Trust Teaching - No 4 - Autumn 2021
Inside This Newsletter…
- Understanding and Supporting Cognitive Load in the classroom Janet Rigby, WHP Trust
- Why is Careers Provision in school so important?Vicky Barnett, Bramcote College
- So, how far behind are we now? Paul Heery, WHP Trust
- Departmental Quality Assurance Models Joel Haigh, Alderman White School
- The A4 Curriculum Christopher Such, Online Blog
Welcome to the Autumn term edition of 'Trust Teaching', the White Hills Park Trust Teaching and Learning Newsletter. This is the fourth edition, a year on from the introduction of this newsletter back in the Autumn of 2020, and I am delighted that we have established this forum for sharing the insights and experiences of our staff. We know that the strength of our Trust lies in the collaboration, knowledge and expertise of our staff, and we are grateful to everyone that has contributed to ‘Trust Teaching’ over the last twelve months. Hopefully those reading the articles will be able to take away useful ideas and practices, and gain an insight into areas they may not have researched directly before.
All these articles are published here online as part of a growing Schools Portal which features links to CPD and INSET resources, Trust-wide policies, and which over time will be developed to become a quick and easy destination for staff across our schools to access key information.
The articles in this edition come from staff across the Trust as usual, and as we have done in previous issues I am also delighted to share a guest article. This term we feature an article from a blog written by Christopher Such, a primary teacher based in Peterborough and published author of 'The Art and Science of Teaching Primary Reading’. I would like to thank Christopher for allowing us to share his work, and all our own contributors for taking the time to share their thoughts. Please feel free to offer feedback and to share widely. I would encourage any of our staff, both teachers and support staff, to consider contributing to our next edition, due at the end of the Spring term.
“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds
for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards”
Anatole France - poet, journalist, novelist and Nobel Prize winner
The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, 1881
Understanding and Supporting Cognitive Load in the classroom
By Janet Rigby, Trust Lead for SEND and Family SENCo for Alderman White School and Bramcote College
Earlier in the term I accessed a really useful local authority training session on this subject and the leaders were keen for these messages to be widely shared across school settings, especially as there are likely to be pupils in every class who experience low skills in this area. They shared that this is a popular topic at the moment, possibly due to the interest ignited by a twitter post in 2017. Dylan Williams, a teacher/researcher, posted this tweet. ‘I've come to the conclusion Sweller's Cognitive Load Theory is the single most important thing for teachers to know’ and this has led to further research and publications in this field.
Cognitive Load describes how the working memory holds and processes new information. This memory domain has been described as the brain’s ‘post-it note,’ which gathers, and works with, the information it needs to remember over short periods of time. However, just as a sticky note can only hold a limited amount of information before there is no more room and its stickiness is lost, working memory capacity is also limited, as it can only hold about 3 or 4 pieces of information at any one time.
The working memory encodes to the long-term memory, where learning is built into schemas – an individual’s cognitive framework of interconnected knowledge and understanding. For pupils with a limited working memory capacity, overload easily occurs, causing the loss of stored information. When the encoding process is disrupted in this way, learning is restricted as this leads to fewer ‘items’ or ‘schemata’ being transferred to the long-term memory. This has a cumulative effect of potentially increasing the gaps between these pupils and their peers, resulting in poor academic progress in key skill attainment. These pupils are also likely to develop low esteem & motivation, especially if they often get in trouble for being lazy, lacking concentrating or not listening. These issues can lead to disruptive behaviours.
Characteristics of pupils with poor working memory
Pupils with limited cognitive load capacity are not always easy to identify as they tend to have typical social integration skills and they do not usually show oppositional behaviour. However, clues to their struggles might be seen in the following characteristics;
- Find it hard to keep place when reading/on a task
- Often quiet and reserved in class and groups -rarely volunteer answers.
- Short attention span/easily distracted/appear to be inattentive and mind wandering. They forget what they are doing and “zone out” so the thread of the activity is lost.
- Difficulties following instructions as these are often forgotten, so they either guess what to do, ask a friend or abandon the task.
Explanations of these 3 types of cognitive load can help us to understand why overload can occur and how these issues can be reduced:
This refers to the working memory processes linked to the content of what is being learned and the level of difficulty of a task for a particular learner. New complex learning has a high intrinsic load.
This refers to additional details that do not directly contribute to the learning goal. This unnecessary information impacts on cognitive capacity as it splits the pupils attention and works as a distraction from the learning.
This is the capacity to link and integrate new information with existing knowledge which supports the embedding of learning.
Where the ideal balance of high intrinsic load/low extraneous load is achieved, this will support an increase in the germane cognitive load capacity, so that new learning can be effectively integrated into existing schemas of knowledge and understanding. Therefore, in order to maximise learning, colleagues should consider how they can reduce or remove the unnecessary details from learning experiences in order to reduce distractions and prevent overload/loss of learning. The following suggestions will support the success of this process:
Recommendations for Reducing extraneous cognitive load /increasing germane cognitive load.
- Pre-learning: give pupils a ‘heads-up’ of lesson content- share the ideas and the language.
- Post-learning - recap key points to support the embedding of new information.
- Break-down and “chunk” information and instructions into smaller steps.
- Allow extra time to complete activities and respond to oral questions.
- Give gentle prompts when focus appears to be lost e.g. subtle use of a pupil’s name.
- Keep the language of the lesson simple, clear and succinct. Don’t waffle!
- Present information ‘cleanly’ and clearly; use colour to draw attention to key points
- Avoid adding distracting unnecessary pictures and images to lesson content.
- Limit how much you talk whilst they are completing a task.
- Provide reading support, so pupils can concentrate on extracting the meaning.
- Keep the space around the board clear and uncluttered. Remove visual distractions.
- Relate new information to prior learning and explicitly make connections to this.
- Repeat key information and task instructions. Provide short task ladders or simple visuals.
- Repeat main learning points and model outcomes using these. Offer worked examples.
- Use concrete resources or hands-on experiences, e.g when introducing abstract concepts.
- Make use of memory aids and resources, e.g. vocabulary charts, talking tins, dictaphones.
- Use group or paired work, to pool the working memory!
- Manage a mixed formal/casual but generally quieter environment, to aid concentration.
- Consider emotional aspects - as strong emotions, reduce memory processing capacity.
- Plan rest breaks to manage tiredness due to sheer effort. Praise the effort.
Taking active steps to reduce cognitive load for all pupils, particularly those with SEND, needs to be a core feature of high-quality teaching and learning. In the introduction to his book, listed below, Garnett (2020) states “If teachers are unaware of the limits of working memory when learning something new, the quality of the learning that pupils experience will suffer.”
Many thanks to Laura Leedham (Nottinghamshire Cognition and Learning Team) who has given permission to share the learning content from the Nottinghamshire Cognition and Learning Team training event.
Further suggested reading
Garnett, J. (2020) Cognitive-Load Theory. A handbook for teachers. Crown House Publishing: Camarthan, Wales
Why is Careers Provision in School so Important?
By Vicky Barnett from Bramcote College, Trust Lead on Careers and Personal Development
In December 2017, the Department for Education and Skills published its new statutory guidance for careers and employability education in the UK. Previous to this, careers guidance had been behest to many turbulent years, after the closure of Connexions and the new 2011 Education Act which resulted in all responsibility for CEIAG being handed from local authority control to schools, with no clear guidance provided, or benchmarked money. In 2013, Ofsted stated that “only one in five schools were effective in ensuring that all its students in Years 9, 10 and 11 were receiving the level of information, advice and guidance they needed to support decision-making” a provision which the Careers Sector Stakeholders Alliance called “a post-code lottery”. The fact that all this change occurred during a period of mass youth unemployment and vast changes to the HE system meant that young people were needing advice and guidance more than ever before. As a reaction to this, in 2013, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, undertook a review of the current national provision and provided systematic advice about how this can be improved, to determine what ‘good’ U.K. careers guidance would look like, if it were compared to international standards. From this research, a series of benchmarks were created that functioned as indicators of good practice to improve career guidance. In 2018, the DfES adopted these ‘Gatsby Benchmark’s’ as part of its new careers strategy in order to allow all students across the UK to access a ‘world-class careers education’.
The eight Gatsby benchmarks of Good Career Guidance are:
1. A stable careers programme
2. Learning from career and labour market information
3. Addressing the needs of each pupil
4. Linking curriculum learning to careers
5. Encounters with employers and employees
6. Experiences of workplaces
7. Encounters with further and higher education
8. Personal guidance
We are all teachers of careers!
So why is careers so important and why should all teachers and school staff ensure that they are linking their curriculum learning to careers? There is key evidence and research which proves that embedding careers throughout the curriculum can have a direct impact on the progress and attainment of pupils. The Careers and Enterprise company are an organization commissioned by the Government to research the impact that linking curriculum learning to careers can have as a justification for the implementation of the new benchmarks for learning. They found that “Careers in the curriculum can contribute to improvement in attendance, reduced dropout, attainment and progression to personally valued educational destinations”. (Careers in the Curriculum. What works?) In addition to this the Sutton Trust “found an association between schools that had careers quality awards – the criteria for which include having a careers curriculum, careers guidance and work-related learning – and improved attainment and attendance.”
In addition, quality careers education is not just something for secondary schools to be delivering. There have been many studies into the importance of introducing careers education at primary level. Evidence from organisations such as the Education and Employers charity, the Social Mobility Commission and UCAS have found that children as young as 5 have ingrained stereotypical views about the jobs that people do based on their gender, ethnicity and social background and that through allowing primary school age children access to career related learning with quality employer activities can increase motivation and attainment and improve social mobility.
How can you help?
There will be lots of careers activities and events occurring across the Trust throughout this year and beyond, and we are always interested in any career linked activities you do. Do you have a careers notice board in your classroom or subject area? This is a quick and easy way to direct students to careers linked to your department, or create an ethos of aspiration with younger students. Every trip is a careers trip! Next time you organize a trip or event, think about how this may link to careers. Did you know the Trust has its very own careers logo (below)? Next time you are linking curriculum learning to careers, use the logo to reinforce the fact you are embedding careers in students learning.
If you would like any further information, need help with a careers related activity, or would like help with careers resources, please get in touch.
So, how far behind are we now?
By Dr Paul Heery, CEO of The White Hills Park Trust
As pupils returned to school at the start of this academic year, there were many dramatic warnings about the impact that successive lockdowns and periods of school closure would have had on pupil learning. Whilst many of these were based on the little evidence that was available, most were either speculative or based on individual observations and anecdotal evidence.
Two things were clear, however. Firstly, that after such a difficult and uncertain period, the level of disruption will inevitably have had an impact on the learning of some children and young people, and secondly, that this impact will not have been evenly distributed. If a child lived in an area which had limited disruption, had good access to IT at home and had adult support for learning within the family, then the impact may well have been minimal. For many children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, or those pupils with SEND who benefit from additional support in class, it has been almost impossible to maintain progress at anything like expected levels.
As a result, we know that there is a job to do, not so much to put in place a frantic dash to ‘catch-up’, but more to provide long-term additional support and intervention which will allow pupils to get back to where we could reasonably have expected them to be, if the pandemic had never happened.
In Ofsted’s annual report, published in early December, Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of schools talked of the vast challenges in education, despite the ‘tremendous effort and commitment of many thousands of parents, teachers, social workers and carers, and of course the hard work of children and learners doing their best in extraordinary circumstances.’
She was clear that Ofsted’s evidence, based on inspections that had been carried out since on-site schooling had returned for all pupils, had revealed significant loss of learning. As she wrote:
‘Almost all children felt the impact of COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions to some extent. Many of the youngest children had their development and progress hampered, with some even regressing. Given the vital importance to children of a good start in life and the learning potential of the youngest children, this must not be overlooked.
In primary and secondary schools, children struggled with a hokey-cokey education: in the classroom, at home, separated in bubbles, isolating alone.’
Knowing the extent of the impact is not easy. Modelling by the Education Policy Institute estimated that those pupils who have been worst affected could lose up to £46,000 in lifetime earnings, costing the economy hundreds of billions of pounds, without additional government investment. They also identified stark regional differences in learning loss – with pupils in parts of the north and Midlands worst affected – which it warned would undermine the government’s levelling-up agenda. They also noted that the National Tutoring Programme, which is the government’s key strategy to address learning loss, had got off to a slow start. However, this sort of prediction is obviously based on a great many assumptions, and so should be treated with some caution.
Perhaps the most comprehensive analysis so far has been carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). This study investigated the impact of school closures for Covid-19 on the attainment of pupils in Key Stage 1 in reading and maths, and on the gap between the attainment of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children.
Over 12,000 children took termly assessments in reading and maths. Performance on these assessments was compared to the performance of a representative cohort of same-aged pupils on the same assessments in pre-pandemic years. The study also compared the performance of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to the performance of their non-disadvantaged peers.
The report concluded that by summer 2021, children had not yet recovered from the learning they had missed during 2020 and 2021. By the end of the summer term 2021, Year 1 children remained 3 months behind where we would expect them to be in reading. However, there was some recovery in maths, with children being only 1 month behind expectations by the end of the summer term. Year 2 children remained 2 months behind in reading at the end of the summer term, but had recovered to above expected standards in maths.
In both reading and maths, in both year groups, there was a substantial gap in attainment between disadvantaged children and their peers. This was equivalent to around seven months’ progress in the spring of 2021, potentially wider than pre-pandemic levels.
Broadly speaking, the areas of the curriculum that children in both year groups found difficult were the same as those that previous cohorts struggled with pre-pandemic, such as making inferences from complex texts and multiplication and division questions. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to find all parts of the mathematics and reading curriculum harder than their non-disadvantaged peers.
Extrapolating from this information to other year groups, particularly as far as secondary pupils, is difficult, if not impossible. What we can conclude is that there has been some impact on learning and progress during the pandemic and that it has affected some pupils more than others. However, it is also the case that the scale of the loss is not irrecoverable - with time, investment of resources and careful targeting of strategies. The Education Endowment Foundation, in its Teaching and Learning Toolkit, produces an analysis of the impact of a range of educational interventions, measured in months of additional progress. Making an additional 3 months of progress over a pupil’s school life is definitely achievable, and happens frequently in our schools.
In short, the key question is not how far behind we are now, but how we can ensure that all of our pupils fulfil their potential from this point onwards.
Departmental Quality Assurance Models
By Joel Haigh, Curriculum Leader for Maths at Alderman White School
This year, I have implemented a Quality Assurance (QA) model with a different slant in the Alderman White (AW) Maths department. Traditional models tend to be based on either direct observation of practice, usually by the Head of Department (HoD), or inspecting a small sample of pupils’ work, either in isolation, or during a team meeting. Both of these models have significant limitations:
Learning walks can be effective ways of ascertainin g a broad feeling for the atmosphere of teaching & learning (T&L) across a department during a certain time of the day/week, but not much more. Realistically, a busy HoD can only afford to spend a few minutes in each room they visit. This is nowhere near enough time to gain any real insight into the dynamics between the teachers and students, types of activities being used, content being covered or more importantly, how well the pupils understand it! Another considerable shortcoming of this method of QA is that these learning walks are inevitably conducted during non-contact periods, meaning teachers tend to be seen with the same groups, at the same times of the week, for the entire year. Given the diverse nature of the jobs we all do as teachers, and how varied our experiences are teaching a group first thing Monday morning, compared to last thing on a Friday should make it obvious that this method is neither fair, nor particularly telling. Perhaps they should only be used to get a general feeling for the climate of T&L around a department, and no more.
Sampling books is another method of QA that is regularly employed by HoDs; undoubtedly causing moments of panic to their team, who rapidly rifle through their books searching for that low-attaining child who always produces lovely, neatly presented work. The fact is, teachers can set high expectations in class, give clear, concise instructions and teach high-quality lessons, but there will still be pupils who do not have well-organised books, neat handwriting, or anything recorded in their books resembling what you covered during a lesson, leading you to question whether they were really there! That doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t learn anything, however, and often these students rely on dialogue with the teacher and thrive on verbal interactions and feedback.
We intentionally base most of our Maths lessons on discussion, questioning, collaboration and we use mini-whiteboards regularly. Unfortunately, none of this is evident in exercise books. QA of pupils’ books in my experience therefore tends to become an analysis of neatness, correct colour pens, and (god-forbid) marking. I wouldn’t prioritise any of these aspects if I were trying to seriously develop a teachers’ quality of practice. Why do it then?
The model I implemented in Maths utilises the most comprehensive source of information regarding the goings on in teachers’ classrooms available to me: No; not CCTV… teachers’ own reflections. They were there the entire time (not just a few minutes here and there) and are professionals capable of judging good T&L in their own right. They also have the added insight of understanding the context of their lessons and knowing the pupils in the room far better than I do.
The model: Each fortnight, teachers are encouraged to reflect on the lessons they have delivered and try to settle on the most brilliant moment of their last two weeks, to share with the rest of the team. This to me is what sharing good practice truly looks like, especially if it leads to a deeper discussion of the specifics and strategies involved; not just emailing round a good worksheet found on TES.
However, they are also required to describe their most challenging moment (which is a much more difficult sell). This clearly relies on a pre-existing team culture of trust. I ask each teacher to write a couple of sentences about both, giving some context of the group, time of day, activity and events. I compile this and we take a few minutes to read through each other’s experiences before drawing out shared challenges and commonality between our difficulties. This engenders empathy between us and we are able to be honest about what was tough, what we may have done badly, but most importantly we are able to put our heads together collectively to devise strategies for improvement. This involves the whole team in helping each other to improve the departmental quality of T&L. It is crucial that the HoD also embraces this vulnerability and describes their challenges so that there is no feeling of judgment for teachers. This will help to establish a ‘low stakes’ climate and help to form more trusting relationships. And if a teacher did play it safe (choosing to omit the real issues through fear of consequence) then seeing the manner in which the challenges are all handled will reassure them to engage honestly next time round!
We aim to draw out at least one aspect of practice to focus on collectively as a team for the next fortnight, to review in a future meeting. Across a Half Term, we may have two or three to work on and share ideas about. Hopefully, individuals gather many more ideas from the discussions to try out.
The best thing about this model of QA (in my humble opinion) is that teachers are able to take ownership of their own development as part of a team, which encourages collaboration. It isn’t all top-down and I don’t have to have all of the answers. Many heads are better than one!
Teachers can feel quite isolated in their own classroom and often when people do poke their head in the door, it isn’t necessarily welcome (often completely inconvenient). This autonomous method of reflection shouldn’t replace learning walks and book-looks entirely, but it is far better suited to HoDs gaining an accurate picture of T&L across a department and crucially; improving it. It allows teachers to hone in on aspects that they know to be the biggest barriers to good T&L in a timely fashion. They can then break them down with the support of dedicated and empathetic colleagues. It also removes the elephant in the room of admitting some lessons weren’t up to scratch - as if anyone’s always are!
There are so many opportunities for staff to relate to each other’s experiences when having discussions about both their best and worst practice. Less experienced teachers pick up a huge amount from listening to more experienced teachers talk about what good T&L looks like, how they plan for it and how they solve problems within their own classrooms and experienced teachers often come away with fresh ideas that breathe new life into their teaching.
As HoD, I try to facilitate the discussion, not dominate it. I get an overview of the entire spectrum of T&L within the department: From the very best moments of practice that teachers would probably never be fortunate enough for me to stumble upon during a learning walk, to their most difficult moments, which we are able to discuss in a constructive manner once the dust has settled and the emotion of the situation has faded. Everything else, good and bad, is inherently somewhere in the middle. But if we are celebrating the best and targeting the worst, I feel we are implementing a QA methodology in precisely the way it should be intended.
The A4 Curriculum
An online blog by Christopher Such, primary teacher and author based in Peterborough
Imagine a primary geography curriculum that included loads of interesting stuff, but sought principally to ensure the following:
- children know that geography is the study of how people and places interact
- children know where they live (locality, county, country and continent)
- children know the names and locations of the world’s continents and oceans
- children know what rivers, mountains, coasts, rainforests and volcanoes are, including one notable example of each and a simple grasp of the impact each of these can have on communities
- children know key differences between rural and urban areas
- children know that some places are very different to others
- children know basic map & fieldwork skills
- children enjoy geography
I’m pretty sure of two things:
- This geography curriculum would be seen by many as laughably unambitious.
- A decade from now, most Year 6s will continue to leave primary school without achieving these objectives.
The apparent contradiction between (1) and (2) says a lot about the predicament faced by primary schools. They are incentivised by the current education climate to spell out the breadth of their curriculum. This is no bad thing. Unfortunately, this same incentive is likely to discourage schools from spelling out the much shorter list of the most important knowledge and skills that almost all children should possess by the time they leave in Year 6. If everything is a priority, then nothing is.
This doesn’t just impact geography, of course. It’s easy to say, “Our Year 3 children can all recall the formula for photosynthesis because we are just much more ambitious than other schools; we know what children can really achieve.”
It’s much harder to say, “Unrealistic ambitions for what children will retain tend to leave many of them without a solid grasp of the most important stuff.”
Unfashionable an idea though this might be, it is obviously possible to have expectations that are so high as to be counter-productive. School leaders across the country are building curricula with two purposes in mind: impressing Ofsted and securing better outcomes for children. My fear is that these two purposes are not always aligned, and this is particularly apparent with regards to the ambition of a curriculum.
This all might seem pretty rich coming from me. I recently shared curriculum packages for science, history and geography, which can be found here.
These curriculum packages contained far more knowledge and skills than we can expect the majority of children to learn in primary school. However, what we specify as the content of our curriculum is very different to the aspects of the curriculum that we should aim to guarantee are learned by almost every child. I care barely at all whether a Year 6 child can remember the names of particular inventors of the industrial revolution. I care quite a lot about whether that same child can remember, in basic terms, what the industrial revolution actually was and its effects. Alongside the full offer of the curriculum – including all the stories, maps, timelines, interesting nuggets of information, experiences, etc – we need to specify the essential stuff that every child should know when they leave primary school. Discussion of ‘core and hinterland’ over recent years has helped, but we need to go further.
My suggestion? We need an A4 curriculum. For the foundation subjects, we should spell out on one side of A4 only the knowledge and skills that almost every child will grasp before leaving primary school. We should then share this with teachers so they know which bits of the curriculum need to be referred to again and again from different angles with different connections.
And we need to assess the stuff on this A4 curriculum at the end of Year 6. The only way an unstandardised assessment can have meaning is if it is one on which we expect all children to know everything (give or take the odd silly error). Without standardisation, it is a fool’s errand to try to determine whether a score of 30% or 60% or 90% indicates a curriculum well learned. In contrast, an assessment on which we expect almost all children to know everything is one that can be used to make useful judgements about a curriculum. Over time, a school could even begin to cautiously expand the breadth of content on the A4 curriculum, but not before ensuring that children consistently leave school in possession of it all.
To reiterate, this is not a call to limit what children are taught and what they experience in foundation subjects. It is a call to realign our expectations of what the majority of children will retain. It is a call to temper the curriculum conversations that are so rarely encumbered by the inconvenience of reality as experienced by classroom teachers. Most of all, it is a call to ensure that the masonry of our curriculum is solid, despite the temptation to focus as much on the décor that we suspect will impress Ofsted.
In my science, history and geography curriculum packages, I tried my best to spell out the breadth of knowledge and skills that teachers will use in their lessons so that they can focus more on the ‘how’ of teaching than on the ‘what’. My next job is to spell out an A4 Curriculum for each of these subjects at my school and to assess the efficacy of our curriculum primarily on this basis. If what I have said in this blog has struck a chord, perhaps you will consider doing the same with your foundation curricula.