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.
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.
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.