Pedagogy and expert practitioners
Pedagogy informs and shapes the ways that students are taught, drawing upon theoretical research as well as responding to the individual contexts and needs of learners.
Teachers are the experts at the heart of our whole-school approach to pedagogy. They are expected to convey knowledge, nurture a love of learning and promote educational debate and dialogue. They meet these expectations by drawing upon detailed subject knowledge and by establishing learning environments where students are engaged and challenged. They must demonstrate the skilful use of well-chosen questions to check and consolidate learning whilst enabling students to reflect upon what they have learnt. Finally, they must hold students to account, both for the work they produce and their approach to learning.
Curriculum philosophy and our approach to pedagogy
Our curriculum philosophy reflects this view of pedagogy and the importance of teachers as expert practitioners. The philosophy is founded on a wealth of theoretical research as well as the study of cognitive psychology, and this has enabled us to identify specific pedagogical techniques that will inform our teaching. Some examples of these include:
- Minimising distraction through the use of simple visual resources. These sources of information should be presented individually in order to allow students to retain knowledge.
- Restricting the use of group work so that student concentration can be maximised. Whilst small group and independent problem solving can be effective, these methods should be used to consolidate existing knowledge rather than as a vehicle for making discoveries.
- ‘Disrupting’ the process of recall and transfer through the use of different learning strategies (e.g. audio/visual aids, differentiated pairings, changing seating etc). It has been shown that periodic changes to the delivery of teaching can promote the long-term acquisition of knowledge.
Pedagogy needs to be considered when designing a programme of study. The following principles have informed the design of our curriculum:
Spiral curriculum - This is a curriculum model that gradually builds in difficulty by revisiting information and adding challenge (moving from concrete to abstract thinking). This approach can support lesson preparation as well as medium and long-term planning.
Spaced learning - Information stored in the working memory is lost within 30 seconds if it is not rehearsed. With spaced learning, material is reviewed and revised at intervals in the lead up to exams and assessments, as opposed to being condensed into a brief period of revision. Key techniques include:
- Encouraging students to set aside blocks of time throughout each week, and during this time, instructing them to use practice tests related to a range of newer and older knowledge.
- Returning to the most important concepts repeatedly across days, weeks and months.
Interleaving – This is a variation of ‘spaced learning’ whereby subject content is delivered in an integrated rather than sequential way. This is most effective during problem solving exercises and when related topics are linked (interweaving).
It is important to consider common misconceptions in current pedagogical thinking. There is a fundamental need for ‘novices’ to be given full instructional guidance when they are exposed to new content, rather than requiring them to ‘discover’ essential knowledge and skills for themselves. ‘Discovery learning’ has four main flaws:
- Only the most able students can truly ‘discover’ knowledge for themselves.
- Some students can find the process of discovery frustrating.
- Some students find it difficult to ‘unlearn’ misconceptions arising from ‘discovery learning’.
- ‘Discovery learning’ can be a less efficient method of teaching.
Our purpose is to move students from ‘novice’ to ‘expert’ learner which will enable them to access the curriculum more independently. This will become more evident as students progress through the Key Stages.
Pedagogy: key strategies
The following are specific key areas of pedagogy to support the delivery of curriculum content.
Knowledge and vocabulary acquisition - In order to narrow the gap between ‘word rich’ and ‘word poor’ students, all teachers need to lead with the teaching of explicit reading, writing and spelling strategies so that students can use subject-specific vocabulary with confidence and accuracy. Key techniques include:
- The explicit teaching of subject vocabulary at the same time as knowledge is being delivered.
- Exploring the origins of words and looking at links with other, similar, words e.g. the prefix ‘uni’ meand ‘one’ and is the root of words such as ‘universe’, ‘unify’, ‘unity’ etc.
- Modelling the ways that students can make ‘educated guesses’ concerning the likely meanings of unfamiliar vocabulary by looking at the context of these words.
- Ensuring that students have ‘word depth’ (a profound appreciation of the connotations and applications of words) rather than merely concerning ourselves with the accuracy of spellings.
- Ensuring that students understand the exact meanings of ‘academic vocabulary’ so that they can respond appropriately to words such as ‘explore’, ‘explain’, ‘evaluate’ etc.
Guided learning - Explicit guidance accompanied by practice and feedback is most effective, but this does not mean that this should take place all day, every day. Key techniques include:
- Beginning a lesson with a short review of the previous one.
- Presenting new materials in small steps with student practice following each step.
- Asking a large number of questions and checking the responses of all students.
- Providing models and worked examples.
- Providing scaffolding for difficult tasks.
Cognitive load – Well-designed instruction reduces the load on working memory and facilitates the transference of information into the long term memory. Key techniques include:
- Limiting the amount of new information communicated (ideally to no more than four ideas or points).
- Allowing regular practice of learning in order to develop long term memory and patterns of thought.
- Giving worked examples, with every step fully explained and clearly shown.
- Avoiding the delivery of additional information that is not directly relevant to learning, or, where the same information is given in multiple forms (this is known as the ‘redundancy effect’ e.g pictures and words that say the same thing).
- Integrating two or more sources of information that are required to understand the concept in one source. This avoids what is called the ‘split attention effect’ and reduces load on the working memory.
Low stakes testing – This can improve students’ metacognition and develop long-term memory by encouraging students to recall what they have learned through active retrieval. This ensures that memories can be accessed more easily in the future. Key techniques include:
- Effortful example - Allowing students to provide answers using short responses or cloze procedures rather than multiple choice.
- Spaced example – Testing students after sufficient time has elapsed for some (but not complete) forgetting to occur. This could mean waiting a couple months, days or even just until the end of the lesson.
- Interleaved example - Incorporating different, but related, topics and problem types (e.g. problems from different units that are integrated in a test). This helps students to discriminate between problem types and gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between ideas.
- Repeating key points across lessons and administering cumulative tests that encourage students to review the most important information.