Saturday, 29 March 2014

A RAG123 epiphany

Our PGCE student had a real lightbulb moment with RAG123 this week... It emphasised to me that it is way more than a quick way to get books marked...

(as a respect for anonymity I will refer to the PGCE student  as "PG" for the rest of this post).

First lesson blues
It was PG's first lesson teaching a particular group, having only observed with them up to now. The group has a few characters in it who will always test out a new face in front of them. I wasn't observing the lesson myself but afterwards PG came to see me, clearly quite disappointed in what had happened.

In PG's view the group had not bought into the topic that had been taught. It was intended to be a lesson that picked up from earlier knowledge and then moved them into more advanced ideas. However PG felt that the students had just decided that their earlier knowledge was enough and they had rejected the more advanced method, and really not engaged with the lesson at all. This view was based on the verbal responses of a number of students during the lesson which shaped the general feel of the group (this "feel" was also backed up by the teacher who was observing PG teach).

I talked with PG about why they felt this way and what they could do to make sure that the next lesson was more successful. Now obviously part of this is a planning/experience thing for PG - at times like this it is important that the students can appreciate the need for the more advanced technique, so the earlier plan probably needed to include a way to demonstrate a flaw with the existing knowledge, creating a conflict that can be resolved with the new methods. We discussed that this might be where to start the next lesson. However I also encouraged PG to go and have a look at the books to get a wider view than just those more vocal students. (This group have been using RAG123 regularly since November so I was hopeful they would have given some comments/reflections) 20 minutes later PG came back to see me...

Perception from the few, reality from the many
Having reviewed the whole class's books and RAG123 self assessments PG's view of the class, and of the lesson was vastly changed. It was clear from looking at the work actually done by the class that the majority of the students had engaged with the lesson much more successfully than either PG or the observer had thought.

I emphasise - the observer was an experienced teacher who had been present for the full lesson, and they had also formed the perception thought that the majority of the class had failed to engage with the learning. However the work done by the students proved completely the reverse - the majority HAD engaged; the perception was dominated by the vocal few who had been more resistant.

Vitally with this information PG is now able to plan activities for the next lesson that align with where the class actually ended the last one. This starting point is MUCH more advanced than would have been the case if the lesson plan is based solely on the perceptions they ended the lesson with. It also allows a more effective demonstration of the gap between the students who were resistant than those who actually engaged but were less vocal.

Fundamentally PG has moved from feeling really disappointed about the progress of the whole class to being much more focussed on taking action to secure better engagement and progress for the relatively few individuals who shaped the overall perception. It's gone from a whole class issue to an issue involving only a few students.

More than marking, RAG123 is TEACHING
I've seen occasional sceptical comments about RAG123 (from those not using it), suggesting that teachers should use more than just looking in books to judge pupil's understanding or detect misconceptions. I completely agree with this perspective - I've never suggested that RAG123 should be used to the exclusion of other assessment methodologies. Abandoning any one method to the exclusion of others is rarely a good strategy for anything.

What this tale really highlights though is that the perception left at the end of a lesson for both the teacher and the observer was VASTLY different to the reality as shown by the student's work. Clearly there are questions about use of AFL strategies during the lesson - perhaps the right plenary or assessment method would have shown this up; then again it might not. However there is no doubt that without RAG123 the next lesson for this class would have been MUCH less effective.

This is a demonstration that RAG123 isn't just marking. The strongest bit is that it gives a way to connect with the class that is based on fact (e.g. what have they actually DONE) rather than perception (e.g. how did the you think the lesson went?). Shaping planning in this way means differentiation is more effective, less time is lost in either catching up or waiting for the perceived progress of the class to reach the desired level.

I know that PG is now completely sold on RAG123 as a way to make sure planning is effective....

All comments welcome as always

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