First, an apology – this blog entry was due on 19th July and so is about a week late. Colleagues may know that we’ve had a bit of a busy time at CDSM with things being especially busy in Wales at the moment, and so the blog ended up a bit further down the list than expected when I set out the original schedule. I’ve jiggled things about now, though, so expecting to get back on track in the next week or two – ideally, I’ll have everything on time according to the original schedule by the end of the second week of August.
Back to today, then – this entry will look at some lessons learned and feedback from a project we are supporting to roll VLE technology out across the English Teams in eleven secondary schools in Torfaen and Monmouthshire in South East Wales. This is not an academic paper, but a reflection on practice, so it’s really just going to touch the surface of what’s happening. If readers want to know more about it, please mail me or comment here and I’ll make sure we come back to you.
The post is in seven sections:
- VLE project context
- An explanation of the CPD and PLC links
- An explanation of the CPD model
- A summary of the subject foci and an account of the workload-sharing model across the schools
- A quick summary of one part of the CPD programme that went especially well
- A comment on the project’s best practice model
- A look at the lesson planning template being used by the PLC
1. VLE Project Context
The context of this work is the iLearnWales project, a significant project covering the 11 high schools of Torfaen and Monmouthshire. The project is focused primarily on KS4, is funded by the schools, the Local Authorities and Welsh Government, and provides infrastructure, connectivity, devices, software and CPD. Indeed, in terms of the Cocentra ICT Service pyramid that we use when we support schools in developing ICT, this is one of few projects that we’ve ever worked on that provides support and investment throughout the pyramid – see below for the standard pyramid, with an indication of how the levels are supported:
The project is directly supported by three dedicated LA Officers, who provide implementation support, CPD, training and liaison between schools, the LAs and the VLE supplier CDSM. My role in there is to work with the LA Officers on developing the CPD approaches and resources as a development of some of the work we did in Technology, a Platform for Learning, and in this part of the project to work with Heads of English on development of the English PLC within the project.
2. An explanation of the CPD and PLC links
An important feature of the project, and one that I personally think will define its success, is the investment in CPD and transformation that it carries. The LAs are very clear that the project is about learning, attainment and achievement first, and about giving teachers and learners the tools they need to succeed. It is on this basis that I have been engaged, and my job is to work alongside the LA team to help keep the focus on learning with technology and to enhance the value the technology can add. This is not a difficult task working with these particular LAs and with CDSM, though it’s not always been the case in other projects that the focus was quite so clearly on learning and achievement.
As part of the investment in CPD, the LAs are taking a PLC approach, and identifying subject-based PLCs for English, Maths and Science in the first instance. I am directly supporting the English PLC, with other advisors supporting the Maths and Science in line with their expertise. The LA team of three is the common thread, with the Project’s most senior Officer coordinating the whole programme. It should be noted that we are talking here about two LA areas, who are in turn part of a five-LA region supported by an Education and Achievement Service that covers all five LA areas. At times of fast change in the way LAs support schools, it is important to keep both the big and the small pictures in focus, so just as we’ve used the PLC to focus on the detail of coverage of the GCSE curriculum, we’ve also started talking at a senior level to colleagues in the wider Education Achievement Service about how this work can add value to what they do.
3. An explanation of the CPD model
At a level of detail, then, the model for delivery of CPD under this PLC mechanism is as follows:
- Identify a pair of subject-champions for the project in each department, using a set of criteria designed by the project team
- Provide each of these with four days of CPD by running two four-day programmes of CPD each with a group of eleven
- Within the four days, cover the following:
- Understanding of the project, its drivers and the benefits to schools, teachers and learners
- Understanding of the technology system being used to deliver the project
- Understanding of the common terms of good practice in lesson planning and delivery, and in delivery of learning via the system
- Development of sharable teaching resources using the templates and good practice guidance
- Development of a model for sharing resources across the schools, and agreement on allocation of areas of the curriculum to schools
- Agreement on a model for cascading the CPD into departments, with support from the LA team where required and agreed
- Provide structured support for learning ‘the system’ throughout the four days by having the LA team there to support 1-1 when needed
- Plan to provide some support to the PLC team and their colleagues when back in school
4. A summary of the subject foci and an account of the workload-sharing model across the schools
One of the key benefits to all schools from this project will be shared teaching and learning resources, and shared sets of communications and collaboration activities. At the risk of sounding like some old bloke down the pub, I’ve been in the VLE business a long time now. In fact sometimes it feels like a very long time since the intranet at Barry College gave way to a Virtual Campus at Swansea, a Moodle implementation in North Wales and then a whole-LA LP implementation in Salford. Running through all of these activities has been an impulse to share the best resources and learning activities, and to enable teachers to spend less time prepping and marking and more time working with learners using high quality resources to which they have added value for their own learners. In this project, at last, I begin to see examples of how this can work really well across a coordinated subject-focused community. The English folk are not only keen to share resources, experience and expertise, they’re keen to use the technology to do it and to extend their sharing to others, including the PRU. Below I have set out what the schools will be focusing on – the agreement is that each school will provide the equivalent of three fully resourced lesson plans per teacher over the year, and that these plans will focus on the areas agreed in the table below. This is not the maximum the schools will be producing and sharing – in addition to this schools will be able to share whatever else they think will be of use, and all schools will be sharing resources around AfL in literacy skills so that we can turn these into banks of AfL items for all teachers to use.
Fortunately, all schools are studying for the same GCSEs in English and English Literature, which means that all resources will be sharable by all schools, with the production range as follows:
||# LPs Y1
||Areas of coverage – all will deliver content for Literacy AfL plus…
||Exam focus, Unit 2, Paper 2, Writing, Information and Ideas
||Of Mice and Men for English Language
||Studying Spoken English, Scheme of Work and Lessons
||Exam focus, Unit 1, Reading – Studying Written Language
||Speaking and Listening:
- Interacting and Responding
- Communicating and Adapting
- Creating and Sustaining Roles
||An Inspector Calls and Blood Brothers
||Unseen Poetry for Literature
||Language Paper – Unit 1 – Reading Non-fiction
||3 part assessment
Shakespeare, R+J and Anthology
||Imagery and Nina Simone, I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free
||Imagery and the Clash, London Calling
5. A quick summary of one part of the CPD programme that went especially well
This is quite a personal response to one part of the programme that went especially well. Not delivered by me, I should say, and not actually in the original plan for the four sessions, but if you’ve ever taught for more than five minutes that won’t surprise you. The bit I’m referring to was delivered by the Project Lead, and covered a list of top-ten things to do with the kit being supplied by the project. This included good stuff like using webcams to record personal reflections on achievement and get them into the VLE, using still image capture for lesson plenaries to be reviewed immediately before or as a starter to the next lesson, and using some of the onboard software to make image-collages in a variety of subject areas. It also included some technology that was new to many members of the team, such as software tools that come bundled with the kit as part of the project – and all of this nicely focused on what teachers could immediately see as useful activity in class. What really struck me about it was how enthusiastically the English teachers took to the suggestions and adapted them to their own lesson design, and how far they were prepared to experiment with the ideas being presented to them and create new versions of those ideas. Indeed, we found a number of teachers immediately starting to experiment with the newly available technologies in the lesson planning phase, despite having a new lesson-planning template to think about at the same time.
6. A comment on the project’s best practice model
I won’t present the whole of the project’s best practice model here – that is for the LAs to share, which I understand is in the plan. But the main elements will be of interest, and the extent to which we secured agreement around them as a newly emerging PLC. The main elements revolve around how teachers plan and resource lessons, how they deliver those lessons and use the resources available to them to best effect, and how they capture learners’ and their own reflective responses to those lessons. The best practice model is well supported by research and by a process of development and consensus-building through the PLCs, and from a personal view I have to say I’d be delighted to use it to support and develop teaching staff in any of the Primary, Secondary, FE and HE environments I’ve taught in over the years.
In addition to providing practitioners with a best practice model for preparing, delivering, assessing and evaluating live teaching and learning activities, we have begun to provide an equivalent framework for preparation and delivery of system-based learning. This is what most practitioners would call e-learning, and we’re all clear on how patchy practice has been on this over the years. In schools, where there is comparatively little use of this method, it’s of the highest importance that we define what’s good for teachers to reflect on and build their own practice on, and the project has made a really good start with this.
7. A look at the lesson planning template being used by the PLC
The same goes for the Lesson Plan template as for the best practice model – the LAs will share that through work on dissemination of the project. What I found especially interesting in it, though, was the idea that we could take the Estyn criteria for an outstanding lesson, and make these a default set of base-requirements for all lessons. So we now have a lesson planning template that all teachers preparing lessons will use and that encompasses such area as ESDGC, Sector Leading Practice, mechanisms for making best use of support staff, promotion of Welsh Language and Culture and capturing teacher self-evaluation and learners’ responses to progress.
So the outcome of this process, when taken in purely numerical terms, will be that all teachers in the project (that’s around 70 teachers, just for the English KS4 group as led by this PLC) will produce approaching 250 best-practice lesson plans in a coordinated programme of production, as well as those resources that they produce to share, and the bank of AfL items in areas of Literacy. The impact of this on practice is obvious, and if we achieve it across all subject areas, along with the investment in technology and the relentless focus on standards that the LAs have already set out as the priority, I am really comfortable about the project’s chances of success and gratified to be involved in it.
As ever, if you want to comment on anything I’ve said in the blog or in any of the papers, please feel free to comment in the blog or to mail me at Kevin.email@example.com – I’ll be happy to have your comments on the blog or to engage with you in other domains if you’ve a mind to.
About the Author
Kevin Palmer is Director of ICT at Cocentra. His experience includes senior positions with responsibility for ICT in colleges, chairing the Further Education sub-committee of the Association for Learning Technology, delivering projects for the JISC and winning a range of awards for work in CPD and training for college staff in Learning Technology. He has worked with Local Authorities, Schools, Academies, Free Schools, Colleges and Universities on maximising the impact of technology on learning, and with broadcasters, corporate organisations, charities and regional-national governments on the relationship between best-practice teaching and learning and the role of technology. His current work includes developing use of VLE and e-learning with a range of clients, from small Primary Schools to multinational manufacturingorganisations, and his most recent publications include the Learning Technology Needs Analysis, a tool for self-evaluation for schools and colleges, and Technology, A Platform for Learning, a practical guide to making best use of VLE technology in schools and colleges.