In my blog “The Invisible Lead Balloon”, I highlighted a number of informed strategies that could be used to maintain engagement for learning. Once you feel confident employing these strategies, the next thing is to question, then decide, which are best to ensure children are engaged with learning.
It is important to note that engagement doesn’t always result in ‘noise’; children can be fully engaged and immersed whilst silent. Through one of my regular, thought provoking conversations with @RumblesCandyce, we posed the analogy of learning being ‘electrical currents’. We all use and rely on many appliances that are powered by electricity. When you plug an appliance/ device into the wall, you know it is receiving electrical current to charge and/or operate it despite not being able to actually see the current. But you still know it is happening. For us, this is learning in action.
Below, I provide some images that could be useful for teachers to refer to when evaluating teaching and learning in their classroom.
With the teacher being the electrical source and the children acting as the conductors, our ultimate goal is to ensure we create, establish and maintain strong, healthy, positive pathways (connections if I may) to allow the electrical current (learning) to flow. The teacher checks for understanding, thus, completing the circuit.
Small sparks: Where teachers may begin
Consider Figure 1. A teacher delivers the input, interacts with one or two children (often the more confident ones) within their line of sight, and patrols only up and down the middle corridor of the class. Only a few sparks for learning may be happening.
The teacher may use this small sample to inform whether there is a good level of understanding and whether their input is being interpreted as intended. As Dylan Wiliam explains in ‘What Does This Look Like in the Classroom’ (Hendrick and Macpherson, 2017), a “more serious issue, is that teachers are making decisions about what to do next with a class based on evidence only from confident students”. This would skew the validity of their assessment.
Being simply aware of our eye movements in the class can be a great starting point when improving practice.
Hendrick and Kirschner (2020) in ‘How Learning Happens’ highlight the work from Van Den Bogert (2016) where eye-movements of an expert and a novice teacher are tracked: “the larger the spot the longer the gaze; also, the opacity of the centre gives the intensity…” Without seeing the image example, the spots are representing all parts of the room, demonstrating the difference that experts tend to be able to scan the room frequently, not just glancing, and then zooming in to every child to check for understanding at different points.
More sparks: progress
Here in Figure 2, we now see the teacher begin interacting with pupils outside their centre line of sight. By interacting and checking for understanding from the front and other angles of the classroom, the teacher can gather a broader picture and spark further thought for learning. This encourages more actives learners (solid green) and influences those nearby (light green).
In Figure 3, we now see the teacher having a clearer sense of what is happening. This could be through active discussion and participation, or perhaps, children working silently but deep levels of thinking are evident. Through a number of strategies, the teacher checks understanding in all corners of the room, feeds the ‘student buy-in’ culture by allowing questions, discussions, collaboration and risk-taking, offering scaffolds and extensions where needed to keep the current flowing.
Now here we see the current affected: an interference.
Not everyone is conducting the current of learning.
This can appear as children struggling to answer, perhaps feeling the pressure of their peers, shutting down, or perhaps this is during a silent independent task and knowing your children well, you spot (even sense) someone who is stuck or trying to mask their understanding through a number of coping mechanisms. This is when you intervene!
Through the positive culture you have created, you can afford to compromise pace and provide them with more thinking time.
Within the open forum of your class, ensure you extinguish the pressure (for example, “I can see why you might be thinking hard here as it is an interesting point.”) but also thank the class “Well done everyone for waiting for James as I know you value what he has to say.”
Then consider the following below:
- Provide stem sentences or multiple choice;
- Remind them: “I (even better, we) value your thoughts”;
- Lead them in “I was thinking this, do you agree? And why?”;
- Ask them to say who they agree or disagree with;
- Ask them to point to which part of the worked example they find difficult.
If still nothing, then consider the following to maintain the “No opt out” philosophy (Doug Lemov):
- Allow them to write or draw their answer;
- Share their idea with a partner or TA who could share aloud;
- Give them more time to think about it – “Have a think about your sentence and then you can tell me when I come over.”
- Get back on track with the lesson – move on to take the focus away.
Once you’ve got a contribution, be sure to hear it and express its value to the child; no matter how small it may be, I am sure you can find some value within it. Then encourage the strategies above (over time) in order for them to feel confident to contribute to the whole class.
Alternatively, if you notice this barrier to learning during independent tasks, this is where you provide your support, scaffolds, extensions and ensure you determine and deal with the cause of the problem, not the symptoms. For example, for a child not appearing to write anything for some time, rather than say “You should be writing”, determine why, strip it back, what is it they are stuck with and then support them as required. On the other hand, a child who is finished and staring our the window, provide them with your planned extensions, ask them to review, unpick, explain and improve. A child waiting for the rest of the class to finish is neither productive nor beneficial – this would suggest a performance orientated attitude to learning as opposed to Mastery.
This is the ultimate goal: fuelling a new source. Children to take charge of their learning, lead the discussion, share their experiences, thoughts and achievements, whilst welcoming and valuing feedback. I am not suggesting children would lead a lesson; however, say in a Science lesson you have provided an image or video of how current flows through an electrical circuit (keeping in theme with this blog), in the positive and welcoming environment established, the child may say “Ah, that is similar to circulatory system.” This then sparks connections. Another child then adds “Oh yes, so the blood has to travel from the heart and go back to the heart to complete a circuit,” followed with “So then the organs could represent the components?” from another child. At this point, you can take it further by building upon it and using it as a new referencing through out the lesson.
As a teacher, this would be a golden moment.