Dawn Davis is a sports lecturer in South London. Dawn draws on 21 years of experience to reflect on her initial reaction to HOW2s, their impact on her teaching, as well as the changes she has seen in learner motivation, results and the transfer of learning to the workplace.
I have been in the teaching profession in FE as a lecturer in sport for 21 years and have taught many, many learners with varying learning challenges ranging from lack of self-belief in their ability to learn, (for some, this stemmed from previous learning experiences), to learners with different learning challenges such as dyslexia autism or ADHD, lack of motivation or willingness to learn or needing/wanting more challenges in their learning. I have explored many teaching and learning strategies over the years which I hoped would address some of these issues, with some success, however I had never found/used a teaching tool that was effective in meeting the needs of an eclectic array of learners in the same lesson, at the same time, there was always something additional that I had to include within my teaching that ultimately distinguished between the different levels of abilities of learners, such as the use of differentiated worksheets or extension tasks, whilst this was not necessarily a bad thing, I wanted my learners to experience learning in an environment where teaching, learning and assessment were interconnected and seamless. I wanted my learners to be able to connect with their learning/subjects/topics in a way that was fun, interactive, promoted self-efficacy and which did not divorce them from their peers regarding level of learning ability and which provided them with a high degree of autonomy, but in all honesty I was never quite able to find the right tool to achieve this.
When I was introduced to HOW2 as part of CPD I must confess I thought“oh no, not another teaching tool which my learners will not gain from and which I will not be able to use effectively” nevertheless it was part of CPD and so I explored it a little. I remember signing up and absentmindedly skimming through it and coming across one or two cooperative learning strategies such as applying snowball, think pair, share and Jigsaw that piqued my interest, I loved the layout and how easy it was to navigate, there were clear simple instructions to follow and I could immediately envisage how I could use some of these strategies to engage my learners, I experienced that Eureka moment!
As part of CPD, teachers had to select a HOW2 strategy to try out in a lesson and invite the TLC to observe and provide feedback. I selected‘Applying Snowball, I liked the fact that it was very much learner-centred and provided some degree of autonomy that I had been seeking, it involved the learners working closely with their peers and more importantly, learning from each other, as some of my learners seemed to connect better with information taught by their peers. What I loved about Applying Snowball was that it allowed learners to come up with concepts of their own and to debate ideas. Once I had organised the groups, set the task and posed the question I wanted the learners to think about and to respond to individually, and then discuss and respond to in pairs and then in small groups, I sat back and observed the lesson. It was wonderful to observe the engagement of learners, how well they worked with each other and how productive they all were. I was prepared to prompt and motivate individuals, but this was not necessary as they were all contributing to the task, this was something that rarely happened within my lessons, where all learners were continuously involved and where one or two learners didn’t encounter a stumbling block which ultimately led to them sitting back and allowing others to take the lead, contributing very little to the task.
Knowing your learners is key in personalising their learning, for example, for this task we looked at key considerations for undertaking a fitness training programme. I knew every learner would be able to contribute to this discussion but at their own level of knowledge and experience and that I would be able to assess all learner’s existing knowledge through the completion of the task, their contribution as well as the use of open Q&A- using this particular HOW2 strategy. It could be said that most teaching strategies would provide this opportunity, and in most cases, this would be an accurate statement, but in my case, as previously stated, I would generally have to find differentiated ways of assessing the different levels of ability but which did not necessarily inform me in regards to value-added in newly gained and retained information, this would then lead to a somewhat fractured and unstable lesson (in some cases). I wanted teaching, learning and assessment to be explicit to anyone observing my lesson, I wanted to‘tap’ into the learner’s curiosity for learning and to maintain autonomy.
Applying snowball was one strategy where differentiation was explicit within the task and without the use of differentiated worksheets or extension task. This strategy simply enabled the learners to provide information using their own existing knowledge. It lent itself to the pairing/grouping of learners to ensure a mix of ability and where peer teaching would be effective, and individuals could associate with the task and recall information as well consolidate information and store this within their memory bank. The feedback I received from the TLC for this lesson was very encouraging with the assessment identified as a strength.
Since then I have also used jigsaw which my learners absolutely enjoyed as it provided them with the opportunity to become the‘teacher’ and facilitate the lesson, this teaching strategy in particular assisted learners in developing their research skills, presentational skills as well as their speaking and listening skills. It is was also useful as a peer teaching and learning tool and provided complete autonomy where the learner was able to benefit from peer teaching and demonstrate their own knowledge (which they love to do).
What has been the impact of HOW2 on teaching and learning?
I am now able to provide a much more inclusive learning environment where the different learning abilities are much less apparent, and value-added is a little more explicit. I have observed some behavioural changes in some of my learners in terms of retaining information, more focus and improved attendance. What is really wonderful to witness is not only the achievement of higher grades for those learners predicted to achieve a pass level, but for most learners, the ability to apply what has been learned in a work experience based setting, for me, that is the ultimate and the true testament of learning, it could be said that HOW2 is not a miracle cure for addressing the vast learning challenges teachers encounter or for changing an observed lesson from a 3 to a 2 as there are additional elements to be factored into this, but I can only speak from my own experience, having HOW2 as a reference point has made such a difference to my teaching and the development of my student’s learning. In my opinion, it is such a valuable tool for seasoned professionals and novice teachers alike, and one which I will most definitely continue to explore.