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Developing mastery in the classroom through personalised learning


To master anything you first need to be taught how to do it then have the opportunity to practice it, test what you've learned and practice some more until you get it. That's about it. Yet in schools we seem to ignore this and revert to a list of lesson requirements that appease an observation checklist. My presentation at The Telegraph Festival of Education explored this and suggested a few steps that any school can implement quickly to rid themselves of the unnecessary requirements that they have imposed on teaching.

During my time at the Festival I heard a number of teachers having conversations about education, as they would at such a festival, and the topic of mastery often arose. I used the image of the young child leanring to ride a bike as an example of what mastery is. The opening line of this post also defines it quite simply. So with my definition out of the way I got onto examples of great teaching provided by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby from the brilliant Bright Spots post . I've appraoched teaching in this way for most of my career. I have also been made to teach according to what my SLT deemed Ofsted wanted to see in a lesson. What I have found about both approaches is that the latter doesn't work. It does nothing to help teachers become better teachers and creates the culture of the show lesson for observation purposes which has become so prolific across schools today, in fact my partner has just spent the better part of the evening creating her show lesson for a lesson observation she has tomorrow. And for what? So a member of SLT can feel important at having judged a colleague by ticking a sheet of paper.

So, let's say that you get this and want to know where persoanlised learning fits in. Well, I'm an EYFS teacher and have been for the last 3 years. What I have discovered working in this age group is how essential it is to build a complete picture of every child in your class. EYFS teachers build these pictures up through daily observations of the leanring that happens and we use this knowledge to provide opportunities for children to practice what they have learned, test their understanding through feedback that happens there and then and helps move the child on to the next steps. Lessons flow into one another, timetables are written in September and never followed from then on, the daily learning structure depends almost entirely on the needs of the child. And it works. Yet when those very same children go into Year 1 and they enter 'Proper Primary' the approach is dropped in favour of the 'what we think Ofsted want to see' approach. Children are herded into ability groups, lessons become forulaic due to the schools accountability regime and immediate feedback is replaced with multi coloured marking that takes hours to do. Personalising learning goes out the window and mastery becomes another box to be ticked in a lesson observation and book scrutiny.

Hammering mastery into your curriculum whilst still expecting teachers to teach according to what you think Ofsted want to see does not work. And it will never, ever allow children to master anything they learn.

I suggest you start looking for answers by reading Tom Sherrington's excellent 'Principles of Effective Teaching' post to gain an insight into how your school can start developing effective teaching and learning. And if you want to improve teaching through obsevations then please read Tom Boulter's recent post 'Making observation optional'.

For further information on how you can personalise learning in your classroom check out these posts 'Innovating learning requires innovating the classroom' and 'Personalising Learning'.


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