Just over a week ago I shared a great resource - a webinar featuring UK educator, Dylan Wiliam looking at aspects of educational leadership especially when it comes to identifying effective teachers and promoting practices that re effective for student learning.
So, I was very interested to come across this two part BBC documentary in which Professor Wiliam went in to work with a group of teachers in one particular school. The documentary is refreshing for the openness and honesty in presentation that allows for a lot of insights.
It starts from the premise of acknowledging that schools are not achieving the results our children need. Professor Wiliam goes in to share some ideas and new initiatives with this group of teachers to do with one single class of Class 8 children over the period of a few months.
In the early stages it's interesting to see the initial skepticism of the teachers to the new ideas. It's easy to see them as so institutionalised in to the age old habits that anything that challenges them is met with immediate suspicion. The first and most extreme of these is the challenge to 'hands up' for answering questions. I've personally experienced the same teacher doubts when I've challenged this. The programme does a very good job with these children of showing exactly what's so wrong and so harmful about the existing practice.
The reactions of the children to the changes in their classroom are fascinating. There are also many examples of how the teachers were habituated to the idea that one of their primary responsibilities is the maintenance of 'control'. They see the changes as a loss of control.
It's very telling when one of the children reacts to the 'no hands up' rule exasperatedly - "You're asking people who don't know." In his mind, being in class and part of discussions/ interaction with the teacher is less about learning and more about massaging your own ego by showing that you're more able to answer the teacher's questions than other children. It was no surprise that those children who had been best at this game were the ones who rebelled most against it.
In fact, at the end of the first episode and beginning of the second we see the extraordinary situation of a small group of girls who have become so incensed that they are no longer 'queens of the classroom' that they set out to sabotage the new process by removing their names from the pots used for random questioning. In a very telling discussion we see classic 'fixed mindset high achiever' comments right out of the research of Dr Carol Dweck. The young girl, Emily, admits that under the old system she liked to be an active question answerer WHEN she knew the answers. Now, for the first time, under the randomised system she is sometimes asked to answer questions that she doesn't have the answer to. This makes her deeply uncomfortable as her self-image in school is built on being 'one of the clever students.' Her belief - I'm bright - I'm not supposed to be seen getting questions wrong. These are children for whom the idea of a classroom as a 'fair' place where all should be learning sits uncomfortably. Rather, it's a place of competition in which they have believed they re naturally born winners without even needing to expend much effort.
In the Maths class we see so much evidence that, in the past, having some children nswer questions correctly lead the teacher to move on fooling herself that 'the job was done', while in fact quite a number of the children were completely lost and had not understood. Their failure couldn't be acknowledged as she wasn't sure how to respond to it.
I felt in favour of all the changes introduced by Dr Wiliam except the 'secret student'. This, to me, still smacked too much of coercion, adult control through punishments and rewards and a focus on extrinsic motivation. Where both children and teachers were showing so much evidence of being acculturated in to their existing and traditional ways of doing things, it was understandable. You could clearly see that this was way more comfortable to the teachers than the other changes. At times, as well, they started from a position of very low expectation of the children - and quite often they lived down to those expectations!
I an early stage of the first film we see evidence of the boy, Sid as a rather disengaged student. However, involving him in the teacher feedback process brings him out as thoughtful, insightful and quite the little philosopher.
In the second film we see graphically the things that I can remember Professor Sue Swaffield of Cambridge University sharing in a workshop in Mumbai around 8 years ago when it comes to the negativity of marks and grades for all students except the handful who achieve at the top of the class. In this case, the move to ‘comments only feedback’ gets a really strong reaction from those children tantamount to rebellion. Such issues don’t get addressed overnight. The habits run very deep and it takes courage to stand up to them. However, the evidence from these films is clear that it’s worth the effort.
I encourage as many teachers and education leaders as possible to watch these videos, ideally in learner groups that will enable them to debate, to question their own teaching practice and plan and ideate for improvements they wish to initiate. Time for the educators to get serious about their learning.
Filed under: Educators of tomorrow, Leadership, Life, School, Sport, Teaching Practice | Tagged: comment only feedback, daily exercise, Dr Dylan Wiliams, engagement, no hands up, parental engagement, secret student, white boards | Leave a comment »