Nancy Gedge reflects on how schools can effectively apply research findings in their settings…
One of the things we have been busy doing at DYT this summer is revamping our training workshops. Our workshops form part of our flagship offer to schools, Drive for Literacy (DfL), which is a whole school model for literacy, built around the Graduated Approach and starting from Quality First Teaching. Its aim is to build teacher capability and school capacity to identify and support learners who struggle with reading, writing, speaking and listening.
It is important that what we do is rooted in the best available evidence and research, and, given that the body of evidence and research is considerable, reviewing our offer to schools has been a lengthy exercise. After all, we believe that if you are going to do something, it is worth doing it properly.
As we found in our Through the Looking Glass Report, amongst the mainstream research and advice that is readily available to teachers, e.g. the Sutton Trust’s ‘What Makes Great Teaching’, it is not always immediately obvious which parts pertain to teaching SEND learners and those with literacy difficulties, but reflecting on what makes great teaching, especially with regards to these learners, has been a both a privilege and a pleasure.
In teaching, often, when you come across the latest ideas, be that in a report, in the news or on an INSET day or during training, the temptation is to run off and plunge straight into change. This can be as a whole staff, or individual teachers may find themselves being the lone challenger to a prevailing school culture. Either way, the chances of effecting long term change under both of these circumstance are slim. As was found in ‘Developing Great Teaching’, a review of the international research into what constitutes effective professional development for teachers from the Teacher Development Trust new ideas, new ways of doing things, can easily fall to the wayside, or worse.
Context is pretty much everything in school teaching, and there is no guarantee that what works fabulously in one school will make any difference in another. When you come across something that seems to be the answer to your teaching prayers, think about the principles that underpin what you are seeing, rather than the outward show. That way, you are more likely to come up with a way in which you can transfer ideas to your own setting.
Building networks is a key ingredient to success. It doesn’t matter whether you are working with the colleague next door, or in a different department, or even a different school; the key is to make sure that you have both the support you need when it all seems like too much like hard work, and the listening ear with whom you can share success. Having someone you are accountable to means that you will do what you have said you will (rather than letting those changes slide down to the bottom of the list).
The National Portrait Gallery runs a project called Take One Picture – and this works in a tenuously similar way. The examples of good and great teaching are legion, and the things that good and great teachers do are many; far too many, in fact, for any teacher to incorporate them all at once. Pick the one thing you can see yourself changing and stick to it. That way you have a chance of making the change sustainable. There is more than a little truth in the maxim ‘taking on more than you can chew’.
Sometimes, we have a tendency to see the things that didn’t go right as disasters, and we write them off, consigned to the bin of failure, never to be looked at again. Our failures, though, just as we would say to the children in our classes, are those moments when we learn the most. Effecting change, be that the behaviour of an individual or a class, or even the system and culture of a school, is hard work and we, because we are all human, are bound to make mistakes and get things wrong. The key is learning from those mistake, reflecting on what happened, and working out what we can do differently in the future.
Whatever you are doing in your school, be it changing the displays or re-writing the policies, take some time to think about whether what you are doing applies to all of the pupils in the school, (even the potential pupils) not just some of them. Got some children with language impairments in your school? Having a policy or a banner that declares that all children will speak in sentences at all times unintentionally excludes a number of the student body from the policy, whether you mean to or not.
We are looking forward to working with our ‘17/’18 partner schools this coming year – and that our partnership will secure positive change in attainment for learners with literacy difficulties through embedding manageable school-wide change.
If you are interested in becoming a Partner School, in our January-December cohort, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.