Celebrating our Learning

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Today teachers at our school spent the first student-free day presenting to each other on their College Project. That’s all teachers, in teams, presenting to their peers. Very exciting.

The College Project this year asked teachers to work in teams to answer questions about their own teaching, based on general themes of ‘taking notice’ or ‘inter-cultural understanding’. It’s the key staff learning event of the year, beyond the individual goals teachers set with their Head of Department.
The day was organised like a conference: with a great opening keynote by Barbara Watterston on some of the key principles of staff learning, most of which were clearly evident in the underpinnings of this day.

There were five sessions in the day, with five strands operating all day, and three presentation in each session. So, about twenty minutes for each group, followed by a plenary session at the end of the day and drinks and nibbles. A fully fledged in-house conference.

I saw some really interesting things like:

A group of maths teachers using mini whiteboards to check for understanding and get students to understand mistakes don’t matter in the process. This included quite a lot of student voice in the presentation, including some nice use of video.

[On a side-note, video is still hard. I saw four groups that tried to include video in their presentations, and this was the only one where it worked flawlessly.]

I then saw an inspiring presentation on differentiation and personal stories from the primary classroom where they showcased some individual case-studies where they’d personalised learning. For me, it highlighted the importance of choice for students, knowing your student and taking notice of them.

Then a group of English teachers talked about purposeful play and Elearning and the English classroom. They talked about FLOW and showed a video that argued people are happiest in ‘flow’ and that we lose flow as we get older (and our neurones get cemented) They quoted from Ken Robinson and Emerson and argued for changing practice, not the technology and showed iPads apps: poetry magnets, as well as google docs and the wiki as tools that work.

In the next session after morning tea I heard history teachers talking about ‘taking notice’ of feedback in their subjects and trying to figure out why, that despite the extensive use of rubrics, students seemed to be making the same mistakes again and again. They then tried some ‘error clusters’ to see if that made a difference and some use of checklists.

Then, a session on ‘raising the tail’ ┬áto raise the achievement level of the weaker students in senior classes. They took a technology approach, doing an initial Google survey on the ‘March mindset’ and embedded that survey on our wikis. They also used Testmoz as a quick quiz tool, and tracked the student quiz results along the way. Another teacher used SAC feedback as the starting point for some learning goals for each student, which was a great example of using summative data as a formative learning tool.

Another group looked at formative assessment techniques, not ‘gimmicks’. It was interesting to hear the language that teachers used all day to talk about practice they liked, and didn’t. They talked about ‘exit cards’, a ‘flipped quiz’, sticky note peer-assessment, using ‘traffic lights’ in Year 11 Psychology, giving personalised feedback with Excel mail merge in Year 11 Chemistry and inviting students to make contact for more feedback. Interestingly, the level of student requests for feedback increased a lot in this process. They also talked about ‘star charts’ (which they called ‘Token Economies’) This could be done in Class Dojo I thought. Maybe I should try that for homework.

In this session a young first year teacher showed complete mastery of the presentation tools and engaged everyone with his energy.

After lunch, my team co-presented on developing our Literature students as literature writers; giving us and them the language we needed. I’ll blog abut that separately later but I was pleased with how it went.

There was another session at that time too, about using Socratic Circles to facilitate engagement in RE classes.

This was followed by a session on using a variety of new (and old) tools including: using Google Forms, Flubaroo and Excel to test students, analyse the results and share the feedback with students, using eduKate (one of our online tools) for much the same purpose, using TestMoz (yes, second time this has been mentioned today, and yes, it was new to me) and a site called Socrative, which didn’t work disappointingly.

I’m serious that I got more learning out of this day than I have had at many major conferences. I really enjoyed the celebration of learning. Some teachers found it quite daunting to present to their peers but there was a great spirit of professional collaboration and sense of shared purpose. It was evidence of a great learning culture, and as Barbara Watterston said at the start of the day, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ But if you’ve got both, you can really celebrate. It was a great way to finish the year.