Wednesday, 28 November 2012

SID Learning Part 3 - An Unexpected Return

I had thought that I had done with the whole SID Learning thing after my previous blogpost. My expectation was that today my Y12 Sociologists would be instead moving on to some peer-evaluation of their practice tests and that this would be feeding into some whole class modelling of the exam-essay writing process, but yesterday three so much at me that I had to abandon my plans and so last night I made the decision to continue my exploration of learning that is slow (using extended periods of time for activities), interdependent (built on a commitment to explorative group-working activities) and deep (dealing with challenging concepts, difficult theories and sheep grade skills). There are two reasons for this approach: that it makes planning less frenetic and more focused and that it makes lesson time for the teacher less intensive. With that in mind I'm actually blogging as this lesson is going on, such is the slowness, interdependence and depth of student learning in this lesson. At present they are teaching each other one of four key theories that they have been learning in the first SID part of the lesson. Let me explain.

The students are moving back onto the theoretical element of the course, having spent the last few weeks working on the use of official statistics and the potentially dry topic of 'Demographic Trends in the United Kingdom' we are now back on the extremely fertile terrain of 'Gender Roles Within the Family', which is likely to be very well suited to the talents of this group. And just as well, as it is a fairly stock item on exam papers (I struggled to find a past paper last week that didn't have a gender roles question on it). The focus for this lesson is very much on placing students in the mantle of the expert. They have to learn lots of small studies within each sociological topic, and it can be quite tedious using a didactic style to get these across (although I am happy to deploy this occasionally if it is the right thing to do). The other skill I am prioritising in this lesson is the ability to apply specific examples to the theory and to use these studies as proxies for their broader sociological theory in evaluating each other. Tough stuff in spite of the progressive methods used.

We began the lesson, in true 'connection phase' style with the attached YouTube clip (actually this is a better version than the one I used, which I have just found and will use in the future) putting the sociologically infamous Good Housewife's Guide to some moving images. Our brief whole class discussion allowed students to explore their previous learning about sociological theories and their views of the functions of the family, from Functionalism to Marxism to Feminism. It was also an opportunity to explore the group's responses to the notions of gender inequality within families, and it was good to see that the young men I teach were as shocked as the young women about the nature of gender roles in times gone by, none of them expecting or wanting this to be representatives of their future lives.

For this lesson I allowed them to start the first main SID task in four friendship groups (you'll see the reason why later) and I gave them nearly half an hour to fully learn and make notes on one of the following theories:

  • Talcott Parsons' "Instrumental & Expressive Roles"
  • Elizabeth Bott's "Joint & Segregated Conjugal Roles"
  • Young & Willmott's "Symmetrical Family"
  • Ann Oakley's "Rise of the Housewife Role"
During the course of this I asked some members of the group to focus on the core sociological text we use, but also asked others to use the extra textbooks that I had placed in the centre of the room and to follow the twitterfeed for our class (@canonsock) as I tweeted out three items for each of the four studies, including criticism of them. They had three tasks to concentrate in, two of which were of key importance for this phase of the lesson. The first of these was to record the main details, and particularly the core sociological vocabulary of the concept. The second was to link the theory to specific examples and, because we see all texts as having value in exploring social phenomena they were allowed to use examples from their lives, from the news stories they have come across and from the world of the media and fiction.

And then we jigsawed the groups. Students had to number themselves 1 to 4 and all the 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s got together in a new grouping (hence my happiness with allowing them to start in friendship groups). Each group had a full half hour to teach each of the other members their study, whilst the others had to record their findings on the sheet (examples of which are included here). We split this into five minutes to share the main details of the theory and examples they have seen of this in the real world, in the reported world and in the fictional world around them.

The final ten minutes of the interdependent group work was for the newly combined group to focus on evaluating each of the studies and, more specifically, on using each often studies to criticise each of the others reinforcing the circular nature of sociology's internal arguments. The obvious tack was for students to use Functionalists such as Parsons to evaluate Feminists such as Oakley, but they were in this activity being asked to use more nuanced criticism by using similar thinkers such as Bott and Oakley in evaluation of each other. We even managed to explore the notion that criticism can involve agreement not just reflect disagreement and conflict.

By the end of the session students had A3 sheets that were absolutely crammed with high quality information, but I wanted to be able to see how far this 'learning' had been embedded in their understanding of the core concepts and how effectively this could be applied to a sociological text purporting to represent a typical family. Cue an 80s OXO family commercial.

I use the OXO commercial ever since watching a Naomi Woolf feminist deconstruction of one of these seminal ads showing how effectively the patriarchal expectations of both the men and women in the family entrap them and perpetuate inequality. I wanted to include it here but haven't been able to find it. The students were asked to watch this commercial once through and just absorb all the information about gender roles within it. They then had a moment to consider which of the theories that they had been taught (not the one that they had taught) that could be applied to the advert, before watching it through again to help them consider how appropriate the theory actually was.

The discussion that followed was excellent, with students able to explore the fact that the Dad cooking was an example of joint conjugal roles, but also acknowledging that the fact that he hadn't done so before meant that in reality they were segregated roles. They were able to see the male-female divide in the family and that whilst the men of the household were able to feed themselves they made no attempt to provide food for the returning women. They also noted that the females had clearly been out shopping and were able to discuss how some joint conjugal roles are seen as more acceptable for men than others, reflecting on how in their families washing dishes is seen as more acceptable to men than ironing for example. They were able to comment on the affective role played by the man, and whether simply cooking for children is enough to demonstrate care and love for them (they noted how little genuine warmth was visible). And finally they explored how even if the mum was delighted to have "Saturday's off from now on" this would still leave her with a 6:1 ration on culinary responsibilities within the house.

So job done for another SID Learning lesson? Not quite. For the final hour of the lesson, returning after break, there was a similar activity planned with some new studies with students jigsawing back into their initial friendship groups. It didn't quite work, perhaps due to the break or maybe down to the repetitiveness, but certainly not - in my opinion - down to the slowness, interdependent nature or depth of their work. After a ticking off they still produced the good goods, and we now seem well placed to complete the course. Moreover, just 25 minutes after they have left this immensely productive lesson I have been able to reflect on it and consider my next steps in engaging them in SID Learning.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

SID Learning Part 2 - The Class Debate

For those of you who didn't read my first post on the mockronym SID Learning, let me start this post by telling you that it stands for Slow, Interdependent, Deep learning that l have been prioritising with my Y12 Sociology of late. The good news is that SID Learning doesn't involve you buying any videos, reading any 'how to' guides or hiring me in as a consultant. In fact there's every chance that the concept of SID Learning, born in my most recent post will die with this one. But it has proven useful to get across the notion that, as Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted has written, outstanding lessons are about the "pace of learning", not the "pace of activities".

So this is an account of the second 3 hour lesson of SID Learning that I had with my Sociology group on Wednesday of this week. The broad area of study was again the demographic trends within the United Kingdom in recent years, and the core skill being developed was again the ability to use official statistics as key empirical evidence that the students could use to evaluate and validate the sociological theories that they had spent much of the first half term learning. In this lesson the narrow focus was on patterns of migration (immigration, emigration and net migration) and the impact of these patterns on families and households, and other social structures - thereby also preparing them for other aspects of the course, education and crime, as well as wider sociological topics.

As with the previous lesson the aim was for me to do as little direct instruction as possible and to allow them to make sense of the information over an extended period of time (slowly), collaboratively through group work (interdependently) and in a way that allowed them to make mistakes and find powerful messages within the data (deeply). To this end I gave them a simple task that would play very much to their strengths as speakers and listeners: a class debate on the pros and cons of migration.


I began the lesson by asking them to place themselves on a continuum for their personal feelings about migration and its contribution as a force for good or a force for ill in contemporary Britain, with the usual provisos about respecting all opinions. Unsurprisingly most students placed themselves around the middle of the spectrum but there was sufficient differentiation of viewpoint to allow me to split the group down the middle. I then told those who were broadly positive about migration patterns that they would be the ones arguing against it and the group most negative about migration that they would be the ones arguing for it. There were two reasons for this, the first being that it would help to temper passions in discussion of a challenging subject matter (particularly given the very diverse nature of our intake) because a passionate case against immigration would be being made by someone personally in favour of it. The other reason for doing this is that it takes students out of their comfort zones and forces them to scrutinise their own views for inherent bias and possibly even change them. Sometimes excellent Sociology students can underperform because they struggle to write in a balanced way, such is the power of the subject.

I then introduced students to the range of data I wanted them to use in putting together their sociological arguments. These were entirely drawn from the superb Social Trends documents of recent year (I'll not sing their praises again as I did so in my previous post) covering everything from the patterns themselves to the data on family, educational an employment using ethnicity as a proxy for immigration. We took a brief detour into the limitations of proxy indicators that will help them when they start full study of the methods element of the course. The documents I used for this can be found by following this hyperlink to the file in my Dropbox account (

The final part of my input into the lesson was to let them know how I would be scoring their debate. I'm a great fan of having some numerical element to a qualitative activity, not because I believe that assessment can't be valid without some numbers and letters attached but because it gives me the chance to steer behaviours in a debate without having to actually interrupt it. An example of this is the awarding of points for counter-argument, because evaluation is a sheep grade (B, A, A*) skill and because it helps develop a back-and-forward flow to the debate. Another example is the loss of marks for unsportsmanlike (I did change to to 'person' in the lesson - oops, gender conditioning at work) because the groups then become self-regulating and you can hear them do so on the recording below. The other scoring rule, not written on the slide, is the loss of 5 points for any team member not making a contribution which makes it fun when they begin to realise that time is running out: more self-regulation and interdependence at work.

And then they were off. I asked for two team leaders to take charge of the organisation of their teams and was really happy when two students who I had asked to make more contributions in lesson, at the previous week's parents evening, volunteered to do so. They started pulling the classroom tables together and the data tables apart, identifying group roles and areas of focus for themselves. Mosts stayed in the classroom, others went on the hunt for more information, others did both via their smartphones. They did this for a full sixty minute lesson and then, after break for a further twenty.

What did I do in this time? I offered to help but they didn't seem to want or need any, so instead I decided to hinder. I sat near one group and shouted out their developing arguments to the opposition team (cue shouts of "Siiiiiiiiiirrrrrr"). I encouraged them to send a 'spy' over to the other camp. I threw in the odd new rule for the debate to thwart them in some small trivial way. I did all of this to push them to be robust in their argument and secure in their use of data, and I did it so that they bonded more as a team (each team had ten participants so this was of crucial importance for success).


Then came the debate itself and they set up the gladiatorial arena in this picture, saving the final desk in the middle for me. I was determined that it should be just as slow, interdependent and deep as the planning had been, and so I gave them a full forty minutes in which to conduct it, I kept myself out of it with the exception of some prompts to reduce the contribution of some dominant individuals and I allowed them to dictate the order in which they addressed the issues. The result was phenomenal and can be heard here ( if you have the time to listen.

The students coverage of a wide range of topics, their use of specific data to make points and to challenge one another, their self-regulation (most of the time - a few points were lost to unsportspersonlike behaviour, including one where they were unsportspersonlike to their own team!) to ensure all spoke, their sneaky little ways to disrupt the opposition ("sorry can you repeat that") and their absolutely passionate commitment to an argument that was the opposite of their personally held belief shine through in the recording.

The reason why this lesson was so successful for these highly talented students was because the learning was slow with one brief input from me followed by 60 minutes of planning and 40 minutes of debate. It was also successful because it was interdependent, a group task but requiring subgroup working to cover the range of data and then individual contributions to the actual debate. And it was successful because it was deep, with students picking out key information from sometimes highly complex data before linking it to their knowledge of core sociological theories whilst simultaneously pondering the counter-arguments that would come and their possible counter-counter-arguments to those. The very model of SID Learning.

Oh, and if you're wondering who won, the team arguing that recent migration patterns have been beneficial to the UK scored a two point victory. For me though, the narrowness of their success was the best indication that both teams had done some very powerful SID Learning during the course of the lesson.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

SID Learning - Slow, Interdependent and Deep

I'm a big fan of slow learning and have been since I worked at a school where the default lesson length was 100 minutes. That experienced changed my teaching irrevocably and for the better. Instead of rapid-fire lessons of fifty minutes with fragmented and fragmenting activities within it that were posited on the notion of children in need of managing and incapable of processing tasks over extended periods of time in order to demonstrate 'progress', I have been convinced that slow learning activities based on interdependent group work need to be based on the belief that students need learning that is deep. In other words, SID Learning (don't worry, I have no intention of using this acronym after this post and there is no book on the way).

It would appear that I am not the only one with a love of SID Learning either. Ofsted are with me all the way. Check out these quotes from the 'Moving English Forward' document published earlier this year.

"While pace is important teachers too often concentrate on the pace of their planned activities rather than the pace of learning."

"This is often counterproductive, as activities are changed so often that pupils do not complete tasks and learning is not consolidated or extended."

"A constant criticism from inspectors was that pupils rarely had extended periods to read, write or discuss issues in class."

"Pupils need time to complete something before they can valuably discuss and evaluate it."

So here is the first of two posts outlining two recent three-hour lessons in which I used Slow, Interdependent, Deep Learning activities to allow students to fully explore sociological theory and empirical evidence in two different collaborative settings. Our topic at the moment is 'Demographic Trends in the United Kingdom' which is probably the least oomphy part of the whole A-Level, introduced a few years ago with very little obvious coherent link to the Family & Households topic. It is also heavily data-driven and so can end up lending itself to didactic forms of teaching, which just isn't my thing. So here's how I've tried to slow it down and make it interdependent in order to generate deep understanding of the core strands of birth rates versus life expectancy (natural change) and immigration versus emigration (migration) and the causes and effects of these social phenomena.

The first SID Learning lesson was about helping students see the relationship between these four dimensions of demographic change and how they are portrayed from a specific sociological perspective (The Daily Mail's New Right stance). It was also about them using Karl Popper's positivistic and deductive approach to sociological methodology, whereby they had to take an established hypothesis and look to the falsification principle in order to disprove it. A good blend of skills and content learning, all of which was to be done without any formal teaching of either. A true lazy lesson in theory, although not the reality of classroom interaction.

I started the lesson by asking them to identify the different elements of the hypothesis that they would be looking to disprove, which they agreed were "Britain's fastest population growth in half a century", "an immigrant baby boom" and finally the emotive term "fuelling" which we deconstructed by relating the the impact of having (or not having) fuel in a car. Having done this I let them select their working groups for the task - I normally use teacher-selected home groups, but many students were away for Diwali celebrations - and asked them to do what they had to do with a wide range of data I had given them, the most important of which was the Mail's own figures.

I also gave them a bundle of data related to other possible reasons to explain the hypothetical population growth other than a baby boom. I drew most of these from the Office for National Statistics 'Social Trends' publications that can be easily found with a Google search. I can't imagine why any teacher of Sociology, Politics, Economics or other social science would ever think of constructing a course without reference to this beautifully rich source of information. It is a truly wonderful, and annually updating, source of evidence and therefore teaching inspiration.
The one other resource I provided for them was an interactive Population Pyramid that I set onto loop on the interactive whiteboard, showing the changing shape of the British population. I showed them how they could come and use the mouse to roll over the relevant sections to see each age group over time as a proportion of the whole population, and left them in control of it for the remainder of the lesson. It is an exceptional resource and can be found at

At the end of the time students had to have produced, and be ready to present or read, a report about their findings (the methods exam is not till June, hence the lack of more detailed evaluation of methodology). I was keen that all aspects of the task be done collaboratively as I am seeking this year to find the right balance between building students independence from each other and their necessary dependence upon their peers in the learning process: the interdependence of the SID Learning mockronym.


The result of the activity was phenomenal. Without any guidance from me, other than in the selection of the materials presented to them, the groups were each able to identify that there had been a notable expansion in the population of the United Kingdom (they didn't agree if it was the biggest in half a century). They were also able to identify, with minimal support (I had told them that I would only answer their questions about data with a 'yes' or a 'no' in order to get them to think more carefully about what they asked), that there had been a relative baby boom amongst first generation immigrant mothers.

But it was the troublesome word "fuelling" that most challenged them (and so it should) and led them to evaluate the reasons behind the choice of the word for editorial, political and social reasons. Two groups understood that there was something not quite right with the word, but it was in the presentation of the final group that they finally understood, because they had used their mathematical skills to work out that the "immigrant baby boom" only accounted for five percent of the total population growth. They then used the other information that they had to correctly hypothesise that it was more likely to be reduced mortality rates amongst the elderly that was most likely to have "fuelled" population growth. This led us on to a discussion of the impact of an ageing population on the economy and upon political structures, as well as upon the families and households of the UK: in short, my next lesson with them.

But it wasn't ever about the product, however wonderful it may be when students find their way to an excellent outcome. It was the process of students interacting with complex data in order to investigate a highly controversial hypothesis about a potentially troubling social phenomena whilst drawing in their existing theoretical knowledge and understanding that made this lesson a great example of the power of Slow Learning, Interdependent Learning and Deep Learning.


Monday, 12 November 2012

Are we there yet? - A journey to develop whole school Learning and Teaching

As a mother of a vivacious four year old (affectionately known as The Zoaster or Plaster Girl) the question 'are we there yet?' is one that has formed the background noise to my life. It has also been the question I have asked myself at key points over the last three years since  joining Canons High School to support the school in its journey towards outstanding learning and teaching. In this my first post I'm going to liken the journey we have been taking at Canons High to learning to drive (those who know me well will smile.. as I finally passed my test on the sixth attempt). Learning to drive (well) can be characterised by five stages.

Stage 1- Learn about your vehicle
Stage 2- Know the basic skills
Stage 3- Understanding how to interact with others and avoid distractions
Stage 4- Learn how to park and do other turns
Stage 5- Master the advanced skills

As a new colleague ( in other words an unknown quantity) and in my first appointment to SLT ( in other words an unknown quantity with no experience) and joining an established and successful team, I did feel like a learner driver along this road. With a few weeks grace to settle into my office, label my files, navigate my way around the many rooms I was to teach in ( thanks Mr Timetabler) I was thrown in at the deep end as a learner driver with a provisional licence into Canons Outstanding Pedagogy Project (OPP). With a very capable driving instructor in the form of @kevbartle I launched into a full day of INSET with a group of teachers who knew they were good but wanted to be better and be better consistently. So back to the learner driver. We set off as a group of teachers with our provisional licences and permission to begin change. We were keen and green and knew we wanted to move our practice in the classroom to a new level but we weren't totally sure what it would look like. The SLT like all good parents watching their children step into a car for the first time gave us the keys to the car and the green light to begin to make change happen, but wanted to know that we were prepared to learn and direct change in a coherent way that best met the needs of the learners and teachers.

We spent that first INSET day unpicking what outstanding teachers might say, do and feel, and what an outstanding learning experience might look like. We took the stance that pedagogy could be viewed as a Science, Art and Craft and set ourselves the task of exploring each of those areas. OPP continued to meet over the rest of the year and our ideas began to gain momentum. We rarely agreed on anything (WALT, WILF, TIBs or all, most, some) but the fruit of these sessions were that we began to become a school that increasingly talked about learning. Our discussions around pedagogy began to inform a new Learning and Teaching policy in which we began to lay out not only our philosophy for learning at Canons but the aspects of our school that enhanced learning and teaching.

As we made it to the end of the academic year we began to feel like we had pointed our car in the right direction, turned on the ignition and taken our first drive around the block.

Like all new models for improvement taking a bottom up approach was messy, but out of OPP emerged a small group of teachers who felt ready to take their discussion and debate to the wider staff body and more importantly to put themselves forward as leaders of pedagogy. July came and it was time to park the car over the summer but not before convincing SLT that although we had nothing quite concrete yet in the form of a Canons Pedagogy, they could trust OPP to launch their view of pedagogy Art, Science, Craft with all staff through the Teaching and Learning Communities (TLCs). The thinking being that in a similar way to OPP, teachers would deliver the Canons Pedagogy to the school themselves. Are we there yet? No. But we had found the ignition, turned the key and were getting a feel for how our car might work. Stage 1 complete.

The car pulled out again in September 2011 with our new TLC leaders/OPP members inviting all staff at Canons to join one of our TLCs. The question was do you want to develop the Art, Science or Craft of your practice? Once choices had been made it was a delight to watch colleagues train students to observe lessons and give feedback ( TLC Art), participate in peer observations and create a peer drop in observation sheet ( TLC Craft) and develop the use of Fronter to share good practice (TLC Science). There began to be a buzz around teaching and learning and it began to feel like we were learning the basics. We had got into our pedagogic cars, passed our test and picked up our full licences. We had to harness the gems from all areas of discussion around pedagogy and pick out what could work at Canons. What were they key features of the areas we were developing that would create a Canons Pedagogy or Canons way of learning and teaching? 2011-12 was a year in which we learnt how to manoeuvre our cars and show awareness of our surroundings; make safe turns, stop smoothly , shift gears, and when necessary reverse. It felt like we were gong in the right direction but we needed coherence. Are we there yet? No. But stage two complete.

OPP was still in full flow. So far all that we had done, tried and tested had come from OPP and its members so it made perfect sense to entrust the next steps of our journey to them. The key discussion questions for OPP as we entered the Spring term if 2011-12 were:
1. How can we structure learning?
2. What does effective learning and teaching at Canons High School look like?

OPP thrashed out the key features of two models of learning and agreed that the Accelerated Learning cycle (ALcycle) with it's clear,simple and logical four staged approach to structuring learning, would give us the framework upon which we might hang the different elements of the classroom practice we had been exploring. Okay that was question one addressed. But what of the second question? OPP had shown us that we had the talent from within our staff body, and we knew from lesson observations that elements of the proposed Canons Pedagogy were already being demonstrated to some extent in the classrooms of Canons High. Enter the Pedagogy Leaders  (AKA the Peds).  Six teachers promoted from our teaching pool, all judged as being able to demonstrate aspects of outstanding teaching and all wanting to contribute to the leadership of learning and teaching across the school. With growing confidence as we embarked on stage 3 our car was about to pick up speed.

Locked away in a tiny hotel conference room on their own (having asked myself and @kevbartle to leave) the newly appointed Pedagogy Leaders worked through what they saw as the strengths and weaknesses of learning and teaching at Canons. They grappled with the issues that Canons like all schools face and identified the systems we already had in place and the ones we might need in order to speed up the pace of improving our practice. They also reflected on their practice and areas of specialism and how they might be interwoven into the areas of whole school practice that needed development. With the ideas from this initial session flowing into subsequent meetings what emerged was the Canons Pedagogy. The AL cycle upon which to structure learning (the science), six learning themes that could be demonstrated through our practice (the craft), and the Canons High School 8 teaching techniques that teachers could master (the art). As they took us through stage 3 the Pedagogy Leaders had to learn how interact with their colleagues; support them, lead them and gain their trust and respect. Of equal importance was their determination to avoid the inevitable distractions; it was and will always be about learning for them. Are we there yet? No. But stage 3 complete.

As we moved towards the of the end of the summer term the main objective of the Pedagogy Leaders was to present the Canons Pedagogy to the wider teaching body. As leaders of learning we knew that some among us were waiting to see what these Peds had been up to since they were appointed seven weeks earlier. We knew that most would welcome a clear and transparent model for learning that was personalised to the needs of our school, but equally we knew that there would be one or two who would feel they had nothing new to learn.

The Lazy Teacher INSET day (used with permission after the event- thanks Jim Smith) pushed the idea that students learn best when they do more in the classroom and teachers do less. By carefully planning learning in a structured way using the AL cycle and employing a number of simple techniques like SOLO, Forum theatre and the Flipped Classroom the Pedagogy Leaders demonstrated how as teachers we can ensure learning and progress. The teaching techniques were helpful and as colleagues carouseled around workshops and focussed on each phase of the AL cycle, new methods were embraced and old ones were tweaked. This practitioner-led INSET was a key moment on our journey because it gave us a common vocabulary around which to talk about learning but left us with the freedom to create varied learning experiences based on our different characters, experience and the resources we had to hand. Colleagues saw how they could graft their skills, talents and experience into the AL cycle. The summer break was upon us and inevitably we had to park our car sensibly in order to continue our journey in September. Are we there yet? Not quite. But stage 4 complete.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Learning by example

This week, I have been privileged enough to see 6 of my colleagues as part of our whole school review.

I love watching other people teach because I nearly always learn something when I do so.

I watched a maths lesson where students simultaneously learnt how to solve equations and how to count  in Swahili. I watched an Computing lesson where students collaboratively had prepared their own lessons at home using Prezis  and then used these to teach their peers a variety of concepts. I observed my first ever PE lesson and saw a teacher skilfully develop the physical skills of all students via judicious use of peer demonstration and questioning. In the same lesson, I also heard students evaluate their own performance using precise technical language.  I saw high levels of pupil engagement and a thirst for knowledge.  I saw pupils learn.

Across these lessons, I noticed an interesting thing.  Learning is obvious, practical or theoretical, year 7 or year 11, group work or teacher led. When you are in a space where people are developing in their understanding in a significant way it is clear and palpable. You can hear it, you can see it, you can feel it.

In many of the lessons I saw I was also able to make parallels with my own classes and consider how I could use the best bits to improve my personal teaching practice.  Some of you reading this may have deduced that I have a responsibility of some type if I was involved in so many observations, and I saw those as part of my responsibility. In this case you'd be right.

However, I got into the habit of watching others teach during my first year of teaching and I found it so powerful that I have made a point of doing it ever since.  I am a maths teacher but along side my own subject, for my own CPD, away from any responsibilities I may have gained with time, I have  observed colleagues who teach a range of subjects including Citizenship, English, Science and I have learnt something form each and every one of them.

In teaching there is never enough time, outside of lessons we are all too busy with data entry, marking, phoning parents, planning, breaking up fights, telling students to do up their top buttons, the list is endless. However I always make time to observe colleagues that I respect teach- irrespective of how heavy my timetable was- why? Because I learn more from that than going on a course, I learn more from that than reading a book and I learn more from that than being told what to do. These colleagues teach in my environment with my students and are always generous with their time and resources.  Over 8 years I have yet to have a teacher refuse when I have asked to observe them in a personal capacity for my own CPD, this is irrespective of whether or not my role has been more senior than the person I was observing.

So who do I ask? Anybody, that I can lean from. I ask to see teachers that my students are alway talking about, I see teachers who other colleagues that I respect mention, as a result I've observed NQTs as well as more experienced teachers and I've seen senior leaders and classroom teachers with no responsibilities. Learning is learning , who ever it is delivered by.

So what have I learnt? My now standard practice of asking students to evaluate the lesson so far and come up with the lesson objectives themselves was an adaptation from that citizenship lesson that I mentioned.  My questioning abilities were significantly developed after working a collaboration with a French  teacher and I'm currently in the early stages of working with a History teacher @MsHowardCHS regarding how I can adapt her very effective use of scaffolding to help students in maths better answer longer problem solving questions that are now a regular feature of GCSE exams which many of our pupils find difficult.

You'll notice that I haven't used he words outstanding or good during his post at all. That is deliberate, I feel that these words have become loaded in teaching because of OFSTED and when I observe m colleagues in a personal capacity, I don't even give them any thought. I look at what the teacher does, why, and the effect it has on learning after the lesson i usually thank the person and let them know verbally what I learnt and how it will impact me, it's one of the most powerful CPD and its free and easily accessible.

So if you want to improve your teaching or just get a fresh perspective, I urge you to arrange to see a colleague. It'll be one of the most enjoyable uses of your non- contact periods and 30-60min of your time once or twice a year, well spent.

Before you are wondering, yes I've had numerous colleagues come and see me too but you'd have to ask them whether they got anything out of it or not!

Sent from my iPad

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

From the Theoretical to Empirical using SOLO Hot Maps


Today was the day of my observation for our Whole School Review process with my wonderful Y12 Sociologists. They are a great class for this subject: opinionated, argumentative, personally informed and happy to share pertinent information about themselves. Prior to today though we had being doing work that suited them down to the ground, namely the broad sociological theories of Functionalism, Marxism, Feminisms (Marxist, Radical and Liberal), the New Right and Postmodernism and what each of them have to say about family structures. This lesson, the hinge point following the half term holidays, was where I wanted to move them from the theoretical arguments somewhat and demonstrate to them the importance of empirical evidence, specifically in the form of official statistics on recent and current patterns of marriage, cohabitation, separation and divorce. The learning objectives for the lesson, now separated in the Canons lesson observation proforma into statements about 'content', 'skills' and 'beliefs' (although I'm still insisting that there is an alignment with my tried and trusted WALT, WILF & TIBS) are shown here. I'm aware that the 'beliefs' section is a little pragmatic but I have been working hard on getting them to only target the B, A, A* grades (or sheep grades as Mr Baa-rtle likes to call them!!) and am reinforcing this challenge wherever possible.

I was concerned that this switchover from the really meaty Sociology of high level theory to the somewhat acquired taste of official statistics might not be to their palate so I wanted a connection and activation phase of the lesson that explicitly connected the two. With this in mind I began with my favourite kind of connection phase activity, a striking image that offers opportunities to test out the maxim that a picture tells a thousand words. This is the one that I came up with. In order that they 'telescoped' their way into the picture I asked them initially to approach it in a unistructural manner, identifying a single aspect of the image that struck them before then asking them to move to multistructural and relational understanding of the picture by identifying other elements that connected with their initial area of focus. Finally I asked them to consider the picture in an extended abstract way by considering how they might be able to apply it to the sociological theory that they had studied in the previous half term. In all of this I utilised a think-pair-share mode partly in order to help build trust in their new Home Groups (mixed ability, gender, ethnicity and friendship groups that they had moved into at the end of the previous half term) but mainly to allow me to target questions at the quieter students and those who had struggled in early assessments.

Of course this initial focus on theory and a rich source image played completely to their strengths which is, after all, the importance of a good connection phase activity. It also served as a very useful revision activity in this their first lesson of the new half term. The struggle was to keep them focused on following the 'telescoping' process and not immediately beginning their feedback by jumping straight into their relational responses; I felt it vital that they considered the individual details, not just the big picture, if they were to be able to make sense of the data sets that were to follow.

Having done this I then used one of Pam Hook's SOLO Hot Maps to ask them to predict what would happen to the family in the picture, or to one of the members of the family. I love the SOLO Hot Maps and I am always surprised at how little love they appear to get on twitter or blogs about the use of SOLO. In particular I like blowing them up to A3 to allow them to be used by pairs or groups for collaborative thinking with a real focus on process not product. Having made their initial suggestion of a possible outcome they then had to use their knowledge of sociological theory to suggest 'possible evidence for' their prediction and 'possible evidence against' it. This allowed them to interrogate their understanding of conflicting sociological theories, enabling them to pit New Right perspectives against Radical Feminism, or the socialisation of Functionalism against the ideological control of Marxism. As evaluation of competing theories is a vital element of the higher bands of the marks scheme, the structure of the SOLO Hot Map was absolutely perfect for this activity.

It was only after this point that I shared with them the learning objective (I have grown ever fonder of the notion of slowing the pace of activities in order to quicken the pace of learning), and because the 'skills' element of the objective explicitly mentioned that they needed to be able to link THEORETICAL and EMPIRICAL evidence I decided to take time out with them to explore the literacy of both words. As an English teacher by trade I much prefer using synonyms for exploring the meaning of words rather than using dictionary definitions. With this slide I 'hid' the synonyms for 'empirical' and asked them to make predictions of the kinds of words that they thought would come up having explored in discussion the range of synonyms for the word 'theoretical'. The unveil then revealed that the students had been able to use their antonyms for 'theoretical' in order to very accurately predict the meaning of 'empirical', which was a major improvement upon previous years when I have laboured to explain the vocabulary to students.

The next bit was the leap of faith into the official statistics as I showed them this graph from the amazing teaching tool that is Social Trends. For the uninitiated this is a summary document, published annually by the Office for National Statistics, of trends emerging from a huge number of governmental surveys and other research tools. It features commentary on a range of issues from education to crime, and transport to health and includes numerous tables, charts and graphs to illustrate this commentary. I use it massively for all units I teach, but this graph is my favourite because of the richness of its data. In order to wean the students onto the empirical data included here I followed exactly the same 'telescoping' process as they had used when exploring the image at the very start of the lesson. They had to identify one aspect of the graph that they felt was interesting (unistructural) and then talk with other members of the group to ensure a range of understanding of different elements of it (multistructural), before seeing if they could identify links between the different elements such as the relationship between first marriages and all marriages (relational). The implicit message from my structure of this lesson was intended to be that reading a graph involves exactly the same thought processes as reading a picture, in other words those of reading.

The final step in helping the students successfully move from being able to confidently use theoretical knowledge to being able to confidently use empirical evidence was to ask them to apply the data in an extended abstract way to the predictions they had made in the first part of their SOLO Hot Maps. Having included reference to their understanding of sociological theory as possible evidence for and against their predictions, they now had to use aspects from the graph as 'actual evidence for' and 'actual evidence against'. This worked better than I could ever have hoped for, with all groups being able to identify data from a single source in both support of their initial hypothesis and as a challenge to it. Simultaneously they learnt a tremendous amount about marriage, divorce and remarriage almost by osmosis through the process. In particular their assumption that divorce almost inevitably led to lone parent families was completely overwhelmed by the realisation that remarriage is a reality for a significant number of divorcees. It was noticeable that more groups changed their predictions in the light of the empirical data, with one student noting that he would never have thought that numbers could have so much to say about the real world of relationships.

The rest of the lesson involved the students being given other charts and graphs in small groups in order to explore in more depth the facts behind patterns in marriage, divorce, cohabitation, same-sex relationships and lone person households. The confidence they had gained in using both theoretical and empirical data during the first activity using the SOLO Hot Maps was carried with them into a pure data analysis task and we will square the circle on Friday when we add to their analyses of these new data sets with the theoretical information that attempts to explain the reasons for the patterns they have identified. For now I am simply happy that the students have managed to connect the poetry and the prose of sociological enquiry.