Educational leadership & learning

Tim Oates spoke to approximately 300 school leaders on Tuesday 19 May in Winchester. Some of what he said I had heard him say before, but both his presentation and following conversations with colleagues helped clarify and move on my thinking about the National Curriculum and the purpose of assessment within it.

It is clear that a new view of assessment is closely linked to a different approach to Teaching and Learning. The idea of mastery for the vast majority and then opportunities for deep thinking and exploring of concepts rather than racing on to a new set of ‘harder’ objectives.

With my LLP the previous week we had discussed the idea of a 3D learning journey. In the past we may have seen learning and progress as a 2D linear continuum, gradually getting higher and higher, and designed assessment systems to match. Perhaps know we need to think of it as one step across horizontally and then a period of time down (at a deeper level). Differentiation through depth?

Tim Oates shared some key messages:

Powerful knowledge.

Fewer things in greater depth.

Removal of levels.

New models of ability.

Different concepts of progression.

Practice, production and exposure.

Below are some of the points he expanded upon:

  • Many of the systems we have built into our education system are dysfunctional because of the drive of accountability. The aim of education should be that we want high expectations and enjoyment.
  • Children construct their knowledge and understanding of the world. This is hard for them and a challenge for us as teachers.
  • In high performing countries a teacher’s view of ability is often different to a teacher’s view in England. Whereas we might think a child is not ready or capable for a certain aspect of learning which they haven’t been successful at, in other countries they would reflect that they hadn’t presented the learning in the right way for that child.
  • We are all capable of learning anything, depending on how it is presented and the effort we put in. If as schools we give children a reduced curriculum in becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. ‘Lower ability’ children will always be given simpler learning and will never catch up. Indeed the gap will widen. How do we get every child, whatever their background to access the NC through the way we present it and the effort they put in?
  • An assessment system should be a symptom of a good assessment process & professional thinking. Not a system that is a series of boxes to be filled that becomes the driver of the curriculum. In assessment the concept of construct is vital.
  • The National Curriculum sets out the key ideas every child should experience, know and understand. All children should have access to all of the NC and its rich conceptual content. All children need to understand the key learning, which is why there are fewer things in greater depth.
  • The approach in every subject should be through a rich Q&A to understand learning. Questions should be used to check whether children understand (not just recall) and can explore further into constructs. Give questions to engage in thinking beyond what they have been taught.
  • Learners need to produce outcomes which will enable higher quality formative assessment because production is the external evidence of internal thinking & learning.
  • Assessment needs to be clear and specific and the learners need to know what they are being judged on. Feedback can be used to refine teaching to have a greater impact on the learning journey of the pupils.
  • High attainment, high equity and high enjoyment: are the high expectations for the National Curriculum and this new way of thinking about Teaching and Learning.
  • Mastery learning is when learners get it sufficiently to move onto the next learning. Aim for mastery in the National Curriculum objectives by Easter to allow for greater enrichment and deeper thinking / understanding from then on.
  • We need to rediscover differentiation. The Learning Aim of a lesson should be presented so that all can access and understand it. Some learners will move in minutes onto exploring/applying it in deeper and more complex contexts. Some will move onto this at other points during a lesson. Some learners will continue to consolidate their knowledge and understanding of the Learning Aim throughout the lesson to develop mastery.
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