WE Lab Classrooms is an opportunity to engage critically with research, trial a new approach in your classroom and reflect on which teaching and learning strategies are the most effective for your learners. Each Lab Classrooms strand is ‘two for one’ – improving both learners’ knowledge and wider skills, such as teamwork and communication.
Alison Lidyard is a Health and Social Care Teacher at Alder Grange School. Here, she shares her experience of her time focusing on deeper learning within the Lab Classrooms programme.
The approaching return to school in September 2020 felt like a natural moment for me to reflect upon my teaching. I was returning with a sense of trepidation unlike anything I’d felt in the previous thirteen Septembers of my career. Although it seemed ambitious to take on a research project in such a year, it also felt like the circumstances could be a true catalyst for improvements and outside-the-box thinking.
I was immediately drawn to the ‘deeper learning’ strand, further encouraged by the copy of Ron Berger’s book that was sent to school. As a teacher of an applied subject, Health and Social Care, I felt curious about how the wisdoms within the text could bring about long lasting learning and also embed the skills to prepare my learners to cope with the demands of a career in such a diverse and important sector.
I chose to focus on the impact that external audiences beyond the classroom can have on students’ motivation and engagement. We were lucky to get Lancashire Sexual Health team to be our external audience, reading and appraising students’ final essays following an enquiry on the relative value of legislation in protecting the public against unlawful and harmful sex. I also focused on the close reading protocols and their impact on student attainment.
One of the greatest joys of my trial was the impact that the external audience had on my students. In their questionnaires, most students recorded that writing for a professional audience increased their motivation and focus.
I observed that the use of close reading protocols helped to explode students’ misunderstandings about the text which I may have ordinarily overlooked. They particularly enjoyed being invited to think aloud as they read and many commented that this allowed them to notice implicit messages within the text that might have previously gone unnoticed.
The difficulty that the students had with using a close reading protocol only reinforced my beliefs that such structures need to be used earlier in the school journey to make the use of them more habitual.
Impact and looking ahead
One learner flourished in that the confidence she gained through liaising with the external audience then encouraged her to volunteer to be a student representative on a participation group, steering the new Mental Health Support Teams in school initiative. Another student who is re-sitting her GCSE English has, through the careful use of close reading protocols, been able to access texts that she initially perceived to be beyond her capabilities and has written a distinction level piece of work.
Looking ahead, I intend to do some further research into close reading protocols and develop a subject level approach so that these protocols can routinely be introduced from the start of the Health and Social Care course, therefore becoming second nature in time for assessment.
I also intend to make use of the motivated strategies for learning questionnaire (MLSQ) at the very beginning of the courses that I teach and to review periodically as a means to getting to know my student better. This also encourages them to think about the factors that influence their engagement, confidence and motivation.
My main passion still lies in experiential learning and providing opportunities for my students to bring their learning to life through forging good quality relationships with local communities, professionals and services.
How Lab Classrooms helped me
Meeting colleagues from other schools through the Lab Classroom groups and 1:1 calls was informative and confidence building. I think that working with an external mentor has huge value and has provided me with the opportunity to think laterally about how to get outcomes.
I enjoyed the guidance on defining and evaluating a theory of change and watched these clips several times, finding myself applying the concepts to situations even beyond my classroom. It was interesting to consider the full range of tools that could be used to evaluate impact and it was here that I was introduced to the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ), a valuable tool to understanding different motivational drivers in our learners.