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Sir William Burrough (SWB) Primary School is a state-funded Academy serving the local communities of Tower Hamlets. The school is in the top 3% of schools in the country for attainment across all subjects and our disadvantaged children are in the top 1% in all subjects. SWB has been recognised by the Mayor of London as an outstanding School for Success.
We have always been at the forefront of educational innovation, embracing programmes and methodologies that aim to develop children’s independent and critical thinking and encourage enquiry and investigation across all subject areas. Among some of the initiatives we’ve implemented are the You Can Do It! programme, the International Primary Curriculum, P4C and debate. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we decided to embark on the HPL Award. Following on from introductory training for all staff in January 2018, we identified an initial group of HPL Champions who have started implementing the framework in their respective years. Some of us have conducted lessons which specifically targeted selected ACPs and VAAs and the HPL language can be heard around the school (in classrooms as well as in school assemblies).
For example, in our International Primary Curriculum (IPC) programme, we are currently looking at history and chronology. Over a period of 6 weeks, children will be learning about historical time, interpreting events from the past, and looking into different aspects of history and their manifestations.
I decided to begin the theme with specific focus on two ACPs: connection finding and analysing. Children were divided into groups of four and each group received a mind map template and an envelope with 40 or so pictures representing different aspects of the past (historical figures, war/conflict, discoveries, buildings, art, etc.). The pictures were mixed up and children were asked to find similarities/connections and group them into separate categories.
As they were working, they started to name the categories (for example: ‘war’, ‘famous people’) which helped them further with the process. The task created some interesting teachable moments: where does one place Mona Lisa, who is both a historical figure as well as a famous work of art, and Hitler, who can be grouped in the war category as well as historical figures?
Once the children had accomplished the task and had their mind maps ready, each group was asked to investigate a selected category by answering one question. (For example: What purpose has Art served through history? What have been the causes of different wars and conflicts?)
Children found the challenging lesson easier since they had been working with the concepts of connection finding and analysing before. I made use of this terminology throughout the lesson and offered practical advice to children on how to employ synthetic and analytical thinking skills.
Across the school, our next steps will include creating classroom and school displays featuring ACP and VAA terminology and consistently evidencing classroom implementation of HPL in our weekly planning. The HPL Champions will soon be sharing their experiences and best practices with the rest of the teaching staff during a weekly staff meeting. Long-term planning also includes introducing parents to HPL.
The children at our school have enjoyed the new challenges and are becoming better at recognising, naming and employing new approaches to more powerful learning! We are looking forward to sharing our experiences with other schools in the HPL community.
by Marcin Zaleski, Year 5 Teacher
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I love the Research Ed movement and wish that this opportunity had been available to me as an early career teacher. I am keen that we make research and reflective practice a sine qua non for teachers. It is the only way that a teacher can master their craft. It’s engaging and it is a life long journey. Let’s push for more.
Some might say that research is first and foremost a state of mind. It starts with curiosity and a desire to understand and then it moves on to a quest for more certainty around your area of investigation.
I started researching from the moment I started teaching. I was fascinated by why some children found the learning process so straightforward and why others didn’t. I read voraciously, talked to colleagues and also experimented with strategies in my own classroom. No one told me to do it and no one measured my success. I just felt compelled to reach a better level of understanding and every small step forward and every frustrating setback simply increased my desire.
In this phase I began to make use of research findings from the big researchers but it was exasperating. Researchers disagreed with each other and for the most part cited only fellow researchers who supported their theories. Not only that, I wanted to have impact in the classroom and context plays a big role so not everything was relevant for my school. It was like navigating without a compass and I floundered. But on the journey I did find some new ideas which challenged my thinking about how pupils develop and about what was important in learning. I also began to find the names of researchers whose work I admired and to follow their development. Finally, I discovered that I was a ‘constructionist’ looking to help pupils construct meaning. At last I had a way to conceptualise how I went about the process of teaching and a better basis for discussions with colleagues.
But the thing with research is that whilst you set out looking for a clear and easy answer, what inevitably happens is that you find the answer turns out to be more complex than you expected and it sets you off on another voyage of discovery. I started researching into how the most successful learners function with a view to understanding it. Some 35 years later I am still working on that problem. I know a whole lot more than most people about this but not everything. I never will. You just keep taking the next step and increasing your knowledge.
I moved from early experimentation in my classroom to undertaking more formal research. I engaged in further study so I could learn more about research methods and I became a reasonably competent Practitioner Researcher. It would be wonderful if all teachers became Practitioner Researchers. It is just so fulfilling. The difference between the ad hoc classroom investigations I had been doing previously and the research I was now doing was that it utilised the relevant literature base more fully and better designed investigations helped me to actually reach some limited conclusions. But my research was small scale and so embedded in my school that it was difficult to generalise about its wider applicability. I needed collaborators to work with and that came by finding others who were also using the same literature base of cognitive researchers that I admired. Together we could make progress and we did.
As I moved into the university sector I had the opportunity to undertake larger scale research studies and to formally codify the literature base through meta-analysis. I learned more and faster and my findings were more generalizable. I became one of the researchers that practitioners and fellow researchers follow in the UK and globally and that is exciting.
But I also supported budding Practitioner Researchers in their own research and involved them in my research. This led me in 2004 to create the concept of Structured Tinkering (borrowing the term ‘tinkering’ from Karl Popper1) which is a way to help teachers to ‘tinker’ with their own practice in a systematic way and hence have a greater appreciation of whether the interventions were effective. In effect, creating a classroom that is responsive and self-regulating. In this approach I was suggesting that, as a teacher or group of teachers, you find a problem you want to explore, find out what other people have learnt about it and then set up an intervention designed to fit your own context. I did this with many teachers who wanted to use aspects of my work to explore their problems and I helped them to use the Structured Tinkering 3 step approach to do this. In turn their findings strengthened my overall research proposition. Maybe I was an early exponent of Professional Learning Communities.
Over time I have regularly researched, used the research of others and helped colleagues in their research. Right now I am working with schools to help them investigate effective implementation of the latest thinking of advanced cognition – High Performance Learning. We use a Professional Learning Community approach and encourage research through Structured Tinkering. I am actively engaged in bringing research into schools and working with them to both utilise it and also to create more understanding. All this in a quest to improve outcomes for students and to normalise high performance.
In all schools, creative and thoughtful teachers unearth new knowledge daily and one job of the professional researcher is to help them codify it. Research is practical, it’s rewarding and it’s engaging. It is for everyone, not just for the specialists - but high quality research is the only research worth doing. Let’s provide the infrastructure that makes it possible for all schools to be real research schools and all teachers to be Practitioner Researchers. Plus let’s make sure that academic and practioner researchers work in harmony. It’s not a case of some do research and some use research; it is that we all do both but in our different ways.
Deborah Eyre (Professor), March 2018
 “Piecemeal tinkering combined with critical analysis is the main way to practical results in the social as well as natural sciences.”
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We recently launched “Getting Started with HPL”, a 10-hour CPD programme for schools who want to understand the basics of the HPL philosophy and framework with a view to further engagement. This is particularly suitable for primary schools in the UK and our very first school, New Marston Primary, are already on board.
Under the ambitious new leadership of Tracey Smith, New Marston is a large primary school with courageous ideas for transforming the learning and lives of their children. Our Getting Started programme is ideally suited to this kind of environment and in February we launched with an energetic, sometimes funny, sometimes intense day of exploration at the school.
The idea of the programme is to firstly encourage a broad understanding of the philosophy of HPL and its research base. How do researchers and psychologists know that high performance is achievable by many more learners and why is it that thinking so vital in today’s educational landscape?
Having broadly established that – though there is a rich and deep mine of research that can be followed up – we aimed to look at some basic practicalities.
For example, what is the language of expectation in a High Performance school and classroom? We started with the legendary Peter Kay’s memories of classroom talk: “Who do you think you are, swanning in at this time?!” While we could all remember using such phrases, we moved quickly to the realisation that if a performance mindset is crucial in HPL, then the way we talk in the classroom – “I cannot do this …yet” – is equally vital. “I hope…” needs to be replaced by “I will…” both for us as professionals and for the children.
On a busy day, we also began our journey towards answering this question: How can we begin to lead children to mastery in a range of cognitive characteristics which we know are the building blocks of learning for the top achievers?
In the afternoon session, we began to define, evaluate and play with the Advanced Cognitive Performance Characteristics (ACPs). This is a really challenging proposition which is explored in much greater depth during the HPL Foundation Programme (the natural next step from “Getting Started”) and it sparked some very interesting and highly relevant debate about definitions and language in the classroom.
At HPL we are unequivocal about the ACPs and VAAs becoming the lingua franca of world class schools and we have many examples of children using, appropriately, very sophisticated learning language from quite an early age.
The takeaway challenge was for teachers to practice and play with one group of ACPs and report back at the next session with narrative and reflection on the process and its early impact.
"Staff really enjoyed the day and felt that HPL will fit in really well with the culture of high expectations that we have been implementing. Since the training, some of the teachers have altered their approach to some of their teaching and results have been really positive. We are looking forward to the next two modules very much."
Tracey Smith, Headteacher, New Marston Primary School
This was an energetic, challenging and hugely enjoyable first day on what could prove to be a long but ultimately highly rewarding HPL journey.
“HPL fits nicely with the higher expectations we have at New Marston Primary School,” said one colleague. “All staff hearing the rationale behind the project, and the background and development of other schools with a ‘challenging’ catchment, built the vision well.”
We go again at the end of March with our next session, when we will capture the ‘practice and play’ takeaway from this first session and evaluate the lessons learned by staff and children.
“Deliberate practice is for anyone who has dreams,” says Anders Ericsson in ‘Peak’. This is true for everyone, including myself, who can envision New Marston as a World Class School in the next four years…
by David Rowsell, HPL Associate Director
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At St Mary's School, Cambridge we began our HPL journey in September 2017. We chose HPL as a strategic vehicle for the development of Teaching & Learning because of the way in which it combined our aims in terms of Teaching & Learning with our existing values. Like many schools, in recent years our whole school CPD has focused on issues like assessment/peer assessment, 'talk', and learning habits including developing a growth mindset. HPL brings all these strands and more together into a single coherent pedagogy which is as useful in Reception as it is in the Upper Sixth. It brings direction to any whole school approach through a clear sense of the pillars which underpin High Performance Learning. Clarity about specific cognitive skills along with the absolute importance of the right learning attitudes and behaviours mean that there is no need to tack on other initiatives alongside HPL. We were also attracted by the fact that HPL is not a one size fits all approach; it can and should be adapted and developed by each school. With a clear sense of our own historic values and a new digital platform which requires the training of students in broad 21st century skills, this very much appealed to us.
First steps in implementing HPL
During the Summer Term we began to lay some foundations. We amended our student Behaviour Policy so that its focus was readiness to learn and informed parents of the change. Heads of Departments were introduced to HPL first and completed some reading before a launch to the whole staff in September. During the Autumn Term some departments led pilot projects and all CPD has focused on HPL. During the Spring Term each of the year groups has been introduced to the ACPs in some of their curriculum areas and Year 10, in the first instance, is focusing on the VAAs in some of students’ tutorial time. A student advisory group of 'learning detectives' has also been set up to ensure students’ involvement, and parents have been engaged through an information evening.
Impact of HPL so far
Perhaps because HPL is so holistic, the impact has been more varied and widespread than we could ever have expected. Our Junior School pupils have led the way in designing some fantastic animals to represent each of the ACPs and embed them into the school’s learning culture. Staff members have really welcomed the challenge of such a flexible approach and have experimented with all sorts of different ways of Teaching & Learning.
For example, quite practically, the Art Department was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of the concepts contained in the ACPs were compatible with existing assessment criteria. This has led to the use of ACPs explicitly at GCSE and A Level.
Historians have loved that HPL encourages students to be curious and see the world through different perspectives. On a recent trip to Ypres, Year 9 students reflected upon the way that World War I is remembered: do we remember it accurately and fairly? The students visited the immaculate white-stoned cemeteries of the allied soldiers before visiting the German cemetery, with dark imposing trees and communal graves. Why were the cemeteries so different? What can we learn about attitudes to sacrifice? These are challenging, mature questions and students can and did formulate impressively nuanced judgements about the different ways loss of life is memorialised by the winners and losers.
Key stage 1 teachers have enjoyed the opportunity of thinking more carefully about structuring lessons around pupils’ questions. For example, instead of instructing an investigation into the absorbency of paper towels, the children came up with their own suggestions on how to set up the experiment. It has been liberating to give very young children more responsibility for their learning – it becomes much more of a partnership in learning.
In Technology lessons, teachers have found that so much of HPL is really about going back to thinking about how students learn, rather than how teachers deliver learning to them. It has meant setting the right challenges, the right learning atmosphere, and the right expectations. Our Head of Technology says: “I think that the difference it has made to me in my lessons is really taking the time to explore learning, making the learning process obvious, talking about it, bringing it all out in the open. It is a learning process for all of us.”
What have we learned?
Just do it! HPL is very complex in theory, but needn't be in practice. Essentially for us it has really been about the willingness to try new things. By doing this and trusting the students to talk about and own their learning we have moved a long way as a learning community in a very short time.
St Marys, Cambridge: www.stmaryscambridge.co.uk