Don’t just keep weighing the pig!
Ensuring young people with high potential thrive academically and socially
Why is it so important for leaders to know what is going on in classrooms? Is it to make judgements? To hold people to account? To make teachers work harder? To fill some files in case anyone asks?
It seems like such a simple, obvious question, yet it is quite possible to keep weighing the pig without doing what is necessary to enable the pig to grow and thrive! Potential Plus UK believes strongly that the only reason for monitoring and evaluating what is going on in classrooms is to improve engagement, outcomes and well-being for learners.
This blog embeds the processes of monitoring and evaluating provision for high potential learners into everyday practice. Although leaders may be involved, it is not a top-down model. At its best, it is an on-going process for teams of teachers to work collaboratively, improving the experience for high potential learners. The model is applicable to any group of learners from Early Years to Sixth Form.
The model we propose starts with an inquiry. It is a professional learning tool that enables everyone to benefit from the outcomes by working together to improve provision for high potential learners. The following principles are integral to the whole process.
- Never be judgmental
- The discussion about the inquiry question is what really matters. “What is the team now going to do to improve this aspect of learning and teaching for high potential learners?”
- Celebrate successes – what you focus on grows
- Inquiries should be collaborative, it is not a ‘done to’ process
- Be transparent and inclusive; communicate clearly to build trust across the team
- Use a cyclical process, not a one-off
- Build time into team meetings to talk about the inquiry and plan next steps together
- Decide on a target and later revisit the inquiry question to see what’s changed
Getting the Inquiry Question Right
Start small. Don’t try to do everything at once. Clarify exactly what you want to develop based on data, classroom visits, learning conversations with teachers and students, book looks, feedback from parents or any other information you have collected.
Choose something specific. For example, ‘feedback’ is a huge topic so break it down into a targeted question looking at just one aspect. The question needs to be calibrated to reflect where teachers and teaching assistants are currently. This will help build confidence as you start the process. Focus a positive lens on your inquiry so it points to where you want to go.
Some examples of inquiry questions on feedback, easily adapted for any age group:
- Does feedback genuinely challenge high potential learners?
- Do high potential learners act on feedback?
- How helpful do high potential learners find the written/oral feedback?
- Does feedback identify exactly what high potential learners have done well and what they need to do next?
- Does feedback explicitly communicate the teacher’s high expectations of disadvantaged high potential learners?
- What are the most innovative ways of providing constructive written feedback in a time-efficient manner?
- Does feedback encourage high potential learners to take risks with their learning?
- How can peer assessment be designed to provide the necessary challenge for high potential learners?
- Does feedback enable high potential learners to experience both challenge and success?
Decide How You Want to Carry Out Your Inquiry
Depending on your inquiry question, you may choose to do one, two or three of the following.
- Snapshots of Learning
Learning is so much more than a snapshot in time. This will form just one part of the information you gather. The aim of the snapshots is to share and improve learning and teaching. They are most valuable when you see the daily diet of learners’ experiences day-in, day-out. If teachers spend ages preparing for a visitor, you will not get an accurate picture and teachers cannot sustain that level of preparation. Make them as collaborative as possible in a spirit of shared exploration.
Telling people in advance may distort your findings or cause unnecessary anxiety so discuss with your team if they would like unannounced or pre-planned drop-ins on the theme of the inquiry question. There is no need for lesson plans or any change to normal classroom practice.
- 5-10 minutes should be plenty of time to be in a classroom
- Carry out the classroom visits in pairs or threes to facilitate dialogue about learning
- If you are the team leader, invite colleagues into your classroom first
- The Snapshots of High Potential Learning template acts as a reminder, not as a record
Download: Snapshots of High Potential Learning Template
- Book Looks
Book Looks are most valuable when the learners are present to talk through their learning so you may want to combine this with Talking to Learners. At other times, you may want to use a team meeting to explore books, e.g. comparing subject-specific vocabulary in disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged learners’ books.
Again, Book Looks should be collaborative and in a spirit of inquiry.
Download: Example Book Looks Template for brief notes
- Talking to Learners
To quote an Ofsted Inspector, “The children will tell you everything you need to know”.
- Your inquiry question will determine who you need to talk to
- Ask learners to bring any books you want them to share
- Invite 6-8 learners at the most. Sometimes pairs may work better, depending on who you are targeting (consider seeing Key Stages separately so younger learners can speak freely)
- Sit in the round
- Explain what you are doing and why, and that you want them to be honest and constructive to help you improve their experience
- Pre-plan questions but be prepared to adapt as you go
- Make sure questions are designed to include positive feedback as well
Download: Example questions to adapt – Listening to High Potential Learners
Other Things to Consider
As inquiries are developmental, you need to consider a few things with your team in advance. You are aiming for openness and honesty in a professionally trusting environment.
- Who will have access to any notes taken?
- Will they be stored? If so, where?
- Will people be identified individually?
- Do you need any ground rules?
- Will individuals receive any feedback?
However, you choose to structure your inquiry, remember that each stage is developmental for those involved. The learning conversations and agreed ways forward underpin the success and depth of your impact.
“For teachers, and for students, the most effective evaluation comes from someone who sits beside us and helps us grow.” Carol Ann Tomlinson
This tried and tested model has the potential to provide so much more for high potential learners than weighing that pig yet again!
- Goodhew, G. (2009). Meeting the Needs of Gifted and Talented Students. Network Continuum.
- Tomlinson, C. A. (2012). Evaluation of my Dreams. Educational Leadership, 70(3), 88-89
About the Author: Mary Phillips: Potential Plus UK Schools Advisor
Mary was the Head of English before moving to Yorkshire to set up her own consultancy, specialising in education. She works with senior leaders and classroom teachers as a coach and mentor. She facilitates a wide-range of professional learning and has lived experience of the challenges and joys of living with a child with high learning potential.
About the Author: Joy Morgan: Potential Plus UK Trustee
Joy was a senior leader in London schools until August 2021, responsible for professional learning and for high learning potential. She has helped many schools to develop their policy and to improve their practice for high potential learners. Joy is passionate about securing excellent outcomes for disadvantaged learners. Her extensive experience within schools is invaluable to the team. Joy continues as a Trustee of Potential Plus UK.