At Towers, we believe that education needs to be evidence informed. It is clear that, in terms of learning, some things work better than others; some things work in more places than others; some things work more easily than others; some things almost always work and, in contrast, some things almost never work.
So, we are trying, as a school, to apply what we know about what works. Because, our students only get one chance at education and therefore, as a school, we spend our time on the things that are going to have the biggest impact’.
We design our processes of learning around what we know about memory and learning. We share this with staff, students and parents in order to support long term learning because, if we value the knowledge that we teach, we want it to be remembered.
At Towers, we focus on some key pieces of research. The first of these is ‘Putting Students on the Path to Learning’. Kirschner, Sweller and Clark. This paper tells us that decades of research clearly show that for novices (which all students are - particularly when learning something for the first time), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and efficient than minimal guidance and that teachers are more effective when they provide explicit guidance accompanied by practice and feedback. In student led classrooms, students become frustrated and do not learn; there is a greater chance of misconceptions; it is less efficient so students get through less; it increases the achievement gap.
This is reinforced in Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’ which sees education as helping a novice develop a strong, readily accessible background knowledge. The most effective teachers ensure that their students efficiently acquire, rehearse and connect knowledge to existing knowledge by providing a good deal of instructional support. They provided this support by teaching new material in manageable amounts, modelling, guiding student practice, helping students when they made errors, and providing for sufficient practice and review. Many of these teachers also went on to experiential, hands-on activities, but they always did the experiential activities after, not before, the basic material was learned.
So, at Towers, we advocate the use of explicit instruction.
However, it sometimes needs clarifying that explicit instruction is not just a lecture. It is not simply ‘chalk and talk’; explicit instruction is about clear explanations, succinct pieces of reading, teacher led clarification, planned and targeted questions whether quizzing quickly or probing deeply, retrieval and recap, well chosen and sequenced examples, purposeful practice. We promote carefully planned teacher talk as a teaching tool. However, we also know that it requires students to hold information in their heads while listening and trying to make sense of what is said. So, we need to think about how we use speech to ensure we build in pauses and chunk the new information down. We also use quizzing in every lesson to ensure knowledge is being retained, or moved into the long term memory.
In our knowledge booklets, we have spent time creating explanations for pupil and teacher to read together. We spend time in faculty meetings discussing what we will teach and the key learning points we will be drawing out as we teach. The result is powerful: highly engaging classrooms, full of pupils learning, answering questions, and recapping their prior knowledge.
The Towers Learning Model
So, at Towers, we have created a model for the planning of a learning sequence which we consider to be the best learning experience.
- Knowledge checking
Every lesson must begin with a knowledge check. These short, low stakes tests are designed around the process of retrieval practice. Thinking hard has been proven to help move knowledge to the long term memory and to continually interrupt what is referred to as the ‘forgetting curve’.
- Teacher led delivery and explanation
This part of the lesson is led by the teacher. Using and expanding on reading from the knowledge booklet, content is delivered and explained with confidence and subject expertise. Key terms are explained if necessary, misconceptions dealt with, questioning is built in to ascertain understanding, and individual and whole class repetition of key facts etc can be utilised. Students can annotate their booklet with any additional information, or highlight during the reading process.
III. Exemplars and live modelling
Live modelling is when the teacher, with or without input from the class, demonstrates using and applying the knowledge/ explanation. This process can be supported by the collaborative teacher creation of sentence starters/writing frames as part of the planning process. These, and other forms of pre prepared exemplar, are available to students as part of the knowledge booklet. These can be used in lesson to annotate and work through either individually or as a class. Live modelling, however, gives teachers the opportunity to guide students through an example in front of the class. This helps students to see how the teacher thinks through the process of answering the question. It is also a chance to show that we sometimes make mistakes and redraft our work as we go.
- Independent deliberate practice
This period of the learning sequence should provide students with the opportunity to independently practise. Tasks can include (but are not limited to): extended pieces of writing; problem-solving; answering comprehension questions; writing up experiments; working on practice exam questions and working on coursework and portfolios.
This part of the learning sequence gives the teacher the opportunity to reinforce key learning points.