading for its own sake. Citing titles such as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, he asks, “Reading for its own sake – what’s the point of that, if people aren’t reading interesting or challenging books?”
aa

Teenager reading on the couch

aa
It’s a tough one, isn’t it. On the one hand, we have a duty as teachers to encourage students to find intellectually stimulating texts with challenging vocabulary and grammatical accuracy. As Literacy Leader, I am careful not to direct students to books that I feel would offer no opportunity for progression on their reading journey. We SHOULD be encouraging readers to embrace texts that demonstrate beautifully constructed sentences, take us to exciting and unfamiliar places, test our opinions and open our minds to new ways of thinking. With that, I don’t disagree.
aa

What I would question, however, is the idea that a text that does not challenge is pointless. Boyne’s viewpoint neglects all those readers who read for enjoyment. Consider a student who has a very difficult home life and needs something to escape to. Or a struggling, weary teacher who finds reading a peaceful exercise, but doesn’t have the energy to be questioned or face anything too testing after a long day at work. Surely there is merit in the practice of reading in those instances?
aa

Long_Distance_Running-1

aa
I wonder if the analogy of running might help here. Suppose a runner has a marathon to undertake in a month’s time and is currently in the training phase. If the runner was to attempt a marathon-long run every day in the lead up to that event, they would surely reach a point of exhaustion before the event. Any experienced runner knows that a good training plan alternates run days with rest days and other forms of interval training. What’s more, many experienced runners without an event in the pipeline enjoy a short jog every now and then. It’s good for the mind and soul.
aa

Could we not apply the same idea to reading?
aa

As a teacher, I question what right I have to discourage a student from reading, if it gives them pleasure. While I would, of course, encourage students to be mindful of the text choices they make, asking them to review what a certain book may or may not offer, I would be concerned that having an opinion where students should ONLY read if it will pose challenge might put them off reading altogether.
aa

Like any hobby, one must take ownership of a practice in order to develop a love for it and, I believe, there is no harm in reading, sometimes just for the sake of reading.

ROOT MAP: A Vocabulary Instruction Model

Last July, I wrote the first of a two-part blog post (see part 1 here) sharing some early musings around the best approach for a new vocabulary model that we wanted to introduce at my school. This generated much interest and a number of people since have asked for the second instalment. As a result of the programme’s ongoing evolution, there have been alterations along the way. Nevertheless, I finally present to you the sequel, in the form of a write-up from my session at ResearchED last Saturday. My colleague, Phil Stock, has also written about this here.

Footage of the session will be available here soon.

Slide01

On Saturday 7th November, I was privileged to speak at the first ResearchED Secondary English & Literacy conference at Swindon Academy. (To see my Top 5 takeaway points from the day, see here.) My session explored the importance of direct vocabulary instruction.
aa
To begin, I asked those present to spend a few minutes discussing where they would rank each of these actions on a scale from least energy required to most.

Slide04

aa
When feeding back as a group, two members of the audience beat me to my own teaching point, making the case that this task would be impossible without the semantic knowledge of the words in bold. I then displayed the following slide, which I had composed to exemplify how unfamiliar words can instantaneously become unwelcome hurdles that students must face when trying to comprehend a given text.

Slide05

“Those who know 90 percent of the words in a text will understand its meaning and, because they understand, they will also begin to learn the other 10 percent of the words.” (E.D. Hirsch, 2003)

aa

I proceeded to explain that a study conducted by Beck et al. into the acquisition of new vocabulary resulted in the speculation of a continuum, whereby different texts can present a reader with a variety of scenarios, some which offer the necessary clues to help us learn a word meaning and, for others, no clues at all. More information is given in the PPT slides embedded at the foot of this post.

Slide07

As a result of their studies, Beck’s team resolved that “…relying on learning word meanings from independent reading is not an adequate way to deal with students’ vocabulary development.” Beck, McKeown & Kucan (2013)

I’m in full agreement with this, not least because there are a great number of students who won’t necessarily come into contact with unfamiliar vocabulary through independent reading anyway, as a result of a lack of interest in books, or they may be reading texts that lack enough challenge.

aa

Slide20aa
Next, I outlined the memory process we believe to be true when acquiring new information. I shared Anderson’s theory (1994), asserting that information is stored in biomodal packets, separated into linguistic packets called ‘logogens’ and non-linguistic packets called ‘imagens’.

Slide22Both Anderson’s theory and that of Sadoski and Paivio’s Dual Coding Theory (1994), support the notion that experiences are stored in language terms but also in ways more connected to senses, feelings, emotions, visual perceptions etc. From these theories, it can be ascertained that an individual learns new information by initially creating an episodic memory of an event (ie. a one-off experience) which, with repetition, can become a semantic experience whereby the learner begins to assimilate new information as part of a deeper network of knowledge around a particular idea or theme.

Slide27

I noted the importance of Graham Nuthall’s working memory model here, stressing that three conditions that lead to effective processing are:

  1. Strength – multiple exposures to new information (at least 3 or 4 within a limited time) is essential in order to embed knowledge
  2. Depth – ensuring students think ‘hard’ about new information so as not to allow it to just hover on the surface, instead challenging learners to wrestle with new ideas and concepts to ensure they are deeply rooted
  3. Elaboration – providing opportunities for learners to make connections and associations with previously acquired knowledge, in order for this to ‘latch’ onto something

Slide28

In discussing which words should be targetted for direct instruction, I made reference to three sources:

  1. Rolfus and Ackerman (1999) asserted that subject knowledge has a high degree of specificity i.e. little transfer. The five particular areas they recommend to teach are:
    a) Subject specific words and phrases embody deep, underlying concepts e.g. condensation, genre
    b) Roots and suffixes e.g. gen, anti-
    c) Proper nouns e.g. Carl Lewis
    d) Compound words e.g. drummer boy
    e) Subject and verb phrases e.g. book review
  2. Beck’s contribution of the tiered vocabulary pyramid suggests that words can be categorised into three tiers.
    Slide33

The advice from Beck suggests that it is Tier 2 words that should be taught explicitly, since these are the words that arise less frequently in conversation, more in writing. This theory would suggest that, as a result of teaching Tier 2 words, Tier 3 words can then be accessed more easily by the learner. While there is some sense in this approach, much of the research undertaken in the area of memory would dispute this method, arguing that the teaching of words need to be deeply rooted within their subject domain, in order to connect new information to already-learnt knowledge.

  1. The final source was taken from a synthesis of research studies undertaken by the National Reading Panel (NRP) in the US, 2010. As a result of their analysis, they identified eight findings that provide a scientifically based foundation for the design of rich vocabulary instruction. These were:

Slide34

These findings, as well as the great research undertaken by Robert J. Marzano in his book “Building Academic Vocabulary“, have directly informed our delivery of vocabulary instruction at Greenshaw.

All too aware of the gap between word-rich and word-poor students, we recognise the crucial importance of providing all students with direct and indirect experiences, broadening their understanding of the world, enabling students from both privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds alike to obtain and retain new words taught.

[There is an] estimated difference of vocabulary knowledge of 4,700 words between students of high and low social economic status.” (Templin, 1957)

It is through the mediums of those listed below that we might be able to develop students’ vocabulary in a way that meets their individual needs.

Slide40

aa
Taking direction from Marzano’s work, we have implemented 6 steps of effective vocabulary instruction in our Year 7 research trial.

Slide41See slides 41-60 of the PPT shared at the bottom of this post for more information and the filmed session, which will be available here shortly.

aa

In closing, I will attempt to outline the structure we have designed, in order to deliver two strands of vocabulary instruction, namely subject-specific English words (Tier 2&3) and roots, prefixes and suffixes.

Slide62
As you can see from the image above, one tutor time session a week is reserved for a morphology and etymology focus on words. During this time, tutors across a range of different curriculum subjects deliver 15 minutes of intensive vocabulary delivery, teaching the meaning of common roots required at KS3 and beyond.
aa
Slide68

aa
In addition to this, students are also explicitly taught Tier 2 and 3 subject-specific words in their English classes, directly linked to the text being studied at the time. See the slide below for our first cycle of Autumn term words and roots taught.

Slide63aa

Here is a rough idea of how much direct instruction students might receive over a fortnight’s cycle.

Slide65 As I explained in my talk and, as is the reality for so many teachers, there is never enough time to teach the content of the curriculum, let alone trying to cram in additional vocabulary content. This is why we have moved some of the definitions and connections tasks originally designed to take place in English lessons to our online learning platform, giving students the opportunity to revisit information multiple times by completing multiple choice quizzes and games online between lessons, set as homework. (When I figure out how to share the demo of this on here, I will!)

aa

I hope this has given some insight into the development of our vocabulary curriculum design, but would encourage you to check out the footage from the session when it becomes available for a complete walk through.

PPT slides here: 

My Top 5: ResearchED Secondary English and Literacy

Saturday 7th November saw the first ResearchED Secondary English & Literacy event at Swindon Academy. It really was a fantastic day. Whether you made it to the event or not, here’s my top 5 moments of the day:
aa

  1. Professor Ray Land opened the day with a keynote talk on Threshold Concepts, revealing why new knowledge can be so troublesome and unsettling for learners at any age. It would be foolish for me to even attempt to summarise Ray’s presentation as it was brilliant in many ways. His research-rooted insight into why students struggle to understand or take hold of such large scale concepts in the classroom was fascinating.
    aaphoto(1)
    aa
  2. The structure of the day; the travelling, the cake breaks and the pockets of times waiting for sessions to begin, offered welcome spaces for some geeky, intellectually provocative and nutritious conversations about teaching and learning matters with colleagues both familiar and new.
    aa
  3. The menu of sessions on offer was packed with so many great choices. There was real opportunity to hear some fantastic teachers and leaders share their knowledge of research and how they are applying this to their curriculum design and pedagogy in the school where they work. For me, this included:
    a) listening to Summer Turner share the English curriculum design with a heavy focus on rich literature that she and colleagues have put in place at the East London Science School
    b) learning from Katie Ashford about the importance of rigorous grammar instruction – something we are evolving at our school, so it was great to see that Michaela Community School is one step ahead
    c) soaking up the wisdom offered by Eric Kalenze on the importance of background knowledge (was sorry not to see the end of this, but grateful for technology!)
    It was a shame to miss other great speakers including Phil Stock, Andy Tharby, James Murphy, but am looking forward to catching up with their sessions online when they’re available.
    aa
  4. The priviledge of delivering a session myself alongside some excellent speakers, on the importance of direct vocabulary instruction. I do believe this is one area of literacy that has huge value in the classroom and enhances students’ deeper learning, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to lead on this (blog post soon to follow on here).
    aa
    researched_logo
    aa
  5. Not wishing to wrestle any credit away from Tom Bennett or David Didau, there’s a warm sense of achievement that I believe those involved can enjoy on days like this. It’s worth reflecting that the ResearchED community is central to this ever-growing grassroots movement, snowballing solely because those people who live and breathe education are passionate enough to ensure that this super profession remains transparent, research-driven and authentic.
    aa

I will blog about my talk here in the next couple of days.

Here’s to the next one!

Vocabulary Matters – My contribution to ResearchED Literacy, 7th Nov 2015

Next Saturday, I will be one of a number of gathered teachers and researchers who share a common aim – hopeful that, through organic grass roots events like @researchED1, it might be possible to reduce the considerable chasm between educational research and classroom practice.
aa
Attending this event for the first time last year, I was surprised by the number of delegates present who had sacrificed a day of their weekend to travel, ready to participate in the workshops on offer and be willing to engage in educational conversations with others there. It was refreshing to experience an approach to teaching and learning so rooted in research and, after a powerful day, I left feeling positively challenged.

researched_logo

aa
That’s why this year I’m really pleased to have been invited to lead a workshop at the @researchED1 Literacy event on Saturday 7th November at Swindon Academy, run by event directors David Didau, Tom Bennett & Hélène O’Shea.
aa
As Literacy Leader in my school, and also recently appointed as a Lead Learner in research too, I will be delivering a workshop on the importance of teaching vocabulary in order to enhance students’ understanding across the curriculum. Incidentally, the session itself is far more interesting than the somewhat tedious title I gave it: “Improving students’ understanding through direct vocabulary instruction”.
aa
Many months ago on my blog, I wrote Part 1 of a 2-part post on the new vocabulary programme we were soon to implement in my school as a result of the research we had carried out called ‘Root Planner’. See here. It was always intended that the second part of the duo (‘Root Map’) would be published soon after, outlining the implementation of the programme. For a number of reasons this failed to transpire and, so, albeit a year later, I will be posting Part 2 of this post following my presentation next Saturday.

screen-shot-2014-06-21-at-22-56-00

aa
A great colleague of mine, Phil Stock, has shared the journey of this whole-school language intervention with me and has recently written about this on his blog here, following the presentation he gave at #TLT15 earlier in October.
aa
I’m very much looking forward to the day; to hearing some super speakers, to reflecting on my own practice and to embracing the possibilities an event of this nature can bring to teaching and learning.

Hope to see you there!

The Oracy Priority

*This article was written for the bi-monthly newsletter
of a national education organisation.

aa

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein

The-limits-of-my-language-means-the-limits-of-my-world.

It is no great secret that British politics and many top professions in the UK continue to be steered by an overwheming majority of “public” school graduates. While we might attribute much of this to students’ consistently hard work, avid parental support, privileged learning experiences and networking opportunities through financial circumstance (not to mention some darn good ‘pedestalled-by-people-in-power’ teaching), we must not neglect another significant constituent lying beneath the surface here.
aa
These schools are masters in cultivating learning environments that nurture students to become confident, articulate public speakers. A degree in neuroscience is not required for me to suppose that regular exposure to effective speaking and listening skills – modelled by confident speakers who talk effectively to other confident speakers, whilst employing a wide range of impressive vocabulary to express themselves and their ideas – is far more likely to be the reason why we become confident speakers ourselves, rather than some genetic predisposition to possessing superior oracy skills from birth.

Eton-College-006-John-Simpson-Architects

aa
Neil Mercer, Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, explains,

“The British public schools, which educated many members of the present Westminster government, of course place great emphasis on developing the confident and effective use of spoken language. For the sake of social equality, state schools must also teach children the spoken language skills that they need for educational progress, and for life in general.”
aa
Despite being considered one of the top three skills that employers look for in potential employees, leaders in education could be considered guilty in recent years of overlooking the importance of the explicit teaching of oracy. Current evidence of this within government legislation includes both the downgrading of ‘speaking and listening’ to ‘spoken language’ in the Primary Curriculum, and the entire removal of the oral language assessment at GCSE in 2014. The message this sends is contrary to large volumes of educational research advising that opportunities to discuss, debate and reason with others are essential in the process of assimilating new knowledge and broadening vocabulary. While some students regularly participate in debating groups and thrive in smaller classes where teacher-student and student-student interaction is optimum, others simply dread the moment when their name might be called to answer a relatively straightforward question in front of their peers.

Classroom-Talk

aa
Studies in this area have revealed that by providing greater opportunities within the classroom for structured exploratory talk, which promotes the sharing and challenging of ideas raised by peers in a safe and well-managed environment, this leads to a greater and more ‘rounded’ understanding of topics raised. Geoff Barton, Headteacher, author and leading literacy expert in his book “Don’t Call it Literacy!” (2012) suggests,

“Group work provides an opportunity for the word-poor to mingle with the word-rich, to hear language being used by pupils of their own age in ways that they might not otherwise encounter. So, at the risk of being too grandiose, we mustn’t forget the importance that thoughtful groupings give to the social mobility agenda.”
aa
Another crucial type of talk is one that enables students to review concepts and ideas in a critical manner, reflecting in a way that leads to higher order thinking. Designing opportunities where students can rehearse presentational talk is also vital in ensuring that we are fostering future generations of confident public speakers.
aa
Good oracy is clearly an essential tool in achieving success, not only to enhance a list of employability skills on a CV, but it is also necessary for the process of learning itself. Best practice oracy teaching includes; effective communication modelled by teachers and staff within a school, a range of opportunities provided to rehearse talk through intentional, planned discussions, a combination of different types of talk, discrete teaching of advanced and unfamiliar vocabulary, exemplar modelling of good oracy skills and feedback on student progress in oracy with built-in revisits to enable future improvements.
aa
With so many obvious advantages to teaching oracy, not least to function as the foundation on which all reading and writing is constructed, it is perplexing that this fundamental aspect of literacy has been removed from the education agenda. As long as the metaphorical ‘gap’ continues to exist between private and state schools, so too should any intervention we can offer that seeks to close it.