Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices
In addition to our separate instructor hour, lecturers are also embedding VESPA activities within teaching sessions. For example, the prioritisation grid is used to judge confidence in learners and often follows a ‘hinge point’ question (Wiliam, 2011) when checking for learning.
Asking colleagues to alter and adapt existing teaching and learning practices was not without challenge – an important consideration for anyone trying to effect cultural change within their setting. An unexpected challenge was a lack of motivation from a small number of staff to make changes to their practice. In these instances, staff did not necessarily need to improve content knowledge but, in the spirit of Wiliam’s ‘love the one you’re with strategy,’ we soon realised that for motivational work with learners to occur, motivational work with staff was also required.
Many teachers in the department were concerned that we were substituting content with wellbeing strategies. However, as a project team, we agree with Fisher (2013) that, ‘education can, in other words, not only impart knowledge but also teach powerful capabilities for evaluating and applying such knowledge.’ Colleagues who are invested see the benefits but agree with our project’s finding that a stand-alone instructor lesson does not always lead to independent practice transferring to taught sessions. This was an important moment in our research, illustrated in the reflection below:
Our group 1 students who practised the motivation diamond in the facilitated session will still question the point of the length of the session in the taught session. As the term has progressed, we have advised the teaching team to refrain from using the term ‘VESPA lesson.’ The student interviews in January prove that this worked to some degree as many students when questioned about the effectiveness of the session responded with, ‘we don’t have VESPA just English.’ However, we have continued to see a disconnect where learned, positive behaviours are apparent in the instructor session and not the core English session. Is this due to a different level of trust being built between instructor and student or is it the instructor’s greater capacity to embed systems and practice? Again, we did not anticipate the impact of the personality or the capability of the Instructor when predicting outcomes.
(Project team reflection)
Similarly, with learning, teachers need to fully understand the Working Memory Model. During assessment in week 6 and week 10, learners’ results did not demonstrate above expected progress scores – research suggests that this is not a bad outcome. According to Bjork (2007), ‘the more they struggle and the worse they fail, the better the long-term memory’. Shifting perceptions and feelings around failure are important, especially for GCSE resit learners.
We also assessed attitudes to learning, with interesting findings. Learners responded favourably to questions about their English lessons in week 6, and this improved again in week 10. Typical questions on the survey included:
How do you feel when you are in English lessons?
How do you feel when you have a challenging English question?
The surveys conducted in instructor sessions demonstrated more favourable responses than those conducted in taught sessions. This could be due to several influences. The activities in the instructor session are created with the intention of raising self-esteem and motivation, is this quickly lost in the traditional classroom setting?
As previously stated, we haven’t seen significant improvement in terms of attainment during formal assessment. This leads us to believe that improving systems and practice is not enough. We also need to acknowledge other factors when examining progress.
According to Melby-Lervag and Hulme (2013) the following are high and low impact factors:
• Low impact factors – Ability groupings & buildings
• High impact factors – Classroom practice and poverty
Our level 1 cohort has a significantly high percentage of disadvantaged learners (27%), can improving systems and practice help bridge gaps in learning or just create new knowledge? If it is the latter, how do we make this better? We have previously streamed learners with a prior attainment of grade 3 and in 2018, this had little impact as a significant number of learners with grade 3 prior attainment were on their third resit. The data suggested that exam fatigue and a break in trust (in systems and teachers) had a greater influence on outcome than sitting with peers who have a similar starting point.
To improve gaps in learning, we decided to introduce a Knowledge Organiser in week 15. We can give learners a framework such as timetables and learning/organisational strategies but we also need to give them resources that complement these strategies. We can’t just assume they can apply new strategies to traditional teaching and resources. Again, we will check for progress in week 24.