We’ve all had that embarrassing scenario where you think you’re on the same page as someone, then at a point in the conversation you realise you’re actually talking about completely different things. Sometimes, it only takes a few seconds, other times you can go on for minutes on end before realising you’re on totally different topics. It’s not until we stop and ask people around us what they’re doing, taking a pause in the conversation, that truths are revealed.
Often, it’s easy to assume everyone is doing the same as us. But if you put your head outside the busy hamster wheel (or average school) for a moment, it can be enlightening to take a closer look at how other people are doing it. That’s why we decided to conduct our own research into personalised learning. So far, nearly 80 teachers have responded and the answers are already fascinating.
Personalised learning is one of Learning Ladders’ biggest passions. We believe every child has the right to forge their own path through education, working at a rate that is right for them, with access to the tools needed to help them progress and shine. We wanted more information about how teachers were doing this so we could share the results with you and offer more information about how your school compares with your peers’.
Here we share the interesting data we’ve collected and explore what it shows about how schools are tackling personalised learning.
The data gathered from this statement was fairly encouraging. 56% of participants revealed that they agree learning in their schools is a partnership shared across teachers, pupils and parents, while no-one strongly disagreed.
This shows a possible shift in what has long been perceived as teachers’ accountability for learning. In putting this ‘learning triad’ at the heart of school life, making everyone responsible for pupil success, the benefits are threefold: teachers will want to stay in the profession longer instead of buckling under pressure; children learn responsibility for their own endeavours; and parents get more of an insight into their child’s learning, enabling them to give better support.
With almost 60% of teachers agreeing that pupils are actively involved in setting and reviewing their own progress towards targets, this is a good start. Analysis and evaluation of one’s own work are not easy skills to learn, yet are essential for life. However, the goal should be that 100% of schools are involving pupils in this process, so there is still a long way to go.
Again, no-one strongly disagreed with this statement, showing the vast majority of participants claimed some form of pupil involvement was happening in target setting at their school. Having personalised targets to work towards – just like in the adult world of work – is essential to knowing how to improve and make progress. By encouraging children to be self reflective from a young age, we are teaching them valuable lessons about making mistakes and learning from them in a safe space.
Just over half of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with this statement, but almost a third said they felt ‘neutral’ about it. This 31% response could mean participants aren’t sure if ‘regular’ is the accurate word for how often their students are given these opportunities, or possibly they conduct these conversations themselves but aren’t sure if staff across the school are doing the same.
Involving children and young people in discussions – not just in written feedback is an essential part of their learning journeys. Recent research has proven the benefits of varying feedback styles, as opposed to just offering written feedback which often gets forgotten, skipped or is more easily misunderstood by pupils.
The most conclusive piece of data to come from our quiz was shown in this statement: an impressive 78% of participants agreed that they use a school-wide system to manage pupil progress data. We found this really positive, showing an ever-developing approach to embracing technology in schools for the benefit of pupils.
Having a school-wide system for recording progress data makes inspections easier to manage. But the main benefit of having information that every staff member can access is the way it helps the smooth handover of data between teachers, subjects and year groups. By not having to scrabble around for paperwork, but simply being able to log on to an assessment system, teachers can share information, plan lessons and teach in a more personalised way.
This was one of our most broadly divided statements in the quiz. When it comes to personalising feedback, discussions and data systems, teachers appeared to feel more confident. But personalisation of curriculum still seems a tricky thing to tie down and teachers still don’t widely believe their school is doing it.
While the ‘strongly agree’ group was still the largest, it only marginally passed the ‘neutral’ group. A truly personalised curriculum encourages students to engage with the direction of their own learning, review their progress and gives them materials that are relevant to them, their school and community.
With a sizeable 43% of the response on ‘strongly agree’, this statement proved to be common practice. Having a clearly defined and public assessment policy, shared by teachers, students and parents alike, means there are no secrets when it comes to making progress: everyone has transparency of the success criteria.
This supports the earlier point about accountability working three ways: with teachers, parents and pupils. Not only that, but discussions about learning – during events such as parents evening – can become far more focused on things like the skills and practice needed to advance, and less about ‘what we’ve been doing this term’.
Again, the results of this feedback were fairly positive: 57% of participants agreed that teachers were able to identify individual gaps in learning. But that left a disappointing 43% unsure of, or unable to, identify gaps in their pupils’ learning. If teachers aren’t given the tools to spot areas for improvement for each child in their class, how can they best serve that child’s needs?
Overall, we were encouraged by, not only the participation so far in our quiz, but the
interesting results that have emerged from it. There was plenty of evidence to suggest students are being involved in their own target setting, individual tracking of pupils is common, and clearly defined assessment policies are shared.
Shared accountability in learning, between teachers, pupils and parents, has proven to be a powerful approach in – and outside of – the classroom. Having a clear understanding of targets and how they will get there, means pupils are prepared with life skills to help them become self-motivated, goal driven and focused workers. Beyond just tracking, including students in their own target setting allows better engagement and shared responsibility of learning.
We hope the weaker areas that emerged, such as personalisation of the school’s curriculum and opportunities for students to have meaningful discussions with teachers about learning are improving in schools, and that these disappointing results from the quiz will spur school leaders into honing these vital areas. Teachers are pressed for time during lessons, but conducting structured, meaningful conversations about learning can be highly effective as an alternative to written feedback, which pupils largely ignore, don’t understand or don’t act upon.
We hope that our quiz results help you pinpoint some of the strengths and weaknesses of personalised learning being practised in your own school and give you some ideas about where to go next.
Matt is the CEO of Learning Ladders and a former school teacher.