What progress has been made this year towards creating a diverse curriculum at WHS?

WHS Classroom

Miss Emily Anderson, Head of History at WHS, evaluates the progress of the diversity in the curriculum working party since September, and reflects on our next steps.

It has been both a challenge and a privilege to have been leading the working party examining diversity in the curriculum since the Autumn Term. Ensuring that our curriculum is fit for purpose in both empowering our students to be active citizens of the world in which they live, and reflecting both their identities and those they will live and work alongside in their local, national and global communities could not be a more vital part of our work as teachers, individually, in departments and as part of the whole school. Such a curriculum would simultaneously support our students and ensure they feel that they belong in the WHS community, and would empower them to understand and champion diversity in their lives beyond school. The curriculum is not a fixed entity, and the constant re-evaluation of it is one of, to my mind, the most challenging and important parts of our professional lives as teachers.

As members of the school community will be aware from his letters and assemblies, in the autumn Deputy Head Pastoral Ben Turner asked staff, as part of our commitment to systemic change, to scrutinise three different areas of our work as a school in order to better inform our future direction. Alongside our scrutiny of the curriculum, colleagues have been looking at our recruitment of students and staff and how we reach out to a broader and more diverse range of communities, and at our work with our students beyond the curriculum, in our pastoral, super-curricular and extra-curricular contexts.

WHS Partnerships

Examining the curriculum were staff from the arts, sciences and humanities, bringing a variety of perspectives. I wanted to make an ambitious but absolutely necessary distinction from the outset – that we cannot approach the curriculum by diversifying what is already there, but need to create a curriculum that is inherently diverse. We discussed the need to broaden our collective understanding of different identities (the GDST’s Undivided work has been very valuable in this regard), and to model open, honest and often difficult dialogue. The difficulties of the process of change were also considered, especially the transition from an old to a new curriculum, and the fear of being labelled knee-jerk or tokenistic until it became embedded and normal. This is, however, no excuse for not trying. Doing nothing is not an option. Three areas for evaluation emerged for us to take to departments:

  1. The day-to day – teachers’ understanding about different types of diversity, our use of language and resources in the classroom, encouraging more challenging and reflective discussions in the classroom.
  2. The medium term – creating a diverse curriculum at WHS – looking again at KS3, and evaluating our choices at KS4 and KS5 to identify more diverse lines of enquiry or exemplars in existing specifications, or opportunities to move to other boards.
  3. The bigger picture – joining the growing national conversation with exam boards to make changes to GCSEs and A Levels to better reflect diverse identities, critically evaluating the cultural assumptions and frameworks through which our knowledge is formed and which privilege certain identities over others, to problematise and ultimately change these in our teaching.

The reflections that came back from discussions at department level showed that much carefully considered planning is being undertaken across departments, in terms of the individuals whose voices are heard through study of their work, the enquiries that are planned to broaden our students’ horizons and the pedagogical implications of how we create an environment in which diverse identities can be recognised and understood.  

My own department (History) are completely reconceiving our curriculum. My colleague, Holly Beckwith, wrote a beautiful rationale for this in WimTeach last year which I would highly recommend reading.[1] We have been preparing for major curriculum change for a number of years, firstly through trialling experimental enquiries to pave the way, such as a new Y9 enquiry on different experiences of the First World War. Our choosing of a unit on the British Empire c1857-1967 at A Level – a unit whose framework could, if taught uncritically, be problematic in terms of what it privileges, but which enables us to at least explore, understand and challenge such power structures and give voice to some of the people it oppressed through the study of historical scholarship – also helps facilitate changes further down the school as it demands significant contextual knowledge about societies across the world before the age of European imperialism.[2] Now, we are in a position to put in place major and increasingly urgently needed changes for September 2021 at Year 7 and Year 10, which will lead to a transformed KS3 and KS4 curriculum over the next three years.

To pivot back to the whole-school context, I also met with student leaders from each year group who had collated ideas from their peers to feed back. These were wonderfully articulately and thoughtfully put, often critical, and unsurprisingly revealed a great appetite for change. As teachers and curriculum designers, there is a balance to be struck here between taking students’ views into account, and creating coherent and robust curricula where knowledge and conceptual thinking builds carefully as students progress up the school – areas of study cannot simply be swapped in and out. As I have alluded to above, for example we start sowing the seeds of contextual understanding for GCSE and A Level at Y7. Furthermore, this process will take time, as meaningful change always does, and so managing expectations is also something we must consider. In and of itself, modelling the process of systemic change is such a valuable lesson for our students so this must be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate this.

So far, this process of evaluation has prompted profound and necessary reflection by teachers not only on what we teach in the classroom, but on how our own understandings of our disciplines have been conditioned by our experiences and educations. As well as educating our students, we are also continually educating ourselves, often unlearning old ideas. There is still a significant way to go in creating the inherently diverse curriculum we are aiming for, and I look forward to continuing to challenge and be challenged as we work together as a community to, ultimately, try to do right by our students and our world.


References:

[1] http://whs-blogs.co.uk/teaching/vaulting-mere-blue-air-separates-us-history-connection/

[2] Akala, Natives, London, Two Roads, 2019; R. Gildea, Empires of the Mind: The Colonial Past and the Politics of the Present, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019; P. Gopal, Insurgent Empire, London, Verso, 2019;

John Gunn, Teacher of Religious Studies at WHS, emphasises the importance of “being careful to think about thinking” as teachers

Have you ever walked into a classroom and made an initial judgment which you can’t see to amend? Perhaps when we make initial observations, we are comparing two things and judging their similarities? If our judgments are distorted by perception, how can we be sure that our decision making is having a positive impact on teaching and learning? This is why it is so important for us to think first about why we think the way we do. Not only will this reflection allow us to consider how we come to make judgments, but also make us factor in the unknown in our decision making.

 

The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis

On each round of a game, 20 marbles are distributed at random among five children: Alan, Ben, Carl, Dan, and Ed. Consider the following distribution:

Type I   Type II  
Alan 4 Alan 4
Ben 4 Ben 4
Carl 5 Carl 4
Dan 4 Dan 4
Ed 3 Ed 4

 

In many rounds of the game, will there be more results of type I or type II?[1]

If you have spent a moment looking at the above example, I wonder if you thought why you chose type I or type II. What are we doing when we make judgments? How do we take pieces of information, process them, and come to a decision or judgment?

For one or more answers, I recently read The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis in which he tracks the careers and lives of two of the greatest psychologists, Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

The above table is taken from Lewis’ book, chapter 6, The Mind’s Rules. Questions such as, ‘when/where was human judgment likely to go wrong’, ‘why do people often say that they were doing one thing when they were actually doing another’ ‘what are people doing when they judge probability’ are examples which Kahneman & Tversky try and tackle. In their paper Subjective Probability: A Judgment of Representativeness[2] Kahneman & Tversky attempt to ‘demonstrate people make predictable and systematic errors in the evaluation of uncertain events’. If nothing else this should get you thinking about thinking. Part of their approach comes from the premise that when people make judgments, they compare whatever they are judging to some model in their minds. “Our thesis is that, in many situations, an event A is judged to be more probable than an event B whenever A appears more representative than B.”[3] So, take a look again at the above example. Do you know why you chose type I or type II? If you think that the uneven distribution of type I is more likely than all the children receiving four marbles each, then think again. Just because type II “appears too lawful to be the result of a random process…”[4] it doesn’t mean it is wrong. This is something worth thinking about, “if our minds can be misled by our false stereotype of something as measurable as randomness, how much might they be misled by other, vaguer stereotypes?”[5]

Throughout the book there are questions raised about our understanding of how hard it is to know anything for sure. Kahneman himself favoured Gestalt psychology which sought to explore the mysteries of the human mind. The central question posed by Gestalt psychologists was, ‘how does the brain create meaning?’ Look at the two parallel lines below.[6] Are you really going to insist that one line is longer than the other?


If perception has the power to overwhelm reality in such a simple case, how much power might it have in a more complicated one?

For those of you of a more medical persuasion you may prefer Chapter 8 which tracks the impact Kahneman & Tversky had on Dr. Don Redelmeier, an internist-researcher. Working at Sunnybrook, Canada’s largest trauma centre he says, “You need to be so careful when there is one simple diagnosis that instantly pops into your mind that beautifully explains everything all at once. That’s when you need to stop and check your thinking.”[7] This is not to say that the first thing that comes into our mind is wrong, but because it was in our mind, we become more certain of it. How costly may this be in school life? This I think is highlighted in an example of a maths problems in which we can check our answers to see if we have erred. In comparison to education it highlights an interesting thought. “…If we are fallible in algebra, where the answers are clear, how much more fallible must we be in a world where the answers are much less clear?”[8] This is certainly a book to read from cover to cover even if it doesn’t give you all the answers why we should be careful to think about thinking.

[1] Lewis, P176

[2] Published 1972

[3] Lewis, P182

[4] Subjective Probability: A Judgment of Representativeness, p5

[5] Lewis, P184

[6] Lewis, P76

[7] Lewis, P214

[8] Lewis, P221

Slow Learning

With ‘slowing down’ a key part of our wellbeing strategy of ‘Strong Body, Strong Mind’, our Director of Studies, Suzy Pett, looks at why slowing down is fundamental from an educational perspective, too.

So often, the watch words of classroom teaching are ‘pace’ and ‘rapid progress’. I’m used to scribbling down these words during lesson observations, with a reassuring sense that I’m seeing a good thing going on. And I am. We want lessons to be buzzy, with students energised and on their toes. We want them to make quick gains in their studies. But is it more complex than this?

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that ‘slow and deep’ should be the mantra for great teaching and learning. I’m not suggesting that lessons become sluggish. But, we need to jettison the idea that progress can happen before our very eyes. And, with our young people acclimatised to instant online communication, now more than ever do we need our classrooms – virtual or otherwise – to be havens of slow learning and deep thinking. Not only is this a respite from an increasingly frenetic world, but it is how students develop the neural networks to think in a deeply critical and divergent way.

What I love most in in the classroom is witnessing the unfurling of students’ ideas. This takes time. I’m not looking for instant answers or quick, superficial responses. I cherish the eeking out of a thought from an uncertain learner, or hearing a daring student unpack the bold logic of her response. Unlike social media, the classroom is not awash with snappy soundbites, but with slow, deep questioning and considered voices. As much as pacey Q&A might get the learning off to a roaring start, lessons should also be filled with gaps, pauses and waiting. You wouldn’t rush the punch line of a joke. So, it’s the silence after posing a question that has the impact: it gifts the students the time for deep thinking. In lessons, we don’t rattle along the tracks; we stop, turn around and change direction. We revisit ideas, and circle back on what needs further exploration. This journey might feel slower, but learning isn’t like a train timetable.

But what does cognitive science say about slow learning? Studies show that learning deeply means learning slowly.[1] I’m as guilty as anyone at feeling buoyed by a gleaming set of student essays about the poem I have just taught. But don’t be duped by this fools’ gold. Immediate mastery is an illusion. Quick-gained success only has short term benefits. Instead, learning that lasts is slow in the making. It requires spaced practice, regularly returning to that learning at later intervals. The struggle of recalling half-forgotten ideas from the murky depths of our brains helps them stick in the long-term memory. But this happens over time and there is no shortcut.

Interleaving topics also helps with this slow learning. Rather than ploughing through a block of learning, carefully weaving in different but complimentary topics does wonders. The cognitive dissonance created as students toggle between them increases their conceptual understanding. By learning these topics aside each other, students’ brains are working out the nuances of their similarities and differences. The friction – or ease – with which they make connections allows learners to arrange their thoughts into a more complex and broad network of ideas. It will feel slower and harder, but it will be worth it for the more flexible connections of knowledge in the brain. It is with flexible neural networks that our students can problem solve, be creative, and make cognitive leaps as new ideas come together for a ‘eureka’ moment.

Amidst the complexity of the 21st century, these skills are at a premium. With a surfeit of information bombarding us and our students from digital pop-ups, social media and 24 hour news, the danger is we seek the quick, easy-to-process sources.[2] This is a cognitive and cultural short circuit, with far reaching consequences for the individual’s capacity for critical thinking. With the continual rapid intake of ideas, the fear is a rudderlessness of thought for our young people.[3]

And yet, peek inside our classrooms, and you will see the antidote to this in our deep, slow teaching and learning.


Sources:
[1] David Epstein, Range (London: Macmillan, 2019), p. 97.

[2] Maryanne Wolf, Reader, Come Home (New York: HarperCollins, 2018), p. 12.

[3] Ibid. p. 63.

Teaching and learning Gem #26 – using Teams conversation space for student self-reflection and visible improvement on prior learning

Autumn Focus: Metacognition – students driving their own learning through reflection

Teaching and learning Gem #26  – using Teams conversation space for student self-reflection and visible improvement on prior learning

This Friday Gem comes from Andrea Croucher, Claire Baty and Suzy Pett, who all tried out this idea with their classes over the past two weeks.

  • Students start a ‘New Conversation’ in the general channel, writing down what they already know about a topic/answering a question.
  • At the end of the lesson – or a later lesson – students review and reflect on what they have written. They hit ‘reply’ and directly below their first comment they write a new comment, either thinking about how their learning has progressed, or improving upon their original answer.
  • You could use star emojis for students to rate how much their learning/understanding has developed.

 

This is effective because is because students are thinking explicitly about their learning:

  • Recalling prior knowledge is an important metacognitive skill.
  • Students evaluating their original understanding at a later point makes it clear to them what new learning has happened.
  • Students having a conversation with themselves allows them visibly to see their progress.
  • Thinking about what they still don’t understand or what they want to follow up allows them to drive their own learning and understand themselves better as learners.

 

Example from Andrea’s Year 10 RS lesson about Jewish beliefs and the nature of God. Students responded to an initial starter question. Then, next lesson, they reviewed what they had put and added to it with their new learning:

Example from Suzy’s lesson. Year 12 English students wrote down their initial understanding of what modernism means, and then after completing an independent project, reflected on how much their understanding had developed using star emojis. They thought about what they found particularly interesting, and what they would like to pursue further:

WHS Classwork Example

Example from Claire’s Year 8 French class. They wrote a sentence about where they live as a starter, and then improved at the end of the lesson:
WHS Classwork example

George Cook, explores ideas from The Culture Code (Daniel Coyle) and Radical Candor (Kim Scott)

George Cook, Head of Hockey at WHS, explores ideas from The Culture Code (Daniel Coyle) and Radical Candor (Kim Scott). These books show that it is less about the questions we ask, and more about the environment we create that enables us to ask them. Culture is everything.

Questioning is a hot topic in the world of education. What type of questioning do you use? What type of questioning should you be using?

There is no doubt that questioning allows us, as the teacher, to identify areas of strength and weakness in our classes. It gives opportunity to really challenge the most gifted, stretching and pushing the limits of their understanding. It is a great tool because in the same breath we can use questioning to give great confidence to those who are unsure or perhaps, normally, quieter and more reserved in lessons.

However, according to the two books listed above, the type of question you use and who you ask it to, is irrelevant if the environment we create is not quite right.

The Culture Code examines many high performing groups ranging from high end military task forces and airline pilots, to successful start-up companies as well as big hitters like Google. On the face of it, none of these groups have much in common. Apart from the culture they have developed, built on honest two-way communication and trust.

It was found that regular small snippets of communication within these high functioning groups allowed them to not only know each other better, but made sure they stayed on track throughout the task at hand to complete it in the most accurate and efficient way possible. The opposite of this in a classroom situation would be to wait for over an hour into a lesson before catching a pupil off guard with a challenging question to answer in front of their peers. Small and frequent two-way communication is much more effective.

Radical Candor states that if we are to have open and honest communication in our groups and teams then we must instil two key elements first. Firstly, care personally about all those in your class, and show it! As teachers we do this more often than we might expect and can be as simple as asking a pupil how their weekend was etc. The second element is to challenge directly. Challenge the beliefs of pupils directly, but also actively encourage them to do the same to us as this is more likely to build trusting relationships where more in depth and honest discussions and conversations can be had.

If we can take these lessons and implement them into our classroom and practical teaching, then we are far more likely to have open and lively debate and discussion that includes all members of the group and not just those that feel confident in the subject area. This is why I think the culture we build around questioning is equally important as the type of questions we use.

Teaching History

Dr Anna Field, teacher of History at WHS, explores an article from the journal Teaching History and how dialogue in the classroom can create layers of historical understanding

‘1069 and all that: the dialogic understanding of the Norman legacy in Chester’, Teaching History 175 (June 2019)

“…dialogue can be harnessed in the classroom and enable students to create meaningful connections between factual, conceptual, and contextual knowledge.”

Bird and Wilson’s impressive study investigates the role of classroom dialogue in the production and application of historical knowledge across a three-lesson Y8 enquiry on the Norman legacy in Chester. Using methods from sociocultural psychology, the authors argue that the students’ historical knowledge both shapes, and is shaped by, dialogic interaction in the classroom. How this is achieved, they contend, remains an understudied area. While the article’s focus is on classroom dialogue as a whole rather than questioning per se, the authors’ examples of classroom exchange demonstrate the importance of teacher questioning in the creation of explicit and tacit historical knowledge. The result is a carefully planned a well-executed consideration of the interaction between different levels of historical knowledge in KS3 pupils, which further suggests how dialogue can be harnessed in the classroom and enable students to create meaningful connections between factual, conceptual, and contextual knowledge. The authors largely succeed in their aim to shed light on the different ways to create these links.

According to Bird and Wilson, dialogue stimulates interaction and movement between layers of factual, conceptual, and contextual knowledge and thus promotes historical understanding. In the first enquiry lesson, the process gauging students’ knowledge unearthed misconceptions surrounding chronology. While the students could make inferences, it was clear to the teachers that deeper knowledge did not yet underpin those inferences, and was not yet at their ‘fingertips’ during class discussion. Transcripts of dialogue from the next two lessons demonstrated the importance of teacher questioning – ‘probing’ – in how students started to evaluate significance and generate collective knowledge. Teacher questions were guided by student inferences, using an open format that encourages students to use their explicit historical knowledge – facts, dates, events – to develop a tacit understanding of the ideas and beliefs that sources from this period reveal. The trajectory of questions can be traced from ‘wow, tell us more! What we learn from this’; to ‘how can we learn that information [from the sources]?’; to ‘why were they [the Normans] smart?’.

These questions generated a ‘moment of contingency’ in one pupil that guided the whole class to read the primary texts in a specific way. The authors showed that these interactions fostered a deeper and verbally explicit connection between ‘layers’ of historical understanding in the individual and the wider group. In the words of Bird and Wilson ‘in this way knowledge becomes dynamic, changing and flexibly understood rather than inert, static and brittle’, a key quotation which demonstrates the contribution their study makes to History education pedagogy.

Friday Gem #14 – YOUR ideas bout return to the classroom

Teaching and Learning Gem #14 –  Return to the classroom. Building Community; Finding Gaps; Knowing your students and giving voice to all

This is an ‘uber’ Friday Gem which collates and shares all your ideas from your breakout discussions. The level of thought and the deep exploration of our priorities for the classroom was humbling.

Please open and peruse the attached booklet of YOUR ideas.

 

Training: If you would like training on any of the digital tools discussed yesterday, please complete this form and we will set up some twilight.

A big thank you to our group facilitators: James Courtenay Clack, Dan Addis, Helen Sinclair, Alys Lloyd, Steph Harel, Lucinda Gilchrist and Claire Baty

A big thank you to the scribes: Holly Beckwith, Rebecca Brown and Jane Fawcett

Teaching & Learning Gem #11 – Digital Exit Ticket

WimTalks

Teaching and Learning Gem #11 – Digital Exit Ticket

Ian Richardson added me to his Year 9 Computer Science Team as a student, so I get all sorts of reminders to complete Teams Assignments, such as quick low stakes quizzes to check my knowledge. He decided to use Forms and Teams Assignments to push out an Exit Ticket to all students at the end of the lesson. This allowed him quickly to see how every student was feeling about her progress and it enabled him to adapt his teaching going forwards.

As a student, this is what popped up for me at the end of the lesson:

And when I opened the Assignment, I could fill in my self-reflection about the lesson:

This is effective because:

  • Every student gets her voice heard: it creates a one-to-one connection between student and teacher.
  • Through the Assignments function, Ian can quickly click through the responses and check who has/hasn’t completed it.
  • Ian can adapt his teaching going forwards to cater to the learners.
  • Ian can put in interventions/differentiate if it is clear that some students need extra support.
  • It encourage students to reflect on their own learning and progress.