Reflections on Lesson Study

12 October 2017

Author: Ian Herlihy

How do you change practice?

Research and our own in-school evaluation show us that children attain better when they are in class with an ‘expert’ teacher.  Rosendale Primary School has a number of Lead Practitioners who are outstanding classroom teachers.  They are the school’s ‘experts’.  This year, their remit is to showcase their teaching to help others to become ‘experts’ themselves.

This week, lead practitioner and year 3 teacher, Ian Herlihy reflects on his first lesson study session of the year.

I have been reflecting over two key questions that were brought up by colleagues during the post-lesson breakdown of my first lesson study session, taught in my year three class at Rosendale.

The first question that was discussed was whether sand timers to support children with concentration needs always worked as a help, or if they could end up a hindrance. I use sand times to support children who need the work broken down into smaller steps, and I feel they provide a visual aid and countdown to the end of an activity. I can even remember as a child myself being given a sand timer myself and tasks to complete before the teacher returned and for me, as a child, this was invaluable. The steps were made clear and could always see how much time I had left before the teacher would return.

The discussion that came up after the lesson was about how distracting the sand timer can be for some children, who will sit and watch as the sand slowly filters through the timer rather than picking up their pencil to start writing. The sand timer can also become a medal of honour that needs to be shown off and admired by others in the room. It wasn’t until the post discussion that I became fully aware of this – we like to think as teachers that when we turn our backs to speak to another child we can trust all the children in the room to be getting on with the work. We know deep down this isn’t always the case and my colleagues fed back to me that, unbeknown to me, once my back was turned the sand timer was turned multiple times by a child. We know that we can’t see everything that goes on in the room and unfortunately, we’re telling fibs to the children when we say we have eyes in the back of our heads! These incidents will occur without you realising, which is why it’s fantastic to have another set of eyes in the room during lesson study.

Our discussion then developed on to how we could give children the small steps they needed without giving them the sand timer. One suggestion that was given was to write the time in the margin and every time you returned to the child you write the time again. You could then have a discussion with the child to see if they thought they had written enough in the given amount of time. That very afternoon I took away the sand timer and wrote the time in the margin, to my surprise the child raced ahead. The sand timer that had become a medal of honour was gone and there was nothing left to distract the child but the expectation of the amount of work still remained.

The second question we discussed in great detail was the power of scaffolds to support writing. I have been a keen advocate of picture word mats since I started my career in teaching working with younger children in the school, however, the time and effort to make a word mat can sometimes be a time-consuming addition to the resources made during our three-hour planning session. This all changed when I was introduced to a program called Inprint. The hours taken to find the perfect picture or search Twinkl for a word mat with all the words I needed was gone. All I needed to do now was type the word and the picture would appear.

I think once you enter KS2, teachers can easily forget about the resources that the children used in KS1, or it is perhaps assumed that children know how to use them or that they don’t need them anymore. I use word mats in my English lessons every week with my Year 3 class, and whenever I model writing on the board I always use a word mat to reinforce to the children how to use it. My class also love playing the game ‘Word Mat Bingo’. I call out a word and they have to find it on the wordmat and call out, BINGO! I always carefully pick the words that I know the children are going to need for that lesson, that way they won’t waste time trying to find the words.

Another scaffold that I use to support writing is sentence starters. These have become invaluable in year 3 as all my children are now able to start a piece of work without the adult having to be there the moment they start a written piece of work. This came up in the post-lesson discussion –  one of my writers that needs support waited for me to come over to help them but got bored of waiting so just started the written piece using the sentence starters. As a teacher on my own in class when my children do their English lessons, it is so important at the beginning of the year to take the time to invest in these strategies so the children develop the ability to support themselves independently in their writing. This goes hand in hand with our ReflectED approach to learning – children develop the awareness of what resources and strategies help them learn and begin to use them independently to become better learners.

Ian Herlihy
Year 3 Lead, Rosendale Primary School
Posted on 12 October 2017
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