Lecturers urged to don their thinking caps

17th July 2009 at 01:00
A secondary is forging links with its local college to ensure continuity

Teachers at a secondary without a sixth form are so determined their pupils should not lose the benefits of their innovative curriculum when they leave for college that they organised a conference to pass on their good practice.

Pupils at Newbridge School in the county of Caerphilly are encouraged to take control of their own learning and become more independent as part of a cutting-edge thinking skills agenda.

But their teachers are worried the pupils' newly acquired skills could be lost when they transfer to the Crosskeys campus of Coleg Gwent to take-up A-level courses.

So last month, at a special conference held at the college, teachers from Newbridge met their college counterparts to encourage them to adapt to the teaching method and ensure continuity for their pupils.

Lesley Perry, the head, told college staff: "We are sending you learners with a wide range of skills. We hope you can see these skills when they come to you because it's important that they have continuity. We want them to succeed."

Lisa Morgan, head of English at Newbridge, and Sarah Llewellyn, head of PE, outlined the thinking skills curriculum, which is built around three areas: planning, development and reflection.

In English, pupils are asked "big questions" about issues that interest them. They also have to develop research, analytical and organisational skills in order to prepare balanced responses.

Ms Morgan said: "We want to provide learning opportunities that challenge children to think through ideas and investigate how they can shape their own learning.

"It's not about us giving them the answers or teaching them how to think, it's them learning on their own."

Meanwhile, Ms Llewellyn has revolutionised PE at Newbridge by introducing "passports" to track her pupils' development.

Pupils set their own targets in individual sporting and exercise areas, and work together to improve their performance while being monitored by teachers.

They are encouraged to use thinking skills to analyse their performance and reflect on what they have learnt.

Ms Llewellyn hopes the approach will raise the profile of the subject within the school and better prepare pupils to take GCSE PE.

"I wanted to formalise learning and allow pupils to become more independent learners," she said.

"At the start of lessons we ask, `What are we going to learn today, how are we going to learn it and why?' Pupils think about what they need to do and how they can do it and then go away and learn it themselves."

Speaking after the conference, Bill Mason, head of learner services at Crosskeys campus, said lecturers might have a mixed reaction to the thinking skills agenda.

"We thought this event would be useful as schools are shifting from a prescribed teaching style to a more learner-centered curriculum," he said. "It will be a change of teaching for some of our staff.

"Vocational subjects have always worked in this way; it's how you embed that into A-level delivery."

Last year two-thirds of lessons at Newbridge School were given top grades by Estyn.

Inspectors said the school's greatest asset was its staff, and praised its teachers' strong subject knowledge and expertise.

Mrs Perry has made it her mission to share good practice and would like her school to become a "beacon" for professional development.

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