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Learning and Teaching @ SCC – Inevitable Progress
At Sedgefield Community College, we have an innovative and highly effective approach to teaching and learning that is termed ‘Inevitable Progress @ SCC’. For any of you familiar with the school, this is the continuing evolution of what we previously termed ‘The Sedgefield Learning Box’. Our approach to teaching and learning has been integral to the success of the school over the last decade and has resulted in the school being asked to share this with schools within our region, nationally and even with schools overseas. As we embark on the next stage of Sedgefield Community College’s development as part of the Laidlaw Schools Trust, the ‘Inevitable Progress’ approach is now being introduced to the other secondary schools that are part of the LST. Already, we have seen the effectiveness of this and the positive impact it is having on standards of teaching and learning.
If we were to sum up what we mean by ‘Inevitable Progress @ SCC’, it is an approach that is founded on the belief that every study can make progress and that it is the role of teachers to find a way to make sure that this is ‘inevitable’. Our outstanding teaching and wider staff team embrace this challenge, making sure we live up to it each day. If we are to achieve the ‘inevitable’ progress described, we need to enable our young people to think in depth and with independence. One way in which we achieve this aim, is by developing the expertise of staff and students in employing a number of ‘thinking tools’.
Students develop the strategy of using the six Thinking Hats (based on the research of Edward De Bono). By using the six hats, students are encouraged to think about different aspects of the issue as each hat relates to a different kind of thinking:
- Blue Hat – Planning and organising ideas.
- Red Hat – Emotions and how you feel.
- White Hat – Facts and the information that you know.
- Yellow Hat – Benefits relating to the issue being considered.
- Black Hat – Problems relating to the issue being considered.
- Green Hat – New ideas and creative thinking.
The purpose of the Question Matrix is to help our students and teachers to think more about the questions that are asked in lessons. We encourage teachers to think more consciously about the language they use to pose questions and the way in which different types of questions each have a valuable contribution to play in the learning process. As well as this, we want our students to pose their own questions and our Question Matrix provides them with a structure to do this.
Having observed excellent learning in several different schools, we have chosen to train our staff and students in using the eight Thinking Maps developed by the American academic David Hyerle. These Thinking Maps act as ‘visual organisers’ and are a consistent and effective way of students organising their thinking about any issue, in any curriculum area.
Each of the eight maps relates to a different thinking process as outlined below:
Circle Map – Defining in Context – Putting down on the page the information that you already know (or think you know) about the subject.
Bubble Map – Describing with Adjectives – Identifying the adjectives that best describe the different aspects of the subject you are thinking about.
Double Bubble Map – Comparing and Contrasting – Considering the similarities and differences between two people, places, events, etc that you wish to compare.
Flow Map – Sequencing and Ordering – Organising a series of ideas into the right or best sequence and understanding how they link together.
Multi Flow Map – Causes and Effects – Used to identify the different factors that might cause something to happen and the range of possible effects of this.
Tree Map – Classifying and Grouping – A range of people, places, events, etc are organised into different groups depending on the way that they relate to one another.
Brace Map – For Analysing Whole Objects and Parts – One whole object is taken and is broken down into the different parts that go together to make it.
Bridge Map – For Seeing Analogies – Used to make a bridge between different ideas and help students make connections between their learning in different areas.
In order to ensure ‘Deep Learning’, we need to develop the ability of our students and teachers to have effective conversations about the learning processes that take place in our school. All of our learning strategies lend themselves to effective conversations, but those in this compartment help to provide a common ‘language of learning’.
Three Storey Intellect
The Three Storey Intellect is represented by a diagram of a building that is organised into three storeys. Within each storey, ‘learning words’ are provided that relate to the different learning processes that take place in the classroom. Across all subject areas, these are the words that we use to talk about learning and this helps our students to make connections between their learning in each different subject.
The Three Storey Intellect breaks down into the following:
1st Storey – Gathering – These words relate to more straightforward learning tasks where students are ‘gathering’ together the key information.
2nd Storey – Processing – These words relate to learning tasks where students are undertaking task to make sense of the information already ‘gathered’.
3rd Storey – Applying – These words relate to learning tasks where students need to take the information ‘gathered’ and ‘processed’, ‘applying’ it in new situations.
Using the Three Storey Intellect to help us, we encourage students and staff to think more consciously about the learning process and the way in which the various elements of this fit together. We understand the importance of ensuring firm foundations for future learning that link to the ‘gathering’ stage of the Three Storey Intellect. As well as this, we also look to move students up to the second and third storeys whenever it is possible, ensuring that the more challenging thinking and learning at these storeys is taking place.
If we are to be successful in our aim of developing students who are able to become successful lifelong learners, we need to help them to instil the personal qualities that will result in them being successful. We recognise as a school that it is difficult to develop ‘learning habits’, but this does not mean that it is something we should avoid!
An American educationalist called Art Costa carried out a great deal of research into the reasons why some people were particularly successful. He identified 16 key ‘Habits of Mind’ that the most successful people were able to use when necessary. It is this concept of ‘Habits of Mind’ that we are using to help us to develop the ‘learning habits’ that our students need to achieve success.
Across the curriculum and in the wider operation of the school, we look to make students and staff explicitly aware of these 16 Habits of Mind that can help us all to be successful. Through doing so, we help people to recognise those habits that it would be beneficial for them personally to develop. Crucially, we are also able to adapt our practice and plan for how best to ensure these vital learning habits can best be supported and developed over time.
The habit of being able to work and learn together effectively is such an important one that a whole compartment of our Learning Box is devoted to it. We recognise that whilst students need to be able to work alone, some of the richest and deepest learning experiences come through activities where students can work and discuss together.
In order to support our students in developing the skills that will enable them to achieve when learning together, a bank of common group-work strategies have been developed and these are shared with all new staff who join the school. Each of these strategies is designed to serve a particular purpose, whether it be listening more carefully to the contributions of others, providing meaningful peer feedback or carefully weighing contributions to be made.
Ultimately, using these strategies helps us to ensure progress is made and that a number of the vital Habits of Mind are being developed effectively.
Inevitable Progress in Developing Literacy Skills
Our school curriculum and linked approach to teaching and learning places enormous importance on supporting our students to develop excellent literacy skills and we recognise that these are vital to support them to achieve their full potential. The ability to read is crucial to students in being able to unlock learning in all subject areas and we foster a love for reading during the time that our students spend with us. In addition to this, we have a structured approach to the development of reading skills that students learn across subject areas and which then supports them to be able to extract meaning for themselves from increasingly challenging texts.
Another essential part of the literacy approach involves supporting our students to develop their ability to communicate verbally. We focus on providing a wide range of opportunities for students to develop their verbal skills and this includes a focus on debating skills with dedicated debating lessons taking place as part of our curriculum in multiple subjects areas.
Inevitable Progress and Tablet Devices / FROG
As indicated above, we continue to ensure that our approach to teaching and learning evolves, identifying and building upon best practice and ensuring we remain at the forefront of teaching and learning development in our region and beyond. One notable way in which we have seen the evidence of this approach over recent years has been the continuing development of our school’s approach to the use of technology to ensure rapid student progress. Where some schools allow technology to become a gimmick, we never lose sight of the fact that technology is only a tool and should only ever be used when it can ‘construct’ better learning. Keeping this in mind, we have developed our school’s virtual learning environment (FROG) in a way that absolutely does support rapid progress, blurring the boundary between learning in the classroom and at home. In addition to this, during Y9 to Y11, we are one of a small number of schools in the region that see all students having access to an electronic tablet device in lessons. The success of this approach is seen in the way that our young people engage with the strategy and the consistently outstanding exam performances that the devices contribute to our students receiving.