Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Clear vision, consistency and effortful practice


The latest issue of teach PRIMARY has just come out and there are two articles (at least) of note that are worth a look at.
The first, ‘Good education doesn’t change every time there’s a new secretary of state’, is about Belleville Primary School in Wandsworth. According to Jacob Stow, the head teacher John Grove has worked steadily over the past decade to raise standards and it looks as if he and his staff are succeeding. From a base of low standards and low attainment, the school was adjudged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in 2007, and has now been awarded the coveted ‘Teaching School’ status.
They attribute their achievements to date to clear vision and consistency. The ‘clear vision’ looks to have been inspired to some degree by a visit to Singapore, which has inspired the school to adopt a number of important practices, such as, for example, acknowledging the enormous value of research and allowing staff time out to pursue it. They have also employed a retired professor for one day a week, an idea I saw being used to excellent effect in Shanghai schools through an OECD video.
The other article I liked very much is by Mike askew and focuses on Singapore Maths. Its main message is that ‘productive dispositions’ are not born but develop with effortful practice. This could have been taken straight out of the research findings in K. Anders Ericsson’s The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. High levels of ability or even expertise in any domain require more than ‘nascent talent, initial task interest, and high quality instruction; [they] also involve personal initiative, diligence and especially practice’. (Zimmerman, B., Chapter 39, p.705).
In fact Ericsson and Lehman (1996) ‘found that measures of basic mental capacities are not valid predictors of attainment of expert performance in a domain, and systematic differences between experts and less proficient individuals nearly always reflect attributes acquired by the experts during their lengthy training’ (p. 10).
In other words, with high quality instruction, plenty of opportunity to problem solve and practise, and the encouragement of effort, all children can make substantial progress in mathematics, or anything else for that matter.
These are also precisely the principles on which Sounds-Write is based.

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