Updated: Jun 29, 2021
By Nicky Blackford, Assistant Headteacher, The Telford Priory School
Where it Began
Over the past two decades, I have learnt much about the ‘best ways to teach’. As a Head of Department then AST (remember those?) I always concerned myself with getting better and ‘honing my craft’ so that I could pay it forward and coach others to grow as well.
It wasn’t until the last few years as Assistant Head in charge of teaching and learning/ enactment that I realised I was missing an equally important question - ‘what is the best way to learn?’ As a result, understanding ‘how we learn’ informs ‘the best ways to teach’.
Telford Priory School (TPS)
We believe in a ‘Powerful curriculum for global citizens;’ each and every child has the right to access/ be exposed to, the best of what has been thought and said. The enactment of that curriculum ensures that pupils can make sense of and retain that information. It became my primary goal to make sense of and synthesise some of the best research out there.
I work with some exceptional practitioners and have had the opportunity to visit some game-changing schools; I was in a fortunate position to collaborate with colleagues on a vision for enactment.
In this article I have laid out some of the key ideas that have informed our vision for enactment and shared some of the key principles in making that vision a reality.
The symbiotic relationship of ‘how we learn’ coupled subsequently then with the ‘best ways to teach’ commenced my exploration of reading and research (by which I mean secondary research!)
There is a plethora of reading/ research to be found by some truly amazing experts in the world of education both practising and non-practising, historical and contemporary, and it is by no means my aim to summarise these works, just learn from them and share my understanding. (FYI – a world of research awaits you on Twitter!)
Understanding of the limitations of working memory, cognitive load theory and retrieval practice became paramount in our search for the most effective enactment tools to realise our powerful vision.
Be it Barak Rosenshine himself or Tom Sherrington’s synthesised ‘Principles in Action,’ the components made sense. Why wouldn’t you break down material into bite-sized chunks or check for understanding before moving on? Why? Because if like me, you came from the world of education where we were told (for example) to be a ‘guide on the side’ instead of a ‘sage on the stage’ and that discovery learning was the most effective way to learn, it’s difficult to let go of that legacy. Now whilst we’d never advise our teaching staff against those methods entirely (a conversation for another day), we whole-heartedly promote the teacher as the expert in the room; tell them what they need to know… but understand the ‘science’ in how to enact it effectively. If ‘memory is the residue of thought’ we need our students to be thinking hard; guide their practice, scaffold their learning and review their knowledge frequently.
As a contextual example, direct instruction has been a primary focus for us this academic year and we have fully committed to designing expert explanations (what are the optimal ‘ingredients’ to convey the type of knowledge you are presenting), modelling for excellence, guiding practice and frequently checking for understanding to ultimately secure the knowledge in the long-term memory. Retrieval practice is embedded in each and every lesson to beat the ‘Ebbinghaus forgetting curve’.
A Vehicle for Enactment
The Gradual Release Model (GRM) was introduced in 2019/20 to act as a framework for effective
planning over a series of lessons. The model allowed for the most well-researched enactment principles to be embedded via a visual model that allowed teachers to ‘realise’ the importance of direct instruction, guided practice, independent learning, and AfL/ responsive teaching.
I designed this map primarily to chunk the research against our principles of enactment and create a roadmap towards our 2022 vision. I started to map out the most prolific research/ resources against those principles and then introduced mapping against the Teacher’s Standards (TS) and the Early Career Framework (ECF) to support out Early Careers Teachers’ (ECT) provision.
As we heavily encourage staff to read/ research, I made sure that the map was interactive; click on a box/ book in the blue column and the link will take you directly to the article/ blog. This allowed staff to not have to spend time surfing and sifting through the mountains of papers; it was available at the click of a button.
We are steadily but surely transforming into an evidenced-based, research-informed body of staff who seek out ‘evidence’ to inform our practice and translate into our teaching. Pedagogical content knowledge is at the forefront of growing great people alongside joining curriculum discourse and mastering our subject knowledge.
I hope this gives you some insight into our vision for enactment at TPS. The full interactive map is available on my twitter feed @NJBlackford or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter: Further recommendations (too many to list!):
Behaviour/ Research_Ed @tombennett71
Rosenshine/ In action Series/ WalkThrus @teacherhead @Olicav
@SchoolsCat @TeachLeadAAli @MyattandCo @missdcox @PearceMrs @PEgeekscorner @ChrisMoyse @adamboxer1 @shaun_allison @ollie_lovell @ChrisMoyse