How can G&T coordinators ensure that differentiation for G&T pupils is taking place in every classroom? Paul Ainsworth looks at some methods based on sharing best practice
You’ve been appointed as G&T coordinator, you’ve written your policy and delivered a whole-school Inset; how do you find your G&T holy grail – ensuring that G&T pupils are differentiated for in every classroom? Whatever the quality or range of the extra-curricular provision, the ideal scenario is the ‘inside-out’ method, where the onus is on every classroom teacher to implement strategies for G&T pupils (see Naomi Ferguson’s article in G&T Update issue 25, June 2005).
Problems with classroom observation The challenge for senior leaders is to find that holy grail. How do we ensure in every classroom of our school, high-quality teaching and learning regularly occurs: specifically, differentiation for G&T pupils? One response is a cycle of lesson observations of the staff by the senior management team. There is no doubt that with open-minded observers, teaching and learning does improve, though ironically, it is often the teaching of the observer that improves rather than the staff body as a whole!
The G&T coordinator will immediately realise that just as there is no guarantee the teacher will address the needs of G&T pupils, there is no certainty the observer will look for this either. It is unrealistic for these observations to be purely G&T focused, as senior leaders need to consider many aspects of the craft of teaching in their annual observation. A way of ensuring G&T differentiation is addressed, observed and evaluated could be by the G&T coordinator placing prompts in the pro forma for lesson plans and observations that remind the teacher and observer to address the issue.
No matter how we present senior management observations to the staff common room, many teachers feel under pressure and believe the aim of the observer is purely to discover weaknesses in their teaching. Many teachers consequently spend hours planning their best lesson of the year. The result? The observer sees a fantastic lesson with fresh ideas and then uses them in their lesson; the observer’s practice improves but not necessarily the teacher’s and the G&T pupils are finally properly differentiated for in one lesson.
Keeping up-to-date with best practice
The obvious way to improve teaching is by the observer providing thoughtful ideas for development. This places an onus on the observer to keep up-to-date with the latest best practice. Unfortunately senior managers can often become so immersed in the pressures of running a school, that remaining abreast of the latest best teaching practice is not always at the top of their agenda. This is where the G&T coordinator can inform the observation cycle by distributing occasional articles that describe G&T best practice.
No matter how we present senior management observations to the staff common room, many teachers feel under pressure and believe the aim of the observer is purely to discover weaknesses in their teaching
Cascading best practice So how can observation evidence be used to improve teaching?
- If excellent ideas, methods or lessons are observed, use a staff meeting to give these teachers the opportunity to present their ideas to colleagues; it could be titled as a G&T teaching workshop.
- Produce a staff newsletter with articles written by teachers about lessons that have worked really well; your school’s very own personalised G&T Update.
- Read through a series of observations. If you continually note the same problem, or identify a common aspect such as differentiation for G&T is absent from lessons, then use this evidence to persuade senior management that additional Inset is required on G&T. The G&T coordinator could then find a commercial course to attend or arrange for a colleague to attend and then provide a presentation for staff on that topic. In addition, if the G&T coordinator has managed to include G&T on the observation pro forma, explicitly communicate this to staff. This allows you to determine how effectively the G&T initiative is being implemented and identify good practice, which you can then share.
Peer observation and coaching Observations can be used in very different ways to improve teaching and learning if we move away from those conducted by senior management. Peer observation and coaching observation are two such opportunities. Peer observation is where we organise opportunities for our colleagues to observe each other. In this situation the observer should be learning by seeing new methods and techniques in action. This can invigorate the staffroom and is much cheaper than sending teachers on often-expensive courses. School management needs to be prepared to provide cover to allow this process to occur.
One method of using coaching in teaching is to identify strengths amongst your teachers: for example, using interactive whiteboards or classroom management in addition to differentiating for G&T pupils. A teacher who wants to improve their G&T teaching will then work with the coach whose specialism is in this area, to plan a lesson; the coach then observes the lesson and provides feedback. In this situation the teacher being observed will improve their practice.
It would be extremely useful for the G&T coordinator to develop a range of staff that could coach on various issues of G&T teaching. The coordinator would then develop the practice of these teachers and this would feed into the TLR reform by giving evidence of leading staff. School management needs to cover the coach’s lesson so they can work with the teacher in advance, and then observe the lesson.
Sharing practice and improving morale
These methods are very cost-effective and are rooted in sharing good practice. They could also have the knock-on effect of bringing the staff together and improve staff morale at the same time. Now that really would be a holy grail worth discovering.
Paul Ainsworth is the director of studies at Fulneck School, an established 3-18 school in West Yorkshire. Prior to this he was the senior teacher at Casterton Community College, a rural 11-16 comprehensive.