Coaching for learning at Noadswood School

Learning Futures Evaluation Meeting  Noadswood School 31.01.11

Eddie and Jenny describe their professional learning in prototyping ‘coaching for learning’ with their year seven classes, as part of their Enquiry Based Learning project.  The project began with a  Hook Day, followed by a two week break, then the Enquiry Project which ran on for 5 weeks, although it was planned to be shorter than this.  Jenny was leading the ‘control’ group, i.e. Enquiry and no formal coaching, while Eddie was leading the ‘experimental’ group which included formal coaching, as taught by Sam Green and the Waitrose team.  The key theme offered by the teachers was ‘conflict’.  Qing collected a significant amount of data from students and observations in Eddie’s class, and which has been analysed and is presented below in summary form.

Key Strengths

  • The students were genuinely positive about the experience, feeling that they were in charge of their own learning, and  they felt that they had achieved new learning.  This was a first for them, and for the teachers and is something to celebrate.

Key Limitations

  • A lack of access to technology, particularly the internet for research,  proved a significant limitation to the enquiry process since students could be enquiring into a wide range of unpredictable themes.
  • A need to rethink the ways in which teachers structure the enquiry process for students. Both Eddie and Jenny adapted as they went along, however it was evident that handing over responsibility to students needs to be done carefully and progressively.

Discussion

The following points emerged from an in-depth discussion

1.       Jenny was not ‘officially’ doing coaching, nor had she been trained in depths with the experimental team. Nevertheless she reported that she unconsciously moved between being a ‘coach’ a ‘mentor’ an ‘expert’ and  a ‘counsellor’ throughout the process. The key vehicle for learning was the conversations between teacher and student/s and between students themselves.  Eddie was ‘officially’ doing the coaching,  but she found the open ended nature of the coaching relationship very stressful at times and adapted her role to include being a ‘mentor’ a ‘counsellor’ and an ‘expert’. The counselling role was described in terms of supporting students in their relationship hassles, and helping them to use TA to see the relational dynamics differently, and therefore get on better.

Therefore they think that the most appropriate way of understanding the role of teacher in enquiry is as ‘Learning Facilitator – who moves seamlessly between counsellor, coach, mentor and expert as the situation demands, using their professional judgement’. The key modus operandi is ‘conversation’.

So for some aspects of enquiry – such as deciding what a student is interested in, coaching is the appropriate mode, however team work may require counselling, whilst mind mapping, for example, could be done through mentoring.  Teachers act as knowledge experts when they recommend particular themes, resources or ideas.   Thus the Learning Facilitator is the best description which allows for professional judgement in particular situations, and requires expertise in the full range of process skills – relationships, knowledge construction, learning power etc . Once a teacher is expert in these she or he can then move easily between them in the art of facilitating learning.

2.       Beginning with a big theme, which was cognitive, did not engage students or lead to ownership or passion in the way the teachers were hoping.   Starting with something concrete,  and experienced and which the student is genuinely interested in, may allow for the students to generation of a range of different types of knowledge – i.e. experiential, narrative etc. and for building up a range of ‘information’ and ‘data’ which the students can then sort and manage.  The skill of facilitating learning  is in guiding a learner through the process of knowledge construction to a more rigorous outcome.

Qing’s findings

Qing analysed hours of student interviews and observations. Her findings are lengthy but are summarised here. They support the teachers own evaluation.

The three strategies of enquiry, coaching and learning power need to be integrated in order to be effective.  The focus is on understanding how they relate to, and support each other and how teachers can frame and scaffold enquiry so students are progressively given more responsibility for their own learning and their own pathways.  The challenge is for the teacher to provide a secure, tight framing of enquiry, whilst enabling the development of freedom and choice and thus student ownership of, and responsibility for their own learning. Students were all too easily focused on the product and not the process.  Coaching session around their own learning power profiles may help them ‘own’ their own learning.

Re-design   strategies agreed:

  • For teachers to act as Learning Facilitators, noticing when they move between different relational modes, and what works best.

  • To allow students to choose their own starting point in the next enquiry – using cameras to identify several concrete starting points, and then coaching the selection of one.
  • To develop a tighter and more shared language for learning – perhaps using metaphor and image.
  • To undertake coaching sessions with students’ learning power profiles and identify  personal targets for change through the enquiry.
  • To focus on tighter scaffolding of the enquiry – practicing strategies in plenaries before sending students off to engage in the next step.
  • To focus on the movement from descriptive to higher order thinking and problem solving.
  • Using a scrap book to foreground and assess the processes of enquiry.
  • To be more explicit about assessment criteria for the end product.


About the author

Simon Buckingham Shum

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