I am in the incredibly fortunate position to get to meet and discuss leadership and enquiry with a wide range of people involved in education across Scotland and beyond. What’s heart warming is to see the growing enthusiasm for supporting teacher leadership to develop practice which is, and practitioners who are, best placed to meet the needs of children and young people. It’s also great to see more and more schools agreeing to take an enquiring approach to making that happen…but what exactly does that look like?
A number of the conversations I have had recently would suggest that many schools are taking the approach of ‘enquiry groups’. These often involve small groups of the school’s staff, often with an element of choice, which each enquire into an aspect of practice. The whole school might be developing numeracy, and each group is enquiring into an aspect of numeracy practice, or the scope might be wider and have each group enquiring into a different aspect of pedagogy across curricular areas. This for many schools is a great step forward, and any professional learning which allows teachers time to reflect upon and develop their practice in small groups can only be a good thing. However, I would suggest that if you are taking this approach you could make one small tweak to your process which might help really unleash the potential of these groups.
Start with the question: ‘what do we want to be different for our young people?’ Not at a whole school level. But at the individual level, and then the group. This one question has the power to greatly enhance what the enquiry group then goes on to do as it shifts the exercise from being largely a whole-school improvement and professional learning exercise to a deeply personal enquiry into practice which makes a meaningful difference to the children in each teacher’s care. It also allows you to meaningfully gather and analyse evidence of impact as you know what it is you are hoping your change of practice will achieve. It also allows teachers the scope to consider issues of equity in their contexts and how this might be addressed through an enquiring approach.
Take for example an enquiry group who are looking at approaches to improving homework. In scenario A this could go as follows:
- Group meets and shares experiences of and current practice in setting homework. They read and discuss literature to explore possible ways of making homework better.
- Each member of the group agrees to try out one possible alternative approach to homework.
- Each member of the group gathers some evidence, i.e. the homework artefacts and possibly a survey of the young people plus their own reflections, and reports back to the rest of the group.
- The group shares their findings with the school.
However, in scenario B, this same group could proceed like this:
- Group meets and shares experiences of and current practice in setting homework. They ask themselves what do we want to be different for your young people as a result of this? They discuss the biggest issues facing them in their practice right now. For one teacher this is that homework is making no impact on the learning. For another teacher the pupils never do their homework and huge amounts of time is wasted chasing this. One teacher is worried about pupils from the most deprived areas and their lack of access to resources to complete homework. Another teacher is frustrated that the pupils give up too easily and leave most of their homeworks blank. The last member of the group is worried about a student in their class who has English as an additional language and isn’t even keeping up with the learning in class let alone homework.
- The group explores literature for different approaches to homework practice and discusses how each of their identified issues might be addressed through changes to homework practice. They also speak to learners in their classes to discuss current homework practice and the issues arising to explore possible solutions that they might have.
- Each teacher decides upon and tries an approach to homework practice which will impact upon the needs of their learners. These approaches are different and tailored to the needs of their learners.
- Each teacher gathers evidence of the impact their change in homework practice has had on the learners in question. Each approach to evidence gathering is different as appropriate for the issue they were interested in addressing.
- They share their learning with each other and with the whole school.
For me, the fundamental differences between these two scenarios are that the first is serving the needs of the school, whereas the second is serving the needs of the learners as judged by the teachers involved. And also, the first scenario is hoping to achieve change but isn’t clear why, whereas in the second there is a clear purpose to the change in practice which can be related to tackling inequality and evidenced in terms of impact.
So, if you’re planning an enquiry groups approach for next session, perhaps you might consider how you could enhance these groups by asking this one question at the outset…
What do we want to be different for our young people?
Back in March 2015 I heard the following episode of Jim Al-Khalili’s ‘The Life Scientific’ with Sarah-Jayne Blakemore.
In listening to this short programme, I felt a real ‘eureka’ moment; after many long years of working with teenagers and knowing instinctively that they are amazing, full of potential and worthy of being treated as different to both children and adults, a scientific, intelligent and sensible voice on the radio was backing up my instinct with research.
I was desperate to know more. I looked up SARAH-JAYNE’s Ted talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_jayne_blakemore_the_mysterious_workings_of_the_adolescent_brain), read as much as I could about her ideas (https://www.edge.org/conversation/sarah_jayne_blakemore-sarah-jayne-blakemore-the-teenagers-sense-of-social-self) and began to get evangelical about her ideas. At the time I was an acting education support officer working in schools and training on behaviour, learning and additional support needs and I began to use her ideas in my training. I talked about how we need to understand that ‘teenage’ behaviour (such as risk-taking and sensitivity to peer influence), so often maligned and seen as ‘difficult’ is in fact a key part of adolescent development and crucial to the teenager’s un-attachment from care-givers (who won’t be around for ever) and attachment to those of a similar age (who are more likely to be around for longer). But I also talked about the fact that the brain’s plasticity means than teenagers must not be written off as unable to learn new things – including positive attachments and behaviours – and that we have to resist the obsession with putting all of our money and efforts into the early years and to fight against the misconception that EARLY INTERVENTION is EARLY YEARS INTERVENTION. I have known numerous children over the years who sailed through childhood with no issues or difficulties but then suddenly fell apart in adolescence, only to find that support from agencies was inaccessible as they were ‘too old’. As if it would be a waste of money or too costly to intervene with them instead of intervening with a younger child with more ‘potential for recovery’. Grrrrr.
Sarah-Jayne’s science and research helped me to champion the cause of the adolescent in a way that I had never been able to before.
In the summer of 2015 I was delighted to hear that a play had been produced with Islington Youth Theatre and the National Theatre ( http://www.companythree.co.uk/brainstorm-1) and more delighted to discover that Ned Glasier, the director, had been a drama pupil of mine back at Shene School in 1994, and a very fine Salieri at that. These small world coincidences keep me going.
On returning to my school and Deputy Head post last May, I took my passion for Sarah-Jayne’s ideas with me and introduced a module in PSE for all of our 4th year pupils on the teenage brain and how understanding the science is so important for learning. I reference her regularly in my assemblies (https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/the-end-of-a-momentous-few-months/) and blogs
Last week I made my first foray into the world of being a ‘teacher voice’ in a TESS article and quoted Sarah-Jayne’s ideas when commenting on the fact that girls seem to feel that their voices go unheard at the time of transition from primary to secondary school.
And so last night it was an absolute joy and privilege to hear her speak live in Edinburgh at the RSA Scotland annual Angus Miller lecture.
It was great to see a number of young people in the audience and to learn that Young Scot had played a large part in the organisation of the event.
It was also a privilege to be accompanied to the event by my thirteen year old daughter. Aside from Sarah-Jayne’s own children, I think that she may have been the youngest person there. And she loved it.
(On the way home she quietly told me that I can’t have a go at her for going to bed too late, sleeping in late and wanting to be on her screen….because Sarah-Jayne says that those things are ok.)
Every secondary teacher in Scotland should have been in that room with us. Everyone who has chosen to accept the privilege of working with this fascinating and inspiring tribe should know about these ideas and listen to Sarah-Jayne.
I am hugely grateful to her for coming to Scotland and to the RSA for making it happen.
Below are some notes that I took and photos of the slides. This is what I heard Sarah Jayne say and what I took from it: others may have heard or interpreted differently and I sure there will be other posts about the lecture. If you want to know more, look at Sarah Jayne’s research and read her books.
If you don’t have time, these are the three messages that you need to hear right now:
- The education system we have does not suit what we know to be true about the teenage brain. Things need to change.
- We need to listen to teenagers when designing their education
- Let’s not give up on people who have not done very well early on.
(and a PS to the lady who spoke who spoke so very well in the Q and A about children who are vulnerable: I am a drama teacher and will fight tooth and nail to preserve it in schools; I was a dramatherapist and it informs every bit of my educational practice and I hope to be a head teacher one day…..There is hope.)
Sarah Jayne began with explaining her reasons for coming into this field:
Degree and post doc on schizophrenia
Asked question re when symptoms started (eg voices and delusions)
Found that it was mostly between ages if 18 and 25
Why does late teenage brain dev go wrong in those individuals?
Little research back then into teen brain so went into that – ended up making that her main focus.
75% of adult mental health disorders start in adolescence
Adolescence is defined as the period of life that starts with the biological, hormonal and physical changes of puberty and ends at the age at which an individual attains a stable, independent role in society.
Adolescence starts with puberty (easy to define)
Ends with when you take independent role in society (woolly!)
Unique period of biological, psychological and sociological development.
Expectations around age of independence are culturally varied – may stay with parents until mid-20s or leave much earlier.
However Sarah-Jayne says that there are commonalities in all adolescents across all cultures.
Risk taking, socialisation are key factors.
Studies done on mice who have about 30 days of adolescence:
Study published about 3 weeks ago:
Shows similar patterns across different cultures.
Based on experimental tasks and questionnaires.
Strikingly similar patterns across cultures and across history:
Adolescence is period when social self goes through profound transition.
Most of our memories that are most vivid are from the teenage years and early 20s.
Moral and political beliefs and sense of self develop hugely in teenage years .
Lots of research on risk taking and teens has been done.
There is some evidence (no of deaths etc) that teenagers take increased risks.
In some ways this is to be expected as teenagers are given more freedom…
Peer influence is critical issue.
Larry Steinberg research:
Friends standing behind a teenager during a lab test on risk-taking has a HUGE effect.
This is backed up by insurance company data.
Young person is most likely to have car accident with more peer passengers in car… Up to age of 25. Adults with passengers are less likely to have an accident.
Are adolescents sensitive to fear of social exclusion?
Used cyberball experiment.
(Seemed advanced tech in 2000! Not now)
The experiment was about excluding the player from the game (manipulated by the tester)
Low mood and anxiety in adolescents is SIGNIFICANT when excluded by others.
When we make decisions there are always different elements at play.
Social pressure is important (eg football hooligan phenomenon).
Social element iS VERY important for teens.
Eg smoking – health risk would be less important than peer ostracism .
Experiment at London Science Museum:
Asked people to rate the risk of various situations.
Then told them what other teens and adults had allegedly said:
Then tested again to see the change in rating after the provided rating:
All five age groups shifted rating significantly.
What about whose provided ratings they were?
Children, young adults and adults are more influenced by adult ratings.
Mid adolescents are equally influenced by adults and adolescents.
Young adolescents are influenced most by other adolescents.
Adolescents are influenced by social norms and peer influence.
Health awareness and public health advertising should be aware of this and look to change social norms and engage peer influence.
Sarah-Jayne referenced an anti bullying campaign I the US – most effective where there was child led interventions
Effect was greatest where the popular kids led the campaign.
Was not much on teenagers when Sarah-Jayne was studying:
Just WRONG! Now know that myelination goes on into 20s.
Everything has changed due to MRI scans.
Mentalising is same as theory of mind- being able to understand people’s hidden mental states through facial expression or behaviour.
Used to think that children develop this around 4 or 5 but have realised it is probably more like 18 months
What about adolescent mentalising?
Scanners show that these parts are activated when we think about others/ mentalising
How do these 4 regions develop in adolescence?
Study done by Jay Giedd – longitudinal study so very useful.
Grey matter peaks in late childhood then decreases in adolescence.
Replicated in a Dutch study.
Only part where grey matter does not decline is adolescence is the part related to vision at back of brain.
Decline in grey matter then levels off for many years before declining again in old age.
In adolescence the brain becomes more white (myelination) and less grey.
Synapses and connections are made in childhood- more that will ever be needed.
Connections which are used are kept but are pruned away if not used during adolescence.
No such thing as an average teenager.
Casey and Steinberg thought risk taking occurs when there is a mismatch between the limbic regions (getting a kick) and prefrontal regions:
They suggested that limbic brain matures sooner that prefrontal cortex.
Sarah-Jayne and colleagues wanted to prove this:
Average data suggested yes but individual data was messy!!!
What accounts for the big differences between individuals?
Can’t tell from the Casey/Steinberg data as done 10 yrs ago- no risk question was asked.
More research being done now.
This is a big assumption in education but Saarh-Jayne wanted to challenge this:
This is used in IQ and entrance exams as they think it is not trainable. (It is!!)
Non verbal is very trainable and IMPROVED across adolescence.
Learning does not always decline with age.
Can do lots of really useful tests on animals around social interaction and the impact of brain development.
Education – what are the key issues?
Sleep patterns are important
We make them get up in the middle of what is their night!! Does not suit them but DOES suit society which wants to get up and out at 8.
Does not suit adolescent brain.
Evidence suggests that we should let them sleep later.
Suggestion- involve adolescents in designing their education.
UCL academy in London- not a Shakespearean school – good model.
Break out spaces
Peer to peer learning
Young people influenced in the design.
A week ago today we had another day working with Tree of Knowledge; this time our S4 pupils worked with the brilliant Daryl on study skills.
Some of the S4s missed the session and I promised that I would write a summary for them. Of course, notes like this are a poor substitute for the session because, with Tree of Knowledge, you get so much more than the content. The organisation thrives because of the highly inspirational, motivational and entertaining speakers that they engage and it is just as much about the way in which the ideas are presented as the what of the ideas.
Daryl was just as amazing in this respect as Tony who had been before him. Half stand-up comedian, half philosopher, he had an amazing way of relating to every single young person in the audience.
Below is a summary of the what, with an invitation that anyone reading gets along to a TOK session whenever they possibly can.
Daryl started by talking about his own background and education:
school, physics at St. Andrews and then a masters in theoretical physics.
He then spoke of how he had been inspired to work for TOK by 2 things: 1. a memory of witnessing an amazing TOK workshop as a school pupil; and 2. a TED talk based on the idea that you can only really be content in life if you do a job that helps others.
These 2 factors led him to decide that his vocation should involve helping young learners to be the best that they can be.
He noted that it can be hard for young people if they don’t have an idea of what they want to be in the future (approx only half of our S4s surveyed in the room indicated that they had a clear idea.)
However, he stated that the workshop was about giving everyone the knowledge and techniques in order to be able to overcome the challenges and hurdles that might arise along the path to a successful future.
He began by talking about brain science and outlined ideas on left and right brain, brain connections and the need to master skills through practice. A few practical games like “do as I say, not as I do” and rub tummy/pat head showed everyone the importance of practice and repetition in learning. Daryl elaborated on this and talked about the importance of connections in the brain that need to be repeated in order for a process to be learned and instinctive. He used a very helpful metaphor; when you learn, your brain makes connections. The more you repeat an activity, the deeper the learning. Think of walking a path through a field of grass. The first time you walk it, it is hard work. As you repeat walking the path, it gets easier. If you stop walking, the grass grows back and it gets hard again. This, he stated, is the brain science behind “practice makes perfect”.
He then went on to talk about other elements of neuroscience that related to learning, such as the need to engage both the logical left-side brain as well as the creative right-side brain when learning. Logic alone will not lead to effective learning and the study of all subjects is enhanced when we engage both sides of the brain.
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein.
Daryl spoke about the fact that when we are children we engage imagination all the time as we learn but that, as we grow up, we tend to discourage and avoid play; however if we are to learn effectively, we need to break this cycle and re-engage the imagination. Songs to learn the alphabet, rhymes to help with the compass points (never eat shredded wheat) all helped us as children and can help us still. The irony of education is that we spend years teaching young children to walk and talk and then formal schooling often seems to be about getting children to sit down and shut up!
Daryl then engaged the group in an imaginative story telling task that enabled them to memorise 10 items on the board and the results were astounding! The key elements were use of imagination, repetition, visualisation and exaggeration.
Whilst the technique may not suit everyone, there will be a technique that DOES and the key is finding the right one for you.
The brain is a truly extraordinary thing from the moment you are born until the moment you die and you need to find ways to make the most of it for you.
Daryl then went on to talk about the fact that sometimes, young people have difficulty with expressing what they know, even though the information and ideas are in there somewhere. He referenced the work of Dr Paul McLean and the Triune Brain (http://www.thebrainbox.org.uk/triune_brain_theory/triune_brain_theory.html) and explained why it is crucial for us to be creative, happy and relaxed if we are to learn well. This had links with the S3 and S2 workshops on Mindset and the Chimp Brain and looked at the idea that stress, reptilian fight or flight responses and the release of cortisol are all detrimental to learning.
Daryl went on the highlight the fact that being calm and happy comes from being well-prepared ad organised in our study (at which point Mrs Carter was punching the air as this has been THE key S4 message this year ….Eating Elephants included).
He then talked about some more advanced psychological theory about the need to ensure that learning is embedded in the deeper part of our being if it to be sustained. He referenced ideas about conscious, subconscious and unconscious learning and the way in which psychophysical influences and subconscious impulses can all affect our ability to learn.
The last part of the session, focused on the idea that we can talk ourselves in and out of being able to learn (again linking with the S3 workshop on Mindset). If you tell yourself negative things, there is evidence that you are more likely to fail as the negative messages filter through to your subconscious. Daryl noted that Scotland has a particular issue with negative self-talk and its consequences on confidence; in a 2088 Guardian survey found Scotland placed 24th out of 25 European countries in terms of self-confidence rating, above Bosnia and below Northern Ireland!
The key message here? We need to tell ourselves that we can succeed.
“I like school. I can do it. I will enjoy today at school with my friends”.
If you do not set yourself up to achieve your potential, you probably won’t. You need to decide what you want and go for it.
If someone asks you “how are you?” (as they do about 47 times each day!), try answering “fantastic”. The more you say it, the more you will feel it.
Positive words, positive thoughts, positive actions; the key elements to being the best version of you.
Huge thanks to Daryl and Tree of Knowledge for the inspiration.
More top tips can be found at the Study Ninja app: https://treeof.com/blog/2017/01/09/amazing-study-ninja-review-in-teach-secondary/