Knowledge is the Key

knowledge-exchange

Knowledge is the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. The benefit of having knowledge is one’s ability to apply this knowledge to abstract scenarios. For example, a satirical comedian applies their knowledge of current affairs for comic value. When problem solving a lack of knowledge will render the problem unsolvable. In both cases, a poor understanding of the knowledge required will result in poor mastery.

The cognitive stuff

“Make it Stick” (Brown et. al; 2014) is possibly the most influential educational book that I, and many others in the educational world, have read. It provides a understanding of how we learn, linking cognitive neuroscience to classroom practice.

The book focuses on:

Learning is misunderstanding – Generating an enhanced of self-awareness, what do I know and not know?
To Learn, Retrieve – Increasing retrievel and experiencing difficulties when retrieving information enhances retention.
Mix Up Your Practice – Cramming doesn’t work, practice multiple skills, subjects and activites simultaneously.
Embrace Difficulties – The more difficult it is to recall information the better.
Avoid Illusions of Knowing
Get Beyond Learning Styles
Increase Your Abilities –
Make It Stick

My teaching, before reading making it stick was episodical, regimented and centred around the teachers performance. This made in the moment learning, known as encoding, a priority. But, despite outstanding lessons, student progress at the end of a unit on knowledge would always be good, but not outstanding. The power of retrieval, highlighted in Brown’s book, stands out as the most effective tool to develop mastery in a subject.

Recollection of information is, “on-the-fly reconstruction of elements scattered throughout various areas of our brains.” (Mastin; 2010). Thus, the difficulties associated with memory recollection is one’s ability to piece together the jigsaw of random memories that scattered throughout one’s brain. If we can enhance the process of constructing these puzzles then we can enhance recollection and mastery.

A study by Brown et al (2005) on the effects of frequent testing show its benefits. For those students who recalled knowledge on a regular basis retained more information over a six week period in comparison to the control group. So, by increasing the demand on pupils to recall information increases the retention of knowledge. In simple, what can be done in the classroom?

Recollection focused activities.

Crossword, simple question based game – Fun, simple, engaging and solely focused on incorporating enjoyment with recollection of information.

Who, what, when, where, why, how. – An opening activity that provides students with an opportunity to discuss previously encoded information with their peers. This increases strength and neural density of connections between different hemispheres of the brain.

Google sheets – An online platform for students to complete prepared multiple choice questions on a certain topic (refer to Joe Kirby’s questioning techniques to increase rigour of questions). The students can view the responses of the entire class, this information can be used by the students as a form of reflection or by the teacher to inform future practice.

Weekly quiz. When visiting Long Road Sixth Form College some great practice was being carried out. At the start of each week sixth form students would be expected to answer 10 questions that were linked to any lesson over the prior 4 weeks.

References:

Brown et. al. (2005) – Make it Stick

Mastin, 2010 – http://www.human-memory.net/processes_encoding.html).

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Independent learning in the Classroom

Revolutions and civil uprisings occur because an individual’s right to freedom of choice, to determine their own path and express who they want to be is being prevented. The history of state education in the UK, as correctly summarised by Ken Robinson, began with the state trying to manufacture students who where identical replicates of each other. At no point had anyone tried to give the power to the individual to decide on how they should be educated. But, what does this look like?

I have recently completed a series of blogs, Cultural capital in education, focusing on the lack of non-cognitive skills being developed in the classroom. I was left wondering, well how in the classroom do we support the development of non-cognitive skills. To do this, like many practitioners will recommend, identify what you want the students to be able to do in the end and go from there. After speaking to a colleague we both decided that the ability to be independent, motivated and self-reflective were very important to developing student autonomy. So, here is our non-cognitive goal, students are to be independent and self-reflective.

The academic side

The extraction and removal of metal from its rock ore is a global multi-billion pound industry. During this unit of work L1+ will be taking their first steps to understanding this industry and investigating the basic principles that underpin it.

Here is a list of basic academic criterium.

    The Techniques being investigated:
  1. Displacement reactions
  2. Electrolysis
  3. Phytomining and Bioleaching
    The scientific skills being developed:
  1. Writing word equations
  2. Writing symbol equations
  3. Balancing symbol equations
  4. Writing balanced half-equations
    Non-cognitive skills attained:
  1. Independence (Choosing to attend lectures)
  2. Self-regulated learning(WINK activities)
  3. Presentations (Leading to the production of a final podcast)
How did it all come together?
Its easy to see how pupils will make progress with respect to the academic lines, but progress in non-cognitive skills is difficult to measure, let alone the difficulty associated with equating a definition (Jeffery et al, 2010).
At the start of any journey we need to know where we are going and how we are going to get there to feel comfortable whilst in transition. The first part should be to generate a learning map or guide that allows pupils to see exactly what they will be expected to do.  Using real smart (computer program), learning objects, success criteria, activities, resources etc. were all supplied to the students. See below:
Tasks and activities on real smart are structured to get students to immediately apply the knowledge they are being exposed to,  this develops an intrinsic awareness of what the student does and does not know. Pupils are then given the option to access online resources, in class resources or a series of masterclasses (teacher led talk). This process reinforces the meta-cognitive process of learning. A student’s academic self-concept (the belief in themselves to complete an activity) is constantly supported, they are aware that there are many opportunities for them to be successful and the support they require is always present and optional.
Finally, bring meaning to the work they are doing in the lesson into the present not 6 weeks later (ref blog on the wink activity). Students should understand that their work every lesson will inform their progress grade.
But how did I monitor progress with respect to these key attributes? This process is proving very difficult to defined, however there is a light at the end of the tunnel, some work with colleagues has UCL Academy might have the answer. https://docs.google.com/a/uclacademy.org/document/d/1l6tosHuLlFaVeKqCWHNRph_lWAXIYF0PQfjjq0rZt5Q/edit?pli=1 Have a look at this google doc to see a character matrix that has been develop. What this space for future developments!
As an educator, I had students wanting to attend masterclasses, proactively engaging and asking questions about the topic, turn in high quality work and have 70% of a class make outstanding progress. The best part is, the focus was on them not me!

Cultural Capital in Education – What can be done in the classroom

Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless.” (James Cash Penney). An educational example, “Yes, I understand what to do sir.”

The introduction of new theories, skills and attributes is difficult because students struggle to get to grips with practicing new theories. As an educator this is where the true value is added. So, how do we move from the theory of non-cognitive development to implementing it into practice?

From Policy to Practice

The continual debating by political panels, educational theorists or interjections from third parties leaves untested theories. The classroom teacher, unknown to them, has been involved in developing new policy. They are now expected to put this policy into practice. Like the students they will struggle, but in this case there is no one on hand to support them. The theory is forgotten as true mastery has not been attained. A reactive response develops to throw together evidence of practice. (For example, marking books in my PGCE and NQT year). So how do we support the implementation of non-cognitive development into the classroom?

Simple answer, bring teachers into policy development. Over the past month I have been involved in 4 different policy networking events, where the general theme has been on non-cognitive development in students. Buzz words were flying out left, right and center. Yet, every time I found myself able to relate to strategies used in the classroom, that exemplified the non-cognitive traits. Offering a critique to proposals based on evidence shifted the direction of conversation from the “policy buzzworder’s” to myself. This demonstrates the value of those in the classroom.

Implementing non-cognitive skills?

A Head teacher from a local school told me, “the schemes of work in their school center around the kind of people that would be successful in University or vocational qualifications” and backwards plans from this vision. When I am developing a scheme of work, I think about the non-cognitive skills and learning objectives I want the students to develop. For example, I have recently planned and finished a unit of work on Metals and their Reactivity. The non-cognitive focus is to develop independence, self-reflection and choice (I’ll be blogging about this next week). This was alongside the academic learning goals. By orientating yourself to focus on the kind of students you want, the activities begin to tailor themselves.But, failures, critiques, alterations and improvements have been important to support the reflective development of this teaching strategy.

This is where the problems lies, there is no accountability for non-cognitive development in the classroom. Therefore, the risk:benefit ratio is useless, because it not worth risking progress to develop new systems of non-cognitive learning. Consequently, teachers can not relate to the policy that is trying to be implemented and their opinions become less valued. It’s easy to see the paradox we are caught in. So where does this leave us?

College of teachers…

Cultural Captial in Education – Incorporation into policy

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I want my horse to drink to survive, but I can not force the horse to drink water. This is true in education, a teacher can establish a learning environment for a pupil to be successful, but can not force success into a pupil. There must be a want or desire to do so. So how do we develop desire?

The Problem

Policy makers only focus on observing feedback which shows the strongest or clearest correlation which implies causation. (“Rule 1 of stats club never talk about stats club. Rule 1 of stats club, correlation doesn’t imply causation”). For example, greater attendance results in better attainment. True, but as the Young Foundation (2012) identifies this does not identify the true value added. True values are the personal attributes a student develops to increase their attainment, perseverance, confidence or a want for success. Rarely have I heard of someone not wanting success and being successful, we all have a degree of consciousness. If high academic attainment links to high performance, and this to personal attributes, where in policy are we planning to develop this?

Simple answer, not at all.

Developing soft skills (Non-cognitive skills)

It is these skills that define who we are and how we behave and the futures we make for ourselves. The Young Foundation (2012), EPI (2014) and FEA (2015) all support the idea that the developing non-cognitive skills is crucial to underpin academic and life success.

Outcome Model example:

  • The outcome model links the benefits of developing an individual’s non-cognitive skills (intrinsic and extrinsic) with benefits for both them and society. (This seems like a win-win situations, there are limitations).
    • Individual achievements of behaviours – Want to develop key skills to build their own success.
    • Social and emotional capabilities – Core skills that allows the person to develop their own desires.
    • Inter-personal relationships – Good parents and community contributes.
    • Benefits to society – Strong independent individuals who are not reliant on the state to support their success.

So, if there is clear evidence what is being done to introduce these concepts into educational policy?

The difficulty is identifying a clear correlation between good non-cognitive skills and academic and life success. West (2014) published a conflicted study that shows no linked between the non-cognitive skills and academic performance. Yet, the Young Foundation (2012) has clear evidence to identify a positive relationship between student’s emotional well being and socio-economic background. Policy decisions based on qualitative information is not reassuring. But, after reading reams of threads and literature there is a body evidence all pointing in the same direction that can not be ignored.

Recommendations for policy

The future directions of policy need to make an active effort to collect data through longitudinal studies and develop tests to identify the non-cognitive development of an individual over time. Hold Ofsted (hopefully in the future a college of teachers) accountable for ensuring that schools have effective systems of developing non-cognitive skills within their pupils. By not doing anything, the power of a student to make their own decisions academically and later on in life will continually shift reliance and dependence on others for support. Establishing a link between non-cognitive skills and academic performance has never been more important in a developed society.

In the future all the horses will have the appropriate non-cognitive skills to see the importance of drinking. The same will be true for our education system, students who have a desire for success.

References

West (2014) – http://cepr.harvard.edu/cepr-resources/files/news-events/cepr-promise-paradox.pdf

Fair Education Alliance (2015) – http://www.faireducation.org.uk/report-card/

Economic Policy Institute (2014) – http://www.epi.org/publication/the-need-to-address-noncognitive-skills-in-the-education-policy-agenda/

The Young Foundation (2012) – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175476/Framework_of_Outcomes_for_Young_People.pdf

Cultural Capital in Education

Schools should be seen as centres for improving the academic and cultural capital of it students. To my knowledge there is no policy that currently exists to develop or support the cultural richness of our students. For example, a student who attends private school has a variety of cultural and academic experiences to engage in. Parents hold the school accountable because they want their child to have these experiences. My school is sponsored by a top University, this establishment also holds the school accountable because they too want students who have had a variety of experiences. Why are state schools not held accountable for cultural capital? It’s clear that top institutions want well rounded culturally rich students. But, those from low socio-economic backgrounds struggle to gain similar experiences due to financial or guidance limitations. What is the Government going to do to address this?

The definition of cultural capital is, “Cultural capital is the ideas and knowledge that people draw upon as they participate in social life. Everything from rules of etiquette to being able to speak and write effectively can be considered cultural capital.” (Crossman, 2010). This phrase considers the development of social and practical skills that allow a person to take part and function in society. In modern democracy an individual would need strong social capabilities to be successful. This means that part of one’s success in society is dependent on their social/cultural capital.

Cultural Capital categories:

  • Embodied – concious or passive inheritance of certain behaviours or skills. Skills influenced by the environment and life that an individual leads. For example, colloquial dialect. A modern society also expects basic life skills to be develop in these avenues as well, focusing for example.
  • Objectified – physical objects of science or art owned or appreciated by an individual. Only by those who have developed strong embodied understanding of history and art.
  • Institutionalised – recognition of culture. For example, institutions provide qualifications for individuals.

Societies responsibility for develop cultural capital in all individuals is important. Embodied education is the responsibility of parents and carers. Objectified and institutionalised education is the responsibility governments and community leaders. In middle class households parents and carers continually support the embodied development of their offspring. Parents from low socio-economic community struggle to find the time to support their child in a similar way. What is been done to support the development of embodied education in these individuals? What is being done to support the embodied development of parents who were also deprived?

Society has a responsibility to support all individuals enhance their cultural captial. Government policy linked to cultural capital in education is difficult to find. I found myself constantly being referred to cultural education (DfE, 2013). The report identified that cultural education was important. To support cultural education more funding to objectified, arts based charities has been increased. The kind of students who will take advantage of these opportunities are the mobilsed middle class. There is little evidence of supporting increased mobiltiy in all individuals. For example, how a pupil thinks, talks, problem solves, socialises, concentrates, believes, aspires, plans, prepares, organises, repairs a bike, plays chests or develops other non-profitable skills that, as we all know, are important but not supported.

For those indivdiuals from low-socio economic backgrounds more must be done to support their embodied cultural development. Liberate their ability to fairly operate in a social society. What are we doing to support these individual’s? To my knowledge, nothing! That is an injustice.

Crossman, 2010. http://sociology.about.com/od/C_Index/g/Cultural-Capital.htm

DfE, 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226569/Cultural-Education.pdf