Disciplined enquiry, or how to get better at getting better

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How do you know what to do to improve your teaching? And if you can identify what you need to do get better, how do you know whether what you are doing to try and improve is actually making a difference where it really matters: in developing your students’ learning?

I think there are probably five main sources available to teachers to help them identify areas for their improvement. These are the data on their students’ outcomes, feedback from their colleagues, feedback from their students, research evidence into what works and where, and, finally, their reflections about their practice.

Each of these sources can be extremely useful, providing teachers with valuable insights into where they might need to focus. Equally, they can all be very unhelpful, giving unreliable feedback on areas of strength and weakness, particularly where limitations and nuances are not fully understood, or where potential improvement tools are used as performance measures.

Perhaps the best approach is to take a number of these sources of feedback together, increasing the likelihood of identifying genuine areas for improvement. In subsequent posts, I hope to outline a framework that harnesses these feedback mechanisms into a clear and systematic structure, but for now I want to focus on exploring just one means of self-improvement: getting better at being you.

In many respects, you are both the best source of feedback, and the worst of source of feedback; you can be wise and foolish in equal measure! The problem is that, whilst you are undoubtedly the one who spends the most time with your students and the one who thinks the most carefully about how to help them improve, you are also extremely prone to bias and flawed thinking, which can make it hard for you to trust your judgements, especially in relation to developing your own practice.

Others have written extensively about human fallibility and the dangers of trusting instinct. Daniel Kahnemman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, David Didau’s What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong? and David Mcraney’s You Are Not So Smart all provide excellent insights into how we humans routinely get things wrong. It is clear, then, that we need to understand and respect our cognitive limitations and avoid thinking we know what works just because it feels right. Instinct is not enough. That said, I believe we can be useful sources of feedback in relation to improving our own teaching, particularly if we can learn how to reduce the impact of our biases and can get better at being more objective.

What is disciplined enquiry

Honing the skills of restrained reflection is the hallmark of a disciplined enquirer, and disciplined enquiry is what I have come to think is probably the best we way can grow and develop as a profession. Like many terms in education, disciplined enquiry means lots different things to lots of different people. For me, it represents the intersection between the science and the craft of teaching, and involves a systematic approach that encourages teachers to ‘think hard’ about their improvement and making use of the best available evidence to inform their decision-making. My definition of a disciplined enquirer tries to capture this complexity:

A disciplined enquirer draws upon internal and external experience – they operate as both subject and object in relation to improving their own practice. Through a systematic framework a disciplined enquirer develops the ability to limit the impact of bias, whilst learning how to become more attune to interpreting the complexity of the classroom, such as appreciating the role of emotions, the impact of actions and the nature of relationships. Over time and through deliberate noticing they become increasingly sensitive to interpreting patterns of behaviour and learning how to react better in the moment and how to make better decisions in the future.

Understanding how we make decisions

Perhaps the first step to becoming a disciplined enquirer is to recognise the nature of decision-making itself. Kahneman’s model of system one and system two thinking is instructive here. System one thinking describes the way we use mental shortcuts to quickly make sense of complex phenomena and to give us the appearance of coherence and control, whereas the system two model uses a more methodical and analytical approach to decision-making, where we take our time to review and weigh up choices. The trade off between the two modes is time and effort. The result is that busy teachers come to rely more and more on quick, instinctive system one thinking over the slower, more deliberate system two model, which can lead to mistakes.

As well as understanding how we make decisions and how we react to given situations, a disciplined enquirer needs to appreciate the way that we gain insights in the first place, since it is the opening up new ways of seeing that we are ultimately looking for in order to help us improve our practice. It seems to me that if we know the conditions under which we are more likely to learn something new, whether about our teaching, our students’ learning or any other aspect of the classroom environment, then we are better able to take steps to recreate these conditions and harness them when they manifest.

In Seeing What Others Don’t See, Gary Klein uses a triple-path-model to illustrate the ways in which we commonly reach such new insights. Klein’s model challenges the widely held notion of eureka moments, where inspiration or epiphany follows long periods of gestation. From studying decision-making in naturalistic conditions, Klein suggests there are three main triggers that typically lead to new insights – contradiction, connection, and creative desperation. These triggers, working on their own or in combination, shift or supplant the existing anchors that we ordinarily rely upon to make decisions. An anchor is a belief or story that gives us a sense of coherence and informs the decisions that we make, often without us even realising.

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In some respects, Klein’s anchors resemble the idea of mental shortcuts, or heuristics, in Kahneman’s model of system one thinking. The anchor and the heuristic both guide action, usually subconsciously, and both can prevent us from seeing things clearly. Whilst we need heuristics (or anchors) to make our daily lives manageable – getting from A to B, for instance, without endlessly checking the route – for more complex decision making, such as that which constitutes classroom teaching, they can often lead us to make mistakes or develop false notions of what works. Disciplined enquiry should therefore seek to find ways to engage system two thinking, and to consciously trigger the cultivation of better anchors to help us improve our decision-making.

There are a number of steps that can help achieve this end. The diagram below gives an idea of what this might look like in practice. None of the suggestions are a panacea – it is surprisingly difficult to shift our thinking in relation to our deeply held values and beliefs – but they are an attempt to provide some sense of how we could get better at not only making decisions, but also of being aware of the reasons why we are making those decisions in the first place. The goal for disciplined enquiry is, then, to try ti find ways to override system one intuition, and activiate system two consideration.

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Identifying inconsistency

One example Klein uses to illustrate the trigger of identifying inconsistency is the case of an American police officer who whilst following a new car is struck by the strange behaviour of the man in the passenger seat. Following the car, which is otherwise being driven normally, the officer notices the passenger appear to stub a cigarette out on the seat. What he witnesses is at odds with his understanding of what people normally do when riding as passengers in new cars. As a result he decides to pull the car over – an action that leads to an arrest, when it turns out that the car has in fact been stolen.

There are several ways a disciplined enquirer can set out to deliberately create this kind of inconsistency of thought – the sort of cognitive dissonance that might lead to a useful new insight into an aspect of pedagogy. One obvious way is to actively seek out alternative views or dissenting voices. Rather than always being surrounded by likeminded opinions, whether online or in the staffroom, teachers wishing to improve their practice should spend time listening to the views of those with contrary positions. This approach helps to avoid groupthink and fosters the kind of self-questioning that might shed light on an area of practice previously hidden.

Spotting coincidence

Unlike the trigger of identifying inconsistency, the trigger of spotting coincidence is about looking for similarities and patterns between phenomena and using these revealed relationships to build new insights. One of Klein’s examples of how spotting coincidence can change understanding and lead to meaningful changes in practice involves the American physician, Michael Gottilieb. After noticing connections between the symptoms of a number of his homosexual patients in the early 1980s, Gottilieb began to realise that what he was actually dealing with was something very different and very important from what he had previously experienced. His insights led him to publish the first announcement of the AIDS epidemic.

There are two crucial aspects of this story in respect of disciplined enquiry. The first is that Gottilieb’s insight didn’t happen overnight. It was slow process over a long period of time involving the gradual noticing of patterns that could not initially be attributed to something already known. Too often us teachers try to make too many changes to our practices too quickly, without understanding or assessing their impact. The second important point is how much Gottilieb retained his focus – he didn’t just notice something once, think it was interesting and then move on; instead he relentlessly pursued an emerging pattern, consciously noting down his observations, until he could formulate his observations into something more concrete and usable.

One of the key things that leads to developing new insights is thus a combination of time and deliberate attention: being alive to the possibility that two or three things that have something in common may lead to something more meaningful, or they may not. As the name suggests, disciplined enquiry involves disciplined focus, something so often overlooked in education in the scramble to share untested best practice. It is far better to isolate one or two variables in the classroom and look to notice their impact on student learning, than to proceed on a whim.

Escaping an empasse

Perhaps the most poignant story in Klein’s book is the story of a group of smokejumers who were parachuted into the hills of Montana in 1949 in an attempt to control a large forest fire that was spreading quickly. The firefighters were soon caught in the fire themselves which was moving swiftly up the side of the grassy hillside. The men tried to outrun the fire, but sadly only two of the original 15 made it to the top. The other 13 could not run fast enough and were consumed by the onrushing flames.

One of the two men to survive was Wagner Dodge who, like the others, initially tried to outrun the flames, but, unlike the others, realised that this wasn’t going to work and unless he did something different he would die. His quick-thinking insight was to set fire to a patch of grass ahead of him, thus creating an area of safety where he could stand with the fire deprived of its fuel. In a moment of literal life and death decision-making, Dodge had arrived at a creative solution that had unfortunately passed his friends by. Out of desperation, Dodge had discarded his intuition (to run), and thought hard about a radical solution (to cut of the fire’s fuel source).

Obviously, as important as teaching is, it is not really a profession that rests on life or death decisions. That said, there are aspects from the story of the Colorado smokejumpers, in particular the counterintuitive actions of Wagner Dodge, that a disciplined enquirer can learn from in an effort to increase their chances of generating new insights. Foremost amongst those lessons, is the way that a fixed condition – in this case the fire sweeping up the fireside – forced Dodge to focus on the other variables open to him. It may be that self-imposed limitations, such as deadlines, parameters for recording reflections or routines of practice, rather than stifle thinking, may actually encourage new ways of seeing. Being forced to consider all possibilities, including rejecting existing ideas and beliefs, could enhance our ability to make great sense of student interaction or learning. After all, the famous Pomodoro Technique is largely predicated on the notion that short bursts of focused, time-bound thinking produce much better results that longer, drawn out periods of study.

Disciplined enquiry is not easy and does make demands on what is already a very demanding job. That said, if there is a framework and culture that supports disciplined enquiry and makes the systematic study of one or two areas of improvement routine, then I think it could be a powerful means of both individual teacher and whole school improvement. What this framework might look like will be the subject of my next post.

Learning reviews: an alternative to work scrutiny?

Work scrutiny has certainly been this week’s hot topic, mostly in response to this post by Teacher Toolkit. Whilst I prefer not to directly critique the practices of other schools I know little about, I do pretty much agree with the points made by David Didau, Andy Day, Greg Ashman and Martin Robinson about work scrutiny being a crude tool of managerialism. It can alienate staff and risk corrupting the thing that it sets out to evaluate in the first place. If I’m honest, reading these posts also made me feel a little bit ashamed at some of the procedures I myself put in place when I was head of department a few years ago. At the time, I obviously thought I was doing the right thing!

Over the past 12 months or so, our school has been working on an alternative to work scrutiny. We have been trying to develop a model that actually helps improve learning– for both teachers and students – whilst also providing middle and senior leaders with a reasonably informed overview of the quality of student learning, albeit with a number of caveats. I wrote about some initial thoughts in this area last summer, and since then the model has improved considerably through trial and feedback from different departments. By no means perfect, I think what we have arrived will help teachers to better understand how to improve their teaching, and importantly improve their students’ learning. It works through shared accountability around sensible and agreed processes and collaborative inquiry into the complexities and pitfalls of learning.

We call this process a learning review, and last Wednesday we conducted our first such review across the school, focusing on year 7. Driving all this is the school feedback policy, essentially a set of guiding principles which we think, to a lesser or greater extent, are the main components of effective feedback. Over the past year, each department has contextualised these core principles in accordance with the nature and organisation of their subject. Each subject has its own pedagogy and works in different ways with differing constraints. Subject areas therefore determine what successful feedback means for them – balancing what is manageable with what is actually going to have impact.

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It may be that one subject wants to give lots of written feedback, whilst another wants less frequency but more opportunities for students to do something with that feedback. We understand that what works in written subjects like English is unlikely to be relevant for more performance-based subjects like drama and PE; we appreciate that learning in books looks and feels different to digitally produced work. The policies (both at school and department level) are also somewhat fluid documents: if better, more economical means of giving feeding back come to light then the policy adapts to these insights rather than persist with an approach that is not working and places an undue burden on staff.

In a review a department looks at student learning in relation to 1 or 2 areas of their feedback policy. In the first instance, one of these areas was set by the school – student presentation of work – whilst the other was determined by the department, depending on its priorities. Subject teams discuss artefacts of learning (books, portfolios, videoed performances) together through the lens of the feedback policy. In light of what they see they ask questions: are we allowing students opportunities to do something with our feedback? If not, why not? It may be that one teacher has found an effective way of meaningfully engaging students in feedback and can share that with the rest of the team, perhaps those who are finding the process difficult or time-consuming. If everyone is finding an aspect of feedback problematic, say getting students to engage with feedback, then maybe it is the policy itself that is wrong and needs amending. It is in this sense that the policy is an evolving document.

On this occasion we also selected a sample of students whose work departments should look at in their reviews. This allowed us to refer back to some baseline standards of presentation we captured during year 6 induction, when we took several images of students’ best primary work. The idea is to create a smoother transition and make sure the good work of our primary colleagues is maintained in year 7, and that we keep standards of expectation high. At year 7 it can sometimes be difficult to fully appreciate the standard of work that year 6 students can produce. We see the review as an opportunity to maintain these standards and sense of pride, using quality of presentation as a proxy.

The other focus is set by the department and relates to an area they are seeking to develop as part of their subject pedagogy training. We have two hours of subject-specific professional learning every other week, and learning reviews can provide a helpful framework for subject colleagues to look at the results of their teaching in the form of student work and discuss what has led to its success, what could be improved, or what should be avoided next time round. The proforma we are using (see below) is completed by the department, so there is no sense that the head of department is sitting outside of the process, recording abstractions on a spreadsheet. Subject leaders are within the learning conversation, seeking to understand the successes, issues arising, and the areas to improve, tweak or reject.

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So far, the feedback from departments has been good, and the reviews have led to some positive changes in the use of feedback across the school. There is simply no point in persevering with some expectations if those expectations are too burdensome or where the opportunity cost of implementing them is too great. This does not mean that a policy is built on sand – more that we trust colleagues to set themselves reasonable expectations for how to improve learning and stick to them where they are manageable and have clear impact.

Whether or not you think this is any better than work scrutiny, I would certainly appreciate your feedback.

Thanks for reading.

 

The Elements of Progression: threshold concepts meet mastery learning

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Last Saturday I was lucky to present at the first ResearchEd Literacy event in Swindon, organised by David Didau at the fantastic Swindon Academy. It was an exceptional day with some brilliant talks and a fabulous keynote by Ray Land on threshold concepts, sadly lost to posterity due to a technical problem. You will have to trust me, it was an exceptional introduction to the day!

I have been meaning to write my session up all week, but have not had the time to do so. Next week looks just as busy, so instead of waiting a couple more weeks, I am going to take the easy route and post my slides and a link to a recording of my session instead.

My accompanying slides

In many ways the content of my session was not entirely new: I have blogged here, here and here about our KS3 assessment model, and have also written two posts addressing the issue of threshold concepts in English here and here. Despite being relatively proud of these two posts, they are by far the least read efforts I have written. I guess, Miltonic Vision Part I: Trivium 21C, Threshold concepts and the power of ‘powerful knowledge’ was never going to really capture the imagination!

In the main my presentation summarised where we are with assessment as a department and indeed as a school, where the English model has been adopted by other subjects. It is certainly not a perfect model, and I am aware of some of the issues that will need to be amended in the future in order to increase both reliability and validity. What I do think, however, it that it is a much better, more purposeful means of assessing progress and driving up achievement than was ever the case with national curriculum levels.

A big, belated thank you to David Didau and Tom Bennett for putting together such a brilliant event, and to Ruth Robinson and Nick Wells for being so welcoming and well organised. It was a magnificent day.

Teaching knowledge through vocabulary: or why tier two words may not be enough!

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There are many great posts on how to teach vocabulary, including this one by Katie Ashford and this one by David Didau. Doug Lemov’s forthcoming book promises to add even more practical advice to our understanding of the best ways to improve students’ language fidelity. Whilst I commend these wonderful ideas and very much look forward to reading Doug’s new book, I wonder if these approaches fully exploit the potential for student academic achievement, particularly in schools where levels of academic attainment are low.

The relationship between academic achievement and high vocabulary levels is sadly all too noticeable in the classroom, particularly the further up the school you get where the language differential between the word-rich and the word-poor is often stark. It should surely come as no surprise to anyone who has taught in a school with any kind of broad intake that this correlation is well established in the research field. It is patently clear on a day-by-day basis.

At our school we certainly have a language discrepancy between our highest and lowest achievers. This gap strikes me every year I teach the GCSE language exam. Whilst I do my best to help students approach their interpretations and analysis as effectively and efficiently as they can, there is always the same elephant in the room: it is invariably students’ levels of background knowledge that determines how well they will do, and not how much they stick to the tight procedures I put in place for how they annotate their texts or structure their written responses. It is so frustrating (and upsetting) to get students really good at understanding one passage, only to go back to square one when the topic changes to something else.

Most of the superb ideas I mentioned above about how you can go about bridging this gap between the language haves and have-nots seem to concentrate on teaching tier two words. As you are probably know, the term tier two comes from Isabella Beck’s fantastic book Robust Vocabulary Instruction. In it Beck identifies three main word family groupings. Tier one refers to words children encounter on a regular basis and which are therefore common to most students’ vocabularies. Tier three are specialist subject terms, whilst tier two refers to high frequency words that occur across a variety of domains, but are unlikely to be experienced by children in the normal course of events. It is these tier two words that most advocate to leverage in an effort to counter the Matthew effect.

I am not entirely sure about this line of thinking; rather, I think that maybe tier two words should not be the main priority for those interested in addressing the underlying issue of student underachievement: low levels of academic background knowledge. If the propositions below are true, then following Beck’s advice to use precious teaching time on improving the breadth of students’ tier two vocabulary may not be the most efficient use of scarce resources, particularly in the short term. It might be better to focus on improving students’ learning of subject-specific tier three words and phrases – the very thing that Beck dismisses because she believes such terms are learned during everyday teaching.

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From my experience this is not always the case. A lot of the time students do not adequately learn the meanings of words that are integral to their different subjects. Every year, without exception, I have to teach my incoming exam class pretty much all the poetic terminology they need to be successful at GCSE level. You would have thought that for the past 11 years they had never heard of a metaphor, or were missing the lessons where monologue, imagery and sonnet were discussed. Maybe this reflects badly on my school, but since this is third school in which I have taught and in each a similar issue has occurred, I suspect not. If this is a more widely experienced phenomenon, perhaps it would be more sensible to focus on getting the teaching of subject vocabulary right first time before we tried to broaden our efforts on teaching wider academic language, which if we are honest is unlikely to make a big difference unless the full weight of the schools’ effort is directed towards making such an approach work.

If our main intention is to raise student attainment and we accept that increased levels of academic background knowledge are vital to achieving this end, then designing a programme of direct vocabulary instruction that focuses on teaching academic background knowledge through vocabulary instruction is probably the way to go. Robert Marzano certainly seems to think so, and in his excellent book Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, he not only offers a thorough unpicking of the rationale behind such an approach, but also provides a step-by-step guide on how to make it work in your school.

Marzano explains how knowledge is organised in propositional networks. Drawing upon the framework outlined in Clark and Clark’s (1977) ‘Psychology and Language’ paper, he offers 8 different types of propositional statement. Below is what these statements look like for an imaginary child’s first trip to Iceland to go trekking across the countryside:

  1. I trekked. (subject performs an action)
  2. I was overwhelmed. (subject possess a characteristic)
  3. I ate from a smörgåsbord. (subject performs an action on something)
  4. I bathed in a hot spring. (subject performs an action in a specific location)
  5. I gave my crampons to the instructor. (subject transfers something)
  6. Night time came quickly. (action is performed or occurs in specific manner)
  7. Someone gave me some gaitors. (someone transfers something to subject)
  8. The Northern Lights impressed me. (Something has an effect on subject)

Below is a representation of the propositional network for this experience.

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Marzano explains how ‘our background knowledge is initially linguistic descriptions of what we have experienced’ and that over time these ‘linguistic descriptions shed their connections to a particular event and describe general forms of the event.’ This means that as the fictional child who went trekking in Iceland gets older, her specific one-off experiences of trekking become increasingly abstract until – with enough opportunities for deep processing and encoding – they take on the characteristic of more generalised forms of background knowledge. Such a decontextualized propositional network for the knowledge of trekking in Iceland might looks like this:

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What Marzano describes is essentially the process through which we gain background knowledge, and the excellent news is that this does not necessarily have to be experienced directly i.e. our imaginary child does not actually have to trekking in Iceland, but can rather still gain the knowledge of an authentic experience by reading about it in a book and learn the same things about the climate and the culture, though indirectly. This is one of the powerful effects of reading: it’s ability to build background knowledge and generate the kind of schema a student needs to read as successfully about global warming, as about the rainforests of Ecuador or trekking in Alaska during the gold rush.

Perhaps the most powerful point that Marzano goes on to make is that this kind of academic background knowledge manifests itself through vocabulary. The best way to illustrate this idea is through an example. If you take the term ‘port city’, a typical dictionary based definition may look something like this.

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For Marzano, different words require different definitions according to their role and function. Port city comes under the category of general man-made object or place, and as such any good description of the term requires details of its typical setting, specific physical characteristics, how it is developed or built and its typical uses. A description of port city might then look something like this:

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For me, thinking about words in this way was a bit of an epiphany. As you can see there is a considerable amount of knowledge and interrelated understanding that underpins just this one term: port city. This example helped me appreciate the extent to which individual words and phrases are the site through which vast networks of knowledge converge. I also see more clearly why students so often forget the meanings of subject specific vocabulary like ‘monologue’ or ‘genre’; it was probably never explained to them in this much detail or systematically returned to enough times for it to stick. Maybe we make far too many assumptions about what we think students have covered or already know.

It is for these reasons that we have decided to build a vocabulary programme across the school with subject-specific, or tier three words and phrases, at the heart. We will also teach some tier two words, as well as a concurrent root word programme in tutor time, which my wonderful colleague Josie Mingay has written about here. The focus, though, is more on teaching tier one words properly so that the interrelated networks of knowledge can develop and link over time. In my next post I will explain Marzano’s guide to the effective steps in a vocabulary programme and exemplify what this might look like using some of the materials I developed over the summer term with my year 10 class.

For now, I thought it best to avoid making a long post even longer and falling foul to the kind of abuse handed out to Kev Bartle by Stephen Lockyer in his keynote at the Teaching and Learning Takeover.

Thanks for reading and thanks to David Fawcett and Jen Ludgate for giving me the opportunity to present on this topic at TLT15!

Enactment: turning what we know into what we do

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This week a wonderful distillation into the science of learning put together by the Deans for Impact programme has been shared across Twitter. It is fantastic and concise summation of a series of cognitive principles, along with some pretty direct and helpful guidance about the application of these principles in the classroom.

It really is a pretty fantastic little read – incredibly helpful and extremely practical, so much so that both David Didau and Nick Rose write short pieces extolling its virtues to their followers. David even went so far as to demand his readers ‘Do please read and share as widely as possible’ as ‘this document ought to be distributed to every teacher in the UK.’

I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment and for a brief moment I thought about getting the paper copied it and put into every teacher’s and classroom support staff member’s pigeon hole come Monday morning. It certainly is tempting. The problem, however, is that this would probably be a waste of time and money – unlikely to make any real difference.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting the findings of research findings into the hands of busy teachers in as easy and accessible manner as possible. Many schools do this very well. At Durrington Andy Tharby puts up research summaries in the toilets, and Alex Quiqley at Huntington emails out what is essential fairly complex revision strategy guidance in helpful digestible formats.

I very much like easy wins like these, and I try to do them myself in my own school, though probably not quite so well as those mentioned above. Whether they actually make any difference, however, I am not so sure about. I doubt it. As many better than me have expressed on numerous occasions before, there is a big difference between knowing about something and doing something about it: between understanding and familirisation to faithful enactment.

This failure to translate knowledge into practice usually boils down to lack of time and inadequate training. You need enough quality professional development to properly understand what is worth trying to implement in your classroom, and enough time and ongoing support from knowledgable colleagues to properly reflect upon its success and to refine the approach if necessary. These are ultimately some of the major themes from the Teacher Development Trust’s recent report into effective forms of professional learning.

I’m lucky that this year we have taken the decision to close our school early on a Wednesday afternoon and to have two hours of dedicated professional learning per week. This will certainly help with the time issue and has created a framework in which we can build purposeful and iterative development activities. There is much that we are doing on these afternoons, which I hope to blog about in the coming weeks and months. Suffice to say for now that we have built a programme that should provide the time and ongoing training that will make informed changes to teaching and learning, such as those summarised in the Deans for Impact report, much more likely.

But even though I believe our professional learning activities will make a big difference towards successful enactment of research findings, I suspect that this may still not be enough. To this end, we have developed two approaches that we think will help to support the standard and impact of professional learning, and help to make sure that more of what we know about the science of learning translates into classroom practice. They obviously wont guarantee enacted change, but perhaps they will act as more of a helpful nudge than a photocopied report from a largely unknown American organisation placed with the best of intentions in staff pigeonholes.

The first of these approaches is an agreed set principles of learning, which we have made the basis of the way that we talk about teaching and learning across the school, whether in staff training sessions, meetings or, more generally, in one to one conversations about learning. We call them, rather unimaginatively, our principles of learning, and their existence has really given us a shared understanding of what we want our teaching to be considering when they plan their lessons and how we want them to shape the learning experiences of our students.

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The second approach is more of a steer, and has proven to be a really useful tool for key stage co-ordinaters and head of department in their planning. In light of the sheer volume of curriculum changes, we took the decision to introduce a medium scheme of work template common to all subjects and key stages. This is not so much about determining what or how teachers teach their lessons, but rather a way of helping departments to make sure that our agreed principles of learning – such as the benefits of spacing, or the needs to use regular low stakes assessment – are part of the fabric of their enacted curriculum: that all students benefit from what we know about the science of learning.

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Obviously, our principles of learning and standardised medium term planning templates will not guarantee that teachers are introducing desirable difficulties into their teaching, presenting students with multiple interactions with new learning or even providing all students with powerful foundational knowledge. But together with high quality professional learning (more on this to come) and more time to think, plan, reflect and collaborate, we hope that teachers will think a little more carefully about what and how they will teach and that our students will learn in ways that are more likely to make a difference to their long term understanding.

Anyway, that’s the hope!

Thanks for reading.