Classroom practice - Helping teachers' bright ideas to Shine

9th August 2013 at 01:00
An annual competition aims to fund innovative schemes in England. We celebrate three of this year's best light-bulb moments

When a teacher formulates a new practice or strategy, the methodology rarely makes it beyond their own classroom - even if it is successful. While academics and consultants have well-established routes for funding their research and getting their theories adopted by multiple schools, teachers do not.

This means that great ideas with the potential to transform classrooms are being kept locked away. It's a problem UK education charity the Shine Trust is trying to rectify through its Let Teachers Shine competition (bit.lyteachersshine), which invites teachers working in England to apply for a share of pound;150,000. If they can demonstrate that their idea is viable, necessary and scalable, Paul Carbury, chief executive at Shine, says there is an excellent chance that funding will be granted.

This year - the second of the competition - funding was awarded to a diverse set of proposals. Here are three in particular that could be adopted by other teachers.

Project: Active Phonics

Teacher: David Fallis, lead teacher for intervention, Springwell Learning Community in Barnsley (Springwell Community Special School and the Barnsley Pupil Referral Unit)

Age group: 5-18

Idea: David Fallis had two issues: first, his students would not engage with any of the standard reading interventions; and second, resources to teach phonics to his struggling older students were thin on the ground and the primary-age materials left them feeling patronised. His solution, which he invented by chance after a child repeatedly asked to go to the sports hall, is Active Phonics.

"I printed letters on to A4-sized paper and stuck them on the sports hall wall," Fallis explains. "I then asked the student to identify each sound before throwing a tennis ball at it. He was engaged for the first time. Meanwhile, a colleague was having some success with asking an autistic student to make letter shapes on the trampoline. These early examples grew into Active Phonics."

Active Phonics is a programme of structured, differentiated lessons teaching systematic synthetic phonics through physical activities and games. Activities include variations on the trampoline and ball-throwing games, as well as challenges such as trying to shoot basketball hoops from different base points.

"At each base there is a choice of two or three sounds to be mastered before they can throw the ball. For some students, I will ask them to repeat the sound, others I'll ask them to tell me it and for some I'll ask them to use it in a word or sentence," Fallis says.

Active Phonics is taught for two hours per week at Springwell. Early data shows a 98 per cent take-up of this intervention as opposed to a 68 per cent take-up of standard interventions, and progress of those in the programme was 0.8 sub levels in reading per term, compared with the school average of 0.5 sub levels.

Fallis says that standard interventions are often similar in form to the initial teaching method that was unsuccessful. "Active Phonics works because it is so different and it involves a fun and extreme multisensory approach," he argues.

The funding from Shine will be used to expand the Active Phonics approach to other schools.

Project: A student-run tutoring cooperative

Teacher: Deri O'Regan, assistant principal, Hatcham College, London

Age group: 7-16

Idea: When Deri O'Regan's Saturday sixth-form classes were called off because all the students had weekend jobs, he had an idea: get them to form a cooperative to sell mathematics tuition to younger students on Saturday mornings, giving the older students an income but keeping them educationally involved.

"By setting up a young cooperative they will be learning about an important form of business enterprise and developing a large number of work-related learning skills through running their own business," O'Regan says. "Plus, teaching mathematics to younger students is far more beneficial for them as work experience than selling shoes or cleaning cars."

The idea is for the cooperative to act as independently as possible, but initially a mathematics teacher will supervise and offer guidance. Resources will also be provided to the cooperative to ensure they are teaching the right things to accelerate the progress of tutees. As for who will use the service, O'Regan says: "Students who are falling behind will be selected and offered tuition. If they are free school meals students, then their tuition will be paid for by the grant from Shine; if not, then the parents will have to pay for the tuition."

If the initial results are good, O'Regan hopes to extend the project to offer tuition in other subjects - but ultimately that will be a decision for the cooperative themselves. O'Regan is keen that this be a genuine business experience.

"It's their cooperative so they decide," he says. "The fact that the students are setting up a business enterprise through their cooperative will provide key motivation to deliver a first-class service. If the standard is not high enough then they will not get paid - it's as simple as that. They will also be motivated to attend as, just like with any Saturday job, if they don't turn up, again they won't get paid."

Success for those tutored will be monitored through school assessments and O'Regan's aim is for rates of progress from key stage 2 (ages 7-11) to key stage 4 (ages 14-16) to be above UK government targets. Meanwhile, he hopes that the cooperative will eventually be a self-sustaining organisation affiliated with the wider cooperative movement.

Project: Interactive Metronome

Teacher: Barbara Marshall, specialist teacher and occupational therapist, Devon

Age group: 4-11

Idea: Two of the key barriers to a child's reading speed and reading comprehension have been identified as below average brain processing speed and below average working memory. Searching for a way of improving both, Barbara Marshall came across research suggesting that an Interactive Metronome (IM) could be the answer. An IM is a computer-based program primarily used by health professionals working with patients suffering from conditions such as Parkinson's disease or stroke.

The IM works on a standard computer and requires the user to produce specific movements in response to a beat. These movements are tracked on equipment such as a tap mat or sensors attached to the user's body. Over the course of the training, the user will repeat the movements thousands of times and will have to continually adjust their response to get closer to the beat as the software feeds back their margin of error.

"Neuroscientists believe that the millisecond feedback and adjustment drives neuroplasticity and neuro-efficiency. The person's attentional control system becomes more efficient, which positively impacts upon processing and learning," Marshall says.

She decided to take IM into the classroom to help children with below average reading speed and comprehension. The funding from Shine will enable her to trial IM with 10 four- to 11-year-olds. "This (method) needs exploration because it suggests there may be gains within literacy and beyond," Marshall says.

Training is needed to use the IM system, which can be provided by resellers of the IM technology (for more information visit bit.lyimetronome) or can be self-directed via the web (bit.lywebimetronome). To monitor improvements, Marshall says you also need a specialist teacher qualified to undertake an accurate pre- and post-IM assessment.

Her hope is that this trial will make the education establishment "recognise that tools may exist to improve working memory and processing speed and so children may not need to experience learning difficulties and underachievement".

For more information on these projects, and Let Teachers Shine, email the charity's chief executive at


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