Collaboration, Diversity, Group work, Professional development, Reflection

Collaborative and Reflective Staff Networks in Education

group hand fist bump
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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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Group work, Literacy, Oracy

‘Let’s talk’- the role of Socratic talk in challenging students

Yamina Bibi- Lead Practitioner

Follow her on Twitter: @msybibi

A colleague of mine once told me that a ladder can be used as an analogy to explain differentiation. All of our students need to reach the top of the learning ladder but how many steps they require will differ according to individual needs. Some students might be able to skip a few steps to reach the top, while others may need a few extra steps to enable them to do so.

Stretching and challenging all the young people in our classrooms to reach the top of the ladder can be the key to their success. As Tom Sherrington states in his blog Teaching to the Top: Attitudes and Strategies for delivering real challenge:

‘The secret to doing this well is to think about it in three areas of teaching practice:

  • Attitudes:  The belief and mindsets teachers need to have themselves and inculcate in their students. This influences everything else.
  • Routines/Habits:  The things you do all the time, in every lesson.
  • Extra Challenges: Things you build into an overall scheme of work and use occasionally.’

As a teacher, this means that planning and embedding challenge doesn’t have to include many versions of the same worksheet (this is something I have been guilty of in the past).

In fact, that’s why I find Socratic Seminars an effective way of implementing the principles of ‘teaching to the top’; the differentiation is planned meticulously prior to the lesson without the need for three different coloured worksheets.

What is a Socratic seminar?

A Socratic seminar is a specific style of dialogic teaching (see Robin Alexander’s ‘Towards Dialogic Teaching’) I learned from my wonderful NQT mentor, Teresa Dunseith.

It encourages students to: think deeply about a topic; contribute effectively to discussions; listen attentively to other students’ ideas; justify and challenge rather than accept the first answer and ensures all students are involved. Although some may argue that this strategy is only effective in subjects such as English and Humanities, I strongly disagree.

I have observed a Socratic seminar taking place in a Science lesson, where students debated the use of stem cells. I have also observed students discussing and working out a Maths problem while other students observed and then discussed the methods used.

As a strategy, it’s adaptable and it’s the teacher’s decision how they use it in their classroom. For example, in some lessons the Socratic discussion is used as part of the ‘Do Now’ activity to hook learners, while in other lessons, it is part of the main activity to enable students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

So how does one plan and deliver a Socratic seminar?

Below are instructions and ideas on how you can plan and deliver a Socratic seminar in your classroom. I have also provided examples of resources I share with students in the lesson; if you would like copies of any of the resources, please do let me know using the comment box below or tweet me @msybibi. 

whole class socratic

mini socratic

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I hope that you will try the Socratic seminar and that it will enable your students to be stretched and challenged and reach the top of the learning ladder.

EAL, Group work, Oracy

Talk for Learning

Itrat Badar- EAL and Urdu Teacher

As an EAL and Urdu Teacher, talk is an essential component of learning as it enables pupils to: develop, exchange and revise ideas; communicate face to face with an audience; rehearse ideas before writing and rehearse language structures before writing. All of these are vital for language development. I particularly enjoy using exploratory talk in my lessons to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills. It allows students to engage with each other’s ideas where information can be challenged and counter-challenged with reasons given and alternatives offered. This is the type of talk that I aim for in lessons.

Some of the topics that I have explored to encourage effective talk for learning are:

  1. The Internet brings more harm than good.
  2. Should men and women be paid the same?

For talk to be successful in any classroom, it needs to be carefully planned. Below are some questions that I ask myself when planning and preparing for effective talk:

  • Are students being supported to understand the initial problem through activating prior knowledge and addressing key words?
  • Am I encouraging students and guiding them to ask the right questions so that they have a range of possible explanations for causes and effects?
  • Am I ensuring group work enables students to gain a more complete understanding perhaps by assigning different roles? How does this help to frame their thinking so that when they are asked questions they are thinking very specifically about their given focus?
  • Are students reflecting upon their own thinking and learning processes? Have I used self/peer assessment criteria to effectively assess this? How is this allowing them to apply similar ways of thinking to different problems and contexts?

Next time you are planning talk for learning in your classroom, I hope that you find the above questions useful.

Thank you and let’s talk more.

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