How to practise what you teach

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Dundee's Learning Together initiative sets a fine example. Simply teaching is so last century. Raymond Ross suggests we could all do better

Large, colourful posters adorn every classroom wall in Dundee.

The banners exclaim Learning Together in Dundee, an initiative born out of the Assessment is for Learning Programme, which is being advocated in schools across Scotland.

The LTiD philosopy is: "We all wish to become better learners."

To do this the aim is to: share lesson goals; ask questions to help understanding; take time to think, discuss and share ideas; give and receive feedback; discuss the next step.

It is described as "a major initiative by the education department to change classroom practice to meet the needs of all learners in the 21st century".

"Dundee is different in that we are looking at everything we do in our schools, from learning and teaching, pupil support and behaviour management to citizenship, health promotion and PSD, linking all these agendas through formative assessment," says the city's assessment co-ordinator, Maureen Ruddy.

"But if you call it formative assessment, people don't see the full picture. So we call it Learning Together."

Launched last September, LTiD was adopted by the education committee in April as the learning and teaching strategy for the city and it is the authority's expectation that every teacher in Dundee will be up to speed on the strategy by 2007.

"LTiD is now becoming the mainstay of everything we do in our schools, a single strategy for developing learning and teaching. I'd say we are unique, the only authority committed entirely this way," says Mrs Ruddy.

Teachers are using classroom approaches such as sharing learning goals with pupils, asking questions which encourage thinking, giving time for reflection and sharing ideas, providing feedback to improve the quality of their learning and involving pupils in determining the next steps in their learning.

Within a few months of its launch, the approach already appears to be paying off. Teachers have reported improvements in pupil motivation, behaviour and self-esteem which in turn are leading to improvements in attainment and achievement.

"The most important thing is the active involvement of pupils in their own learning, sharing goals, assessing their own work and reflecting on what helps them to learn. The more involved they are, the better they learn," says Mrs Ruddy.

To nurture pupils' self-esteem, a classroom must provide a sense of security; a sense of identity; a sense of belonging; a sense of purpose - helping pupils create visions of what they want to achieve and what kind of person they want to be; and a sense of personal acceptance - offering ways to achieve goals, and giving access to resources.

"It's not about learning and teaching in any narrow sense, because the same approach, the same formative asessment strategies can be used for behaviour management," says Mrs Ruddy.

"We don't need separate strategies here. Nor do we, for example, for staff CPD. The strategies are already in the Learning Together approach."

A great deal of in-service is being done in Dundee, at senior management, whole school, cluster group, departmental and individual levels to ensure LTiD is up and running within two years.

To strengthen the links between parents and schools (an LTiD aim), Dundee has gone beyond printing and distributing its information leaflets by organising an "open voice" event, held over two nights in a city centre hotel.

When 120 parents turned up to share their concerns or ask questions, they were grouped to discuss topics they had raised and asked for three solutions. The results were then voted on.

"Their ideas are to be fed into authority plans - making them part of Learning Together," says Mrs Ruddy.

One Dundee primary is now organising a similar event for parents in a local pub, while a secondary is organising a staff "open voice" event.

Seventy pupils from 11 schools (nine primaries and two secondaries) have already held their "open voice" and all the bullet points, solutions and numbers of votes have been disseminated to all Dundee schools.


LTiD guidelines define five key attributes of effective learning experiences:

* Ethos for learning - valuing the individual, having positive relationships and high expectations

* Interaction - using effective questioning and discussion, showing tolerance and intervening as appropriate

* Understanding - using questions to extend thinking, knowing the learning intentions, extended outcomes and success criteria

* Reflection - being self-evaluative, taking responsibility and knowing how to use metacognition strategies (thinking about thinking) * Feedback - being sensitive, constructive and motivational, identifying next steps and giving advice for improvement.

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