ITL News: Introduction

This e-newsletter is designed to tell you a little more about the work being undertaken by teachers contributing to the Institute of Teaching and Learning.  We will produce one of these at least once a term, each with a particular focus, and follow it up with an open forum for any member of staff to come along and chat about the issues raised.  The first of these forums will be at 4.15 on Wednesday January 15th in GSC-2.  Book your place to come along!

Reflection and reflective learning have absorbed the attention of a number of the ITL members and some of their work is referred to in this newsletter. It was also a topic that emerged as important from Hélène Bonsall’s recent questionnaire, which asked staff for feedback on areas of development they would most like the ITL to undertake. Top of the list was ‘promoting critical thinking’, with 'promoting reflective skills' and ‘supporting weaker students’ coming next.  More work on these other areas is forthcoming.

As you will see, reflection – and in a broader sense, metacognition, have a strong research base and can account for significant development in students’ capacity to learn well. John Hattie’s meta-study of effect sizes puts reflection as one of the highest possible influencers on student achievement, and some really interesting practical examples of what it might mean in practice can be found here.  

However, it is quite apparent that a capacity to apply reflective strategies does not necessarily come naturally to students, and they have to be taught it.  One of the ways we have set about this is through the Sevenoaks Diploma, which asks students to record activities that have struck them as most interesting or powerful both inside and outside the classroom, and to take a little time to document how these experiences have provided them with knowledge, skills and understanding – of themselves, of others and the world. 

At the outset, we found that students were naturally inclined to simply describe rather than analyse and interpret their experiences; however, over time and with support from tutors and in assemblies, their reflective comments have become a lot more meaningful and engaging – serving an additional purpose, which is to highlight the importance of our 7 core values in the Middle School:  Creativity; Independent Learning; Critical Thinking; Collaboration; Self-Awareness; Social Responsibility; International Understanding. 

Below are some examples of students’ reflections on this term in Year 9:

My first term at Sevenoaks has been fantastic! I was welcomed warmly by the languages, sport, and music departments and am taking part in many activities, such as choirs, orchestras, hockey, and extra language lessons too. I have really been enjoying myself, and I really believe that Sevenoaks is the most perfect community to grow up in and learn. Every day I see something new and exciting, and I am constantly super eager to start the day (even if it’s a Monday!). I have been doing co-curricular activities such as Yoga, Taekwondo, singing, piano, and violin lessons.

In addition, I started learning German this year. Although I am a beginner, thanks to my knowledge of Norwegian, I was able to move up a set. I really was struggling a little in the first half term, however, I was able to catch up with my classmates really quickly, and now my German teacher can give me challenges and sometimes set me tasks that go above the class level! I am extremely glad that I was able to make such progress, and am quite proud of myself for this.

I think that I have something that I could improve in maths. That is trying to find a solution myself, even if the topic is quite difficult and I am unfamiliar with (or simply forgot some information), before asking the teacher for help, and relying on the fact that she will help me all the time.

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Yesterday, I took part in the Christmas fair with a stall selling clay charms and Christmas cards.  I've so far made around £50 for Cancer research UK. I chose this charity as a very close family friend died recently (who was like my grandma); she had had cancer for over a decade and I decided to sell these in her memory. It was a very good experience and I hope if they run the fair again next year I could have a stall and raise more money for such a great charity. Researching facts and stories to get myself better informed on how cancer is such a horrible disease was very eye opening, and I will never forget my grandma or the people who I found out about who have also lost their battle with the disease.

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I was quite hesitant to audition for the play because I thought I would not get a place. I did my audition over 3 weeks ago and we got the results last Friday. I was so pleased that I got a part. I have learned to believe in myself a bit more and try. What's the worst that could happen? 

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Some of the work of the ITL exists in the form of action-research projects that are being undertaken in conjunction with the Universities of Cambridge and of Buckingham.  Other avenues of exploration are more developmental, seeking to encourage the exchange of resources and of teaching and learning ideas to help inform best practice here in the school. 

In relation to the subject of reflection, we have underway several projects that are looking at metacognitive strategies, harkness discussions and assessment for learning in the classroom, as well as the way in which service learning can promote awareness of self and of others through notions of empathy, compassion and collaboration.  More on this work can be seen in these webpages and we will disseminate findings at the end of the year. 

Finally, please take note of the new ITL classroom (GSC-2).  Located on the first floor of the Global Studies Centre, its flexibility means that you can invite students to learn in many different ways.  Evidence from teachers and students who have used it so far is overwhelmingly positive – in some cases prompting people to suggest that it has made them rethink the whole approach to collaborative learning that they typically take in their subject. 

That’s it for now.  Please take time to read through the articles, get back to us with ideas you have on related topics, and come to the open forum in January.  Meanwhile, have a lovely holiday!

The topic of our next newsletter will be Wellbeing. 

Mark Beverley