Challenging the most able students – Research 2017/18

Last year, Deputy Headteacher Deb Norrish carried out research into how we can further stretch and challenge our most able students. This is her summary of that research.

Research Question.

How can ‘conflict’ improve more-able boy’s performance? Can competition through well-structured debates translate to improved outcomes in students written discussions in their formal written assessments?

Method

  • Implementing a strategy where Post 16 lessons are focussed on ‘oracy’ and the critical development of ideas/ concepts to deepen higher level thinking skills. No notes are taken during lesson time, the expectation is that all reading and preparation is carried out during personal study time.
  • More-Able students (Boys) were identified to lead debates by given differing interpretations to convince, through credible evidence as either the ‘prosecution’ or ‘defence’. Each team were encouraged through ‘competitive incentive’ to research extensively to ‘out flank’ the other team to provide evidence ‘beyond reasonable doubt. Identified students have been encouraged to lead ‘opening speeches’ and closing remarks to improve the quality of introductions and conclusions.
  • Students have had to reflect and use appropriate language to evaluate, convince and argue their key points. Language has been analysed and improved to convey key lines of inquiry. Students have been  given more independence in preparing the sub headings for debate and to work towards modelling high quality essay responses.

Summary of what you did to adapt your practice

  • Increase expectations of home learning by enforcing a ‘no notes’ rule for Post 16 lessons. Active learning and testing used to clarify, consolidate and develop critical thinking, using appropriate vocabulary.
  • Use ‘More Able’ lead learners to increase higher level thinking in debates and to clearly evaluate evidence before reaching a conclusion.

How did you test and review the impact of your research?

  • Observation and prior controlled testing of identified students learning behaviours.
  • Observation by colleague mid-way through research.
  • Data comparison (Review (4) 2017- Review (4) 2018. Personal Study internal moderation and final grades in A Level results.
  • Student feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Summary of impact so far

  • Students independent learning skills have improved significantly along with their ability to complete quality, ‘deep’ home learning tasks based on research and wider reading. Concise notetaking based on key headings and evidence has also sharpened their ability to take effective notes.  The quality of additional evidence researched and debated by the high ability students identified was sharpened by the approach taken.
  • The standard of critical evaluation and quality of evidence required was ‘up skilled’ by the identified, competitive male students involved in the project. Adjustment to alter the dominance of this dynamic had to be made to give other students the leadership experience that they had seen being modelled.
  • The overall value added score of this group has improved from being significantly below expected to ‘in line’. All identified students have achieved an ‘A’ or ‘B’ for their personal study and in line or above their target grade.
  • Increase expectation of post 16 learning by encouraging a ‘no notes’ rule for lessons. The expectation should be to read and learn in personal study periods and clarify and discuss/ debate in lessons.
  • Boys thrive on competition and debate. Carefully structure the headings of the debate to increase focus and model a potential essay structure. Carefully manage this debate so that it does not compromise other’s progress and creativity!
  • Ensure constant modelling and evaluation of student language to encourage sophisticated discussion and debate that is highly critical and persuasive by approach.

 

Presentation of Work – Research 2017-2018

Last year Language Teacher Nicola Pugh carried out her Action Research project. This is her summary of what she found out.

Research Question

Does focusing on the presentation of work lead to better note taking and revision in boys?

Method

I have been trialing a departmental technique called ‘Presentation for Learning’. Our Head of Languages began a presentation competition to be reviewed each term; the best presentation and the most improved presentation for learning would receive a prize. Taking this idea, I trialed dedicating a lesson to note taking, organisation of notes and strategies for showing a thought process through their work. Throughout the term, students then worked through their books and chose particular pages or work in their exercise books that showed their best thinking or best learning. Each term, a nominated student would look through books and judge the best thinking.

Summary of what you did to adapt your practice.

Dedicating time at the beginning of the research period to note taking, presentation and demonstrating how to show thought processes allowed a better understanding of what I was looking for and what students were aiming toward was something that I have not tried and it proved successful. Also, embedding this as a routine every few lessons to check their progress of their best work and see if they can top it, and also giving ownership to the student about their presentation and not taking.

How did you test and review the impact of your work?

Taking photos at the beginning of the process and regularly assessing progress. Student engagement has been a great factor in judging it as students have actively been trying to beat their best work each term.

Summary of the impact so far.

Start early and maintain the momentum. It is difficult to keep on top of the administration involved initially which is when I developed the role of student judges and the ownership was on them. Ensuring time is built in for regular updates to maintain the momentum and maintain engagement is key.

Inspiring Disadvantaged Learners – Research 2017-18

English Teacher Rachael Davison looked at how we she could inspire disadvantaged learners in her English lessons. This is her summary of her project.

Research Question

How can increased communication positively impact on disadvantaged students’ engagement and progress?

Method

  • Increased one to one and small group conversations with disadvantaged students about their understanding of the learning, their progress etc. during and outside of lessons.
  • An increased number of postcards and phone calls home.
  • Setting students catch up work to complete independently following absence or at least one to one/small group discussion regarding what the class have covered when students have been absent.
  • Student participation in every lesson – disadvantaged students always questioned, invited to share their learning, their used for teacher modelling of self/peer assessment etc.
  • Increased verbal feedback during the lesson so students receive instant feedback that they can respond to in the lesson.

Summary of what you did to adapt your practice

  • Disadvantaged students are always selected to answer questions, to share their learning, read out loud etc. throughout the lesson.
  • I have adapted my practice by ensuring that these students receive clear and focused verbal feedback alongside lots of praise and encouragement within the lesson and not just written in their books during a marking cycle.
  • I have tried to catch up/meet with the students following a period of absence so that they know what they have missed in class. I have also tried to engage the students in taking ownership of the missed work by giving them tasks to complete at home.

How did you test and review the impact of your research?

  • Observations of students’ engagement in lessons (engagement in tasks and motivation to achieve), summative assessment outcomes, discussions with the students themselves and their feedback.

Summary of impact so far.

Make students more accountable for the learning they miss due to absence (or discuss what has been missed): give students tasks to complete at home to catch up.

Provide disadvantaged students with regular verbal feedback opportunities throughout lessons.

Increase the number of postcards sent home, phone calls home, sending copies of completed work home.

Increased student participation in every lesson – all disadvantaged students answering questions, sharing work, responding to others’ ideas etc.

Use disadvantaged students’ books on the visualiser to model peer/self-marking – the students get instant quality feedback from their peers and the teacher.

Motivating Boys Research 2017/18

We have included examples of the research carried out by staff last year looking at improving the performance of boys.

Teaching Assistant Rhonda Lawry-Griffiths carried out the following research with the aim of identifying ways of removing the gender gap in English lessons. This is her review.

Research Question

Will the use of visual stimuli help to sustain and increase motivation in boys?

Method

Use of visual prompts to help engage interest in lessons, eg students drawing, computer images and maps.

Summary of what you did to adapt your  practice.

Use of visual stimuli wherever possible in lessons.

How did you test and review the impact of your research?

Accelerated reader testing was used for Year 7 students. A staff peer debrief was used to reflect and evaluate at the end of the research project. Discussions were held with students that were in the class.

Summary of the impact so far

The Year 7 students, especially the boys, were more willing to share plot summaries from previous lessons. They were able to recall main events from the material and read more carefully, confidently and accurately. Where a map was used to plot countries from a story-line the boys eagerly participated.

Raising the progress and attainment of disadvantaged students.

A priority area for most schools in the country is the performance and  attainment of disadvantaged students, these are the students that fulfil the Pupil Premium (PP) descriptors. At Tor Bridge High the PP students are attaining above that for similar schools but crucially there is still  gap that we are adamant to remove. Clearly this is a huge question in education and there is a large amount of information that is published on it. What were are concerned with is how we distill the vast amount of nationally published research into what works for our students at Tor Bridge High.

The action research leads for this area are Ian Goldsmith (Head of Humanities) and Robbie Williams) Teacher of PE).

One of the difficulties staff encountered when researching this area is that the term ‘PP’ does not describe a homogenous group of students, in our school it is roughly one third of all students. Some of our best performing students are in this group. It goes without saying that each one of  our PP students is a highly valued individual and getting to know them is the key.  However, there are also some general considerations when reviewing the progress and attainment of PP students that are widely discussed in research.

What we found out from the action research projects carried out from staff are some approaches that are more likely to work in our school setting.

What makes a difference?

Classroom based strategies.

  • PP students have increased engagement and understanding through challenging and differentiated tasks.
  • Marking the work of PP students can lead to enhanced feedback and understanding.
  • Collaborative work between PP students and suitable peers can increase engagement and understanding.
  • Collation and display of class performances for class tests, can motivate high attaining PP students, whereas low attaining PP students can lose confidence and then engagement.
  • Seating placement of high attaining PP learners with high attaining non-PP learners enriches metacognition.
  • Visual resources and strategies enhances the understanding, confidence and reduces the anxiety of PP boys in the research group.
  • Freedom of writing choice and topic does increase enthusiasm for the writing task in PP boys.
  • Self esteem of PP students is generally enhanced when working collaboratively with similar ability peers.
  • Metacognitive strategies can support KS5 students with extended writing.

Out of classroom based strategies.

  • Attendance at homework clubs improved reading ages.
  • Proactive parental dialogue resulted in end of unit assessment performance in line with or above PP students target grade.
  • Participation in mandatory and optional fieldwork trips has seen a greater uptake following positive home communication.
  • Parental engagement has supported students progress.

Whats next?

The action research that was carried out raised almost as many questions as it did provide answers. Areas for further action research projects are.

  • How do we overcome language barriers to improve progress?
  • How do engage all parents?
  • What opportunities can we build at lunchtime for students to develop cultural capital?
  • How can continue to improve students mental health?
  • How can we adapt teaching to promote good attendance and proactively support missed lessons?

 

 

Removing the Gender Gap

One of the priority areas that we identified as a school was the performance of boys compared to girls. This in itself is not uncommon and one that many schools face. In the academic year 2017 – 2918 many staff carried at action research projects to identify strategies that would work in Tor Bridge High to improve the boys performance and bring in inline withe the girls.

The action research leads for this area are Chris Langmead (Head of English) and Andy Lyon (Head of Art).

This is not a simple problem, whilst there is a gender gap it is not found in every subject at Tor Bridge High,  additionally when looking at the national research it is not as simple as saying that boys underperform compared to girls. The largest gender gap in the UK is found between boys and girls designated as ‘white working class’.

As a group of professionals we had to look at our own practice and consider if we were challenging negative stereotypes in education or reinforcing them.

Some of the ‘common thinking’ you currently find in education in the UK at the moment can be summarised as follows;

‘Boys are programmed to be destructive, boorish and rebellious’,

‘Boys underachieve nationally’,

‘Boys like competition and rewards’,

‘Boys don’t like school’,

‘Boys don’t show their feelings’.

We wanted to look at these again and see what could make a difference in out school. Through the action research projects we have come up with what we feel makes a difference in reducing the gender gap in Tor Bridge High.

What makes a difference?

  • High expectations of boys; in their approach towards learning and their outcomes.
  • Developing boys use of subject specific language.
  • Positive relationships based on clear boundaries and consistency.
  • Regular testing and feedback with opportunities to reflect and improve.
  • Raising the self-esteem of boys.

What did people do?

The following are some of the action research areas that staff carried out, the findings of these eventually lead to the list above.

  • Use of extra-curricular activities to boost boys engagement in learning.
  • Developing positive relationships in the classroom.
  • Use of visual stimuli to support engagement and learning.
  • Use of rewards and short term goals.
  • Explicit teaching of command words for examinations.
  • Focussing on boys’ presentation of work.
  • Use of skills based tests.
  • Exploring the role of mentoring in developing boys’ engagement.
  • Use of seating plans.
  • Developing use of technology and apps in improving homework engagement.
  • Use of competitions and rewards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excellence in assessment.

At the start of the year we wanted to review our assessment and feedback procedures to ensure that they were the most effective they could be. There has been a huge amount of discussion about assessment and feedback. The recent changes to many key stage 4 courses means accurate assessment has become more challenging. In addition there is a much needed conversation regarding marking and the work-life balance of teachers.

Our Assessment priorities are:

  • Meaningful feedback that is responded to by students and clearly improving the quality of the work.
  • Student ownership of marking.
  • Immediate feedback and whole class feedback to help motivation.
  • Raising expectations in success criteria and presentation.
  • Withholding assessment grades and focus on actions needed for improvement.

The research leads for this topic are Jen Claxton (Teacher of Technology) and James Thomas (Head of History). The action research projects that have been carried out have led to the school reviewing its whole policy on assessment. Whilst this really shows the impact of action research in schools, it also means we are still working on policy – we will share what this looks like when its done.

In the meantime please find a case study of one action research projects and a list of the action research areas below.

 

Case Study – Tor Emberson – Science Teacher

Structuring formative assessment to facilitate students ownership of progress

How did you come up with this Action Research title?

“As part of my continual CPD I organised a learning walk across other curriculum areas to see how other members of staff were collating assessment throughout the entire duration of the course…..this gave me ideas for developing the strategies we have in place in our department”

What do you personally hope to get from carrying out the action research?

“…develop our students independent enquirer skills…more efficient use of our feedback…ultimately to improve the use of lesson time.”

How have you found action research?

“I really enjoy Action Research, it gives me a reason to do some targeted reading to improve my own practice and trial ideas from the masses of pedagogy that is out there.”

For a full list of the Action Research areas that are being carried out on Assessment at Tor Bridge High please read on –  Continue reading “Excellence in assessment.”

Other Areas of Research

Before we launched our Action Research program members of Tenzing School at TorBridge High undertook a pilot of action research in 2016. We had been involved in whole school training and wanted to see if what we had learnt could be effectively transferred into our lessons. We worked in groups each testing out a different project. Before the project people were a little unsure but after they had completed it everyone was positive that it was a good way to develop their practice.

Conclusion: All colleagues felt that the techniques could be easily implemented into their practice. Questioning was improved and students did appear to have more opportunities to critically think around subjects. All of the team who participated felt it they had been able to take a number of positives from the experience.

Continue reading “Other Areas of Research”

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