Mark Ford - Why it’s time to ‘Talk Pedagogy’
Professional Advisor on Pedagogy, Mark Ford reflects on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and argues that now is the perfect time to ‘Talk Pedagogy’.
In his book ‘In Search of Deeper Learning’, Jal Mehta explored how American high schools could create more powerful learning experiences for students, leading (over time) to deeper learning. He recognised that to create challenging, rigorous and purposeful education, schools needed to combat historical and contemporary forces that were working directly against their objectives.
Mehta identified a number of common factors within schools that had successfully transformed the learning experiences of their students. Notably, he found that teachers who were providing deeper learning experiences for students had typically themselves had a ‘seminal learning experience’ within their career, which had strongly influenced their teaching practice. This brought to mind my own experience as a young teacher.
I remember setting a Year 8 Science class that was deliberately challenging and was very similar to work I had set for my GCSE class. I was puzzled by the high quality of work from the younger class, which matched many of their older Year 11 peers. Determined to explore this more deeply, I stumbled upon ‘concept mapping’, as a tool to uncover the depth of a learner’s understanding. I soon discovered that the Year 8 pupils did not have the same depth of understanding. This encouraged me to question the learning process and explore pedagogy more deeply.
In a few years’ time, many teachers will look back and identify this current time, under the grasp of COVID-19, as a seminal point that helped shape their thinking in relation to pedagogy. The crisis has acted as a catalyst for changes that were unimaginable at the beginning of 2020, with schools embracing blended learning and the COVID classroom. Whether we are thinking about learning experiences, personalised approaches or the very way our schools are organised in time and space, it is very likely that many things will never go back to the way they were before.
In the midst of this ongoing disruption we need to work together to deepen our understanding of pedagogy, within the context of the four purposes and the new curriculum for Wales. Talk Pedagogy has been developed, as part of the National Exploration of Pedagogy, to support this process. As an online, virtual community teachers, leaders and other school staff coupled with middle tier colleagues will be able to share thinking and reflect on practice in order to support this. Other resources, such as the reflective tools within the PLP and the range of free academic literature available through EBSCO (within the PLP), can also play a key role in helping us to develop our thinking.
Talk Pedagogy provides a space to reflect on some of the big questions for teachers, to share our thinking, to reflect on our approaches to professional learning and consider how our experiences can empower the workforce to embrace change. Key questions include:
- How might we need to upskill ourselves in order to realise the new curriculum?
- What are the pedagogical principles that need to underpin our professional learning?
- What do meaningful and authentic professional learning experiences look and feel like?
- How do we need to hone our metacognitive skills?
- What part does collaborative enquiry play?
Reflecting on our practice during the pandemic will be a key feature of these discussions. The importance of wellbeing and ‘readiness to learn’ coupled with strategies to support motivation, engagement and interaction are all coming to the fore – perhaps in a way they have not done so previously. Talk Pedagogy will provide the space to capture some of this thinking so that we can use it as a springboard to support our work on further shaping the learning experiences we want to see in ‘our’ schools in a 21st Century Wales.
The Professional Standards can also play a role in shaping our thinking. In relation to pedagogy, the standards are under-pinned by the concepts of ‘Refining Teaching’, ‘Advancing Learning’ and ‘Influencing Learners’. If we reflect on the statements that sit under each of these, as teachers and leaders, then how might we now be thinking differently? In what ways has our view of the ‘learning environment’ and how we manage it changed as our repertoire of blended learning experiences has grown? How will our relationships with parents and carers be different, as we engage with them in relation to the four purposes?
When I first started visiting schools and having discussions with middle tier colleagues, at the beginning of 2020, we reflected on something Ken Robinson once said:
"…we need a radical change in how we think about and do school – a shift from the old industrial model to one based on entirely different principles and practices. People do not come in standard sizes or shapes, nor do their abilities and personalities. Understanding this basic truth is the key to seeing how the system can be transformed. To do that we have to change the story: we need a better metaphor..."
When we were having these discussions we did not envisage the onset of a world-wide pandemic and the radical changes we would all face.
Over the last year Teams, Google Meet and Zoom have helped us to think differently about how we ‘get together’ and communicate with one another. But we have also seen the limitations of online interaction, reinforcing the central role that face to face socialisation plays in our professional learning. When we do come together as groups (at some future point), how do we ensure that we build stimulating and productive encounters?
Many of us are now starting to think differently about how we think about and do school. There are many things we want to get back to and need to get back to – but there are also things we need to stop doing, start doing or simply adapt. Talk Pedagogy will allow us to discuss some of these things, as part of the wider national exploration of pedagogy.
About Mark Ford
Mark is currently on secondment to the Welsh Government working on pedagogy, leadership and professional learning. Mark worked in secondary schools for nearly 25 years before joining the ERW as the regional lead for school to school improvement in 2016. He has also had roles supporting curriculum development and professional learning in two local authorities.