Teaching & Learning: Back to basics

Written by: Katherine Cocker-Goring | Published:
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Loved this! Such a simple idea for lesson planning in detail. An overview Scheme of Learning ...

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Engage, practice, challenge – Katherine Cocker-Goring introduces a back to basics approach to teaching and learning from her UTC

In September, I took my first step in the most exciting leadership role of my career. Engineering UTC Northern Lincolnshire (formally Humber UTC – university technical college), was in its third year serving the community of Scunthorpe and wider Northern Lincolnshire, yet when I arrived in September, we found ourselves almost starting from scratch.

With significant staff turnover at the end of the previous academic year, it was overwhelming to realise just how much work we had ahead of us. In our September 2017 self-evaluation form (SEF), we described ourselves as “requires improvement” and quickly set about putting our development priorities into action.

By February 2018, we had achieved what we would have described as impossible at the start of the year: the UTC’s first ever “good” Ofsted judgement.

I joined the UTC as assistant principal with responsibility for teaching, learning, data and assessment. From the outset, the principal tasked me with taking ownership of our teaching and learning strategy and making the CPD programme my own.

Establishing a new planning initiative

My first step was to establish a new approach to teaching and learning. During the first INSET session of the year, I was given a three-hour slot in which to introduce my new approach to planning. The three-step planning method, which I had trialled and tested the previous year with two NQTs, was at the core of the new approach.

The idea was that each lesson would follow the structure “Engage, Practice, Challenge”. At the start of the lesson, teachers would plan an activity to “engage” students, designed to recap prior learning or establish students’ starting points. Next, teachers would use questioning, group work, modelling or demonstration to “practise” a key skill. Finally, teachers would “challenge” students with a sustained independent working opportunity.

The fundamental difference between this approach and more traditional methods, was that at each of these steps, the level of challenge would increase, with each step of the lesson focusing on the same specific skill, but a higher level criteria.

If we were to implement this new planning methodology across the entire UTC, I knew that it was vital that all teachers “bought-into” the over-arching simplicity and logic behind the approach. I compared the methodology to something to which everyone could relate: the process of teaching a child to ride a bike.

Step 1 was to build up the child’s confidence by using stabilisers or similar. Step 2 was to support the child in riding the bike without stabilisers, perhaps by holding the child’s bike seat and then walking along with them. Step 3 was then to let go completely: to let the child ride the bike independently and let them make mistakes, with the parent providing feedback.

This was a real Eureka moment. Teachers saw this as a collective opportunity to rip away the old layers of overly complicated initiatives and past gimmicks and instead go back to basics – back to how students actually learn.

Reacting to obstacles

A significant component of the success of the initiative was that I was able to immediately act on what was observed within the classroom, maximising the pace of improvement.

One of the first challenges was that some members of staff had confused this new approach with the traditional outcomes principle of “All, Most, Some,” when in fact, it was completely the opposite.

The idea of this new system was that every single child would be stretched and challenged and would achieve the highest potential outcome – however, students would achieve the outcome in different ways.

In response to this, I held an “Engage, Practice, Challenge” refresher session. We discussed the concept of children getting from one side of a six-foot wall to another. Where the “All, Most, Some” principle would have encouraged different heights of wall for different abilities, the principle behind our new initiative was that every child would be faced with the same six-foot wall, but that different students would use different methods to get to the other side (a differentiated approach).

The next challenge was that some staff struggled to create meaningful success criteria. In subjects with specific marking criteria (such as in English, Spanish, and engineering), evidence of progress in lessons was quickly improved. However, in subjects with more generic criteria, it proved more difficult. In response to these inconsistencies, I used the following week’s CPD session as an opportunity to share best practice and discuss different approaches to stepped success criteria – again, we found ourselves going back to basics – this time revisiting Bloom’s.

Another obstacle was in using the Engage, Practice, Challenge structure during coursework sessions in engineering. In these sessions, it is usual to have students at different stages of completion, so stepped success criteria could be potentially restrictive, especially for those students ahead of the rest of the group. At this point, I realised that in order to make the new system work, there needed to be flexibility.

If this was to become a rigid structure that we used regardless of its impact on teaching and learning, it was destined to become yet another gimmick – it was vital that we never upheld a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Tracking the quality of teaching & learning

Once staff were established in the use of the new planning initiative (by term two, 83 per cent of teachers were consistently and effectively using the new structure), it was then time to focus on additional priorities identified through our internal tracking.

I isolated individual teaching skills and RAG-rated all teachers according to each skill. In the first instance, this allowed me to focus on the most significant areas of need for whole-staff CPD. I was then able to deliver timely and effective CPD on each area, always using the Engage, Practice, Challenge structure as a starting point.

At this point, I started to focus on bespoke CPD packages for individual members of staff with specific areas of need. In these instances, I used a mixture of mentoring, coaching and weekly lesson feedback to drive rapid improvements, again using the Engage, Practice, Challenge structure as the starting part of all conversations. For example: “How much time should you dedicate to the ‘practice’ section of your lesson, if you are to improve pace?” Or: “How might you extend the most able during the ‘engage’ section of your lesson?”

Changing the culture of teaching & learning

By term three, we were up to 83 per cent consistently effective teaching across the UTC, and I introduced a peer-coaching programme, where teachers were empowered to reflect on their own areas of strength and areas for development and devise strategies to improve on them.

Alongside this, we also introduced a new approach to lesson observation, completely rewriting our lesson observation form (where teachers were previously given a list of strengths and a list of areas for development) so that all feedback was phrased as questions.

So, rather than a generic statement such as “develop use of differentiation”, the observer would pose a question such as, “how could you differentiate the main task so that James is able to access the learning immediately?”

The new system acknowledged that there is no perfect way to teach and instead empowers teachers to reflect on how they can improve going forward.

Impact

As a result of our investment in teaching and learning, our Ofsted report acknowledged that the quality of teaching and learning had “improved significantly during the last academic year”.

It said that teachers are supported to make “specific improvements in their teaching” and that the quality of teaching and learning “across all subjects is strong” with teachers ensuring “that challenge is provided, for all pupils, according to their ability”.

Internally, we have judged the percentage of consistently effective teaching to have improved from 58 per cent at the start of September to 83 per cent in term three.

With regards to the particular skills related to the Engage, Practice, Challenge initiative, there were marked improvements in the effective use of success criteria, evidence of progress in lessons, appropriate stretch and challenge, sustained opportunities for independent learning, effective pace and use of lesson time, appropriate differentiation and the quality of verbal feedback.

I believe that the implementation of our back-to-basics approach to lesson planning, alongside accurate tracking of teaching and learning, and timely, appropriate CPD, was instrumental in securing our “good” Ofsted judgement.SecEd

  • Katherine Cocker-Goring is vice-principal at Engineering UTC Northern Lincolnshire. She was a member of the 2016 cohort on Ambition School Leadership’s Future Leaders development and training programme. Ambition School Leadership is a charity that runs leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. Visit www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk


Comments
Loved this!

Such a simple idea for lesson planning in detail. An overview Scheme of Learning always needs to be supplemented by additional, more detailed planning. The beauty of this idea is that it gives such detail and focuses on the three key components of any lesson - Engage, Practice, Challenge. I've incorporated this simple outline straight into my planning for this week 30th April - 4th May 2018. I've added an additional "Development" box to incorporate skills and, explicitly, knowledge development. My planning feels much clearer and simpler than before - reflecting much more what I will actually do in class this week! Bravo! I'll be happy to share the simple planning document if you connect via Twitter @TeacherIMH

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Loved this!

Such a simple idea for lesson planning in detail. An overview Scheme of Learning always needs to be supplemented by additional, more detailed planning. The beauty of this idea is that it gives such detail and focuses on the three key components of any lesson - Engage, Practice, Challenge. I've incorporated this simple outline straight into my planning for this week 30th April - 4th May 2018. I've added an additional "Development" box to incorporate skills and, explicitly, knowledge development. My planning feels much clearer and simpler than before - reflecting much more what I will actually do in class this week! Bravo! I'll be happy to share the simple planning document if you connect via Twitter @TeacherIMH

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