I have been a teacher for 29 years, a Headteacher for 14 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about the importance of implementation to improve student outcomes.
Authentic implementation of school improvement interventions is the real work of a school leader. With superb studies emerging from several quarters (the Education Endowment Foundation and the Chartered College of Teaching to name but two) about what has the best chance of helping students make better progress in their learning, it is relatively easy to choose an intervention which, you hope, will prove to be the great panacea to cure all of your school’s teaching and learning ills.
We all love metacognition, don’t we? And in the EEF’s Guidance Report, Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning, you will find the third strand is modelling your expert thinking for students. I have become an expert user of a visualiser to help model the writing process. I first saw one being used several years ago as I walked through a mathematics lesson. The teacher was talking through his solution to a problem and there, on the board, was a close up of the question paper he was completing as he explained what he was thinking as his pen moved across the page. It was love at first sight. I proceeded to ask people about how they used them, read about them, bought one from @Ipevo and practised with my new visualiser endlessly. Even now, years later, when it comes to writing a talk-through 25 mark essay in front of the class, I practise the night before, writing the essay out once, twice, even three times so that I am sure it is a good essay and, most importantly, that I have identified the learning points I want to emphasise as I talk the students through what is going on in my mind as I write the essay. To be completely honest, I sometimes have a full draft of the essay on the table in front of me when I am modelling the writing in class! Modelling writing effectively takes significant preparation and practice. The more I have practised, the more confident I have become. I am now at the point where using a visualiser holds no fear for me; it has become a central tool to support my teaching of the writing process and the students I teach rate my visualiser lessons very highly.
But we love implementation more! The effectiveness of metacognitive techniques to improve students’ learning cannot exceed the effectiveness of the implementation of those techniques. A couple of years ago, I stuck my oar into the English department’s preparation for the first English Language GCSE examination. At short notice, I decided, unilaterally, that instead of the students completing a timed paper, that every member of the department would use a visualiser to model a written answer to the main writing question, in real time. And they were going to do it the next day. Some colleagues had used a visualiser a few times before, others didn’t know what one looked like. None had been formally trained in how to use a visualiser. None had been mentored in how important it is to get the angle of the camera right. None had been shown how to ensure that you don’t get carried away speaking and writing, so that what you are writing is totally out of shot, the students being too embarrassed to tell you. Some rooms they worked in had the PCs facing in completely the wrong direction, neither facing the board nor looking at the students. I hadn’t even checked we had sufficient visualisers – we had to borrow some from other departments. I had expected colleagues to learn overnight how to use a visualiser effectively to model writing, something that had taken me a great deal of time and practice to master. Predictably, the outcome of the lesson the next day was mixed, at best. In some cases it was much worse than that. And it was entirely my fault, because the implementation of the intervention was poor. Like I said, the effectiveness of metacognitive techniques to improve students’ learning cannot exceed the effectiveness of the implementation of those techniques; in this case the implementation was rushed, the resources were inadequate, the training was non-existent, the reason for using the specific intervention was unsound, the desired outcomes had not been defined, the key features of effective practice were not understood…etc., etc.. In some ways this is a public apology to my English department colleagues.
Making the evidence impact positively upon student outcomes is the only point of using evidence. I have some highly successful examples of how using a visualiser effectively can enhance students’ outcomes, sometimes quite dramatically; well-planned implementation is the key to such successes. Professor Jonathan Sharples has authored an EEF guidance report on how to plan the implementation of your interventions entitled, Putting Evidence to Work – A School’s Guide to Implementation. It is essential reading for all school leaders, and I don’t say that lightly. At the moment we are about to implement seven months of work on improving our vulnerable students’ outcomes. We have a student body which is 95% white working class British, one of the worst performing ethnic groups in England. If we can implement our evidence-based strategies effectively, we think we have a chance of narrowing the gap in performance between our vulnerable students (and by vulnerable, I mean those students who: are low starters; have a Special Educational Need or Disability; started mid-year; or are disadvantaged, including those who are in care) and all other students. It is a huge challenge and over the next few weeks I will be blogging about our interventions and how we plan to implement them. One thing for sure, Jonathan Sharples’ advice will be our guide; I can’t keep getting the implementation wrong!
I will be talking at much greater length about how we translate evidence into practice which improves students’ outcomes on Friday 15 June 2018 in Sheffield at our annual conference, Making Evidence Work in Schools, in conjunction with Learn Sheffield. If you would like to attend the conference, click the programme below for further details (the line-up looks great, BTW) and book a place via this email: firstname.lastname@example.org.