Some would say that there’s never been a better time to be a trainee teacher. The age of evidence based research means that whatever practices we want to adopt in our classroom can be measured against a backdrop of effectiveness, cost and reliability of research (https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/) The day we learnt about the EEF teaching and learning toolkit was one of the most useful and exciting days of my training so far. We no longer have to wait for a decade of trial and error before we can evaluate what is effective in our practice, luckily someone has done all the hard work for us.
As a science trainee teacher I feel passionate about literacy in science. Being able to read and comprehend scientific papers as well as communicating our ideas and rationale are crucial to success in any scientific field. So how do we justify the use of reading comprehension activities and collaborative work in a knowledge heavy curriculum? How do we stay motivated to encourage learning behaviours that seem to take the most amount of classroom management to implement? By coming back to the research.
According to the EEF, extensive research puts reading comprehension strategies and collaborative learning amongst the most effective ways to maximise pupil’s progress. Adding an average of 6 and 5 months progress respectively, behind only feedback and metacognition, they also happen to be conveniently cost effective. Knowing about this research can give us the confidence in the classroom to deliver what can be a tricky task to manage.
Last week our school invested in some CPD training based around reading comprehension strategies by Leah Crawford of Thinktalk. The evidence was made clear, using activities in our classrooms that combine reading comprehension with collaborative learning through what she referred to as ‘accountable talk’ is one of the most effective teaching strategies we could adopt. And the good news? It can be used in any subject.
The best thing about knowing this now, as a trainee teacher, is that I have the perfect opportunity to practice these skills whilst receiving regular and helpful feedback. We can use the year to increase our confidence and delivery of the teaching strategies that we know, through research, are most effective. This is even more important when delivering the kind of activities mentioned above, where the right material and delivery are paramount.
Two days after our CPD training I taught a year 10 class about energy changes in reactions. As Leah had told us two days earlier, we learn best through narrative so I set about writing a narrative about a Mr. N, Mr. X and a shop owned by a Su Dings. The story was delightfully indulgent as a narrative with characters such as the warm and charming fellow Mr. X , the cold frosty Mr. N and Su dings (who the pupils later realised had a middle name of Roun), but at the crux of it, it communicated a difficult scientific concept. The pupils had to work out what the story was about by discussing it in groups through accountable talk and feedback. They learnt through this narrative that when we measure temperature change in a reaction, we are measuring the energy released into the surroundings. They learnt about the conservation of energy, but more than that, they learnt to understand what was implied, to dig further than the characters and understand the true meaning of the story. They learnt to look for clues to help them understand and they learnt to share ideas with each other. It was encouragingly positive and the best thing was, as I was being observed on it, I could take some helpful feedback and tweak it for next time.
Putting these techniques into practice hasn’t been easy. Managing the level of challenge as a trainee can feel like walking a tightrope; too much challenge and they can’t access the task and disengage and too little challenge leaves them bored and more likely to go off topic. This is where collaborative learning, when done well, can be such a powerful tool. In fact, I’d argue that knowing how to get the pupils to talk on topic is much more valuable and harder than getting them to work in silence. That’s why this year, rather than just focusing on strategies for getting the class to be quiet, I’ll be dedicating even more time to acquiring the skills to get them talking.
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