Pedagogy newsletter | 26/03/2021

Pedagogy Newsletter #79

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Pedagogy Newsletter #76

Pedagogy newsletter | 01/03/2021

The Science of Teaching Science

By focusing on teaching scientific knowledge and working collaboratively, Paradigm Trust is changing the way science is learnt, resulting in pupils achieving improved results and greater engagement with the subject in all their schools.

To ensure science is taught effectively there are several challenges which need to be overcome. The first and perhaps biggest of these is the way the teaching of science is implemented at the different stages. It is noticeable in the UK education system science is often taught in a completely different manner in primary schools than it is in secondary schools. This disconnect causes issues as the skills and knowledge embedded during the primary years are not the ones valued at secondary school, so time needs to be spent at the start of Year Seven teaching the pupils what they need to know to be able to learn effectively at Key Stage 3 and beyond. 

Science often has less classroom time than other core subjects such as maths, reading and writing, so it is essential that this precious time is maximised. However, many primary schools across the country use an inquiry-based learning approach, despite a growing number of studies showing this teaching method to be ineffective in its current form. It generally fails because significant scientific knowledge needs to be in place before the enquiry begins so the correct questions can be asked. Due to lack of time or lack of understanding children usually aren’t primed with this scientific knowledge and so do not have sufficient comprehension of what they are looking for to get the most out of this approach.

Exacerbating the challenges which face many UK primary schools is the lack of specialist science teachers working at that level. While there are some teachers with science qualifications who work in primary schools, the majority of teachers who are qualified in science choose to work in secondary schools. The one or two days that teacher training spends on science come nowhere near to filling this gap.

When children reach secondary school, the focus often shifts almost exclusively to teaching what the pupil needs to know to pass the GCSE, rather than exploring the full uses of science, so students can be left with a narrow comprehension of the subject that is more weighted towards succeeding in an exam than having a good understanding of science.

Paradigm Trust is working to overcome these traditional challenges and raise student attainment levels in science using a number of different strategies. The first is ensuring all six of its schools are working from an effective science curriculum, using consistent, evidenced-based teaching methods. This ensures there is continuity across the board, and teachers are using techniques which are proven to be effective to deliver the material.

The Trust makes sure that children are taught the necessary scientific knowledge first, whatever the age of the child. It is only with this as a pupil’s foundation that they are then able to get the most out of any enquiry activities, maximising their learning time and gaining a better understanding of science. Without this scientific knowledge children won’t be able to develop essential skills such as problem solving, understanding scientific texts or extrapolating accurate conclusions from results.

This goes some way to draw together the two different cultures of primary science and secondary school science, but Paradigm schools ensure the gap is as small as possible by communicating regularly with each other. In subject groups a large proportion of time is spent discussing ways in which children can be better prepared for the move from primary to secondary school, and how to make science effective from Nursery to Year 9. In this way there is less disruption when pupils move from Year 6 to Year 7 and the learning experience is far smoother. Much of this work is led by Ben Rogers who is on the Education Committee at the Institute of Physics, and on the editing panel for the Association of Science Education journal. He is also part of the Ofsted Science advisory group, with a particular focus on primary schools.

Since Paradigm began working this way more students have been successful in science GCSE, and more high grades are being achieved. The number of students choosing to study a science subject at further education level has increased, and at every level of schooling it is noticeable that children are achieving better results and becoming more engaged in the subject.

Having an effective understanding of science is incredibly important for the individual and society. Children are entitled to know how the world works – without this knowledge their lives aren’t as rich. A good understanding of science will allow them as adults to make informed decisions on important matters, such as voting, wearing a mask or receiving a vaccination as has been seen recently. And it opens doors to numerous careers in a huge range of fields. For all these reasons Paradigm Trust will continue to work and innovate to ensure it gives its pupils the best science education possible.

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How a shared pedagogy improves education

Paradigm Trust has achieved improved outcomes as a result of establishing consistent pedagogical approaches across all six of its schools just over four years ago.

By implementing a shared pedagogy it’s seen a culture shift both in the classroom and in the curriculum, with improvements across the board in behaviour and engagement. Outcomes in lessons are much better and it is now seeing a consistently higher level of effort in all classes.

The Trust defines its pedagogy as taking the most direct route to learners knowing more and being able to do more. It’s about how you know what to teach, how you teach it, how you know what has been learnt and, perhaps most importantly, what you do if learning hasn’t happened. 

With children only having a finite number of hours in school, the time we have to educate them is limited. This is why it is absolutely crucial to optimise what they get out of those hours, using every second as efficiently as possible to ensure pupils are achieving the maximum learning. Inefficiencies in teaching methods and curriculum waste this important time, so having an effective, well thought out and proven pedagogy is essential. If we teach efficiently, at the end of a child’s school career s/he will be well prepared to flourish and lead a positive, fulfilling life. 

Paradigm’s pedagogical foundation for many years has been Teach Like a Champion – a collection of techniques which combine to deliver incredibly effective learning. Over the last three years this has been strengthened through the use of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, which establishes ten different strategies for teaching and assessing. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Rosenshine’s work is evidence-based, so Paradigm Trust knows for certain these methods are effective. The two works complement each other, providing a well-rounded base on which to build our pedagogy.

By using the same pedagogy across all six schools in the Trust we can achieve a continuity of practice which is of great benefit to both pupils and staff. It means that there is a consistency in the way we teach, in the way we behave, and in the way we apply our rules that runs from Early Years right through to Key Stage Four in every school. A Year Six teacher in one school is able to move to a Year Two class in another school and fit in seamlessly because s/he will recognise the strategies being employed and the language that is used. When children move from one Paradigm school to another, they already know the routine and the way things work, allowing them to settle more quickly and resume effective learning sooner.

This consistency also makes staff training and development easier, as staff can easily see effective examples of our pedagogy in action in colleagues’ classrooms. This then facilitates powerful coaching sessions which are underpinned by common language and approaches.

While consistency is important (for the reasons outlined above and because it makes logical sense for evidence-informed practice to be rolled out to benefit all pupils), slavishly following a set of strict guidelines to the letter can be counter-productive. We encourage all our staff to adapt, intelligently and with a strong understanding of the underlying rationale, Paradigm’s pedagogical approaches to fit the needs of their pupils and subjects. Every class, every child, every school is different, and our pedagogy is designed to be flexible, giving teachers the tools to work in each individual situation.

Having this shared set of strategies naturally leads to improvement. With everybody in our six schools working with them, it makes it easy for us to get together and share strong practice. When one teacher makes a small adaptation which proves to be successful, this can then be disseminated and implemented across classes and schools. Paradigm’s pedagogy creates a virtuous circle based on three linked elements: curriculum, teaching and assessment. We identify what is important for pupils to know and be able to do; we teach that knowledge and skills efficiently, and we then assess what has been learnt, which in turn feeds back into our curriculum design to close the loop.

Paradigm’s approach to identifying and scaling up effective practice is one of its key strengths. We recognise, however, that making changes to practice, in any organisation, can be uncomfortable – particularly where those changes involve replicating practice from one part of an organisation to another. In Paradigm, those barriers to acceptance are mitigated as the pedagogy is based on an external proven source. The Trust takes a collegiate approach, with its leadership being both democratic and inclusive – which means that staff are willing to listen and try new ideas based on clear communication around the rationale for change, as well as being encouraged to make their own recommendations. This encourages continuous improvement – everyone in the Trust benefits.

Since employing its current pedagogy, the Trust can clearly demonstrate that pupils are learning more, with reference to both internal and public data. Discussions with pupils and the work in their exercise books provides evidence that effective learning is taking place. A recent Ofsted report for Murrayfield Primary Academy gave an external evaluation of our pedagogy and curriculum, noting: “For each subject there is a well-planned curriculum across the MAT from Year 1 to Year 9, ensuring that pupils are prepared well for secondary school. There is a real partnership between primary and secondary teachers developing their subject expertise.”

Paradigm’s pedagogy will continue to evolve, and thereby improve the outcomes of children in its current schools, with other schools that it supports, and with schools which join the Trust in the future.

Pedagogy newsletter | 16/01/2021

Pedagogy Newsletter #71

Last updated January 18, 2021