Independence day

9th June 2006 at 01:00
Want to stop spoon-feeding in key stage 3? Diana Hinds meets teachers who use the Ped Pack to help pupils fend for themselves

Secondary teachers in the know call it the "Ped Pack" and those who have found time to dip into its many booklets, say they are finding it extremely useful. Other teachers, however, have not heard of it and in some schools the pack still languishes on the shelves of strategy managers.

Formally titled Pedagogy and Practice: Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools, the pack comprises a weighty box of 20 units, covering aspects of strategy from designing lessons and developing questioning and modelling techniques to understanding thinking skills and creating the conditions for learning.

It went out to all secondaries in the autumn of 2004, followed, in January 2005, by a supplementary pack on professional development. A consultation on the framework for pedagogy has now been completed.

Janev Christofides, deputy head for key stage 3 at Aveling Park school, Waltham Forest, has put the Ped Pack to good use this year as part of an intervention programme that the school devised for its Year 9 pupils to help them prepare for Sats.

"Our Year 9s are an able, bubbly but underachieving group and because of their behaviour, they felt that teachers did not see them as potential high-flyers," she says. The intervention programme drew particularly on the Ped Pack's units on assessment for learning and on making students effective learners. "I wanted to get the students to feel that it is their responsibility to move forwards," Ms Christofides explains.

Subject teachers focused on revision strategies, pupils were given access to an online package, SamLearning, to support independent revision and there were discussions in assemblies about the need to think carefully about diet and sleep in the run-up to Sats. Pupils rose to the challenge, Ms Christofides says, and the school now awaits some good results.

"I get easily distracted and I find revision quite boring, but going to the library and doing revision in a group made it fun," says Fiith Von Loeven, 14. "I also started having a proper breakfast and that helped me concentrate, because I wasn't thinking I was hungry."

Ellie Brown, an English NQT, says the emphasis on assessment for learning has led her to think harder about different learning styles, to encourage more peer feedback and to get groups to come up with their own "model"

answers to questions, rather than relying on the teacher to write the model answer on the board. "Instead of being spoon-fed, it's about getting them to take responsibility for their learning - and they have responded well,"

she says. "It's making them more analytical, and it's easier for me to see where they are."

Judith Stott, head of maths at Aveling Park, has also found assessment for learning useful. She provides pupils with a personal record of how well they have done in different maths topics and spends time demonstrating how they will be assessed by examiners. She is encouraging pupils to explain problems to one another and to promote "a self-critical atmosphere" in the classroom. Drawing on the ped pack, she says, "has made it much easier for me to say to other staff, 'this is good practice, we need to do it'."

But while the Ped Pack's booklets are stuffed full of detail and different methods and ideas to try out in different subjects, there is still no overarching pedagogy which draws together the essence of what it means to be an effective secondary teacher.

Mike Evans, who is leading the consultation for the Secondary Strategy, hopes the consultation will result in just such a "core pedagogy document"

- as well as providing "an answer to critics in the UK who say we haven't got a committed view about what pedagogy is". He has been talking to local authorities, heads and schools around the country to gather their thoughts on the question of pedagogy.

Susan Sutton, teaching and learning manager for EduAction which runs Waltham Forest in north-east London, says headteachers in her authority have expressed great interest in the consultation. "They found it refreshing that somebody wanted to have a debate about pedagogy," she says.

"One of the problems has been that we don't really have a common language in education. Different terms mean different things to different people."

Waltham Forest is now hoping to work with the Secondary Strategy on looking at pedagogy in science from key stage 2 to key stage 4. "You need to have an underlying understanding of why something works, why this methodology not that. You then have models and a repertoire that you can build on and discuss with colleagues," Ms Sutton says.

In Gloucestershire, which has been involved with the Ped Pack since its pilot, Heather Clapp, interim secondary strategy manager, says it has been slow to catch on but that schools are now beginning to use and discuss it.

By far the most popular unit so far, according to a Gloucestershire survey, is assessment for learning, followed by units on creating conditions for learning and English as an additional language.

"The pack brings together some of teachers' implicit understanding in a way which makes it more explicit, and gives them skills they can employ in a practical sense in the classroom," she says.

But in terms of the consultation, Ms Clapp reports a "wariness" on the part of schools, anticipating a further document on pedagogy.

"There is a feeling that there needs to be more coherence - not more materials," she says. "If you're not careful, a core document could end up as a repackaging of the same materials - and schools are saying they can't take on any more."

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