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Evidence-informed teaching in a disadvantaged environment

Written by: Henry Sauntson
4 min read

Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better.

Dylan Wiliam’s comment (Wiliam, 2012) is often cited because it rings so true, encapsulating everything that needs to be held to heart with teaching and learning.

Who are we?

The City of Peterborough Academy opened in 2013 and is part of the Greenwood Academies Trust. As a relatively new academy in an area with high levels of disadvantage and low levels of literacy, creating a positive, developmental environment for teachers is essential; retention is so important to help maintain consistency across our staff profile and therefore a safe and secure environment for our students.

In a bid to improve the quality of classroom teaching and curriculum delivery, as well as empowering staff to have positive social, emotional and academic impacts on those we cater for, we have made the move towards a new programme of professional learning based around research. Our disadvantaged catchment means that we have a professional and moral responsibility to do the best job possible, and not spend time on things that are proven not to work.

Beginnings

We started by setting up a research school team, employing a research lead and establishing our key aims:

  • Support classroom pedagogy to develop the student learning environment
  • Establish a collaborative, research-led staff community to improve student outcomes
  • Create an aspirational environment for students so that they can access a challenging curriculum and opportunities for personal development, both now and in the future.

Consultation allowed us to alter our timetable and finish early on a Wednesday to incorporate two hours of dedicated CPD within directed time each week – we truly value this process.

Five areas became research strands, guided by themes from our academy improvement plan. Each strand has direct and explicit links to identified needs within our demographic and curriculum offer. In order to ensure that essential connection between ideology and reality, we have also redesigned our approach to quality assurance (QA), removing lesson judgements, encouraging more peer observation and making allowance for the development of strategies within classrooms that may take time to show impact.

Our main aim is to ensure that the culture is established and embedded across all classrooms. By creating a harmonious and collaborative working environment amongst staff and giving the time and the opportunity to talk, share and develop together, we hope to instil the ethos of community that we cite in our rationale.

Hurdles

Naturally there have been hurdles. Training staff to appreciate and value research was our first big step – especially the framing of inquiry questions. We have also had to reiterate the notion that research is there to help you see what has and hasn’t worked elsewhere, not to justify something already being done – that was a key barrier to overcome. Integrity is a defining factor in our success.

Impact

Analysing and evaluating the impact is essential. The Guskey model (2000) is at the forefront of our thoughts, along with essential qualitative data obtained from staff feedback. One significant change has been the introduction of a ‘meet and greet’ routine for all staff with their students, founded on the research by Cook at al. (2018). This positive start helps to foster that environment of security that students crave. To look again at Wiliam (2016), we would hope that other key indicators for success are already in place – teachers given time to meet and act as ‘critical friends’, increased levels of student engagement, teachers modifying techniques to show that they understand the underlying theory, increasing prevalence of formative assessment strategies in classrooms. With reference to the latter, we have seen positive use of a range of questioning styles, such as hinge questions and think-pair-share, to help personalise learning and engage students fully. Other interventions chosen include the use of dual coding to support Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary, management of cognitive load for GCSE intervention groups, use of red-dot marking for feedback in Year 8 and metacognitive strategies for humanities students – these and many more are all founded in research and evidence, and all with that essential aspect of being subject-specific. The ‘lagging’ indicator is the overall increase in attainment and achievement. We have been able to share successes early on to help motivate; our first presenter of their findings was an ITT student, which was really inspirational – we are all in it for the better. By providing staff with reading time and then support to put research into practice through applicable classroom strategies, we have been able to ensure that there is a tangible impact. The most valued aspect so far, according to all staff, is the time we dedicate to professional discussions with colleagues, enhancing our belief that time and collaboration are key to that cultural shift.

Evaluation – challenges

We need to keep a link between the evidence-based research model for CPD and the quality of teaching and learning interactions, so that the benefit of the approach is made explicit and the impact becomes tangible for all staff and students. We are offering a model of which others will wish to be a part, and we are already working closely with partner schools across our city to help foster relationships and – hopefully – strengthen retention and recruitment.

References

Cook CR, Fiat A, Larson M et al. (2018) Positive greetings at the door: Evaluation of a low-cost, high-yield proactive classroom management strategy.  Journal of Positive Behaviour Interventions  20(3): 149–159.

Guskey T (2000) Evaluating Professional Development. London: Sage.

Wiliam D (2012) How do we prepare our students for a world we cannot possibly imagine? Keynote speech. In:   SSAT National Conference, AAC Liverpool, UK, 4–5 December 2012.

Wiliam D (2016) Leadership for teacher learning. Available at: https://www.dylanwiliamcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Dylan-Wiliam-Webinar-Leadership-for-Teacher-Learning.pdf (accessed 27 February 2019).

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