Tag Archives: assessment for learning

KNOW YOUR IMPACT AS A TEACHER

At the beginning of this academic year I led a training event for the whole teaching staff.  It was a positive and upbeat meeting with the team in positive spirits following some great A level and GCSE results.

 

I decided to focus the session on the teachers themselves to ensure they each felt a part if the success of the College as a whole.  I wanted teachers to know that they make a difference and that their contribution was valued.  I also wanted to challenge some old attitudes and so focused the day on three themes:
  • The impact of the teacher in the classroom
  • No labels
  • Remove expectations
The impact of the teacher
Looking at the impact of the teacher allowed me to discuss the research of John Hattie.  As a starting point to presenting his research, I looked at his own feedback on the importance of the teacher in the classroom.

 

The teacher can have a huge positive impact on learning (although also a negative one if teaching is not good).  Hattie presents this idea as “know thy impact.”  I wanted the teachers to make sure they understood their importance, but also that they take responsibility for the learning in the classroom.  This animation which illustrates (literally!) Hattie’s eight ‘mindframes’ was a great aid to the introduction of this idea.

 

No labels
The idea of not labelling students is not a new one.  There is some debate as to what constitutes a label.  Does setting or streaming in schools apply labels to the students inadvertently for example?  But this was not the focus of my session.  Essentially this session was about Assessment For Learning.

 

AFL is also nothing new, but how much do teachers actually do it on a day-to-day basis?   I know that especially in sixth form teaching there can be a tendency to give a student a grade for a piece of work and then offer no further feedback to the student.  The grade then becomes a label.  For some students who only “need a B to go to university” if they get their B grade awarded repeatedly by the teacher, they have little incentive to improve and have reached a self-imposed ceiling that the teacher is doing nothing to remove.  Equally, there is nothing more demoralising for an A level student who feels they are working hard than to repeatedly receive no feedback other than a single letter “D” “E” or maybe “U” on every piece of work.

 

Here is Paul Black discussing AFL and the difference between routine feedback and “high-stakes” end-of-school, summative assessment.

 

 

Remove expectations
Related to labelling and and appropriate assessment, this is different to raising expectations.  Every teacher should have high expectations for every student.  By remove expectations, I don’t mean “expect nothing”, I mean “expect anything!”  Let’s imagine every learner has the capacity to learn more and to always improve.  I once had the privilege to meet one of my heros – Carl Lewis.  During the talk he was giving he made the remark “not everyone can be the fastest, but everyone can get faster.”  This makes perfect sense in education too.  Expect that every student, no matter what their current level, can always get better.

 

Zimbardo (he of the famous and controversial prison experiment), here discusses research carried out when teachers are given false “high expectations” of a group of students.  They inadvertently give preferential treatment to that group and the group in turn improve at a faster rate than those the teachers are told to have ‘low expectations” of.  There is no criticism of the teachers, just an interesting observation on how students’ expectations of themselves and teachers’ expectations of learners can influence the quality of learning.

 

IF YOUR STUDENTS HAVE LEARNED NOTHING, YOU HAVE TAUGHT NOTHING

I stumbled across this very good blog from “Faculty Focus”

http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/didnt-teach-learn/

It outlines an age old problem – what actually is the role of the teacher, and what do we mean by the terms “teaching” and “learning.”  A topic can only be said to have been taught when the learners have learned what is being taught.  Now, I want to make a confession here.  It’s about stalagmites and stalactites.  I’ve never learned which is which.  Many people have tried to teach me.  I’ve been taught various lessons about which ones “hang on tight” and are held with “all their might” but I can never remember which is which.  OK so before writing this article I googled it and now, I think, I know, but otherwise, I hadn’t learned it and so technically I had never been taught this despite attending several lessons during which the teacher would have claimed to have taught me the difference.

A rather silly example, but the distinction between teaching and learning is a subtle one.  In the blog I reference here, the writer alludes to a student who makes the claim that “the teacher didn’t teach us anything, we had to learn it all for ourselves.”  An immediate conclusion to jump to here is that the teacher is at fault.  The teacher is paid to teach and so the students in the classroom should not be expected to have to learn for themselves.  In fact it would be easy to see how that teacher would end up being disciplined by a superior saying “I pay you to teach! Why are you letting these poor students do all the work for themselves?”  But you’d have to be careful here.  The superior may have a very good point.  If the students are learning nothing from their teacher, he or she is in dereliction of his or her responsibilities as an educationalist and not fulfilling his or her most basic of job descriptions.

However there is a fine line here, because “learning” should not be a passive process.  Learning is hard work.  Learning requires us to make mistakes and take wrong turns before coming up with the right solution or the right outcome.  I’ve heard this described as “the pit.”  A dark place in which the student feels like they’re getting nowhere, only to finally and successfully climb out of the pit once the topic has been learned.  The teacher’s role is to facilitate this process.  The teacher is the facilitator of learning in any classroom or with any student or group of students.  They create the environment and the circumstances in which their students are able to learn.

This does not necessarily mean that they “tell” the students about a topic or that they act as a source of information for the student (although it may do).  A very good teacher will provide the tools and the materials and the environment and the circumstances and the support in which, with their guidance, learners are able to solve problems, create images, develop understanding, think critically, make comments (or whatever) and the learner may FEEL like they “learned it themselves.”  The student would be correct, they did “learn it for themselves,” because what other type of learning is there?  You can’t learn something for someone else and no one else can learn for you.

Key strategies in this process are:

  • Engaging learners
  • Giving appropriate and timely feedback
  • Encouraging independent learning
  • Challenging learners

So my point is that a good teacher would ensure that his or her students learned EVERYTHING for themselves and what looks like good teaching could be nothing more than good provision of information or a good resource or a good technique.  Staff in schools with “teaching and learning” responsibilities in reality just have “learning” responsibilities.  You can’t have teaching without learning, if nothing has been learned nothing has been taught.  So if you want to know if you’re a good teacher, make sure you check what has been learned by your students.  If they’ve learned it, you’ve taught it.  Congratulations!