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Death of the CPD twilight: Improvement in children’s writing through impactful arts-based CPDL

Written by: Vicky Storey and Samantha Oliver
5 min read

The DfE’s Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development (2016) suggests that a stand-alone training event, such as a one-off twilight session, is ‘unlikely to have a lasting impact on pupil outcomes’ and instead promotes a longer-term programme of varied activities. In this case study we (a Y6 teacher and a drama-practitioner) share our joint experience of a ‘longer-term programme’. Using the DfE’s Standards, we outline elements of the programme that we believe led to real impact in the classroom. Between 2016 and 2018, Southcoates Primary Academy in Hull took part in a pilot for Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Teacher Development Fund (TDF). The school worked alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and IVE (Arts Council England’s Bridge Organisation for Yorkshire and Humberside) to explore how the RSC’s signature Rehearsal Room pedagogy could improve children’s writing.

The impact

Three teachers from Southcoates took part in a two-year enquiry-based research project using a series of practical approaches originally developed with actors in the RSC’s rehearsal room. The techniques were used in literacy lessons and the teachers researched the impact as part of the wider programme of CPDL.

Lucy
A key feature of the CPDL model was teacher-led action research, which involved tracking the progress of three children. Lucy (not her real name), a Y6 ‘mission critical child’ struggling to make the progress required to work at the expected standard by the year’s end, was writing with a low level of vocabulary and struggled to express ideas. With additional intervention from both teacher and teaching assistants, her use of punctuation and grammar improved but not her level of vocabulary. Using a selection of research tools developed with IVE and through the wider TDF evaluation by CUREE, Lucy’s engagement in the project and her use of vocabulary were closely tracked. The first significant impact was evidenced when we used Hamlet as the stimulus over a half term. Writing in character as Ophelia, Lucy’s class composed an informal letter to their best friend following Polonius’ warning about Hamlet’s advances. Lucy’s letter used a mixture of informal language, which she was already comfortable with, adventurous language from peers, and the Shakespeare text:

‘Then he had the cheek to say I wasn’t good enough for the prince – my own Father! His parting shot was ‘Get thee to a nunnery!’ What do I do now?’.

Our research suggested that Lucy was able to apply new language and achieve the shift in formality through taking part in the practical exercises. Lucy enjoyed exercises like ‘whoosh’ (the children act out a story narrated and directed by their teacher) and the physicality of it gave Lucy immediate comprehension. As the story moved around the circle Lucy stood up, pointed at a door and shouted ‘Get thee to a nunnery!’ Lucy loved saying this sentence out loud and without instruction applied it to her writing weeks later. The action research evidenced significant improvement in Lucy’s vocabulary during the term. In addition to weekly reflections and close analysis of writing, the school’s vocabulary tests (taken at the start and end of term) showed that Lucy achieved a score of 15 words compared with four in the previous term.

There is not scope within this case study to share the wider impact across Lucy’s class and the whole school; rather we highlight the key features of the CPDL model that led to outcomes like Lucy’s as well as the teacher’s growing confidence to share the new practice and research with colleagues across the school. We suggest that the extent of the development in teacher’s practice and pupil outcomes across the school would not have been possible from a single or even a series of twilight training sessions.

Our Story

The CPDL programme consisted of termly CPD training days, delivered out of school by the RSC and IVE. The teachers experienced a range of RSC techniques, learned about rehearsal room pedagogy and developed skills in teacher-led classroom research. Teachers implemented the practice back in their classrooms and researched the impact and possibilities through their own enquiry. We now demonstrate how the DFE’s five Standards for Teacher Professional Development underpinned the CPDL programme.

A focus on priorities
Firstly, we ensured that the project aims clearly aligned with the priorities identified in the school improvement plan (SIP). The DfE’s fifth standard suggests that a programme needs effective leadership to ensure sufficient time and resource. The Headteacher identified two areas for improvement from the SIP that could be matched to the project; improving writing at KS1 and KS2 and knowledge of the world at EYFS. The teachers matched their enquiry questions to these areas of improvement and subsequently, the lead teachers were given time out of class to trial new ways of meeting the school’s priorities around writing.

Three teachers – a collaborative model
Having three lead teachers in school ensured built-in peer support, a focus of the DfE’s third standard. We could question and challenge everyday practice in a genuinely supportive way. It created an opportunity to undertake learning together, a rare experience in the current climate of ever-decreasing CPDL budgets. We shared the pressure of making it work, the challenges, the extra workload. Importantly, we got to share the success and establish a stronger evidence base and statement of advocacy.

Learn, do, review – a complementary rhythm
The programme comprised a series of residential weekends involving teachers from 10 Hull schools, practitioners from RSC and IVE. We experienced the RSC techniques as ‘students’, which meant a deeper understanding of how the techniques could impact pupils back at school. We had time to discuss with colleagues how the practice and pedagogy would make the desired impact. In between residentials we applied this learning in class and continually reflected through our enquiry question. The DfE’s fourth standard advocates ‘a sustained programme’ that is ‘iterative’ with ‘activities creating a rhythm of on-going support and follow up activities’. By scheduling the training once a term over two years, there wasn’t an immediate pressure to feed back to staff in the obligatory post-CPD staff meeting. Rather, we established a supportive rhythm to apply learning to real-life contexts and to research the impact on children.

“Our children, our school, our evidence”
This enquiry-based model of research focused on clear intended outcomes relating to impact on children’s writing. During the residentials the teachers worked with IVE to develop research skills and set their own enquiry questions to guide classroom practice. The DfE’s first two standards focus on ‘impact, evaluation and evidence’ suggesting that professional development must clearly link to pupil outcomes. The evidence base we presented to senior leadership and staff across the school was both detailed and convincing because it had been gathered through an enquiry-based model using ‘our’ children.

The success of this CPDL model is reflected in the school’s ongoing application of the key elements outlined in this case study. The school has continued to roll out new CPDL initiatives in this way; ensuring school priorities are aligned, using a collaborative model where teachers work and reflect together and using outcome-driven research in classrooms.

Approaching a longer-term programme of CPDL required a significant commitment from teachers but the rewards far exceeded the effort. The lasting impact for us clearly signals the need for the ‘death of the twilight’.

This video features Southcoates Primary Academy.

References

DfE (2016) Standard for teachers’ professional development. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/standard-for-teachers-professional-development (accessed 2 May 2019).

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