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Friday 31 May 2013

Effective learning involves active interactions

As traditional teaching for examinations often encourages rote learning, which is passive, superficial and unsustainable (Stobart and Gipps, 1997), by learning I understand the kind of learning that develops understanding and involves active participation.  It is the kind of learning that is referred to as ‘deep learning’ by Harlen and James (1997) who elaborate:

The term ‘real’ learning extends the notion of learning with understanding to suggest that it involves interaction with people, ideas, things and events in the real world. (…) When something is learned with understanding (deep learning, ‘real’ learning) it is actively understood and internalized by the learner (ibid. pp. 367-8).

In this sense, learning is seen as a process in advancing meaning and understanding, rather than just an exercise in memorising facts, and how it is assessed as part of the teaching and learning processes can shape not only the assessment culture in the school, but can also influence the use of particular teaching methodologies.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Praise should be task-related

Praise should be task-related, not person-related.  Praising a person is ego-enhancing which can be counter-productive to effective learning and motivation.

Saturday 18 May 2013

How to use classroom assessment to improve learning

Some practical strategies for teachers, instructors and educators at all levels on how to improve students’ engagement in their own learning to develop their learning independence and motivation.

For more details, visit my website:

Friday 10 May 2013

Self-regulated learners

Zimmerman (Schunk and Zimmerman, 1998) says that, “self-regulated learners (…) are distinguished by their view of academic learning as something they do for themselves rather than as something that is done to or for them” (p.1), which would indicate the necessity for the learners to be fully involved in every stage of their learning.  Indeed, Zimmerman (ibid.) states that, “students cannot develop or display their self-regulatory skill in settings where they cannot exercise personal choice and control”(p.11).  Therefore it would seem it is one of the teachers’ responsibilities to create learning environments conducive to their pupils developing their self-regulatory skills so they could become effective learners capable of mastering their own learning for progress (Butler and Winne, 1995; Sadler, 1989).  For these skills to develop, of which self-evaluation is a very important competence, pupils need to be aware of their learning aims, how to achieve them and be able to review their own learning (self-assessment) against the aims set. 

Webcast: Assessment for Learning


Self-regulation and motivation

Learning is one of those terms about which many assumptions are made, but around which there is a silence in terms of assertions because it is complex and specific to different learners, and no single strategy works for all (Schunk et al. 1998).  According to Hirst and Peters (1989), “Educating people is not done by instant fiat.  It takes time, and a variety of different processes of learning and teaching are involved it” (p.14).  Drawing on a range of European studies, including her own research in Holland over the last twenty years, Boekaerts (1995) concluded that motivation, an essential element of successful learning, conceptualised in her research as specific self-regulatory skill, was necessary for learners to experience success in educational outcomes. 

Research (Boekaerts, 2002; Schunk, 1991) indicates that motivational beliefs, which act as a frame of reference for pupils’ feelings and actions in a given subject or task, result from learning experiences and act as favourable contexts for learning, where students are not motivated to learn in the face of failure but students who have positive beliefs about their capacity to learn have higher achievements (Boekaerts, 1995; Pintrich, 2000; Stipek, 1988).  It was observed that children who were well motivated to learn were also capable of using their self-regulatory skills effectively for higher achievement, whereas children who were not skilled or nor inclined to use their self-regulatory skills, were poorly motivated and over-reliant on teachers, which had a negative effect on their progress.  What is understood here by the term ‘self-regulatory skills’, is the learners’ capacity to control and manage their own learning.  Boekaerts (1995), who distinguishes between meta-cognitive skills (learning goals oriented which refer to the learners’ capacity to generate cognitive strategies in a context-specific way), meta-motivational and self-management skills (not necessarily learning goal restricted), uses this term to explain the types of self-regulatory skills which are “concerned with the control of behaviour in general, including motivation control, action control, emotion and social control” (p.10).

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Effective teaching should provide pupils with constructive guidance on improvement to enable them to become reflective and self-managing. 

Resistance to change

Some of the reasons for resisting change identified by Earley and Fletcher-Campbell (1989, p.140) include: “fear of the unknown; seeing change as a threat and ‘worrying if I’ll be able to cope’” and can result in teachers’ negative attitudes towards change. Carnall (2003) also argues that, “resistance to change is really resistance to uncertainty” (p.1) and as such is linked to the managing of change processes rather than the change itself.

As organizational environments impact change and resistance (Rosenholtz, 1989; Collinson and Cook, 2007), in “learning impoverished” schools (Rosenholtz, 1989, p.83) teachers tend to neglect their own learning and stick to routine and trusted practices, and they tend to work in isolation.  This can be especially true of more experienced teachers who can be more resistant to change (Collinson and Cook, 2007; Weick, 1995), as was seen in my organization, despite some attempts to improve teacher learning through professional development.  Some of the reasons for unwillingness to change, may also include inability to self-evaluate performance, avoidance of uncertainty, inability to innovate, disruption of the status quo or perpetuating traditions (O’Toole, 1996; Collinson and Cook, 2007; Schein, 1993).

Within the global trend of self-evaluation, the lessons learnt from research in schools (James et al. 2006) which are committed to AfL cannot be ignored as it has been shown that formative practices can lead to self-reflection and self-evaluation, notions of great value in the technological age, where dependency and belief in doing well without any need for change are not competitive or marketable commodities. 

School culture

Schools, like other organizations, have their specific cultures, where, as Stoll et al. (2003) assert, the same values, beliefs and behaviour are shared in varying degrees by those who work there. Stoll et al. distinguish five different school cultures: moving, cruising, strolling, struggling and sinking.  Stoll et al. further assert that any changes that need to be made are dependent on the readiness of school culture for change, and that the school's stage of development influences its readiness for innovation and the pace of change.  With respect to school development, Dalin with Rolff (1993) refer to schools' life-cycles as either ‘fragmented’, with no common understanding of its needs and where changes need great deal of external support, a cycle of a school as a project school where innovative drive comes from management and the school leader and the organic school that resembles a learning organization, ready for internal and external initiatives.

As the school culture influences the school development and has an impact on pupil learning culture, these notions are intrinsically connected and are reflected in particular life-cycles, where a school in a 'fragmented' life-cycle would need a great deal of support and collaborative working to reach a common understanding which would lead to change in practices (Stoll, 1998; Harris, 2002). 

Cromwell Consulting Ltd: Educational Consultancy


Managing change

Managing change is an essential part of human development (Newton and Tarrant, 1992; Whitmore, 2002) and in a changing environment organizations must change to succeed (Carnall, 2007; Whitmore, 2002; Hay McBer, 2000; Burnes, 2009).  Although organizational dynamics and changes are related to organizational behaviour of the people concerned (McKenna, 2000; Hersey and Blanchard, 1982; Moorhead and Griffin, 1998), earlier organizational theories of the 20th century, Classical Approach, (Taylor, 1911; Gilbreth, 1921; Weber, 1947) emphasised management processes and promoted a universal principle ‘one best way’ for managing change.  This principle was subsequently challenged by the Contingency Theory (Child, 1975; Donaldson, 2001; Mullins, 2007; Scott, 1995) which favoured a situated approach to each organization dependent on individual circumstances for managing change.  This thinking, with the emergence of the Human Relations school (Hackman and Oldham, 1980; Likert, 1961; Miner, 2006), gave way to organizational development fitted to human needs.  As organizational changes require individuals to change and learn new ways of thinking and doing things (Argyris and Shön, 1978; Hedberg, 1981; Burnes, 2009), this can often result in resistance to change.
Coping with organizational change involves many complex processes, which make demands on all individuals involved and affect self-esteem and performance (Carnall, 2003; Argyris, 1982; Kanter, 1983). Thus managing change effectively requires sensitivity to these effects so optimal conditions can be created where learning and improved performance can be achieved (Carnall, 2003; Kilpatrick, 1985; Cooper, 1981). 

As organizational changes impact on the way people work, initial response to any change may result in a denial of the need for change: “We have always done things this way” as identified by Carnall (2003, p.243).

Regarding coping with change, Figure 2.2 presents the coping cycle (Carnall, 2003; de Vries and Miller, 1984; Adams et al. 1976) and illustrates why embedding new practices takes considerable time.

1.    Stage 1: Denial

2.    Stage 2: Defense

3.    Stage 3: Discarding

4.    Stage 4: Adaptation

5.    Stage 5: Internalization


Figure 2.2 The coping cycle

In researching educational change, various writers (Fullan, 2001; Miles, 1964;
Sarason, 1971; Goodland, 1975; Lieberman, 2005), Sarason (1971) have claimed that schools are cultures and therefore difficult to change.  Fullan (2001) identified “the persistence of people related problems” (p.70) as one of the factors in affecting successful implementation of various initiatives.  He observed that: “Significant educational change consists of changes in beliefs, teaching style, and materials, which can come only through a process of personal development in a social context.  (ibid.p.124)

As these changes involve complex cognitive, emotional and social processes, teachers can be reluctant to embark on further development, in particular in a relatively isolated school environment.  This isolation can result in a less collaborative culture, making the process of change harder to accomplish.  Such schools can be often very traditional environments rooted in ‘historical values’, as McCulloch (1997) asserts describing schools as “places of great historical continuity” (p.5), where justification for following a particular practice can be only explained on historical grounds: ‘we’ve-always-done-it this-way’ philosophy, often accepted without any questioning. 

Therefore what are perceived as ‘tried’ and ‘trusted’ practices, can be accepted simply on the grounds of their historical justification.  This idea is also emphasised by Stobart (2008) who claims that “the selection and standards functions of assessment have historical pedigrees” (p.16) and this is the reason why examinations are readily accepted by the society as something that is “natural, and therefore not-to-be-questioned” (ibid.).  In support of the view that assessment systems help to shape individuals’ and institutions’ identities, Stobart (2008) asserts that: “…assessment shapes who and what we are and cannot be treated as a neutral measure of abilities or skills that are independent of society” (p.6).  Assessments, it would appear, are seemingly a social activity and as such would have an influence on a particular institutional culture in helping to define it.

Although institutional change is a complex process (Fullan, 1993; Burnes, 2009; Sarason, 1971; Carnall, 2003), it is crucial to the continuous development of any organization and Fullan (ibid.) maintains that innovation is even more important in the 21st century: “Teachers’ capacities to deal with change, learn from it, and help students learn from it will be crucial for the development of society” (p.29).  Fullan acknowledges that changing teachers’ practice is not an easy task, but a necessary one if teachers are to be able to share their pupils emerging collaborative characteristics: “The hardest core to crack is the learning core – changes in instructional practices and in the culture of teaching toward greater collaborative relationships among students, teachers and other potential partners” (p.49).  As the teacher effectiveness is one of the key determinants of educational outcomes for students (Cochran-Smith et al. 2008; Rowe, 2003), the importance of changing individuals through professional development attending to processes and content (Wilson and Berne, 1999; Reeves et al. 2001) is crucial to the successful organizational development, especially when introducing innovation.

On implementing changes in successful leadership (Hargreaves, 1998; MacBeath, 2002), Fullan and Hargreaves (1992) advised teachers and principals to “develop a risk-taking mentality” (p.86), which they felt was especially important under uncertain conditions resulting from endless social changes (ibid.).    Indeed, managing change requires effective leadership and skilful management, and a commitment to organizational learning (Collinson and Cook, 2007; Argyris, 1999; Rait, 1995) as inadequate leadership can result in inadequate change management (Kotter, 1988; Carnall, 2003), resulting in resistance and undermining the development.

School culture, change and leadership

As school culture is something which is "situationally unique" (Beare et al., 1989) and "is shaped by its history, context and people in it" and external influences (Stoll, 1999, p.33), the understanding of school culture with its complexity is very important at the time of change as Stoll notes: “...an essential part of school improvement is that the school 'assesses its current culture and works to develop positive cultural norms'” (ibid.). Expanding on changing school culture, Stoll also stresses the importance of leadership at the time of change and asserts that: “Changing schools is not just about changing curricula, teaching and learning strategies, assessment, structures, and roles and responsibilities” (ibid. p.47).  Fullan (2003) charges the leader with the responsibility for change and asserts that, “The leader’s job is to help change context – to introduce new elements into the situation that are bound to influence a behaviour for the better” (p.1).  Earley and Fletcher-Campbell (1989) note the importance of delegation at management level:
Delegation is essential not only in practical terms but as an expression of teamwork and partnership and as a process of staff development and training. (…) Delegation is necessary so that time can be found, for example, for reflection, forward planning, support, discussion…(p.108).

As the leadership style influences a particular organizational culture and a way of working, Hargreaves (2000) asserts that, “Collaboration is now widely proposed as an organizational solution to the problem of contemporary schooling” (p.17).       

Managing change is not an easy task and requires a detailed diagnosis of the current culture (Hargreaves, 1999) and school leaders' clear vision for the future in order to change values, attitudes and beliefs within an organization (Bear et al.1992; Leithwood et al.1999).

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Formative assessment

By formative assessment, and concurring with Black and Wiliam, I mean any type of educational assessment which is designed to promote pupils’ learning.  This is defined as assessment for learning in the following terms:

            Assessment for learning is any assessment for which the first priority in its            design and practice is to serve the purpose of promoting pupils’ learning.  It    thus differs from assessment designed primarily to serve the purposes of     accountability, or of ranking, or of certifying competence” (Black et. al.,     2002,   inside front cover).

It is also my belief, backed up by my extensive teaching experience of over 20 years, that pupils who are successful in their learning are skilled at using their metacognitive skills to advance their learning, in other words, they know how to learn.  Stobart (2008) makes a link between the ability to self/peer-assess the work and becoming an effective life-long learner:

            …in order to evaluate their own work, learners will need to be aware of both         what a successful performance would look like (‘where they need to get’), and    where they are in their own learning.  These skills provide the basis of self- regulation (‘metacognition’), which is seen as a powerful source of learning” (p.149).


By learning I understand the kind of learning that develops understanding and involves active participation.  It is the kind of learning that is referred to as ‘deep learning’ by Harlen and James (1997) who elaborate:

            "The term ‘real’ learning extends the notion of learning with understanding to           suggest that it involves interaction with people, ideas, things and events in the real world. (…) When something is learned with understanding (deep learning, ‘real’ learning) it is actively understood and internalized by the learner" (ibid. pp. 367-8).

In this sense, learning is seen as a process in advancing meaning and understanding rather than just an exercise in memorising facts, and how it is assessed as part of the teaching and learning processes can shape not only the assessment culture in the school, but can also influence the use of particular teaching methodologies.

A word about my professional background and research interest

Testing and assessment have always been an essential part of education, but since the 1988 Education Reform Act, which introduced a National Curriculum with testing at the ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16, assessment has become even more prominent in education (Desforges, 1989).  As a teacher, I have always been involved in assessing pupils for different purposes, but in particular during the last decade, educational assessment has become more of a professional interest for me, probably as a result of my professional development and my belief that if assessment were to be used for formative purposes, it would serve as a very powerful tool in improving attainment and achievement of every pupil through specific guidance on next steps for progress, and that educating whole cohorts of pupils could become a personal experience of engaging in teaching and learning at an individual level. 

During one of my posts in a large boys’ comprehensive school, assessment in its various forms was central to my role on a practical level, and concepts such as baseline testing, value added, school effectiveness, target-setting, league tables or emphasis on reporting of pupils’ progress (Tymms, 2000; Pringle and Cobb, 1999) assumed prominent position in my everyday practice.  With the change of the school status, followed 10% selection on academic aptitude, which necessitated greater emphases on pupil assessment.  Since assessment cannot be separated from teaching and learning (Tanner and Jones, 2003) and it is an essential Ofsted requirement that “Assessment information is used to inform future planning (Clarke, 1998, p.35), I started critically evaluating various assessments to ascertain what was in them for the pupils. This meant exploring how pupils could directly benefit from the testing they were being subjected to and how the information obtained from these tests could be used to advance learning and progress. 

Although there are many types of educational assessments used for different purposes, all can provide useful information about various aspects of one’s learning or performance, as in case of norm-referenced (summative) assessments, which are used for selection purposes for some schools or careers, for example, I set out to establish how everyday classroom assessment could be used to benefit the learners’ progress as this type of assessment had a direct impact on learning and motivation.  My aim was not to devalue other forms of assessment, but to focus on the type of assessment which could be used to maximize learning.  Evidently, since all classroom efforts are aimed at progress and improved learning, I would strongly argue that the impact of formative feedback practice would eventually have a positive effect on summative results of examinations taken at the end of a particular stage in one’s education.