Whilst attending a series of ‘Creative Maths’ courses funded by the LEA I have not only been exposed to a fantastic range of lesson activities and ideas but also to how to improve lessons through reflection and observation with a colleague.
Now I always try to be reflective in my practice, one of the main reasons which I write this blog is for that purpose, but like most teachers observations are something I do termly, as is required at my school, and try to get through as quickly as possible. The focus suggested here not on observing to highlight the inadequacies in teachers but on starting conversations to support teachers, offering alternatives and suggestions – sort of what we do on twitter!
In order to complete observations 3 methods were proposed: Eureka!, RAP wall and the Challenge Zone.
Focuses on the moment when a child ‘gets’ what you’re teaching, just that spark. There were two versions of this reflection – one for the teacher, and the other for the children.
The content of the questions takes the reflector through the learning process – ‘what do you what them to learn?’ is at the heart of it and then around the outside is the steps such as what are you (teacher) doing to help this, who else is helping them (class discussions etc.) but the really important section is ‘when did you know they ‘got’ it’.
The beauty of this format is that you can use it whenever. It can be a planning tool, to check you have thought about each part of learning (when do I think they’ll start to go ‘ooh!’), it can be a reflection tool after the lesson (when did I see them start to get it) and a reflection tool from the children (when did I get it?).
This then opens up a whole wave of discussions about things such as what caused the difference between when you thought the learning would click, and when it did? Would one way be better? Could the learning have occurred earlier? How would that have effected the lesson? Do you and the children agree on the point when learning happens? The list is endless…
Personally, I found the idea of asking what children thought of the learning experience, in such a simple manor, eye-opening. Who better to explain their learning than them themselves! Now I know that learner observations are not a new idea but what I was pleased with in this instance was the structure which made it easy for both children and adults to reflect on the learning. Beyond this the conversations and reflections that build on the lessons from these conversations could be exponential.
The RAP wall
Focuses on the teacher reflecting on the type of learning which is going on within their lessons. RAP stands for R=Reflective learning, A=Active learning and P=Passive learning.
The premise for this method of reflection uses a grid split into 10 minute sections. When planning/observing/reflecting the teacher splits each 10 minute block into R, A or P e.g. the first 5 minutes will be active as the children try the starter activity I have set up, next I will discuss what we’ve found for 2 minutes which will be reflective…
After completing the whole grid you have a very visual picture of your lesson. Equally a traffic light system of R=green, A=orange and P=red can help make the split stand out. It is important to define what those using the method believe the terms Reflective, Active and Passive mean before using it, as well as noting that it is a balance that is best, not less of one kind or more of another. Once again it is the conversations and reflections that come from this method that is its real benefit.
Once again this method can be used in planning and post-lesson for comparison or from teacher and observer comparisons. It can also be used to look for patterns in subject areas. One example is a school who used it in P.E. and saw that the first and last 10/15 minutes of the lesson were wasted learning opportunities as the children were changing. So they discussed what could be done and decided to display facts, prompt questions etc. for the children to be reading and thinking about whilst they were changing. I could not imagine an idea like this coming from traditional methods of reflection yet the conversations here have directly benefited learning.
Focuses on the differing scale of challenge that is are offered to the children throughout the duration of a lesson.
Here we have a graph-like sheet with 5 minute intervals across the bottom and along the side the scale from 0 to 10 – the level of challenge. Similar to the RAP wall this method works by visually illustrating to the user moments of challenge within the lesson. Again it is worth noting that no one would want a lesson that was constant challenge, you will expect peaks and troughs but it is a talking point where those appear.
When I first heard about this method my first thoughts went to differentiation. With my higher attaining children I will often give them a challenge very early into the lesson and they will set to work trying to beat it, later on I will encourage reflection and either scaffold their thinking or extend them further depending on their progress. In contrast I have to be careful doing this with my lower attaining children, if something looks too challenging for the they will soon tell me they can’t do it (sometimes before even reading it!) and resign themselves to enduring a ‘difficult’ lesson. If, however, I start off with questions I know they can do, and increase the challenge incrementally, they will be attempting much more challenging questions by the end of the lesson with a new found confidence.
Again thinking about the discussions that can be had from this. Would it be possible to gradually reduce the time it took to increase the challenge for my lower attaining children? Are each group receiving the same amount of challenge (remembering it is challenge for their ability not the same level of challenge for everyone)? In the model I describe does the challenge for the lower attaining children continue to increase, whilst the challenge for the higher attaining children continue to decrease? What about the middle attaining? Can the level of challenge for each group be replicated in sync? What effect does that have?
As well as this you can combine both the Challenge Zone and the RAP wall, mapping the challenge and the reflective, active and passive learning. Once more you are starting more conversations – can reflective learning be challenging? How about passive learning? Does there need to be active learning to facilitate challenge?
Overall I have enjoyed exploring these new models and intend to use them sporadically throughout my teaching. Even if I am using them individually the thought process that they encourage (as even I have not resorted to conversations with myself) I think will benefit my teaching.