Build Your CPD Around A Learning Model.

I’ve found that a hugely effective and engaging element of my CPD sessions is, early on in the session, to revisit a model for learning – as discussed many times on this blog including this post:

There are several reasons for this:

  • It sets the scene – introducing various learning challenges so that the CPD to follow is offering solutions to problems that people recognise. There will be a rationale for any techniques we discuss located in an understanding of this model.
  • It gets people talking early on. I find this is important. Sometimes circumstances dictate that you just have to deliver things lecture style but if you’re running an interactive in-person session, it’s great for people to start talking through their understanding of how learning happens and why it might not happen.
  • It provides an early opportunity for you to model key techniques like Think Pair Share, Cold Calling, Signal for Attention, Checking for Understanding, Probing Questions – in the way you run the room to support the discussion of the model.

This is how I do it in practice.

Firstly I present the diagram, without labels, saying that we’re going to revisit the learning model -i.e. I’m not starting from the assumption that people haven’t see it before.

Then we structure the activity.

  • First – pair up: I am explicit about this: I want to maximise the opportunity for everyone to engage so the best way is in pairs – so, everyone identify your talk partner. I’m very deliberate here – minimum number of threes; no fours!
  • Then – be ready to respond: I explain that after their discussion, I will be cold calling from the pairs, and that this includes selecting who from each pair will share their ideas – which means it could be anyone. I find this has a huge impact on the depth of engagement – nobody hangs back. Very obviously, this is a way of modelling how I’d run a class.
  • Finally – the task: It’s quite an open task actually – but I just explain that I want them to walk through the learning process as suggested by the diagram, sharing what they think it tells us about how learning works and where it might be challenging or go wrong. Five minutes, off we go.

I love this bit. Without fail – 100% every time – you get a room of teachers talking about learning in a lively animated fashion. I circulate to listen in – partly to actually listen in, but also to model that this is an important part of teaching; monitoring and taking an interest in the discussions people are having. I nudge any pairs that have morphed into fours.. to revert back to their pairs.

After a good amount of discussion, it’s time to share key ideas. Here’s where the signal for attention comes in – I use a simple raised hand, allowing some take up time. It’s useful to model that process explicitly, showing how it helps to transition smoothly from everyone talking to everyone listening.

It’s important here to then follow through on the cold calling – not to blow your expectations by asking if anyone had some good ideas and letting pontificator guy dominate as usual. Select someone to respond as randomly as you can. ( I usually narrate this process explicitly – I am choosing someone – and now I’ve established that I mean what I say and, yes, I do expect everyone to contribute and participate, to think and engage.)

So, Danielle, how did you get on? What were you discussing in your pair?

Danielle now runs through what she was thinking about and I follow up with prompts or questions to explore further. Then I ask another person – and perhaps then a third person. Normally three responses is a good enough to air a whole range of issues from the discussions before we move on.

I try to make sure we include all of these issues:

A few key points that often come up that are worth emphasising:

Attention: It’s less about being distracted by external stimuli – the busy wall or a noisy room. It’s more about fighting through the busyness of our thoughts for internal mental attention. The arrow is double headed – because we can direct our attention with effort as well as being open to external stimuli. Focusing attention is a challenge for all of us, not just our students. We then go on to discuss how we have to engineer attention through tasks that involve everyone thinking about the material in hand. Soft accountability – as in the expectations embedded in cold calling or show-me boards – provides an incentive for students to apply the effort needed to direct their attention in the right way for the learning process.

Working Memory: It’s useful to emphasise the working memory is not ‘short-term memory’ as some people still say incorrectly, – it’s the mental sketchpad where we process our conscious thoughts, linking new information to what we already know, harnessing and connecting visual, auditory and conceptual information.

Schema-Building: It’s useful to explore the concept of schema – the idea that we form networks of connected ideas in our memory that are continually built-upon as we revisit the same territory. Faulty schema lead to misconceptions. Each person’s schema is unique to them.

Remembering: This is a broad term for activating anything we already know that is relevant to the material in hand – using language, procedures, physical skills, experiential knowledge – as an essential element of learning because we have to connect new learning to existing knowledge.

Learning: I like to stress that learning isn’t actually the action we take – learning is the product of thinking; of selecting, organising and integrating new ideas with existing ideas. Learning is the outcome, not the action per se.

Forgetting: There are so many ways to forget and it’s important to run through a few examples – including the perils of task completion delusion! We later go on to demonstrate how easy it is to forget new knowledge with various examples, stressing the importance of repetition, consolidation, rehearsal, spaced retrieval practice and various forms of generative learning… so students have to build and then strengthen the pathways that constitute learning. This is where the loop in the diagram comes into play.

Checking for Understanding: The final thing to stress is that across a class of students, so much of this hidden from us. We can’t be sure that students are making the connections we’re hoping for unless we check. We need some real-time and longer-run feedback to us as the teacher about how well the learning process is proceeding so that we can make adjustments – re-explaining, giving more time for practice, and so on. The need for responsive teaching and checking for understanding in ways that involve all students, is hugely strengthened by exploring this model.

Once we’ve had a good discussion, all the techniques have a common underpinning foundation. Questioning, making everyone think, modelling, scaffolding, explaining in small steps, retrieval practice, fluency building, checking for understanding, self-assessment, feedback….. all of it links back to the ideas in this model. It all has a reason.

Here’s a video I made recently for an Australian organisation Catalyst where I explore Rosenshine’s Principles and make the link to the learning model at the beginning.

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