Collaboration, Diversity, Group work, Professional development, Reflection

Collaborative and Reflective Staff Networks in Education

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Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner for Inclusion and Drama

Staff in our school have been working hard to establish a range of reflective and collaborative networks, aimed at developing reflections, promoting discussions and empowering practitioners. What follows, then, is a summary of five models we have used to do this.

  1. Action Research: As a way to support staff to take control of their classrooms and act as practitioner-researchers, our assistant headteacher Charlotte Paine has successfully rolled out action research with smaller groups of staff first, before all teachers and teaching assistants from across the school have contributed to presentations on their research. This has been wonderfully popular, and supported with teacher confidence, collaborative working and innovations with teaching.
  2. Coaching: In a development which was really appreciated by many teachers and support staff, Yamina Bibi and Fiona Morris – former colleagues of mine who are educational leaders with a precision focus on developing staff to be their very best – worked hard to establish a coaching culture at our school. Here, a full range of staff are developed through personalised coaching sessions, led by staff across the school, allowing staff to set their own targets and negotiating their own paths towards them.
  3. Diversity Discussion Group: Inspired by the grassroots education movements @WomenEd, @DisabilityEd, @LGBTed and @BAMEed, we established a meaningful collaborative discussion group allowing staff to reflect on issues of diversity across the curriculum and in education more broadly. Staff have found this group to be genuinely exciting and helpful, promoting and supporting the important role of diversity in education.
  4. Teacher Journal Group: The opportunity to engage with a teacher journal allows staff to track their own learning and consider what is helpful and meaningful in their diverse teaching contexts. In line with this, we have had a teacher journal group at our school which has involved different staff including a teaching assistant, a curriculum leader and a lead practitioner discussing, sharing and learning new ideas.
  5. SB Discussions: Staff have really tended to enjoy rich discussions over hot educational topics, including inclusion, student led-learning and the value of collaboration. Hearing colleagues, with their wealth and diversity of opinions and experiences, come together to interrogate a range of educational topic, has been really meaningful.

All told, then, we have sought to establish a full range of platforms for teachers to share their opinions and empower themselves to forge their own paths. I hope this blog post may be of value to those working in education, considering how to embed or develop collaboration and reflection in the cultures of their schools.

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Collaboration, Diversity, Multimodal Learning, Student Leadership

Multimodal Learning: Inclusion, Collaboration and Identity

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Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner for Inclusion and Drama

As is the case, I’m sure, with many colleagues, I often like to take a step back and think about how far I’m meeting my own conception of the teacher I want to be. My initial step was to buy a huge stack of certificates and stickers to celebrate my students’ learning, and my second step was to buy and wear a rather frivolous neck-tie (we could consider the merits of authentic role-modelling on another occasion). A rather more meaningful moment of self-reflection came as I thought about my lessons. Are they meaningful and joyful? Are they challenging and collaborative? Do they facilitate student independence and celebrate young people’s diverse identities? In thinking through these questions, I returned to the notion of multimodal learning.

    Multimodal approaches to learning recognise the reality of the physical and social spaces which classrooms are, broadening the terms of what learning is and how it happens. The kind of tools I have found to be helpful have included images, video-clips, sounds and music. Concrete objects and props can be combined with art, text and discussions, to not only open up mediums of learning, but also to diversify the ways young people can demonstrate their understanding. Drama, collaboration and teacher-in-role can engage students’ imaginative and lived experiences in relation to the world, across the curriculum. Our school has recently embraced Google Drive and Google Classroom, with exciting potential for the impact of technology on learning.

    I would suggest that multimodality in the classroom can promote inclusivity as it removes barriers to learning by offering various pathways to engage with the lesson; it can equally promote challenge by encouraging creative thinking amongst learners. Through its celebration of the social resources of the classroom, it promotes collaboration and communication skills. By championing young people’s different interpretations – when used meaningfully, multimodal approaches should include diverse representations of ethnicity, sexuality, religion and gender and identity – it can celebrate young people’s diverse identities; by sharing images of different groups of people, exploring multiple identities through drama and discussion, and representing diverse individuals through art. Importantly, it can bring a sense of energy, engagement and excitement ot the classroom. I certainly wouldn’t say I have become my perfect self-identity as a practitioner, but by employing multimodal approaches, I have taken a step closer to becoming the kind of teacher I have always hoped to be.

Collaboration, Literacy, Professional development, Writing

I do it…we do it…so you can do it: the importance of collaboration across the curriculum

ADD56B9E-DD3C-400A-A064-C34118F2D469Natalie Jim-Lead Practitioner

As I read the fifth piece of coursework my heart continues to sink. Although the words on the page are definitely recognisable as being part of the English language, they seem  to be randomly placed on the page, with no actual sense being communicated. The constant question keeps circulating around my brain: “how can they write so fluently and attain such high grades in English, but be unable to transfer these same literacy skills when studying other subjects?”

It became such a source of frustration that I knew something had to done.

As teachers in secondary school, we understand that collaboration with other curriculum areas is a fantastic way to improve attainment across the school community, but we may not forge these links as often as we should. I speak very generally, but curriculum planning, the sharing of practice and finding the time to observe other colleagues can be challenging. Is it any wonder that students can’t connect the skills required in numerous subjects when we often don’t utilise opportunities to make those connections?

As a teacher of drama, I have had to shift my mindset regarding the teaching of writing and literacy skills in response to the new GCSE exam specification. Interestingly, a student’s ability to write about drama is awarded higher marks than their ability to demonstrate practical skills. There is also a further focus on preparing students to confidently sit a 2 hour written paper worth 40%.

After marking a batch of  mock exam papers,  it was with a sinking feeling that I noticed a gap in what they were achieving in English compared to drama. What was frustrating was that the skills needed to answer questions in the written paper were very similar. Taking action, I turned to a Lead Practitioner from the English Curriculum Area to support me in my quest to join the dots.

The first step was to break down the similar aspects of the English literature exam paper and the specimen drama paper. It was apparent that analysis and evaluation were the overlapping skills. So the questions can students: identify language used by a writer; infer meaning and evaluate the effect on the reader were similar to what I was considering as a drama teacher. So, for example, drama students should be able to identify theatrical skills used by a performer, infer meaning and importantly discuss the effect on the audience.

I looked at a writing frame grid being used in English and adapted it for a drama question. In addition, the LP visited and team taught a drama lesson that was introducing the grid and demonstrated the most effective way of modelling – “I do, we do, you do.” When using top band models as a teaching tool, I had often not spent enough time on the joint construction of a response with the class. Instead I would jump from showing them a model and breaking it down and analysing it, to then giving them the task of trying to create a response for themselves. What seemed to be the missing piece of the jigsaw was actually working on a new model together and then giving them the independence to try.

It is still a work in progress, but looking at students’ subsequent attempts at similar questions, I am hopeful.  I would recommend using the expertise of those around us to problem solve and support highly.

Collaboration, Group work, Literacy, Oracy

Five Ways to use Collaborative Learning in the Classroom

Nick Bentley-Lead Practitioner 

Follow him on Twitter: @MrBentleyTweets

“What the child can do in cooperation today, he can do alone tomorrow.”  Vygotsky (1986)

I remember the first time I used collaborative learning in my English classroom; during my PGCE year I separated my class into groups to create short role-plays to summarise the five acts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It all seemed to be going swimmingly until the Act 5 group took to the stage, and inexplicably turned the joyful comedy of the wedding scene into a violent, gruesome bloodbath. I was rather worried about what my subject mentor would think when he spoke to me afterwards. Thankfully, he was pleased with the creativity and comedy that they were able to unpack in a rather different way within the lesson! It supported us to explore the genre of comedy in a fresh way, and I remain very pleased that it happened.

Although I am not entirely sure if this is the kind of learning he had in mind, if we put to one side his gendered use of language, Vygotsky (1986: 188) has outlined a really interesting point about the benefits of collaborative approaches to education. So, I would like to use this post to share five ways of using collaborative learning in the classroom which, though some teachers may be aware of, will hopefully be meaningful for others.

Process Drama

Despite the unexpected twist I experienced during the Midsummer lesson, drama can be a valuable way of encouraging learners to collaborate. Whilst many drama practitioners advocate teaching the subject by focusing on the creation of polished pieces of theatre, Bolton (1986: 22) has instead outlined how drama can be used as a learning medium emphasising “interaction with the objective world at a feeling/thinking level,” naming it ‘Process Drama’. Process Drama allows students to work in groups to explore topics from across the curriculum through drama. Examples of this might include learners creating still images to represent key words and tricky concepts, role-play to act as scientists, mathematicians or journalists and performances to explore poetry, foreign language material and historical texts.

Structured Conversations

Radhakrishna and Ewing (2015:85) have suggested that think-pair-share conversations might “keep students prepared [and] to get more involved in class discussion and participation.” A helpful way of facilitating this increased participation can be structured conversations, which ensure that all students within a class care able to share their points of view, or approaches to completing a task, without one dominating.  It can involve sentence starters, time-limited conversations, or even a “speed dating” approach; ensuring that the interactions learners have with each other are clearly structured, can be a wonderful way to improve the quality of their conversations.

Roles and Responsibilities

A common concern with group work is that students might be passive in their learning, and allow others to do all of the work without making any contributions. Allocating roles and responsibilities to each student within a group can be a helpful way of avoiding this potential pitfall of cooperation in classrooms. Roles and responsibilities can have all kinds of different names – directors, leaders, champions, or even mini-madams to name but a few – but it really can support effective differentiation in the classroom, by ensuring that the learners are each given areas of focus which meet their particular capabilities, interests and needs.

New Groups

In line with Vygotsky’s theory of a Zone of Proximal Development, wherein effective cooperation can mean learners are stretched to reach new understandings, Wells (2000: 58) argues that “dialogue [serves as] a form of collaborative meaning-making in which both individual and collective understandings are enhanced.” So, swapping groups during the lesson can be a helpful way of students sharing and presenting different levels of challenging information to their peers, alternating between differentiated and mixed attainment groups, and developing learners’ social and communication skills across the lesson.

 Carousel

Helpful for developing a positive buzz or atmosphere around the classroom, offering learners the opportunity to participate in a carousel is a fun way to embed collaborative learning. Students work in groups to complete a task at different stations in the room, before swapping to another station, rotating around the whole classroom until all students have worked on all activities. I like to play carousel music to signal to the students that it is time to move around the room, although I appreciate that not everyone would enjoy this approach!

These various forms of collaborative learning can facilitate effective differentiation, social learning and improved communication skills. As Vygotsky suggests, however, an integral point is that by working together, they can stretch their skills into new areas of achievement. Undeterred by my students’ rewriting of Midsummer as a grisly tragedy, I have thoroughly enjoyed embedding collaborative learning in my lessons. Whilst I am sure that many will be familiar with some of the approaches I have described, I hope that some of these strategies can be helpful, interesting and enjoyable for practitioners helping their students learn new skills and synthesise new knowledge.

 

Bibliography

Bolton, G. (1986). Selected Writings on drama in education.  Essex: Longman Group Limited

Radhakrishna, R. and Ewing, J. (2012) “TPS (Think Pair Share) as an Active Learning Strategy”. NACTA Journal 

Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and Language. London: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wells, G. (2000). Dialogic inquiry in Education: building on the legacy of Vygotsky. In C.D. Lee and P. Smagorinsky (eds) Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press