Survive or thrive: Challenge and engagement in the classroom

Rowlands analogy (below), written in his 2017 book entitled ‘Learning Without Labels: Improving outcomes for vulnerable pupils,’ is certainly poignant in today’s education system. Not only does it highlight the strengths of one of the most basic living organisms, but also the overwhelming power that entities can wield over them.

shelley blog

“Fleas are amazing creatures, they can jump 100 times their own height, which is the equivalent of a 6ft human leaping a 30 storey building, but if you put them in a jar with a lid, within three days of jumping against this imposed ceiling this feat will no longer be achievable. Even when the lid is removed, the fleas will have learnt to jump no higher than where the lid was placed. What is even more amazing is that their offspring will also be able to jump no higher, having followed the example of their parents.”

(Rowland: 2017, 48)

As teachers, we have an undoubtedly influential role in a child’s life. We have the ability to transform the world of a young person – albeit with limited time and resources – by breaking down barriers, challenging ideas and by building understanding. We, in many cases, dictate where their ‘ceiling’ is or, indeed, if there is even one at all. But what happens when a ceiling has already been put into place? Is there a way to lift it and help students jump higher?

Carol Dweck’s ‘Growth Mindset’ theory suggests that transforming the way we think about ourselves can have a progressive impact on intelligence. She asks “what are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?”

The issue with limiting learning, although arguably teaching is constrained by assessment frameworks and time, is that we encourage a ‘win or lose’ mindset wherein students can either fail or succeed to fit in. Dweck writes:

two mindsets

“I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”

For many students, this is a difficult context to work within. And it’s even more so for students who are disadvantaged, who find this ‘win or lose’ culture more stressful and inhospitable. For many disadvantaged students, whether they know they are yet, they are already losing that battle.

In education, all knowledge is empirical meaning that is it derived from experience (Vygotsky 1978, 57). In this sense, experience does not refer to the extreme or different but merely to any situation that allows a person to experience something new, be it a lecture, reading a book, talking to someone, watching a film, and so on.  This notion, reinforced by Locke and Ferrier, hypothesises that ideas come from sensation, for example the senses offer mankind a distinct perception of the things in our surroundings. If enabling experiences are limited, ergo you come from a disadvantaged background, knowledge may also be limited. For meaningful learning to take place there must be a process whereby a person can cognitively analyse what they already know, relating it to new knowledge and how these can work together to create new meaning (Ausubel 2000, 5). For us, this process can only be effectively achieved when the educator has an understanding of the student’s current knowledge, the pedagogy needed to engage the learner and how new material is relevant.

For effective differentiation, is it not vital to have a clear understanding of the limiting factors preventing your students from making progress? These factors could be a result of economical, behavioural, social, mental or emotional constraints – or any combination of these things. This short YouTube clip clearly demonstrates the impact that disadvantage has on the potential for someone to succeed.

When you reflect upon your own upbringing, are you one of the students that started the race at the back or at the front? Are you someone who has never known there to be a cap on what you can achieve? Or are you someone who has been fighting to jump past your imposed ceiling? You might be someone who doesn’t even realise you have been confined, restrained or held back. Disadvantage lurks in all corners and in every classroom. Disadvantage can be fixed in diagnosis or it can transient, temporary or conditional.

In recent weeks, we in the English Department have been implementing an idea called ‘Class On A Page’ (COAP; found here Class on a Page KS3 template and Class on a Page KS4 Template) This strategy is about recording the barriers to learning students in a particular class have and how the teacher manages with them in a day-to-day way. Such a document allows teachers to remain focused on the needs of the students consistently, through their classroom routines, summative and formative assessments. The document allows teachers to track and monitor the context of the classroom and correlate it to student progress. It is a dynamic document that should be updated regularly throughout the year and can passed from one teacher to the next.

So, if you do not already have a strategy in place in your department, why not give this one a try?

A forewarning: a little bit of self-reflection about your teaching practice will be required!

Mrs Shelley Devine

Teacher of English

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Learning to Revise – CPD session

On Monday 8th January, we had two external speakers come in to the school from the Redhill Teaching Alliance to deliver a session to the teaching staff on embedding strategies into lessons that promote good recall and memory.

The session highlighted different techniques we can use with students whilst supporting them with their revision before their GCSE or A Level exams and provided practical suggestions to inspire us.

The speakers discussed the effective revision cycle which was made up of:Revision wheel

Make – transfer the skills, knowledge and understanding you need for your exams into a revision resource that is easy to use
Memorise – dedicate explicit time to actively commit this information to memory
Practice – revision needs to involve doing something. Do as many practise questions as you can (ideally exam questions)
Test – regularly test yourself
Review – reflect on your performance in tests to help you identify the areas that you still need to work on

We were then talked through different strategies for the different elements of the revision wheel which included the use of flashcards, revision clocks, text to pictures, graphic organisers, turnover cards, mind maps and Roman rooms.

These strategies will be very useful in the months to come and we would like to thank our guest speakers for delivering this session to us.

Assistant Head Teacher

Pintsize “LUVU2”

On Thursday 30th November, Year 8 were off their current academic time-table for half a day, to observe a theatre production, followed by an interactive workshop on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).

LUVU2’ explores why young people should, and how they might, make positive interventions to protect themselves and their peers/friends from the risk of internet and real life child sexual exploitation; its aim is to encourage the development of coping and avoidance strategies in relation to real and perceived risk, as well highlighting pathways to advice and support.

The project looked at and raises awareness of the following issues relating to young people, internet safety and CSE with the intention that, by the end of the performance and workshop, young people will have an increased knowledge and understanding of:

* What might constitute an unhealthy relationship? This will include an emphasis on understanding what consent to sex means, including consent within the context of the law. This will also reference the importance of only having sex when feeling ready to do so, what constitutes unwanted sex, the right to say ‘no’ to sex or unwanted attention and how best to avoid the risk of emotional or physical harm in relation to these issues.

* What might constitute sexual exploitation? This will include references to and discussion around virtual and real world exploitation.

* How CSE happens and how easily it can happen to any young person. This will include reference to and particular emphasis on, the role and tactics of the perpetrator/groomer

* Who should or might take responsibility around addressing issues relating to CSE. In addition to highlighting pathways to support agencies, the project will also encourage young people to look out for their friends and to access support services outside the home environment if they are worried about them.

* What to do if a young person is approached in an inappropriate way – who to tell and how to safely seek help.

* How CSE is everybody’s responsibility and how professionals such as teachers and youth workers might take measures to keep young people safe.

Mike Tomlinson
Head of Citizenship