Having clearly defined the design of my enquiry, I will now reflect upon the three lessons I taught concentrating on the impact of my practice on my focus children; Andrew, Judi, Sarah and Lucy. I will analyse the findings to provide an evidence-based conclusion to my research question.
As suggested by Dixie (2012), I began this lesson with a short starter activity that required minimum explanation. I asked the children to talk to their learning partner about the different types of transport they knew; an activity that was accessible and that required an immediate response.
The class teacher and I both noted (Appendix 2.1 and 3.1) that the focus children were all in task-related discussions. This triangulated evidence suggests that an interactive starter activity can be an effective way of immediately encouraging engagement in a lesson.
We then linked the children’s responses to a timeline they had created in a prior lesson.
Referring to their previous learning minimised any disengagement caused by a lack of context and allowed me to introduce the learning objective and success criteria. It is widely accepted (Muijs, 2014, p.244) that explicitly addressing the objective at the outset is an effective way to maximise lesson time. With a specific focus on teaching younger children, Edwards and Knight (1994, p. 96) emphasise that by neglecting to share the focus you are inhibiting their ability to progress. Although I had linked to previous learning and shared the lesson objective, my data implied that Andrew did not understand what he was expected to achieve.
His need for further explanation of the task (Appendix 3.2) meant that the time he was engaged in learning was limited. When evaluating the lesson, I identified two factors that could have further supported Andrew’s engagement, namely the clarity of my explanation and ensuring to check for understanding.
The knowledge that young children have short attention spans, coupled with previous feedback that my practice can be overly teacher-led, prompted me to structure this lesson with the 30:70 approach outlined by Griffith and Burns (2012, p.15). Therefore 70% of the lesson time was allocated to a carousel activity involving the children working in groups. Each table was provided with an image of a ship along with some objects to help them conclude what the ship may have been used for. Children were sat in their usual attainment groupings and encouraged to work collaboratively before recording their predictions individually. To support their sustained engagement they moved tables at regular intervals to examine and discuss new pieces of evidence.
The fact that the children were keen to investigate and discuss the objects on the tables (Appendix 2.3) implies that the activity initially encouraged engagement from the majority of the class. The further completion of the written task by three of my focus children shows that they continued to be engaged in the lesson (Appendix 4,5 & 6). It is especially important to note the amount of work completed by Lucy (Appendix 4), an EAL child who regularly produced very short pieces of writing. This change in behaviour could be linked to the use of short, time-limited tasks. The requirement to finish one task before they were moved to the next table could have made Lucy engage quicker and work faster.
Although the learning produced by three of the children in my focus group shows evidence of engagement, my final focus child, Andrew, did not produce any record of his learning. Andrew was in the lower attaining group who, collectively, seemed overwhelmed by the activity and were focussed on playing with the objects provided rather than discussing their purpose (Appendix 2.4). This culminated in a short spell of frustration from Andrew every time the groups moved to the next table, because he had not recorded anything on his sheet (Appendix 2.2). It is possible that given longer at each table, this group would have started to examine and discuss the items rather than using them as a distraction. However, as highlighted by Cowley (2014, p.59), slowing the pace of the lesson down could have resulted in boredom and disengagement from the other groups.
As the lesson progressed, I observed that engagement levels had gradually decreased (Appendix 2.6). Although the pace had remained consistent, the task was repetitive and, in retrospect towards the end of the lesson, I was spending more time managing behaviour than supporting learning (Appendix 2.5). Feedback from the class teacher (Appendix 3.3) aligned with my own observations and suggested that a possible solution could have been to introduce what Middendorf and Kalish (1996) call a ‘change up’. Adapting my plans and presenting the children with a different focus for a short period of time could have encouraged them to be more engaged in the task.
As a whole, I can evaluate that the fast-paced and child-led structure of this lesson did initially support high levels of engagement. However, its repetitive nature and my inability to adapt what I had planned meant that the time used towards the end of the lesson was not used effectively and did not promote engagement. This conclusion would be more valid if another adult in the room could have conducted a concentrated observation on one or more of my focus children. This would have offered greater insight into the effect of my actions on their levels of engagement.
After analysing the evidence, it is clear that the way I had used lesson time had not been as effective for lower attaining children. I identified the use of attainment groupings in this lesson as a potential reason for their lack of engagement. Higgins et al (2016) suggest that grouping learners by their attainment level makes little difference to their progress. It was, therefore, a factor that I was happy to alter within my next lesson to see if it would affect engagement within the class.
My second lesson took place immediately after an assembly where the class had been inactive for a relatively long period of time. With the knowledge that movement can energise and engage children (Summerford, 2009, p. 9), I began the lesson with a two-minute period of physical activity. In my lesson evaluation (Appendix 7.1) I observed that starting the lesson in this way allowed the children to then settle quickly on the carpet, thereby limiting wasted time. Muijs (2014, p. 233) highlights that you are more likely to have behaviour management issues at the beginning of a lesson, making it vital to consider and reflect upon ways in which you can ensure the children are swiftly engaged.
There is a convincing body of evidence (Higgins et al, 2016) that suggests that set attainment groupings have a negative impact on the motivation and engagement of lower attaining students. As this had been previously been identified as something to investigate, I planned to place the children in mixed-attainment pairings. After an interactive input about the life of Brunel, the children worked in their pairs to create a poster summarising the key things they had learnt. The class appeared to be fascinated by Brunel, asking a number of relevant questions during the input and making connections to their prior knowledge (Appendix 7.2). During the main activity I observed that my focus children were on-task (Appendix 8.1) and the amount of work produced seems to support this conclusion. Furthermore, the content of the posters they created demonstrated that the children had also been actively engaged during the input of the lesson. Andrew and Sarah’s poster (Fig. 2 and Appendix 9), clearly identifies Brunel and many of the aspects of this life and work that we had discussed previously. Figure 2. Sarah and Andrew’s poster
In contrast to his lack of engagement in the previous lesson, I noted that Andrew was able to focus on this activity for a prolonged period of time and had several on-task discussions with Sarah (Appendix 8.2). The fact that he asked to take the poster home to show his family (Appendix 7.3) further supports the notion that he was more engaged than usual. There are many factors, including the obvious interest in the lesson’s subject, which may have helped to support Andrew’s improved engagement. However, the data collected in this lesson seems to validate the Vygotskian belief (as cited in Berk, 1997, p253) that a more knowledgeable peer can positively support the engagement and learning of a less knowledgeable individual. The use of mixed-attainment pairings in this lesson is not directly comparative to the larger attainment groupings used in my first lesson. However, it is clear that a teacher’s ability to place children in productive groupings has a huge impact on their attitude to learning and, consequently how effectively their lesson time is used.
In terms of whether the time allocated to learning in this lesson was maximised, I reflected that that there were lots of children choosing not to follow instructions when coming back to the carpet for the lesson plenary (Appendix 7.4). This lack of control was also demonstrated by an observation of Judi’s behaviour. As a child who was generally compliant, it was uncharacteristic of her to leave her table messy and not come to the carpet promptly (Appendix 8.3). A further observation was that the class got progressively noisier towards the end of the lesson (Appendix 7.5). Although a noisy classroom is not always an indication of disengaged children, I had also observed an increase in the need for behaviour management interventions during the latter part of the lesson. When analysed together, I can deduce that many of the children had lost interest in the task.
Unfortunately I did not have another adult in the classroom during this lesson to further validate my observations and evaluations. Nevertheless, considering the quality and quantity of work produced and the ‘buzz’ generated by this area of history, it is fair to claim that my use of time in this lesson was more effective than in the previous one. However, there is always room for further improvement. Upon reflection of the evidence collected thus far I identified a common theme; namely that there was a noticeable dip in pace toward the end of the lessons.
This self-evaluation, supported by feedback from my link tutor about the need to maintain pace, led me to highlight the efficient use of transition times as an area for development. As discussed in my literature review, Marzano et al. (2011) recognise that transitions in the classroom can have a direct impact on lesson pace. This position is supported by Teach For America (2011, p. 31), who emphasise the need for clear procedures in the classroom in order to maximise efficiency. With this in mind, I planned my next lesson considering what routines could be implemented with this class to ensure quick transitions between activities.
In order to immediately provide a ‘hook’ for the children to engage with, I started this lesson by pretending to discover an old diary entry of someone who was at the launch of the SS Great Britain. This enquiry-based approach, as advocated by Corbett (cited in Ward, 2012), introduced a focus and provided an example of what the children were aiming to produce by the end of the lesson. My notes (Appendix 11.1) on the excitement and intrigue caused by the diary entry align with the belief (Heacox, 2009, p. 59) that a ‘hook’ can be an effective way to promote engagement.
Following the analysis of my second lesson, there was a clear need to limit the learning time wasted during transitions. An observation of best practice at my placement school prompted the use of a non-verbal strategy to move the children from the carpet to their tables efficiently. The strategy chosen used ‘1, 2, 3 and 4 finger signs’ to instruct the children to 1. Stand up, 2. Move to seat, 3. Get pencil and 4. Start task. In my daily focussed evaluation (Appendix 11.2), I reflected that this strategy had been effective in getting the children to make a quick start to their writing task. It was noticeably impactful on Andrew (Appendix 12.1), whose delayed cognition of multiple instructions often resulted in him being left on the carpet whilst others were starting their task. Knowing his specific learning needs, I can see that this simple routine, based around 1-step instructions gave Andrew significantly more available time for his learning. Although there was time spent explaining and practising this strategy, it is clear that routine transitions, as argued by Marzano et al (2011), can impact positively on the amount of time available for learning.
In comparison, a factor that failed to maximise the use of time in this lesson was my confused explanation of the main activity. Edwards and Knight state bluntly that ‘confused children waste adult time’ (1994, p. 96). Regardless of whether a task is appropriately matched to the learners, a clear explanation of what the children needed to do was integral to their continued engagement. With the initial excitement of the diary lost, I observed that the children became restless after roughly 20 minutes on the carpet (Appendix 10.1). In response to this, I hurried my explanation of the task and did not make my expectations clear (Appendix 10.2). The Learning Support Assistant noted that three of my focus children sought further clarification of what they had to do (Appendix 12.2). Personally, I reflected that a large proportion of my time was spent explaining what should have been clear from my initial input (Appendix 10.3). Undoubtedly, having to individually explain the task to children was not an effective use of teacher time. Fortunately the confusion experienced was not evident in the work produced, with Sarah making it clear that she had an understanding of what a diary is and what the launch of the SS Great Britain might have been like (Appendix 13). However, the fact that the lesson overran by 15 minutes with no time for a plenary, illustrated the difficultly some children had with completing this task (Appendix 10.4).
Beadle (2010, p. 97) states that a common understanding of how to inject pace into a lesson is to speed up everything you do; a trap that, upon reflection, I fell into. Outside of this enquiry and in line with best practice (Dean, 2009, p. 216), I have found creating a checklist of the instructions for children to refer back to, an effective way to minimise confusion. In this instance, this is something I would have implemented during my next lesson in the action research spiral.
As is evidenced from the overrunning of this lesson, due to the confusion I engendered in the children, time could have been used more effectively. On reflection, having the confidence to adapt my plans and recognise the need to re-explain the task to the whole class could have saved valuable time. Having concerns over the rigidity of the three-part lesson, Hibbs (2010) argues that teachers must ensure that their plans can be adapted to suit the way in which the lesson content is received. One way to do this, which I have identified as an area for continued professional development, is the use of mini-plenaries. By stopping the children regularly to assess their learning it has been shown that you can quickly address any misconceptions and encourage children to stay focussed on their task.
Having made evidence-based claims throughout my findings, I will now conclude by summarising the key ideas presented and evaluating my enquiry as a whole.
This is a clear, chronological account. The structure, including the use of subheadings, is very helpful. In particular, concluding each session with priorities for the next session clearly demonstrates understanding of the cyclical nature of action research. The student has made use of a wide range of evidence to support some analysis of the children’s learning and to then support evaluation of her own practice. Appropriate use is made of literature, making links back to the factors explored in the literature review. Appendices were used well and easy to navigate, due to labelling, highlighting, annotating and so on.
Ensuring the focus is on analysis of the children’s learning, rather than task completion, throughoutEmbedding and analyzing evidence directly within the text, as well as referring to appendices
Acknowledging that the issue of clarity of explanations emerged early and was missed at the time, meaning that it re-emerged later. That is not a problem, as action research is messy and it can be difficult to recognise everything in the moment, but the student needs to point that out, with hindsight, rather than the reader identifying it.
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