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Think Different - This year’s ‘Let Teachers SHINE’ winners on how to engage disadvantaged children

  • Think Different - This year’s ‘Let Teachers SHINE’ winners on how to engage disadvantaged children

Graham Cooper, head of product strategy at Capita SIMS, looks back on some of the ideas and suggestions raised at a workshop attended by the some of the most innovative teachers in the country…

Organised by the education charity SHINE with support from Capita SIMS, the annual Let Teachers SHINE competition seeks to recognise and honour the country’s most innovative teachers, highlighting their fresh and novel approaches to increasing attainment in core subjects. Those chosen as the winners receive grants to develop their concepts, with the ultimate goal of improving teaching practice, attainment and progress for all.

This year’s winning teachers (pictured) recently came together at a workshop to discuss the methods and approaches they themselves have used to help disadvantaged pupils achieve at school, and how to ensure that every child is able to fulfil their potential. What follows are some of the ideas, suggestions and tips that emerged…

1 Deliver innovative lessons
Some teachers found that traditional teaching methods worked less well for disadvantaged children, compared to alternative approaches. One teacher suggested that many children learn better when able to move around. Purposeful movement in the classroom, involving tasks such as watering plants or sharpening pencils, had been found to help reduce behaviour problems and allow children to enjoy a feeling of space.

Others noted that older children should also be given similar freedom to explore the classroom. One secondary teacher described giving students practical tasks and allowing them to work out how to complete them either independently or in groups. Classroom layout was further cited as having an impact on how pupils learn, with one delegate recalling how he adapted a U-shaped seating plan he’d seen at a business school and used it in his classroom. He found it made pupils more engaged, since there were no opportunities to hide at the back of the class.

2 Create a positive mindset
The assembled teachers had found that many of their disadvantaged pupils lacked confidence in themselves as well as their abilities, and needed extra help to become independent learners.

One teacher described how all pupils at his school, including the very youngest, were encouraged to use words such as ‘resilience’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘empathy’, which helped the children embrace these concepts and work towards them.

Another teacher talked about how her school rewards behaviour, rather than the result. A child will be praised for their resilience if they don’t give up on a difficult task, for example, even if they struggle to get the right answer.

There was some discussion of parents can do to help their children in become more positive about themselves, such as avoiding statements like ‘I’m rubbish at maths too,’ so that their children believe they can improve. One teacher went on to suggest that pupils must to be able to learn from their failures; that failure itself is not a bad thing, so long as they have learned something. Someone else suggested that pupils could take ownership of their learning by being told to say, ‘I can’t do it yet, but I will be able to.’

Another teacher explained their innovative approach to helping pupils show how well they have understood parts of a lesson, without drawing attention to themselves. The children place one of four coloured cups or cards on their desk or hold them up as follows:

Red: ‘I am stuck and need help’
Green: ‘I am getting on with it’
Yellow: ‘Come and see what I’m doing’
Blue: ‘I know how to do this and can teach someone else’

3 Explain what it’s all for
Some delegates felt their disadvantaged pupils didn’t understand why they were learning, and needed to be shown the bigger picture of where their education could lead.

One teacher suggested that when teaching a new topic, it can be helpful to describe how the skills learned can be used in later life – using Pythagoras’ theorem to work out how much wood to order for a shed roof, for example.

One teacher explained how, when confronted with the sentence ‘There’s no point in learning this’ from students, she challenges her students to go on Google and prove to her that they will never need a particular skill in real life. If they can prove it, she tells them, they will be let off learning the skill. She has yet to have a student return after being set such a challenge.

Another spoke of their school’s ‘Meet the Expert’ programme, whereby parents come in and talk about their jobs. This had helped students understand what they can achieve by working hard at school, and breaks down barriers to ambition. In another school, similar talks were given by former alumni, thus showing current students how people just like themselves had succeeded.

4 Get the basics right
The majority agreed that disadvantaged children can lack basic skills, making it hard for them to progress without the right foundations in place. One delegate felt there was something to be said for rote learning in certain circumstances to build such skills, even if such an approach is currently considered rather outdated.

Another teacher suggested that flashcard questions could be a useful way to reinforce learning – but that rather than show the answer, the reverse of each flashcard should instead reveal a hint to discovering the answer, thus encouraging students to uncover the actual answer for themselves. This helped ensure that students remembered the information more readily next time, while also developing their transferable problem solving skills.

Others commented on the help disadvantaged children needed in developing their social skills. One secondary teacher recalled an otherwise able student who had been excluded from other schools for poor behaviour. By challenging her inappropriate language, while at the same praising her work, student learnt how to behave and went on to gain a university place.

There was further agreement that softer skills needed be captured and praised too. One teacher spoke of how she praised a boy in her lesson who struggled with maths, but who had demonstrated advanced social awareness and empathy by comforting a classmate.

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If you have a top tip for engaging disadvantaged children that you’d like to share, tweet your ideas to @teachwire or @CapitaSIMS. Further details about the Let Teachers SHINE competition can be found here or at the SHINE website.

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