Wilson's School

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Challenging Teachers to Challenge Learners

YEAR 7 PUPILS may have spent the week in the Brecon Beacons (full report to follow!), and other year groups have been doing exams, but teaching has continued as normal for boys in Year 10. But what do we mean by ‘teaching as normal’ at Wilson’s?

Teaching at Wilson’s enables pupils to make exceptional progress, but some visitors to the school are surprised to learn that this isn’t the result of a formulaic approach. Rather teachers are encouraged through CPD (Continuing Professional Development) to discuss and debate their practice, seeking to improve by engaging with expert advice and the latest research in their subject area. Huge value is placed on teachers’ subject knowledge and expertise.

There are some distinctive features of teaching at Wilson’s. These include a commitment to a deeper, broader curriculum than would be possible in many schools, with a particular focus on the experience in Year 9 which is often enriched with subject knowledge well beyond GCSE specifications. This wider learning helps pupils to embed key concepts in their long-term memory and apply them fluently in different contexts.

New teachers at Wilson’s learn that differentiation for highly able pupils is a challenging business and needs handling with the utmost sensitivity and skill. Some pupils will require a ‘pushy’ approach to help them achieve their best, while others will put considerable pressure on themselves and need constant reassurance. We believe that it is the extent and nature of teacher intervention that is the strongest form of differentiation for pupils.

As all teachers know, sometimes explanations go well and are clearly understood, and sometimes they don’t! All teachers need to have the humility to recognise that sometimes things need explaining again … and again … and again, often in different ways. It is crucial to check understanding systematically in order to know where extra intervention or explanation is required. As far as possible, we try to ensure that this additional intervention is woven into lessons (rather than something that pupils have to seek out for themselves after class).

Our excellence criteria for teaching includes the term “collective endeavour” to describe groups of pupils (or even the whole class) working in productive collaboration. Employers increasingly seek out candidates who can work well in a team, making confident contributions without dominating discussions, and these are attributes that every well planned 'group work' task should help to instil.

This year, our we have sought to boost teachers’ understanding of Cognitive Load Theory, with particular reference to the ‘Teenage Brain’ and Sarah-Jane Blakemore’s research. Next year our CPD will be focussing on helping pupils place their knowledge securely in the context of the “bigger picture” (drawing together learning effectively within and between subjects) as well as asking the best possible questions and seeking the best possible answers, both in written and spoken form, everywhere from the classroom to the playing fields, where teachers and coaches increasingly use dialogue to diagnose misconceptions and improve performance in sport.

Pupils at Wilson’s would hopefully agree that there is no single, predominant teaching style (although they may be familiar with teachers saying “put your hands down, I will decide who answers the questions”!). Maintaining a diversity of approaches to classroom teaching that meet the same high standards is a challenge we relish and next year we will be creating more opportunities for pupils to share their views on the teaching styles that they find work best for them.