To grade or not to grade… is probably not the question?

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“Whether we grade observations or not, we need to ensure teaching is increasingly progress-orientated and outcome-orientated – concentrating the strategies that provoke progress and secure outcomes for students.”

It is probably true that we should not determine the quality of teaching based on short lesson observations, but use a triangulation of evidence that identifies the typical quality of teaching; evaluating the effectiveness of teaching for securing progress-over-time and its success in securing strong outcomes for students. (outcomes in a broad sense as well as”attainment”) 

It is also true that we need to ensure and support teachers to find their way to great progress/outcome-orientated teaching that has a deep impact on students life chances. It is this autonomy that secures the motivation and ownership to reflect and stretch toward mastery.


We should, however, explore the assumption that grading teaching denies formative development; understanding that it perhaps provides the framework for improvement. Without a descriptive continuum of effective practices there is a danger of mediocrity. Particularly as…

“Not all approaches aimed at securing progress over time are equally effective or equally well delivered”

So this begs the question how do we develop a deep understanding of what secures progress, how do we measure the quality of teaching and how do we ensure that feedback to teachers is precise, owned and liberating, such that it sparks deliberate improvement, debate and improvement? It is difficult to see how we do this without a  descriptive continuum of what matters. We can rename the continuum, but when we consider progress-over-time and outcome-orientated teaching not everything is equal…or equally well delivered. Slide1


What if we fully understood how we move from this…Slide8To this… (where teaching is progress and outcome-orientated?… and that it is this that is rewarded and developed?)

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What if we understood that measuring quality of teaching through observation alone only measures a teacher’s ability to perform a lesson by tumbling and jumping between different teaching and learning strategies to tick enough of the criteria to get them over the Good line? What if we understand the limited sample that a lesson observation provides?…(shown as the vertical line below)

jumpy progress What if we firmly framed any episode of learning or scrutiny in the context of student progress, in the past and into to the future as the measure of the typicality of teaching?… such that it becomes a measure of how:

  1. Progress-orientated the teaching has been, such that students have made good progress over time.
  2. Outcome-orientated the teaching is, such that students achieve in the future.

What if we viewed the window of observation as an opportunity to measure progress over time and future progress?… obs in time


What if we examine, reward and measure the conditions, teaching habits and approaches in lessons that give us evidence that students are making progress over time and are aimed at achieving worthwhile outcomes?

What if this involved us recognising and identifying poor proxies for learning and being smarter at evaluating what we see? (from Robert Coe)… Slide21

“every child a powerful learner” (Steve Mundy, 2015)

So given that not all approaches/strategies are equally able to leverage progress over time and that some proxies are compelling, even blinding, what should be valued to ensure that every child is a powerful learner? What if progress-orientated and outcome-orientated teaching was revealed in…

  • The quality of teacher subject knowledge, concept (and misconception) understanding as well as pedagogy understanding.
  • and that this was revealed in the quality of direct instruction and the ability to impart knowledge and to understand how students learn and make progress in their subject
  • and that this was expertly revealed in the quality of questioning that accelerates learning and unlocks understanding (perhaps the most efficacious part of the learning for progress?)
  • and that this has had the impact of increasing the quality of students answers and oracy that is beyond age-related expectation and directly improving writing.
  • and that through embedded formative assessment (within not after) – teaching plans, differentiates and intervenes to enable all abilities to make progress.
  • and that there is real clarity on the end point – students are well set to perform unusually well in assessment or exams as a result of outcome-orientated teaching.
  • and that teaching shows ambition, warmth and drive to secure progress for all; setting ambitious expectations for all students.
  • and that this is also revealed in the quality of work in books.
  • and that these highlight an appropriate amount and depth of learning as a consequence of time spent in lessons focused on writing and demonstrating learning.
  • and that teaching dwells and goes to depth at the expense of skimming content.
  • and that is informed by on-going feedback that is within and not bolt-on in lessons. And that time is committed in lessons to respond to feedback and make progress. What if we rewarded and looked for actual improvement in books from the front to back as evidence of ongoing feedback … and much less impressed by regularity of feedback sheet or dialogue that does little to improve the work?

Slide2

  • and that there is clear evidence of an ethic of excellence where students re-do and redraft work, so that they produce their very best work that they have ever done more often – something that diminishes as they progress from 3-19. Primary children often produce their best ever piece of work.

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  • and that leads to students attitudes and approaches that demonstrate a thirst for knowledge, enquiring and knowledgeable questions.
  • …and because teaching has imparted inspiring knowledge and achieved progress over time – learning takes on its own momentum.

What if we also realised that the greatest teachers have these as habits…consistent approaches and abilities to teach with purpose, precision and consistency.

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What if the importance of progress over time and having the end in mind was rewarded and that observation is seen as just one part of evaluating whether the conditions are present to secure progress? What if we triangulated with data, outcomes, planning, student voice, books and other evidence? Perhaps then we would measure the quality of teaching in this way…(apologies for the grading – but not everything is equal or equally well delivered)

Slide2 …by ignoring observed performance, we reward teaching habits and approaches that have created and secured the conditions for progress and outcomes. if there is no evidence of progress over time, historic good outcomes and/or evidence of outcome-orientated teaching then teaching cannot be typically good.

What if this meant that evidence over time led to a view of the typicality of teaching and that this is stickier than when judgements are based on one-off observations? Any observed episode then simply adds to what is already known about the typical quality of teaching to secure progress and outcomes.


What if we ensured that ownership for improvement was located with individual teachers – understanding that there is also an element of earned autonomy to this freedom… Not least because you…

“Prescribe adequacy, (but) unleash greatness…”

What if this empowered teachers who then have greater freedom to explore progress-orientated and outcome-orientated approaches to teaching…

  • Purpose (secure student progress to give them a better chance in life)
  • Autonomy (you decide how you secure student progress)
  • Mastery (it is a craft not a science, be creative and innovative – seek mastery in teaching to drive progress and secure outcomes) (Dan Pink)
“We know we are in a good school when the four following things happen: Teachers talk about teaching and learning; Teachers observe each other’s practice; Teachers plan, organise, deliver, monitor and evaluate their work together; Teachers teach each other” Judith Warren, Little The Power of Organisational Setting (1981)
What if we applied our understanding of deliberate practice to support teachers to improve…deliberate practice occurs when teachers…

1. …are motivated and exert effort to improve their performance.

2. …engage in tasks that take into account their pre-existing knowledge.

3. …receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of the results of their performance.

4. …repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.

So that…

practice (is) intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for (a student’s) current skill level, (aimed at excellence), combined with immediate feedback and repetitious.” (Malcolm Gladwell)

What if observers engaged with teachers in real time, so that observers support improvement, reflection and learning during lessons?


Maybe then we would…

  • …ensure that teaching is progress-orientated and outcome-orientated.
  • ….not use short observations alone to assess quality of teaching and instead triangulate observation that evaluates progress over time and the effectiveness of the teaching to deliver outcomes.
  • …tread carefully when considering removing grades as this may reduce our ability to understand what makes the difference and to show direction of travel for teaching improvement…even without grading a descriptive continuum is required – probably divided four ways… (beginning, embedding, effective, transferrable)(or 4,3,2,1)
  • …understand that not all strategies and approaches are equal or equally well delivered.
  • …understand that the efficiency and efficacy of teaching for progress and outcomes is what matters.
  • ..release teachers to own their improvement and to consider what we know about deliberate practice as a framework/continuum to enable teachers to receive immediate feedback that informs focused, repetitious improvement.
  • …realise that what maybe considered as traditional teaching is often the most effective at securing progress over time.

March, 2015

Life without levels | With opportunity comes responsibility

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It is probably true that: “The removal of levels from the curriculum creates an amazing opportunity to redefine success and progress for children…and to reshape teaching (and assessment)” It is also true that poor thinking or planning of a new curriculum could lead to the promotion of mediocrity and the inching over thresholds or jumping through false hoops that hang in the air… and ultimately results in slower progress that has a detrimental impact on learning and progress.

From September 2014 levels have been removed from the curriculum (except Y2 and Y6). Tim Oates provides a good case fro their removal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q5vrBXFpm0  Whilst a number of schools have chosen not to jump and retain levels, a brave few have jumped to new approaches. It would be fair to say that Primaries are ahead of the game in their thinking in this new world (the compulsion to act has been greater).


Which begs the question what should be considered in the new world without levels?

The following attempts to offer a set of What if… comments that underline the new opportunities that are presenting themselves and how a set of key principles can be applied to seize this opportunity. It is clear that this will play out differently across 3-19 (we must however anchor our approaches around the same principles).


What if we saw the move away from levels as an opportunity not to just re-do/rethink assessment and how we track progress?, but instead asked the question what should teaching look like in a post level world? This initially shifts debate toward pedagogy and away from how do we replace numbers/levels/labels. It is proving very easy to shift to a system that simply reframes levels and replaces with grades for example.

What if we considered the age related standard that children should reach each year. What if this is clearly located around what would be the expected standard of a child in terms of knowledge, skills, understanding, application, conceptual awareness and mis-conceptions?

What if the age related standards are clearly communicated on single sheets that show the specific areas – not dissimilar to PiXL Covey table or PLC grids…a DTT approach. What if deliberate practice approach is then used in lessons and intervention to close gaps.

What if we then further embed ideas around Blooms and SOLO taxonomy? That “by age” we were very clear about what is expected (what competences children need to know or be able to do?)…and that this provides the framework for depth, teaching, questioning etc. as it already does in many classrooms.

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What if the achievement of these age related standards were delivered through a Mastery approach – such that teaching was given the time and focus (and teachers the permission) to secure the age related standards…and that this was non-negotiable.

What if we were able to teach to depth around these age related standards because the necessity to cover lots of content is removed. What if there was a real stickiness around redrafting and re-doing, such that children were challenged to do their best work and this enabled students to achieve age related standards.

More generally, in top performing education systems the curriculum is not mile-wide and inch-deep, but tends to be rigorous, with a few things taught well and in great depth.

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What if we did not seek breadth and reduced the burden on teachers; freeing them from the need to skim and teach at pace.

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What if we made a far greater investment in developing (continuing to develop) teacher subject, conceptual (and mis-conceptual) and pedagogical understanding.

What if instead of using KS3 as the basis for performing in GCSE exams that we asked what do we need student to be able to do and know, so that they are set up to perform well at GCSE and in the rest of their lives?

What if this is firmly located around a growth mindset model (Dweck) – where an anything is possible  – what if it was the absolute expectation that children had to meet the standards. …ensuring, of course, that we do not set the bar too low.

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“People with Growth Mindsets and who show GRIT achieve more when they engage in deliberative practice … it is this practice that achieve marginal gains (Steve Peters), inching toward excellence.”

In Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong, students, parents, teachers and the public at large tend to share the belief that all students are capable of achieving high standards. (BBC news)

And yet, results from Pisa tests show that the 10% most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai have better maths skills than the 10% most privileged students in the United States and several European countries. (BBC news)

What if we focused more on the journey; on the “near win” (Sarah Evans)

“The pursuit of mastery is an ever onward almost.” … “Grit is not just simple elbow-grease term for rugged persistence. It is an often invisible display of endurance that lets you stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve upon a given interest, and do it again and again.”(Sarah Evans)

What if that when children achieved the standard for their age the focus shifted to greater depth (not breadth) moving to the top of Blooms and across SOLO taxonomy and not moving to the set of age-related targets.

What if all of this also sought the ethic of excellence, because… https://dannicholls1.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/the-ethic-of-excellence-powerful-lever/

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“Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence.” (Ron Berger)

Slide1

What if this seeking excellence required an unswerving expectation that all teachers were  purposeful, deliberate and precise around formative feedback and that this was within tasks and lessons and not bolted on.

feedback

What if we judged the quality of feedback much more on the quality of what students produce and less on ticks or comments or forced dialogue in books.

What if we described progress not in terms of levels but is terms of a child’s progress in line with age related standards. Perhaps the conversation at parents evening becomes much more powerful and useful: compare “your child is below what would be expected at this age, we need to focus on…” “with your child is a 4a to move to a 4b we need to focus on…” Levels can mean little to (parents and students).

What if we are very aware that there is a real danger that we could teach to the middle and even bottom with this approach and that we should embed from the beginning the ability to challenge children to depth to ensure that those on steep progress trajectories continue to accelerate improvement.

What if parents evening was a discussion not about a series of letter or numbers, but real clarity about what is expected by this age and a rich discussion around the students work (in books), oracy, knowledge and practical skill.

What if summative assessment remained a key part of preparing and testing students. That this could test against age related standards and also indicate present GCSE grade and given professional judgement and trajectory the most likely grade at end of KS4. Keeping an end in mind.

What if the curriculum was interleaved so that the age related standards are re-visited to embed and secure new knowledge and understanding?

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Maybe then we would have a curriculum and teaching that:

  • was purposeful, deliberate, formative, to depth…
  • sought to move all children through age-related standards… and these raised the bar…
  • used a mastery approach, a growth mindset and an ethic of excellence focus to expect much from every child…
  • is really focused to depth on the things that mattered…
  • enabled teachers to not race or skim content, but to focus on quality outcomes…
  • invested heavily in formative assessment…
  • measured progress on security of the age related standards…
  • used evidence to show progress not movement between random numbers…
  • reported formatively to secure next steps…
  • was not hung up on numbers or grades…
  • used summative benchmarking to quality assure and formatively develop teaching and children.

And finally all of this requires time, thought and professionalism. Teacher and team ownership is crucial and particularly the setting of appropriately challenging and well communicated age related standards the detail really matters, because this is worth getting right.

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