What Does Success Look Like?

The photo above was taken using a technique called previsualisation.  This means is that I knew what I wanted the finished image to look like before I pressed the shutter button.  As it was made on slide film, I had to get it right in camera – there were no darkroom tricks that could be used to save the photo if I made a mistake.  If I had simply released the shutter without first deciding how I wanted the final image to look then the shot would have looked very different and It would have had far less impact.  I had to intentionally underexpose the image and use a couple of other tricks to get it as I wanted then – BANG – the shot was made.

A similar process is necessary in teaching.  Before starting on an activity, a lesson or a series of lessons it is vital to know what you what the process will be; you need to know what success will look like.  A colleague was struggling with this recently and he said that he could see a series of snapshots rather than being able to play the video in his head before he taught a lesson.  The video is the plan for the journey to the destination.  If you can see the video playing in your head before starting the sequence then you are previsualising your teaching.  You will be able to select the correct pedagogical tools and apply them at the right places along the journey to enable your learners to progress.  Without the previsualised journey it may be that at some points in the learning sequence the correct pedagogical tools are not to hand.

Slides were great but unforgiving and certainly, a print could never match the colour saturation and intensity of a projected slide.  But there was a downside, once the slide was shot there was nothing you could do to improve it; you had to get it right in camera.  It is the same with teaching.  It is a live performance and a second take is impossible; you have to get it right first time.  If the complete learning journey is previsualised in the teacher’s head before it begins then there is likely to be a greater intensity, involvement and pace in that learning journey – and you will get to see what success looks like.

[If you want to see more of my photography, visit my website or my photo blog.]

What Does Success Look Like?

Learning Intervals

My son recently qualified for the county championship in the 1500m.  He came second in his qualifying race and although he ran well he knew that he could not have won his race that day.  He is determined to do better at the county championship.  As he trains for the county championship it would be pointless just getting him to run 1500m over and over and hope that his time would improve.  It may well improve a little but the improvement would be small and take time – in fact his times may not improve at all.  Instead of this, he is doing interval training.  He is running 300m at a faster pace, then jogging the next 300m; running 300m at the faster pace, then jogging the next 300m, then finishing with a fast 300m.  Over time the fast sections will increase in length and the jogging sections will get shorter until he can run the whole 1500m at the new, faster pace.  That’s his training plan to do well at the county championship.
The same method can be used in the classroom.  Many of you will be familiar with the think, pair, share technique which is often used before a discussion in class.  The idea is that everyone is given a set amount of time to think about the question.  At the end of that time each pair of learners talk about their ideas to refine their thinking; again they are given a set amount of time for this.  Finally each pair’s ideas are shared with the class, usually with the teacher asking named learners – no hands.
Think, pair, share usually leads to learners working hard – which is the whole idea!  The idea can be adapted to incorporate other learning.  For example, individuals can be given a section from an exam paper with a set time to work on it.  When the time is up each pair can compare answers to produce their best answer, and then share it with the rest of the class by pinning it to a display board.
This is were the interval idea comes in.  The first time this is done with the class, give then a short amount of time to work independently.  The amount of time will depend on the group, for some it might be 3 minutes, for others it might be 10.  When the class can concentrate for this time, increase it but not by too much, perhaps by an additional 10% or 20% – use your judgement.  The learners probably won’t even realise that they are concentrating for longer.  Over time these working intervals can become longer and eventually they can be very long indeed.  Certainly, this idea can be used to prepare learners for long GCSE or A Level exams.  For many students the idea of working for the length of time required in these exams in daunting but this technique can be used to build up to it gradually without the learners noticing that they are putting in too much extra.  This should be especially useful with people who suffer from exam nerves, and with lower ability groups.
Learning Intervals

Recognising Effort

If I am working hard, I know it.  If I am slacking a little, I know it.  I have the self awareness to accurately assess my own effort level, but do children in our schools have the same ability?

I gave my ‘bottom set’ year 10 class a set of real GCSE exam paper questions a couple of days ago.  When I gave the questions to them I stressed that I wanted them to try them.  If they didn’t know the answer that was alright; they could move on and look at other questions that they could tackle.  i told them that their scores really did not matter.  I wanted to know how they would react when they were faced with the reality of GCSE question.

When I told them to start, there was an outbreak of spontaneous silence, which lasted for fifteen minutes – believe me, that is not normal behaviour for this group.  Everyone in the class was fully engaged with the paper.  In fact it was one of those times when the teacher was truely superfluous.  They would have carried on at the end of the fifteen minutes, but I wanted to show them the mark scheme and the examiner’s report.

On the wall of my room I have the school’s effort grades and descriptions: 1 is always on task, 3 is acceptable effort and 5 requires improvement.  I asked them to think about their effort while they were doing the exam paper.  I gave then a few moments thinking time and then I asked them to tell me their effort based on the scale.  Everyone one I asked rated themselves as 3.  I was shocked.  I could not see how those learners could have put in more effort during the time they were working on the exam questions.  I then told them what I though.  I told them that, in my opinion, everyone had been working at effort 1 – always on task.  I went on to say that if they could continue to work at that level then I could not ask for more.

As you can imagine, I have reflected on this since.  The learners in that class were in a ‘bottom set’.  It is clear to me that they could not accurately assess their own effort.  It was almost as though these children had internalised being labelled as ‘Effort 3’.  It appeared that no matter what their actual effort, they were 3.  For me, this is a massive problem.  I wonder how much these children had been involved in assessing their effort previously.  Was it the case that when their assessment arrived year in year out it said Effort 3?  I wonder how many of the teachers who gave those grades involved the learners in the process of giving effort grades.  Certainly, that is what I have done myself.  Faced with giving effort grades, and other information, for several classes in a year group, the easy option is to go down a column and fill in figures quickly as they are other, more important, things that need to be done.  This is a natural reaction.  Having seen how my year 10 learners were unable to assess their own effort I am going to ensure that I involve my students far more in the process of assessing effort.  Let’s face it, the only person who really knows how much effort someone is putting in, is that person – or at least it should be.

Recognising Effort