Making a Molehill Out Of A Mountain: Ramblings and Reflections

Explaining how I plan or visualise the learning routes I design for my students has often been a headache for me, since I haven't found a visual model to help me explain. The IKEA man image I presented in a previous post, although describing my behaviour during the planning process, somehow didn't really explain how I see this process in my head. In order not to make a mountain out of a molehill, I have made a molehill out of a mountain instead, and in this post wanted to share a visual model I am currently working on with my students to help break the processes we engage with into steps while supporting us in working towards the outcomes I want to achieve. I would like to thank Di Pardoe for the idea behind this image, and for the inspirational work she did with us around assessment for learning practices, in recent years.

I mentioned in my IKEA Man post how concerned I was becoming that when we look at planning frameworks, particularly like those presented in the QCA schemes of work, we tend not to look at the end product first, or the outcome we want to achieve. A learning focus often taking a back seat to the need to deliver. This may seem strange to some of us, plans are essentially linear after all, we move from point a to point b and then we can do c. Our plans might be, but classroom learning as a long conversation, provides many first hand experiences of how when engaging with students, the assumptions we make during planning, can quickly become unravelled, leading to more complex situations and requirements than we intended or expected. Recent events have required my reflection on this and to find a way of formalising visually, the processes I want to engage with in supporting student learning and to guide classroom visitors and myself toward seeing where we are now and how this has been achieved, modelling how the small tasks and activities in our learning process are leading towards desired and intended outcomes. I still feel it is important that we and the students see the big picture, to ensure understanding of how the steps or processes that evolve link to the way we are approaching these goals, and using the Maths Mountain above is enabling me to begin fulfilling many of these needs. It enables students to participate in the journey we have taken so far and to see where we are to go next as we traverse our topic. On the top of the mountain goes the big objective, or target outcome for the week, and at stages or stopping off points up the mountain the smaller objectives to be achieved are displayed. We have a character who climbs the mountain with us as the week progresses, and during our plenaries we review the sessions and make decisions using traffic lights about whether we can move on up the path. In our final sessions we engage with a problem or a puzzle involving the steps we have developed to review where we are. This simple visual device is helping me to improve the transparency of the processes we engage in, and currently flexible enough to allow small diversions, while focusing my attention and guiding my conversation toward the intended outcomes of each session, allowing at a glance for feedforward and feedback around the steps in our journey and the possibility of insight for students and visitors to where we will be going next.

After attending the Year 3 numeracy sessions held in Bristol today I have been considering how this tool might also support another issue, that of evidence of learning. The practical nature of the teaching and learning processes shared and outlined today by our colleagues, and the emphasis on talk as a process I have over time come to recognise as "thinking together" is in stark contrast with school based requirements to have children record all outcomes. I was interested to hear the question "Why are we doing this? raised, is it for the students, for their parents, for the inspector or maths coordinator? One suggestion made to free us from this concern was that we list the things students had done in a word processor and to copy and paste these to create cut outs that could be stuck into student's books at the end of the week, or to perhaps capture photographs of students engaged in practical work and discussion to be added. This essentially might turn the student's maths book into a learning log, where some pages have student recording, while others outlined learning outcomes or showed images of learning in the first instance generated by the teacher. This fascinates me since it parallels much of the work I have been doing for my Degree on "Narratives of Learning." As a result this evening I am toying with the idea of producing in a smaller format the maths mountain for students to use with our existing green for go and pink for think colour coding system, so they can use the I can statements included in our class mountain, to share with each other their personal progress towards the class targets set, perhaps helping to take ownership of the learning we engage in. Perhaps at significant stages in the process, during plenaries or as part of a morning task the students might be encouraged to highlight or later annotate these with sentences about their work, putting the vocabulary they are engaging with into practice, or illustrating the mountain with examples of what we have been learning. Perhaps the addition of a problem or puzzle to be worked together, could also be used to provide additional evidence of their ability to use and apply the skills and experiences gained during their practical work. I was really drawn to the power of the idea of encouraging children to express themselves, what they have gained from a set of practical activities, rather than forcing an activity merely to model it for an often remote audience. As professionals, the idea of our plans as records of learning, even though as an assessment support teacher I used to advocate this, somehow right now doesn't seem to cut the mustard in some circles, and so this for me right now is certainly worth further consideration. I would be grateful for any comments that might support this idea.

(Having just reread this I have amended the title, it is a bit of a ramble, perhaps I should have called it High on a Hill stood a ... it seemed to make sense at the time Ed.)

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