Developing student independence – Plenary Leaders



The blog for Creative T&L by jkfairclough

I would argue that all teachers do want their students to become independent learners. However as Mike Gershon aptly points out in his blog there is often a gap between the teacher’s intentions and day to day classroom routines.  In terms of the quality of teaching & learning, much focus at Aldridge School had been placed on ‘reducing the amount of teacher talk’ and various in-house training and resources had been put in place to address this. However as SLT lead for T&L I wanted to shift the focus onto developing the independence of our students and enabling them to take more ownership of their learning. I was further inspired by Matthew Moore – an excellent member of the English faculty who had been successfully using students to lead parts of his lesson.

Together we decided to train up Year 7 students to be able to confidently lead a number of plenary activities. In doing so we wanted to develop their independence and confidence and highlight the importance of students leading their own learning. There was a desire to shift the focus from the teacher onto the student and encourage a more organic approach to the sharing of good practice across faculties.

So how does the project work?

Introduction to the training session

In the Autumn term two Year 7 students from each tutor group are selected to receive a one hour training session

  • In this training students receive coaching on: the purpose of a plenary is, how to lead three different types of plenary and tips on how to manage the class.
  • They also watch an example of a student-led plenary on video and discuss questioning techniques
  • Three quite common and relatively easy plenaries are used to begin with. They are: ‘Three in a row’, ‘Taboo’ and ‘True or False’.
  • Each plenary has the same key elements: the learning objectives must be referred back to by the student leader at the start of the plenary and must  remain the focus of the plenary and all students must take part.

    plenary leaders
    Student log book
  • Each plenary leader aims to completes ten plenaries in their log books, in order to receive a Headteacher certificate. After each one, they receive brief written feedback from the teacher.

So what next?

We want to continue to develop the project with Year 7 students in 2014-5. Before we re-launch next academic year we want to get feedback from those  involved in the pilot and use this to help review, evaluate and tweak the project.  We are keen to video more students leading plenaries and use this to promote the programme further with staff and the rest of the student body.  We also want to make more use of existing leaders by giving them opportunity to train other students to take on the role.

Watch this space!


Teacher-led CPD

jigsaw-puzzle-missing-piece-16215587The blog for Creative T&L by jkfairclough

I experienced this idea on a smaller scale at my previous school but the sessions were sporadic and not always well attended. I myself had often been frustrated with numerous INSET days that allowed little time for reflection or development of practical applications.Reading this article from The Guardian on a new vision for professional development I was convinced by a need for schools to move away from a one-size fits all approach and provide a more varied and personalised programme.

When stepping into SLT for the first time in September 2013 my key responsibility was T&L. I strongly felt that the tools to ‘achieve excellence’ lay within our own staff and that increased opportunities to share best practice would support this. I was keen to reorganise the approach to CPD to include more opportunities for staff to develop their own CPD programme. Developing a programme of ‘tea-time tasters’ led by staff, for staff seemed to be fit perfectly.

In September 2013 all staff were surveyed on T&L using Googledocs. The initial idea was that staff would identify their own strengths and areas for development across teaching & learning. The findings were analysed and common key areas for development identified.  Myself and members of the Extended SLT put in place a programme of tea-time sessions ranging from ‘Using ICT’ to ‘Showing progress’. We have approached staff to lead sessions and the Lead Learners in each faculty have also played a key role in planning and delivery.

These tea-time sessions have been held monthly and been led by teaching staff either individually or working in pairs.  The sessions have proved popular with between 14-30 staff attending after school on average. DSC_3748During these sessions staff have presented research on the theme and then shared practical applications for the classroom. The advantages of this model for me are clear:

  • Whole staff regularly contributing to teaching and learning
  • A continuous focus on teaching and learning issues
  • An opportunity to share best practice
  • Staff take ownership of their professional development

This programme will be repeated in 2014-5 with some tweaks. Myself and my senior colleague will work together to identify the areas for development using lesson observation data that has been uploaded to Bluesky education. This bespoke programme of CPD will be further enhanced by the introduction of a coaching offer for all staff and the appointment of 4 Teaching and Learning coaches. 


Thanks to Chris Hildrew for inspiring me to write my first blog!