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Let’s Think in English: A House of Possibility

In this month’s blog post, Leah Crawford, LTE Associate Tutor and Hampshire Network Lead, shares her experiences with LTE and its impact upon the teachers she’s trained. Leah explores how LTE supports teachers development of subject knowledge, reasoning, self-efficacy and self-regulation.

Leah Crawford
LTE Associate Tutor & Hampshire Network Lead

I came across the Let’s Think in English programme in the Autumn of 2012. I was then a local authority adviser, acutely aware that the revised National Curriculum, and attendant GCSE specifications and SATs were deliberately and openly more cognitively demanding. I needed to lead schools to dig deeper, beyond what seemed like a national obsession with boosting students over a threshold measure of Level 4 or Grade C.

Late one night, in the glow of the screen and a dim angle-poise lamp, I came across the LTE sub-section of the King’s College website. The references to the original CASE research and programme piqued my curiosity. I had often encountered the compelling effect of CA interventions in my professional reading but always come to a halt knowing that the very core of CA is to develop subject specific reasoning patterns in a subject context. And yet here was CA for English. My heart made a somersault. The email was written there and then and within 24 hours Laurie Smith had replied inviting me to attend a taster day of training at King’s.

By the end of the taster day, I was determined to secure a KS3 LTE pilot and by July of 2013, Laurie was leading the launch training for a cluster of 13 schools in the county council offices.

You can read the impact of this initial programme on the LTE website – notable particularly for the accelerated progress of previously lower attaining students in years 8 and 9. Since then, two further groups of teachers have completed the initial year of training at secondary, Michael Walsh led our first primary cluster from January 2015 to July 2016 and I launched a second primary cluster January 2017, in conjunction with the Winchester Teaching School Alliance. In all, I have shadowed and supported 95 teachers across around 50 schools to adopt Let’s Think. Nearly all schools still attend local network meetings now that their initial programme is complete, which is testament to the nature of LTE teacher development. First encounters suggest it is a programme of intensive and engaging intervention lessons; what lies beneath reconfigures teachers’ beliefs about learning. They get hooked on diving deep.

Sarah Cunningham’s previous blog offers a passionate and intuitive reflection on becoming a Let’s Think teacher. What I would like to explore here, is what I have gained and what it has helped me to learn about teacher learning.

Stepping back from the close-up detail and the individual narratives, 3 main themes emerge in terms of the impact that LTE programmes have on teachers:

  1. Teachers develop deeper subject knowledge nested in subject specific pedagogy. The LTE reasoning patterns are rooted in the belief that text meanings are constructed between writers and readers. The very nature of a construct is that it is relative: open to a process of doubt and refinement. Nurturing reasoning that is at once rigorous and evidenced-based, yet remains open to doubt is a skilled pedagogical stance. LTE teachers begin to live a three-way split-screen existence in the classroom. They teach in the moment, are authentic in the interest and attention they show to student responses yet they also have an eye on the shape of the emerging discourse, where it has been, where it might lead, if the ensuing argument is well-constructed and indeed, if it would benefit from some further conflict. A third eye is alert to the social dynamics of the group, balancing cognitive purpose with democratic involvement.

    Let’s Think lessons are a privilege to teach. The structure of the lesson is very different to other English lessons and the children, particularly those a little nervous about writing, thrive in the ‘no answer is wrong’ philosophy. Already it is clear to see that children are more open to suggestions from others and they are happier to change their ideas and thoughts following discussions. The children are better at providing evidence for their answers and this was also evident in their end of year reading assessments.
    Rebecca Hewitt: Year 5/6 teacher and English Leader at Compton All Saints Primary, Winchester

  2. Teachers’ social and ethical frames of reference become at once more open and more analytical. When teachers return to a professional development session to reflect on the first 3 or 4 lessons, for example, often there has already been a degree of recalibration in the contributions made by individuals and the ways that contributions are received by the class and the teacher. This might initially be an observation that students who rarely speak seem more willing to do so – or that dominant students have begun to acknowledge the contributions of others. It is not unusual for teachers – and students – to revise their view of the capability and capacity of students with SEN. LTE teachers develop a respect for students’ own routes to higher-order thinking, dependent on their starting points and prior-experiences. There is an increased belief that learning is a collaborative endeavour – reasoning together develops the teacher’s as much as students’ thinking.

    Let’s Think has been a brilliant vehicle for raising standards of comprehension, inference and deduction in the school, which is why we embarked on the project in the first place. But I would say that the main benefits of Let’s Think go far beyond this: the fantastic learning opportunities that it provides that enable you to explore spirituality, morality, and social and cultural values and conventions are beautiful to behold.
    Veronica Stoodley: Headteacher of Four Marks Primary School, Hampshire

  3. Teachers develop improved self-efficacy and self-regulation. LTE teachers become more confident in the face of student difficulty and reflect on their teaching with a determined modality. Hearing understandings that are different to or in conflict with their own become fascinating opportunities not frustrating disappointments. Not all lessons work equally well for all teachers or with all groups. Progress and struggle are both matters for focused reflection. Over time, it’s not so much ‘That was a great lesson, I’ll do that again!’ as much as, ‘That seemed to be much more effective …. What factors led to that?   If I taught the same lesson again, what would I be mindful of? Did I prompt the students themselves to reflect on what made the difference in this lesson?’

    As a teacher, the impact has been great, due to the rich content of the course and the further knowledge it has provided me in understanding metacognition and how thinking develops for a range of ages and abilities. Being able to discuss this with my colleagues on the course and how their own classes have responded too, as a comparison, has been insightful and extremely beneficial to my practice.
    Rosie Earle: Deputy Headteacher and year 5 teacher, Netley Abbey Junior, Southampton

  4. It has been a privilege and a personal struggle (with moments of epiphany) to observe, support and participate in this depth of professional learning. What I have learnt about teacher learning aligned with my existing philosophy but took me much deeper in its enactment.
    Crucially, it would be impossible to support the development of LTE teachers without teaching lessons and knowing the materials well yourself. This is not to be the sage in the room – but only when you have built contingent algorithms of how a lesson has and might pan out (mental representations), are you able to contribute to rigour in thinking, to better guide the group to construct their own understanding and to respect the diversity of teachers’ own stances and approaches.

    Secondly, LTE development can’t be rushed. It needs the same spiral movement through structured challenge that students experience through the lessons. This is only of benefit if teachers are taken through cognitive conflict themselves and reflect on this. Rich contexts for conflict and metacognition on the course have sprung from:

    • teaching lessons a second time to a different group.
    • observing a recently taught lesson with post lesson discussion
    • having one lesson take off one week, only for the next to be disappointingly flat.
    • transcribing a whole group section of a lesson (SC or CC) and looking at the impact of teacher contributions
    • collaborative planning of a lesson using a shared resource, keeping the reasoning focused to one reasoning pattern (I’m still working through conflict with many half-planned lessons…)

    Teachers – and tutors – who stay with Let’s Think rediscover the pleasure in and the fruits of working through collaborative, purposeful struggle. A house of possibility.

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