Principal’s Round-up – 9th March 2018

The snow caused excitement last week, with adverse weather forecasts and reduced transport causing us to close the college. This was a difficult decision to make, but one that ensured the health and safety of staff and students. However, the downside of this closure has meant that we have been playing catch-up this week with additional meetings (due to them being postponed), extra revision classes for Y11 and the additional Progress Evening on 19th March for Y11 which clashes somewhat with the planned evening football match in aid of SKRUM. Thank you to all of you who came into school on the closure days in order to help with other work that needed to be undertaken. As I look out the window now, the poor weather seems like a bad dream.

The pressure is really on for Y11 and Y13 now. Their attitude is superb, with revision classes being well attended in the evenings and additional work being undertaken. We need to continue to focus on underperforming micro-cohorts and ensure that their progress is maintained. Our attention must also be on learning in other year groups so that we do not overwhelm ourselves …and we won’t go far wrong by returning our efforts to the development of thinking skills.

Thinking skills are highly prized in all walks of life. Critical thinking and problem solving are the aspects of these skills that accelerate HPAs – a key area of development for us. So, which strategies are known to work? Steve Burnage suggests that, in school, we should pay attention to three important strands of thinking: problem solving (the ability to find solutions); reasoning (the ability to weigh up balanced arguments); and making decisions (the ability to act based on thinking).

To meet the critical thinking elements of each of the three areas above, Burnage posits that there are four key areas:
• Understanding perspectives: Consider this familiar image. Some will first see the vase, others will first see two faces. Whichever you see, you are correct; yet whichever you don’t see is also correct. Thinking critically is about being able to understand the different perspectives and to accept the validity of each.
• Evaluating evidence: Evidence is data on which we base our judgements. Gathering and evaluating evidence is an important feature of critical thinking. But, we sometimes make the mistake of asking students to evaluate something with little or no evidence, or, worse, based on emotion. In addition, learners need to be discouraged from dismissing evidence that conflicts with pre-existing views.
• Using non-routine problems: A routine problem can be solved using methods familiar to learners by repeating previously learned methods in a step by step fashion. Non-routine problems are those where there is no predictable, well-rehearsed approach.
• Looking for deep structure: This refers to ideas that go beyond specific examples. Surface structure refers to the particulars of an example meant to illustrate deep structure. For example, understanding how to structure a response to a specific exam questions in a subject is surface knowledge. Being able to take the main focus of the features that generally make up the structure of a good exam answer and apply this to all questions in all subjects evidences deep knowledge.

Critical thinking skills develop learners’ ability to learn more in all subjects. The best way to equip learners with such skills is to teach them explicitly as opposed to simply expecting them to develop while you are teaching another subject. Here are some ideas:
• Begin always with a question.
• Create a foundation or schema (see last Fortnight Focus).
• Use an academic peer group.
• Reconstruct text.
• Explore misconceptions in thinking (dialogic teaching or try Thinking Maps)
• Speak with a sketch.
• Use information fluency or literacy – develop a critical view of information sources.

Lots to think about! I have included the revised ‘Top Ten Tips’ for HPAs in this edition. Please use these in your class plans and in lessons to ensure we are consistent.

Finally, some staff have been discussing CPD and disaggregated time. Barbara has included this week the revised disaggregated time programme. We will use the staff voice meeting in April to co-construct the next year’s programme.

Have a lovely weekend