Classroom practice - Thumbnail sketches that tell kids' stories

16th August 2013 at 01:00
Developed in the UK, these profiles are helping teachers as far afield as Canada and Australia to get to know their students

Delivering a personalised education - as schools strive to do - is only really possible if the teacher knows each student well enough to cater to their needs, a knowledge that should go beyond their grades to what they are like as people. This can be problematic. Without resorting to the sort of intrusive snooping that Western governments have been accused of lately, most of the school year can pass before you get a real sense of who the child is and how you can support them. Sometimes that insight never comes at all.

One potential solution has come from an adaptation of a UK government policy of person-centred planning developed to support people with learning disabilities. This planning involved focusing on what was important to the individual and what good support to meet their needs would look like. It was around 15 to 20 pages long.

The person behind the guidance for this approach was Helen Sanderson, owner of consultancy Helen Sanderson Associates. And it was Sanderson who found a way of making a version of this policy work in schools.

"When my daughter had a couple of difficulties at school, which arose because the teacher said she had found it difficult to get to know her well enough, it made sense to see if we could produce a one-page version of the approach I had been using in my work," she explains.

The school in question was Norris Bank Primary School in Stockport, in the North of England, and Sanderson called the system she devised the One-Page Profile. This is a single sheet of A4 paper on which information about the student is organised into three areas: "What people appreciatelike and admire about me ...", written by the teacher; "What is important to me ..." (hobbies, pets and interests), written by the child; and "How best to support me ...", which is where parents can note down what they feel the teacher needs to know about the child.

These profiles are updated each term - or more frequently in some cases - and at the end of the school year the profile is passed to the child's teacher for the following year.

"It is the only place you get a triangulation of views from the parent, teacher and student," Sanderson says. "I don't think we can move in any direction when it comes to personalisation of teaching and differentiation without knowing the child well and knowing what support they require. This is an easy, practical and quick way of a teacher gaining that knowledge from the first day of the school year."

Introduced in a single class at Norris Bank initially, the profiles were soon rolled out for every student. Tabitha Smith, deputy headteacher at the school, says they have been very effective.

"At the start of the school year, the teacher can read through the profiles and understand what makes the children tick much quicker," she says. "This enables them to better meet the child's needs and that positively impacts on attainment and behaviour."

Following this success at Norris Bank, Helen Sanderson Associates trialled the scheme with other schools, including with older students at Manchester Grammar School, also in the North of England, in a slightly different format called One-Page Profiles Plus.

"It's in electronic form in this setting and has a second page for the student to note aspirations for life and career; and a third page for the student, their parents and the teacher to write what is and is not working in terms of how they are being educated," Sanderson says.

Here, too, the profiles were found to be effective. Andy Smith, head of Middle School at Manchester Grammar School, says that they helped students "to become much more involved in their own educational experience".

Stockport Council is certainly convinced, making a commitment that every primary, secondary and special school under its control should roll out One-Page Profiles. Education bodies in the US and Australia are similarly taken with the idea, and have requested assistance to run trials. A trial with 500 students has already taken place in Canada.

Norris Bank's Smith does, however, have a small warning for those looking to take up the scheme. "For the younger children, admittedly, it can be quite time-consuming. And the teaching assistants have to spend time on a one-to-one basis with the children, going through what they would like to put down, so you have to be aware of giving enough time for it," she explains.

"Also, initially it was quite superficial information being put down, but as people have become more confident of the medium, we now have some really in-depth details about how to support children better."

Ensure these two factors are managed properly and, Smith says, the One-Page Profiles can be effective in any educational setting. With trials being run across the world, it will soon become clear how true a statement that is.

What else?

Getting to know you: a guide to finding out what makes your students tick.


In short

Getting to know a student beyond their grades is essential for personalised education to work.

One way of doing this is to create a One-Page Profile - a sheet of paper on which the student, their teacher and their parent can note information about the child's traits, interests and needs.

This approach has proved popular with educational bodies around the world, with trials starting in several countries.

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