A week ago, I found myself in a meeting discussing the best way to implement a new project at school to make it a success. It quickly became clear that developing a successful and purposeful project required one thing: an aim. It was vital that this project had a purpose; that the activities provided were both achievable and impactful; that the aim was being fulfilled.
Which made me think about this in relation to the classroom: What are our aims as teachers?
Is it to enable students to pass an exam? Is it to inspire them to further succeed in the subject beyond secondary education? Or, is it simply to get them to see the reasons why Shakespeare, for example, is still studied?
And, if ‘aim’ is the end product that determines the activities or methodologies you use, then the most interesting (and somewhat frightening) realisation is true: your answer to this question will drastically change the way you teach and what pedagogies are implemented in your classroom.
I want to demonstrate how our aims as teachers have changed with the introduction of the new curriculum and how this affects both our pedagogy and practice.
Our aims have changed…
GCSE Pre-2016 was an interesting era. Education felt on the breaking point for most State schools because the teacher’s aim was to simply get their pupils to pass their exam. Teachers felt demotivated, pupils felt disengaged and the whole school structure seemed to transform into a dystopian exam factory as the year progressed. I certainly remember numerous nights where I was nearly locked in the school for working too hard. Luckily, the grounds staff became quickly aware that they would have to check for me as I did not have a car to indicate that anyone was still in the building…
The irony is that working hard wasn’t the problem. Of course, we can recite numerous conversations where we might have paraphrased that we ‘certainly didn’t go into education for the money’. For me, the issue was the aim. I had to abandon inspiration for results. I was working hard – soullessly.
The GCSE Pre-2016 (coursework and open-book examination) thus moulded our aims to make knowledge two things: 1) Accessible, and 2) Applicable.
- ACCESSIBLE: Of course, this was by no means easy. It involved the dedication to make all individuals in the classroom – despite learning difficulties or academic flair – to have access to the curriculum; that pupils had the right amount of challenge and were simultaneously understanding the content without feeling jaded by its (sometimes) restricting nature. As we otherwise know it, accessibility is differentiation. A very difficult balancing act that often meant teachers were working overtime to ensure that all of their pupils were reaching their target grades and, controversially, that they were at times doing too much for them.
- APPLICABLE: The other main aim was to teach pupils how to apply content effectively. This means we had to communicate to our students where AO1 was weighted more heavily; how ‘many points’ they should make when they are answering Question 2; what questions needed AO3; what questions were judged on AO4. In short, teaching them the requirements (or tricks) of each question so they can effectively implement the content they have just accessed.
While these aims are still relevant to us today, it’s important to note 3 other key ‘aims’ that we should now have as practitioners, particularly with the new curriculum.
For GCSE Post-2016, most of us are still navigating blind. Most of us have realised, however, that our methodologies have had to change. That is because our aims have changed. With the introduction of closed-book examinations and removal of coursework we now must ensure knowledge is: 3) Memorable, 4) Adaptable, and 5) Transferable.
- MEMORABLE: A key aim to our pupils’ success now is to make content memorable. We actually have to slow down the pace now and we must make classroom time for consolidation – effective pedagogies such as repetition, testing and interleaving.
- ADAPTABLE: With greater weight placed on Unseen texts, teaching pupils to adapt their skills to previously unknown content is crucial. They must be able to see, particularly in English, how structure, language and form can genuinely alter the meaning/s and effect/s of a literary work. They must be able to do this independently and have to truly THINK about it. It cannot be regurgitating or superfluous. Teaching independence and self-assurance is key to this.
- TRANSFERABLE: Finally, in order to entirely immerse pupils in achieving the other aims and be also able to confidently approach questions they may not expect (again, we are navigating somewhat blind presently!), we have to teach them to transfer their knowledge. Spending class time tweaking questions and responses to fit a range of possibilities will encourage pupils to more confidently approach tasks. Moreover, pupils must understand that their knowledge can come from other subjects (Religion, History, Philosophy) where appropriate. Our aim here is to encourage pupils to utilise knowledge beyond the subject to be self-sustaining; it is to ensure students reflect and take creative risks.
How these new aims affect us…
It is not just in our pedagogies that this change in aim affects us. It also changes the way we look at what it means to be an Outstanding Teacher, what makes a good lesson observation, and the ways in which Leadership approach quality teaching.
Don’t stand for ‘Outstanding’
The most obvious way this affects us is to ignore ‘Outstanding’. We cannot worry if we are not being consistent in our approaches, or that every child at every minute is making progress, or that every child is actively engaged with their paddle-pop sticks. The new curriculum highlights that the truth is actually this: if I want something to be memorable, my teaching methodologies will be totally different to when I want something to be accessible or transferable.
Moreover, we must move away from trying to make every lesson ‘Outstanding’ because – let’s be honest – getting Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ is a formulaic approach to an hour’s lesson that cannot succeed in us meeting all of our aims. If I want to make something memorable, I might have to get my pupils to repeat it over and over again. Yes, that means they’re not visibly “making progress at everything minute” but it does mean that I’m meeting my aim; to get them to have retrievable knowledge
(This links closely with Observations being simply a ‘showcase’ and can be further evidenced by Bjork here)
By accepting these aims there also must be a way in which Leadership approaches to lesson observations. Lesson Observations should be judged by how well classroom pedagogy effectively matches the teacher’s aims – rather than the knowledge that pupils will learned within that hour.
It now may not be the case that a teacher intends for the pupils to learn something new – but rather to make something memorable. Or, that a teacher wants to spend some time challenging pupils to transfer their knowledge from another subject (for example: by having a debate about the human consciousness for half a lesson) into a new text so that pupils understand that ALL KNOWLEDGE IS USEFUL. This makes lesson observations more exciting and free anyway.
Teaching our pupils is our aim but within that there are a plethora of smaller ‘aims’ we want to achieve. What lies at the top of this list is that we make knowledge accessible, applicable, memorable, adaptable and transferable. It is vital that both Pedagogies and Practice within the classroom and the school ethos reflect this. That we now work as a school to aim ahead… and not behind.