Mark Enser on challenge for all. How can we create the correct level of challenge without leaving anybody behind?
How do we create a culture of evidence? How do we do this while leaving nobody behind?
In 2015, Mark’s department was average, in terms of headline measures, but underperforming in terms of progress and had low uptake for A-level among their students. They came to accept that they could be doing better and that something needed to be different.
As well as the culture he wanted to foster, he also thought a out the supporting structures that were needed to make the change. Focus was on a move from excellent work – excellent learning – excellent geography. It was also important that the team remained happy and productive – nothing extra without something else being taken out.
Having made the plan, the team agreed what excellence in geography looked like. They broke it down into what made the subject unique, and for each one decided what excellence would look like. This created a common language and informed planning at all levels – long, medium, lesson.
They made their motto “Expect Excellence.” There was more focus on re-drafting, inspired by Berger’s work. Is it excellent yet? Encourage this language among students – put it in a poster on the board.
Identify the top end and really push them. They targeted an excel group. Examples of their work was shared in the corridor; extra homework was given; they were encouraged to read further on the Geography blog: readings from the media with a bit of context and a few prompt questions: things to think about while reading the article or watching the clip. Email subscriptions to WordPress helped them to track which students had signed up and parents were also able to subscribe.
The department used PLCs to help students identify areas where revision was needed; flipped the knowledge revision and focused on skills in the classroom – worked very well at KS4 and 5.
Their excellence gallery was annotated to explain why the work was excellent: not pretty, but changes frequently and with student names in big writing over it. Students encouraged to look at the work when asking, “Is it excellent yet?” It is also good for parents evening, giving them something to talk about with their children while they wait to talk to you, and giving you something to discuss with them when they see you.
But what about weaker students?
Plan for problems. Anticipate misconceptions and pick out the threshold concepts in your subject, so you know when you’ll need to intervene.
Modelling. Give exemplar pieces (teacher created) early on: it’s important that they can see what the expectation is. Bad exemplars are even more fun: search and destroy! Live modelling on the whiteboard helps to show your thought process – good for metacognition. This models what an expert in your subject does. Making the exemplars take some time, but you save that time in marking and feedback. I was chatting with Will Bailey-Watson yesterday who said he used to write exemplars while students were writing answers in class: great idea.
Strengthen recall. Quiz regularly. Dual-coding: use text and images to support pupils in recalling. Words are transient but pictures remain.
Work as a team. It’s impossible to do it alone. Mark’s team plan their lessons together, playing to their strengths. They shared good practice from their own lessons. They involved parents early and often (high on my agenda this year) – make them part of the team, email home a lot. Use SLT a lot – bring them in to help get reticent students on board.
Prioritise. Will it lead to better progress?
The results of this were quite spectacular, though Mark is quick to say two years of results are not really enough and it’s no possible to select just one cause. Conversion to target nearly doubled, though, and A-level uptake more than doubled.