Comprehension – a vital key to unlocking deeper learning in a virtual world

How well do your pupils understand the work they are given in this time of virtual learning?  In a classroom the teacher fills the gaps explains the unfamiliar and corrects misconceptions.  How can we ensure this happens at home?

Comprehension is essential if pupils are to deepen their learning and unlock their potential to make sense of how the world works.  Blooms in its original form and the more recent revised form (as above) both recognise the importance of comprehension or understanding quite early on in their respective hierarchical pyramids. We cannot begin to analyse, justify, compare and contrast or evaluate until we have the skills with which to make sense of the facts. In any classroom we would expect to see some or all of the list below.

  • Discussion
  • Collaboration
  • Investigation
  • The acquisition of knowledge
  • Practice and reinforcement
  • What the learner produces to obtain feedback

For all of the above there is an essential component part which is being able to understand the information they have at their disposal. Learning how to de-code the written word or other information will lead to pupils being able to share, have a discussion or do some independent enquiry of their own. There is an opportunity here to focus on how to help your pupils to shape their own learning. Pupils should reflect and ask questions to test their own understanding of the content of the work being given to them or the reading they are asked to undertake.  Learning how to deeply understand text or indeed other materials such as graphs, charts, photographs and diagrams will reinforce what they already know and provide the platform to then build new learning.

A friend and colleague of mine developed a tool for her PGCE students to use as part of their teaching of English.  We have adapted the 5Ps of comprehension for English into 5Ps for other subjects and for non-fiction texts, worksheets or indeed graphs, photographs and diagrams.  Create for your pupils studying from home an opportunity to use a tool that will help them to articulate what they do understand and to focus on where they are unsure. It will give all pupils the confidence to reflect on the importance of understanding what they are given to support their developing knowledge.

The five Ps of comprehension   – Download the questions in this PDF that will provide pupils with an opportunity to reflect on how well they understand what they are reading or researching. The 5Ps are listed below.

  • Points of View – What is the text telling you and do you agree?
  • Patterns and connections – How has reading this added to what you already know?
  • Puzzles – What is puzzling you?
  • Possibilities? – Now you know this what else can you learn to add to your understanding?
  • Prediction – What might happen if…?

We are producing a suite of on-line training courses for leaders, managers and teachers in schools and colleges. These will be available after the Easter holiday at the end of April.  Keep up your CPD. Continue to follow our weekly posts with advice for how to support pupils learning from home.

Formative Assessment – teacher autonomy, pupil involvement, positive collaboration

Formative Assessment is a pedagogy that should be an integral part of classroom practice. Pupil participation and focused teacher interaction should lead to deeper understanding, and an opportunity to correct mistakes and change misconceptions. Formative assessment should foster the confidence to take risks and work things out.  It should form the basis of forward planning, define the curriculum content and ensure pupils can articulate how they are learning as well as what they are learning. Statutory assessments do not and cannot accurately capture pupils’ achievements.

The above is echoed in a recent report launched by Pearsons and the research organisation LKMco,  Testing the Water – ‘How assessment can underpin, not undermine great teaching’. the report is the result of a national consultation on the future of assessment and it explores some of the questions that surround the issue of assessment and its place in the accountability system we currently have in England.

The report says, ‘understanding and using assessment should be a fundamental competency for all educators’, however the findings suggest that there is a lack of training, teachers lack confidence in the process and they do not know where to go for support, help or advice.  There is an implied criticism that far too much of teachers’ time is geared to summative assessment and the tendency to teach to the test.  The pressure to produce data for reporting and accountability weighs heavily on teachers and negates their confidence in using formative assessment to support learning.  The advice from the report suggests that schools should limit the number of summative assessments and make greater use of standardised tests to benchmark how their pupils compare with others nationally.

Teachers need to have the autonomy to establish what pupils have learnt, remembered and understood and plan the unfolding of the curriculum content and skills development accordingly so that all pupils can deepen their knowledge and build the skills to access that knowledge.

The report focuses on the issue of workload associated with assessment and how this can be reduced. There are some interesting case studies and references to some research based ideas that support high quality formative assessment to reduce  workload. However, teachers need to be confident enough to trust that this will be acceptable to inspectors and those who assess their performance in school.  The report also highlights how new technologies can help to reduce the burden.

The report also asks the question ‘How can unnecessary stress about assessment be reduced?’ The advice for schools is to ensure that pupil performance in tests is not linked to the assessment of ongoing teacher performance. There should be a much closer association with ongoing formative assessment in the classroom.

In summary schools need to,

  • Increase the confidence of teachers to use formative assessment as an integral part of their pedagogy and provide the relevant training to support this
  • Mine the considerable bank of support available to the profession
  • Access training that covers both the theory and practice of assessment that is relevant to those with different roles from senior leaders to Governors and parents
  • Reduce the burden of summative assessment and focus on assessing the deepening of knowledge and understanding of curriculum content in both the core and foundation subjects
  • Ensure the data that is collected as a result of assessment is diagnostic and granular and allows teachers and support staff to define the gaps in pupils’ knowledge or where they need to be challenged and stretched to fulfil their full potential
  • Create a culture that ensures there is meaningful communication about assessment, how it is undertaken, its accuracy and the results that inform planning and intervention across all learning
  • Focus on how pupils learn and how developing learning skills as part of accessing a deep, rich and broad curriculum is far more likely to see them succeed in summative statutory tests than ‘teaching to the test’.  Read Alison Peacock’s piece on page 51 of the report, she says at the end, ‘If the input is right the output looks after itself’.
  • Review the school’s marking policy and testing strategies, focus on their efficacy for pupils learning and the devastating impact too much marking has on teacher well-being
  • Celebrate learning, effort and achievement in the classroom and build the confidence of pupils to take risks with their learning, tackle the unfamiliar and challenge themselves, their teachers and their peers to seek and find out more
  • Use a variety of assessment strategies and decouple pupils’ test and exam results from the assessment of teacher performance in the classroom

Learning Cultures have a unique and highly praised reputation in providing training for teachers that will give them the materials, resources and learning to take back to school to share with others.  Formative assessment requires a high level of competence.  There needs to be a mechanism that allows for effective collaboration, moderation and a collective understanding of its efficacy and accuracy.  Join us at one of our training courses,

How do we focus on learning and not on teaching?

The business of a school is learning.  If we put learning at the heart of every goal we set and through professional coaching conversations we focus on how our pupils learn, how we learn and how our colleagues learn we will build a culture that celebrates what works well, identify what needs to change and be able to reflect on the impact our teaching has on how well pupils deepen their knowledge and progress.

Identifying the pedagogies that we use in the classroom is important.  The craft of teaching is a gift. However, if we don’t look carefully to how successfully it links to learning we cannot expect to find ways to continually improve.

Ponder on these questions

  • How does your teaching link with what learners are interested in?
  • How does your teaching allow pupils to learn concepts that will support them to deepen their knowledge?
  • How does your teaching allow pupils to make connections with what they have learnt elsewhere?
  • How does your teaching promote the use of higher level thinking skills that deepens their learning?
  • How does your teaching allow pupils to share their ideas and work well in groups?
  • How meaningful is what you are teaching to your learners’ own experiences and existing knowledge?
  • How can you be sure that your teaching is building on prior learning?
  • How do you create opportunities for pupils to talk about their learning and be able to say how they are learning as well as what they are learning?
  • How do you make sure that pupils understand what is said to them and comprehend what they read?

Make sure that with every plan and every decision made, whatever it is about, there is a link to learning. There is some serious research that suggests it makes an outstanding difference!