Research School Network: Winning Hearts and Minds by Planning Ahead to ​‘Improvise’ A reflective and practical account of responsive teaching methods – by Simon Cope from Kingsmead School, Cannock.

Winning Hearts and Minds by Planning Ahead to ​‘Improvise’

A reflective and practical account of responsive teaching methods – by Simon Cope from Kingsmead School, Cannock.

by Staffordshire Research School
on the

It’s never been clearer as it is in today’s climate that we, as teachers, are many things to the children in our care. The intense focus on remote learning in response to the Coronavirus means we are again reflecting on the superhero skills of modern-day teachers. Yes, we are educators, but we are also cheer leaders, negotiators, counsellors and we are event planners. I think for us to be successful in all of these fields we should not ignore our role as salespeople. Successful teaching has a lot to do with capturing the interest of our customers’ in a crowded world of distractions, responding to the needs of our students to ensure that we look beyond interest and do not overlook the purpose and reflective values of learning.

A good salesperson has a pre-thought out game plan

Adaptive teaching within a lesson doesn’t happen by chance. We need to make it part of our design or intent. From before students even enter the room, it is possible to predict potential learning journeys, misconceptions, common errors, as well as points of support and points of stretch. This ensures that the learning is pitched appropriately to challenge students and provide every opportunity for them to succeed in learning.

A good salesperson has emotional intelligence, ability and agility to adapt to fit their customer’s mood and responses

Students will respond better if they are made to feel like they own the learning or have some degree of control over it. To follow a prescribed script which ploughs on regardless through content when learners begin to digress from the intended learning, will never suffice. For a student to see that they have been listened to, instantly gets us buy in. It shows that we care, that we want to help and that it therefore must be relevant for them. We instantly attach value to the learning by involving them, making it look like their ideas have shaped the next steps in learning. We are, in effect, agreeing with them and our common thinking makes them more receptive to the knowledge and understanding that we teach.

A good salesperson has incredible awareness skills

By planning out particular hinge or key questions to support the aims of the lesson and assess learning, we become more aware. We remind ourselves of the common pitfalls students might take, the misconceptions held by few or many or where there are loose connections’ in schema retrieval that result in students being stuck.’ This heightened awareness results in the reaction of adaptive teaching.

A good salesperson sees and shares the big picture

Of course we know that learning should not be seen or planned in isolation, as discrete lessons – sequencing, synoptic links and learning destinations matter! It’s part of a bigger story that the student needs to be exposed to, buy into and take on board. By seeing and understanding how all the pieces of learning and interlinked and lock together over time, students begin to understand the place’ and purpose of each lesson and support intrinsic motivation as they begin to understand the direction the learning journey is taking and where the final destination is.

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Key principles of effective responsive teaching

  • Have a game plan – think through carefully what might happen, where you might need to adapt and what you could do in advance to support this
  • Plan questions that will support key aspects of the learning. Consider common misconceptions, identify and plan responses – you are prepared and more aware when you see them.
  • Plan to involve and use student responses. Integrate them and use them as a springboard to model class talk, disciplinary literacy and elicit improved oral contributions
  • Give the learning context – explain how the learning fits with what came before AND what comes after

Putting these principles into practice

The beauty of teaching today is that we have organisations like the EEF, who are freely sharing what the best bets’ are for evidence-informed teaching are. This, together with classroom experience and a reflective approach combine to allows us to apply and refine the approaches so that they suit our bespoke contexts in schools, giving us the best chance of securing successful outcomes for students. The translation of best bets’ into classroom practices have resulted in the following approaches that have been tried in our setting and have shown to have a positive impact on learning:

1. Design killer questions.’ By planning them in advance, you can ensure that these play a crucial role in the lessons and can transform a students’ perception of a concept or point of view. Parachuting them on to engaging with further learning. A classic example to make the point is from Romeo and Juliet, who is responsible for Tybalt’s death?’ – a great deal more provoking and deliberate question that who killed Tybalt?’

2. Prepare back pocket’ questions. Questions ready to assess, supplement and expand discussion. Ones that you can pull out’ if and when you choose to address any misconceptions that you can predict ahead of time.

3. Flipped learning allows students to recognize and engage with unfamiliar content and vocabulary before the lesson – pump-priming’ the lesson ahead. Students who can accelerate through the lesson quicker because of this, can be challenged further by the teacher.

4. Blended learning goes hand in hand with the above point. For students who can progress at a quicker rate, having IT or other resources available means they can tackle more complex, in-depth thinking whilst remaining in the same lesson

5. Personal Learning Checklists (PLCs) are a powerful tool to support all students, encouraging students to see and review on what they can and can’t do. Regularly reflecting on learning objectives or outcomes can motivate even the most reluctant learner, particularly if you can engineer some early wins in the early stages.

6. Learning journeys allow students and staff to see the relevance of (and synoptic links within) the learning. They help to paint the bigger picture and can show explicit links between topics and key skills and help student to know their current position in learning.

7. What’s the point?’ Explaining why’ the lesson is important, its purpose and relevance to the lives of your people is crucial and helps learners to buy-in’ to their lessons. Explicitly communicating the what’s in it for me’ can be the catalyst and foundation for motivation.

8. The stepped learning approach ensures that key skills are sticky’ and last. By providing extensive up-front scaffolding and modelling, students see what they are aiming for. It allows the teacher to respond accordingly with varied degrees of support, stretch and understanding when the most appropriate time is to begin to remove the scaffolds.

In summary…

Responsive teaching is such a great term to encapsulate this philosophy. A term that, having seen many initiatives and changes in education, stands the test of time in its efficacy. Surely when it is broken down to a simplistic level, it’s just what good teaching is, isn’t it?’

To diagnose and understand where a student is in their relative learning, help them to understand this and then to facilitate their knowledge and skills development.

At its heart it reminds us that we should be student centred, skilfully selling learning in a way they see flavourful, so they can progress rapidly on their own learning journey.

Simon Cope is the Deputy Headteacher of Kingsmead School in Cannock, a partner school in the John Taylor Multi-Academy Trust. 

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