Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The application and utility of guided group learning

I. John
Our most recent focus has been guided group learning. Each of us explained how we have used guided learning in our lessons already, with the aim of sharing best practice and identifying areas for future development.
RP uses guided learning with her low-ability year 9 group, in their weekly reading lessons. She chooses to work with her “middle” students who may still stumble or lack confidence in their reading. They read in groups for about 20 minutes of the lesson, to encourage independence and equal participation. This works particularly well now that the students are established in a routine.
CS tends to put the lower-attaining students together as her guided group, since these students are usually more reluctant to perform in a group with more able dancers. She also differentiates by giving higher-attaining students a different task altogether. In P.E, higher attaining students may be used to coach other students, leaving the teacher to guide particular groups as needed.
IJ uses set groups in 10ES. This results in three groups of three being placed with an LSA each, and two remaining groups of 3 and 4 students. IJ works with the group of 4 students, who are the highest attaining, in order to challenge them further and give them more difficult tasks. 
Finally, DB uses guided groups with 9ES. One of the merits of this approach is that it avoids the teacher ‘racing around’ to solve the queries of individual students. This is a particular feature of SEN groups that guided group learning can help to discourage.

After sharing our current practice, we reflected on the fact that higher ability groups as a whole don’t seem to currently benefit from guided groups – it is more likely that guided group learning is used within lower-ability classes or with lower-attaining students. We felt that there was an argument to be made for incorporating guided group learning with all classes, regardless of ability, since the ultimate aim of guided learning is reduced dependency on the teacher, and this is relevant to all students. We discussed the possibility of a rotational system, whereby the teacher works with a different group each lesson (on a weekly basis, for example). This would ensure that over time, all students in the class would benefit from quality discussion and increased teacher time.
Our top tips for guided group learning so far are:

  • Build it into your lesson structure so that it becomes routine. The more the students are used to it, the more helpful it is likely to be in terms of progress.
  • Provide coping strategies for the students who are not in the guided group, so that they do not have to come and interrupt you when you are working with other students. For example, provide hint sheets, guidance cards, checklists, extension tasks. Encourage students to use techniques such as “Ask 3 B4 me” (ie. use your brain, your book or a buddy before asking the teacher for help).
  • Display visual reminders of the task on the whiteboard, possibly with a timer, to keep the students on track.
  • Build co-operative structures into your groups, so that each student is accountable and can make progress.
  • Similarly, model good “group work” and set out clear expectations for your students.
  • Ensure rigorous AFL opportunities throughout the lesson, for example through peer and self-assessment. 
  • Get feedback from your students on what they feel works well, and what could be improved.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

On student perceptions of high quality teachers

D. Baker

In an effort to understand the qualities that students appreciated in teachers, a simple survey was undertaken in which students (covering both an age and ability range) were asked to reflect on their experience and write about what they thought made a good teacher. 

To analyse the large number of responses the keywords of positively framed sentences were taken from each student, and input into the application on This text was then used by the application to create a graphic (figure 1) whereby the prominence of each word is directly proportional to the frequency of it in students’ responses. 

Figure 1: Graphic to show the words used by students where size is proportional to frequency.

From the graphic it can be seen that students used a diverse range of words to describe the desirable attributes of teachers, however it is also clear that there are a small number of very prominent words highlighting those characteristics that are more collectively valued by students.

For the sake of brevity it is only the more prominent words that this post will focus upon: Help, Explain, Understand, Fair and Interact. Of these words I think they can clearly be split into two groups, those that relate purely to learning and those that relate to student perception of their treatment and the general classroom atmosphere. 

In all responses that used the word understand, the context was that students valued teachers who made an effort to understand them as a person or the situation that they may be in. Students largely yearned for teachers who would look at situations objectively and on their own merits, not making snap judgments about students but taking time to listen and respond in an appropriate way. Furthermore it seems that students can become frustrated when they perceive teachers have stock responses to what they may see as stock behaviours or situations when in fact students feel that the behaviour or situations that arise can be borne form very different circumstances and warrant different responses. 

Linked closely to this notion of understanding is fairness, for which students seem to have both a sixth sense and a dogged determination to uphold. Here I feel it is the absolute certainty that students have about what is and isn’t fair that makes achieving fairness in the eyes of students so problematic. Pertinent to this issue are the words of Friedrich Nietzsche who said “There are no facts, only interpretations.” As such while I am sure that all teachers take great professional pride in their ability to be fair and objective in dealing students, I am sure there are also many students who would testify that they have been treated in an inequitable manner. It therefore strikes me that no matter how fair a teacher is it is unlikely that this will ever be recognised by all students. Nevertheless a teacher may help themselves be perceived as fair through, where practical, providing of full and coherent explanations of decisions they have made. 

Having discussed two of the keywords, my attention will now turn to the remaining three (help, explain, interact) which were used broadly by students when describing a good teacher. The responses of a wide range of students highlighted the fact that a good teacher is someone who is “good at explaining”; a sentiment that is more eloquently put by one student (although can be seen to underpin many responses) as someone who “know[s] that explaining the subject … is just as effective as getting students to do work.” Furthermore students put forward a good teacher as one who “helps us when we’re stuck” and “interacts with students to make sure they all understand.” These three words therefore appear to be intimately linked as qualities that allow students to learn. 

From the context in which they are written I believe that the words ‘help’ and ‘interact’ speak of the basal human desire to feel individually valued, cared for and have attention given to them. Furthermore they bear witness to the notion that many students learn best when learning opportunities can be individually tailored enabling valuable learning dialogues to be constructed. 

However, most interesting to me was the value that students place on their teachers’ explanations as while running through a wide range of student responses it is something that is rarely talked of in forums dedicated to the development of pedagogy. I think these student responses should serve as a reminder that while students may not want a rambling lecture lasting the duration of a lesson, there are times when they would appreciate a coherent and well thought out explanation as this is something that would help generate understanding. While the take home message is that direct explanation should not be dismissed as a practical strategy the minefield is obviously finding where the limits of the utility of such a techniques is for each group or individual.

Finally, it is important to note that this post has touched on only a small number of the points raised by a survey of both limited breadth and depth and therefore does not claim to fully reflect the views of all students. Nevertheless some of the points raised I do feel should form the basis of a meaningful discussion about how one can become an effective classroom practitioner.

R. Parmar

The second area of outstanding teaching to be investigated was behaviour. Instead of investigating behaviour of the students, though, we decided to investigate the behaviour of the teacher and how that influences student behaviour (an area often over-looked when investigating this topic). In fact, if you ‘google’ teacher behaviour most of the search results that come up are about how to deal with disruptive students. 

To start us off on this, we decided to enlist the help of the students at Haywood by asking about their opinions on the teachers they had. All in all, we surveyed about three hundred students. Each student was asked to write down what they liked most about teachers and what they liked the least. (The survey was completely anonymous. Students were not allowed to name teachers or put their own names on to the research). 

The results were very interesting with all students saying the same. Students like teachers who set strict behaviour boundaries yet have a good sense of humour and can have some fun. According to the students, teachers need to be fair, yet firm and allow time for questioning and discussions within lessons. Teachers who treat students as equals were also popular. Teacher behaviour that was disliked was unfairness, shouting loudly in an uncontrolled manner, making belittling comments and telling students to ‘shut up’. 

This useful feedback allowed us to question our own practice. I am often asked how to get difficult classes to respond. Initially, I found this question difficult to answer. After carrying out the research, though, I began to have a clearer idea. Where possible the ‘liked’ behaviour out lined by the students should be incorporated, but it is something more than that. Recently, I have been reading some interesting research carried out by Cristina Dogarel and Amalia Nitu (both experienced educationalists) entitled Teachers’ behaviour in the classroom. Their research helped me to realise how I manage students. Please read a relevant section of their research below. 

"Teachers in their study found it desirable to be open to students’ influences and to incorporate these influences in their teaching. Some of the outcomes sought by teachers tended to relate to the affective rather than the cognitive realm, in that they represented the need to create a classroom atmosphere that considered students’ feelings or orientations. These factors were found to motivate pupils to engage actively in the learning process and to cooperate with others. These findings are consistent with Bruner’s (1987) model of learning as a transactional process. Given an appropriate, shared social context, students seem to be more competent as intelligent social actors than they are as individuals (Bruner,1987).

Acceptance can also be reflected in teachers’ non-verbal behaviour. Acceptance is a concept that refers to the whole person in the interaction process. To be accepted is the prerequisite of perceiving oneself as an independent person. A student who experiences difficulties can easily feel different from peers and may have a greater need for acceptance from adults than do other students. Thus it is especially important for a teacher to acquire good listening skills and to understand the meaning behind a student’s actions, in order to communicate in a way that helps the student to feel accepted and acknowledged."
This made sense to me as I do try to create an atmosphere that takes into consideration student motivations and I do try to understand the reasons behind student behaviour and respond to that behaviour in a variety of ways, depending on the students’ needs. Teacher student relationships are complex and at times difficult, by being aware of teacher behaviour and using your intuition, it is possible to build happy and purposeful relationships with almost (!) all students.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Student voice: How would you like to learn?

D. Baker

Student voice is defined by LDP (2009) as the ‘process of consulting students in order to help improve the school experience’, it therefore aims to give students ownership of their education and provide them with some influence and responsibility in the improvement of it. Nevertheless, the way that student voice has been interpreted in schools is wide ranging and its focus can vary greatly from being on the learning in a particular classroom, to a more general focus on teaching and learning across a school, and in some cases even encompassing an input on management decisions.

The implementation of student voice can therefore be very controversial as there are some who suggest that allowing students to affect change on a management level produces outstanding learning (see example of Beauchamp College (John, 2009)). While others such as Keates (2009) hold completely contrasting views stating, ‘young people attend school to learn, not to teach or manage the school’. Hence, it is suggested that observing teachers or having influence on the promotion of staff is a completely inappropriate interpretation of student voice that goes beyond ‘thoughtful and reasonable contributions to school life’.

This post will focus on the far less controversial area of student voice within the classroom, looking at the impact that it may have on developing outstanding lessons. The purpose of this is well expressed by the LDP (2009) which states that student voice should allow “teachers to understand and respond to key issues and challenges … rather than having to react to the symptoms”. While on a whole school level this may be achieved through student councils or groups working towards formation of anti-bullying policies; in the classroom it is suggested this should take the form of personalising learning to the needs of individuals.

A clear example of how this is already being addressed at Haywood Academy is the production and use of pupil passports, which give students a forum for expressing their views on how they learn best, something that can then be implemented in lessons to enrich their learning. While effective, such a detailed approach is clearly not feasible to be rolled out across all students and such it is integral to find alternative ways in which the opinion of all students is gauged and acted upon. 

The green pen feedback system can also be seen as a critical element of student voice. It achieves this status through provision of an opportunity for students to reflect on their own learning in a highly personalised way, as well as helping construct a meaningful dialogue with students. Nevertheless it does not address the requirement of enabling students to feedback on their everyday experience of teaching, in order to constructively influence classroom practice.

The task at hand is therefore to decide upon what further steps can be taken to implement student voice in a way that effectively achieves the aforementioned goal. It is widely agreed that students are quite knowledgeable when it comes to their own learning and are able to identify ways in which they learn well, in addition to identifying barriers to their own learning. Consequently, it is suggested that student voice can take a range of forms including small group interviews, learning logs, whole class discussion, anonymous post-boxes for ideas or asking students to complete surveys.

The overriding aim is therefore that once the teacher has decided what is to be learnt the students get an input on the how. As such this may also entail giving students a choice of how to display their understanding, deciding on the appropriate level for them to be working at or the appropriate amount of time which they should be allowed to complete a task. All these methods are key to giving students ownership of their learning and engaging them in the process. Nevertheless simply asking is only half of the job, findings must be acted upon and students must be able to see that engaging with student voice is an agent for change in their classroom; the value of their opinion must be acknowledged and utilised.

McIntyre et al (2005) recognise that committing significantly to student voice does often require a shift in the balance of power in a classroom. However, reassuringly it is also noted that considerable agreement is often found between pupils in their views on teaching and learning, so adapting learning to the needs of students does not require laborious planning to meet a hugely diverse range of views. Instead a number of underlying key principles are often found; students prefer lessons that are less teacher led, more interactive and provide a greater range of opportunities to collaborate with peers.

A starting point is needed to begin the process of embedding student voice in classroom practice. When reading the literature, a figure from the work of MacBeath et al (2003) was particularly notable as a useful and elegant way of displaying the opinions of students. Its production involved students being surveyed about the frequency of different classroom activities as well as students’ perception of how each activity aided learning. The data was then plotted to create the graph below (figure 1) creating a clear foundation from which the teacher can then act to change the frequency of different activities in a lessons to maximise the learning of students.

Figure 1: Graph to show effectiveness against frequency for a range of classroom activities (MacBeath et al, 2003)

Therefore, moving forward a range of teachers will now be implementing this strategy across a range of subjects and ability groupings to provide all students with a voice within their classroom.  It is hoped that through this endeavour students will gain a greater ownership of their own learning, with a resultant positive impact on student motivation and progress.


John, G. (2009), ‘Power to the pupils’, Extending to Communities. [Online] 17. Available from: pupils [Accessed: 27th October 2013]

Keates, C. (14 August 2009), ‘Should we push pupil voice further’, TES. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 27th October 2013]

LDP, (2009), Using Student Voice: a guide for English departments. [Online] Exeter. Available from: ge=&search=student%20voice [Accessed: 27th October 2013]

MacBeath, J., H. Demetriou, J. Rudduck and K. Myer (2003), Consulting Pupils: A Toolkit for Teachers, Cambridge: Pearson Publishing.

McIntyre, D., D. Pedder and J. Rudduck (2005), ‘Pupil voice: comfortable and uncomfortable learnings for teachers’, Research Papers in Education, 20 (2), 149-168.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Reinventing Teaching and Learning group

I. John

The Teaching and Learning group has reinvented its approach this year in an attempt to draw upon the expertise and knowledge of all staff, not just NQTs and other trainee teachers. The fortnightly meetings of the group now take place in the staffroom so as to encourage a more open and informal forum for discussion. We would like to remind staff that you are welcome to drop in for as much time as is convenient to you: a five minute discussion can easily provide ideas that might even be used for period 5, that day! 

Our discussions are now based on a fortnightly focus, which is a topic that can be applied to all subjects. Each fortnight, a question or theme is written on a flip chart in the staff room; staff are encouraged to write their ideas up and engage in written dialogue about how best to approach that focus. So far this term we have considered the best way to consolidate learning and how to make success criteria meaningful and engaging. Our current focus until half term is the best way to set homework. It has been very encouraging to see the contributions and we hope that even when staff are unable to attend the group itself that they take full advantage of the presence of the chart to share (and "steal"!) ideas to inform and develop their own practice.  

As the year goes on, we hope that more staff from all specialisms and departments will consider attending the group. More experienced staff are able to lend valuable insight on a particular idea in terms of how it might be achieved and what other factors should be taken into account. Similarly staff of any experience can always benefit by simply taking a new idea, trying it out and feeding it back. We hope to see more staff coming along to share best practice in the near future. 

This blog will record the findings of the Teaching and Learning group, as well as reporting on the progress of the Outstanding teaching research group as it investigates the pedagogy behind outstanding teaching - watch this space!