@ADFeducation: We need principles for 21st Century learning not just examples of good practice. One size does not fit all. More to follow. . .
The biggest worry I have about launching PBL in our new building this March is purely HR related. How do I create a programme between now and then that will encourage them to work in teams with large groups students, rather than as individuals with their own group of students?
Yes I've been really busy since I last wrote about two hundred years ago. I left my first Principal job to take up a second one in a new Academy in Weston-super-Mare, near Bristol. At first I wasn't too sure if I really wanted to do this as I was still developing the curriculum in my school at the time, but the temptation to be able to work with archtects in the design of a brand new school was too much.
It wasn't actually a brand new school, but actually took over from an existing underperforming school (thirteenth lowest in the country in terms of results) and converted to Academy status. We opened on 1st May 2011 and it's been non-stop since then. It is in an area of very high deprivation and low aspiration.
We've designed the building with Project Based Learning in mind and it opens sometime May 2014. We're excited to say the least. I'll share building plans in some kind of easy to read format soon.
PBL is still very much central to what we do and hopefully, bit by bit, I'll bring this blog up to speed with where we are. In the mean time here's a link to our Vision which outlines the curriculum and ethos underlying it. For all three of you who have read the my previous blogs, you'll notice that there are some big developments on previous thinking. Download HPA vision June 2013
I'm back after yet another long break. I'm moving to open another school in Weston-Super-Mare, near Bristol - Hans Price Academy. It will be in the same Federation of schools as Bristol Brunel Academy and will have PBL at it's heart. I'll stil be working with BBA helping to develop their PBL programme further.
I guess the biggest thing that I've noticed in the past year has been the extent to which so many schools design all their systems, structures and processes around the needs of the teacher, before the needs of the student. Does your school? If you have 5 mins have a look at a recent paper I wrote for the SSAT: Download BBA principles in action
And another difficulty . . . teacher development. I really underestimated the amount of professional development our staff would need to deliver this programme effectively. Our seminars are fine - the teachers are in their comfort zones; their specialist subject areas. Our focus sessions are a different story.
Facilitating learning is far more difficult than 'teaching'. We have had to develop a crib sheet for staff who have felt really insecure when facing a group of young people coming along to a class at all different stages in their project. Before giving them this crib sheet/script ( Download Focus Session Script )which guides them through the facilitation process, many of the teachers were floundering. Students were not showing progress during focus sessions due to a lack of subtle guidance/support and well crafted questioning. Some staff were still trying to lead from the front or in some cases sit at the front.
Focus sessions need real interaction with the students. Teachers are put into a framework where they have to deliver; there is no place (or worksheet) to hide behind. Slowly most of the staff are becoming accustomed to this way of working. A few months ago our main source of complaints from staff was related to not knowing what they were doing and not feeling capable. Today the biggest source of complaints from teachers are related to other teachers not pulling their weight. A teacher taking a focus session must work with the students to ensure progress. Failure to do this results in the next teacher 'picking up the pieces'. We have also given every teacher a certain amount of planning responsibility within each project. A teacher who does not do his or her share of planning is not appreciated by peers.
So in some ways although this is a difficult process, it is nevertheless positive in the sense that teachers are having to develop their craft or understanding of pedagogy. There is no longer the possibility for teachers to retreat into their classroom armed with a text books to copy from or work sheets to endlessly fill in. I know I am probably sounding as if I have a negative attitude towards teachers, but I am only talking about the few who exist in every school and who are not really concerned with pedagogy, seeing a successful lesson as one which is ordered and quiet - where learning comes second.
I'm obviously not disciplined to write often, or maybe I have no time because of this *##xx!!# monster we're creating. Here's a quick summary of what's been happening:
We're now into our second year of delivering this programme. Our Year 7 and 8 students are participating in PBL for approx 80% of their curriculum time. They are doing Languages and PE discretely. It's been very hard, but we are still persevering and beginning to see the fruits of our labours.
Structuring the timetable has been difficult. Issues:
We've made the mistake/ or fallen into the trap of unconsciously building/structuring our timetable around the needs of our teachers. Have a look at your own timetable; it is built around a series of grids which are designed to place teachers in separate 'silos'. When developing the timetable, the timetabler works around constraints such as teacher non-contact time and trying not to give a class a triple session because how could the teacher possibly fill the time and keep students focused? There is an outcry if a teacher doesn't teach as much as possible in the same room, or does not have the same group of students at the same times of the week every week and it's the end of the world if a teacher goes over their allotted amount of contact time. I'm not trying to put down teachers who moan. Why shouldn't they moan their job is hard. However without realising it, when we are timetabling (and I was a timetabler for quite a few years), those cries of horror from the teachers are there in the back of your mind and we structure the timetable around their needs. I don't think I've explained myself here so don't crucify me yet rather, indulge me for the moment and I'll do more justice to this statement in a future post. Just let me say for now that we are still maintaining the status quo in our school, by restricting our timetable to suit teachers. Students are staying in the same groups all the time, which is exactly what I wanted to avoid.
Solutions to this have been to do some re-timetabling this year as teachers have become more confident, but from next year we have been working on a new way to timetable, placing teachers in to teams from various disciplines with ownership of one project. We will not timetable non-contact time for teachers, instead the teams will have enough time to allow for non-contact time. The same cohort of students will work with this team of teachers and teachers within the team will be responsible for athe academic mentoring of a certain number of students. They will organise themselves as a team, and work in partnership with each other. part of their responsibility will be to ensure that the students are all assessed by each mentor regularly (the more difficult concepts will be covered by the particular subject specialists in seminars). English and Maths teachers will work outside of these teams, ensuring the delivery and development of Literacy and Numeracy. Each team of teachers will deliver their project to a different cohort of students each half term across three year groups.
This is all far to complex for me to explain just now so apologies if it sounds a bit disjointed. I'll post a model when it is completed.
I went on an Academy Principals trip last week, visiting Academys around the M25. In one of the Academys the Principal, gave us a tour and told us how bad the building was and how many extra walls she had to ask the builders to put up as the building neared completion. Maybe I'm naive, but if we put up walls to stop student movement or reduce noise, we are giving a subliminal message to the students: We don't trust you to walk around this building in an appropriate way and we certainly don't trust you not to disturb others.
If we are to instill good habits of learning in our students we should give them the chance to aspire to behaving appropriately and be there to pick them up when they are struggling to do this. Just another job for the teacher I believe.
Seminars should cover the difficult concepts in subject areas and also allow the student an opportunity to explore topics at a deeper level with a teacher. Some of these should be mandatory attendance, but some should have an element of choice.
At present seminars tend to focus too much on just Maths and English and tend to be very instructional. This is fine if the seminars are synchronised roughly with the work students are doing, but it is missing out on opportunities to explore the wider richness of the driving question the students are focussing on. It is fine to have instructional seminars if the quality of facilitation in focus sessions and tutorials is such that students have opportunities to discuss or analyse things in a wider context.
A possible solution to the above issues might be to divide our seminars into three types:
Tutorial time is time put aside to allow Learning Facilitators (tutors) time to meet with individual students or teams in their Learning families. This is taking place, but it is infrequent. The original plan was to have two Facilitators timetabled at the same time. Between them they would have approx 28 students. These students would be distributed between the other focus sessions 9there are 8 groups on at any one time. The two facilitators would then see their students individually; perhaps four or five during a 50min session. Facilitators have two sessions per week in which to carry this out.
In reality we have a number of issues and questions raised:
If we are to resolve these issues we must consider the following:
The nature and length of tutorials will vary according to the graduation stage of the student.
At the risk of the joke becoming boring - my wife is out collecting my daughter from Guides.