At the start of this module I set out to explore the practices related to pedagogy. However, it became abundantly clear very quickly that there are many practices related to pedagogy and I couldn’t enquire into them all! My recent readings had been helping me explore cognitive science and the potential impact in the classroom and it was the practices associated with this that helped me narrow my focus. So, the practice that I have been focusing on is how teachers ensure pupils attend to the intended learning. This sits within the broader practice of ensuring effective learning which, in turn, sits within effective pedagogical practices.
So how was I going to enquire into this micro-practice?
When considering the methods of enquiry to use, it is important to be clear about the end result (Koshy, Delamont, Efron & Ravid) which in turn will help determine the methods used to reach that result. The intended end result of my enquiry was to have a better understanding of the micro-practices associated with helping pupils attend to their learning.
Alongside the participant observation that was a core feature of this module, I set out to adopt the methods of interviews and concept maps. It was a group interview that I planned for as they allow for a more natural, responsive conversation between the interviewer and interviewees and between the interviewees (Delamont, Efron & Ravid). They are also better placed for gathering data from people already part of an existing organisation or a “network of peers” (Delamont).
Documentary evidence (such as concept maps) is useful, especially when used with other methods but, warns Koshy, the selection of evidence can often be subjective. I was very aware of this warning as the information I was using to create my concept maps was being filtered through my own prior knowledge and understanding of the practice I am enquiring into.
So what did I find out?
The group interview was interesting but only ended up consisting of 2 teachers. Following the advice of Delamont , I ‘switched methods’ resulting in more of a focus group approach (sampling my teaching staff). Nonetheless, the discussion was very interesting not least because both teachers admitted that they had never considered ‘attention’ as the focus of thought having only considered ‘distraction’ and ‘losing focus’. However, once their own attention was directed to this ‘essential for learning’ (Szpunar et al) there was rich discussion about this micro-practice.
The most important outcome of the concept mapping was the distinction between the different understandings of ‘attention in the classroom’ and, therefore, enabling my further enquiry to look at attention as the focus of thought. Further reading then revealed some interesting advice on how teachers help pupils attend to intended learning (Banikowski (1999), Shimamura (2018)).
The implications for pupils’ learning that I have gleaned from these methods of enquiry so far are two-fold. Firstly, my teachers commented that now they are aware of this micro-practice they can see how important it is to give real attention to the possible distraction from learning that some tasks and activities inadvertently create. For example, the ‘rainbow spelling’ activity in infant classrooms is questionable in relation to how much time pupils think about the spelling compared to thinking about the colour of pencil. Similarly, with older pupils, asking them to write instructions for playing ‘Quidditch’ (J.K. Rowling, 1997) could involve more thought about the fictional game than about procedural writing.
So what does this mean, critically?
At this juncture it is important to add a waiver to my findings – the empirical evidence available to support this micro-practice is limited. Nonetheless, my findings suggest that improving the practice of attending to intended learning require us to revisit our planning approach to put greater emphasis on how pupils learn and revisit our teaching practices to ensure pupils attend to intended learning.
So what now?
Practitioners get caught in “activity traps” (Earl et al), spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy on what pupils will do, not how they will learn it. So how can we make learning the focus?
- Rejuvenate the planning process to provide reflective questions that guide teachers thinking towards learning. (When my teachers did stop and think about attending to intended learning they could identify how to improve their practice)
- Introduce ‘learning teacher’ sessions to explore learning theories and cognitive science. (teachers admitted they had never been exposed to this micro-practice or related learning theory).
- Re-invent our ‘peer observation’ model to enable and encourage more regular participant observation and critical reflection of practice (Brookfield, 2015). (To increase teacher understanding of this micro-practice and learning essentials).
And finally, what about MY learning?
Within the GTCS Standards for Leadership and Management, I was particularly drawn to the statements under section 4.3.3 and the necessary practices that I will need to develop and enhance to ensure I sustain processes and develop pedagogic practices across the school.
It is interesting to note that the statements within Standard 4.3.3 don’t mention learning at all. I think this is wrong. Teaching and learning cannot be separated. To do so suggests that all our practitioners have to think about is how they teach, not how their pupils learn. But the concepts of teaching and learning are intricately linked.
As Headteachers, I believe we have a responsibility to ensure two main things: firstly that our teachers plan for the right stuff and, secondly, that they plan for how their pupils will learn, not just do. Furthermre, whilst developing my understanding of these components, I also need to be thinking about how I disseminate the implications to my teaching staff. My practice of leading learning will impact on their practice of leading learning.
Thank you for listening. Any questions?