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Student co-planners can make teachers’ job easier

– as well as improving the students’ motivation and self-esteem, as this programme from SSAT members Parliament Hill School, London, demonstrates…

This article first appeared in the Leading Edge Leading Change Special Edition – Innovation Grants 2014-15 publication.

This school’s student co-planners project grew out of a previous student leadership project in which students observed lessons and gave teachers constructive feedback.

Taking it a step further, students themselves identified the value of planning lessons with teachers, particularly with trainees or with NQTs. They wanted to help teachers to plan interactive, differentiated, engaging learning. From the teachers’ point of view, co-planning lessons with students had the potential to raise achievement.

Less threatening

The project also had the advantage of being far less threatening for teachers, many of whom found the student observations daunting.

The project was piloted with carefully selected students from the ‘high learning potential’ register. Students who were interested in this were interviewed formally for the role, unpicking their motivation for wanting to co-plan lessons and to judge their sensitivity and communication skills.

Successful interviewees were then trained to work in pairs, in partnership with teachers, to understand confidentiality and be able to provide suggestions and feedback in a positive manner. There were initially 14 Y10 students and 16 Y8 students successfully co-planning with teachers.

The pilot was exceptionally successful and the student co-planners became embedded into the life of the school. The next step was to widen the group of student co-planners, to include students with special educational needs and students for whom English is an additional language.

Parliament Hill School

Spreading the message to other schools

Co-planning became integral to the school’s student teacher and NQT programmes, and was included in several programmes the school runs across north London, eg ‘consolidating outstanding’ and ‘strengthening pedagogy’.

Student co-planners also ran excellent mini-workshops at induction day for new teachers on ‘what makes a great Parliament Hill School teacher?’; and for student teachers on ‘what makes a great teacher?’ and ‘what makes a great lesson?’

In the four years the project has been operating, just over 200 teachers from London schools have co-planned lessons with students. Without exception, teachers rated the experience as ‘excellent’, ‘extremely useful’, ‘inspiring’ or even ‘amazing to see how much students understand about learning’.

In a recent example of the programme, the achievement team leader for year 7 identified 10 students with high learning potential plus an additional learning need who she felt would both benefit from being involved in the project and who would have a great deal to offer teachers. Learning needs ranged from autism, dyslexia, hearing impairment, EAL and selective mutism.

As before, the project was explained to students and they were invited to express an interest. All ten students chose to go ahead.

The training morning included deconstructing a lesson to look at how the various components impact on learning and then suggesting a range of other learning strategies that could achieve the same outcome.

The students also had a practice run with volunteer teachers, working alongside experienced year 8 or year 10 co-planners. The new year 7 co-planners were then paired up with older, experienced co-planners and assigned their first teacher. For year 8, they will go on to co-plan without this support.

Parliament Hill School

Assessing impact

  • 24 teachers have co-planned with the year 7 co-planners. All evaluations indicate that this had helped to ensure that students’ diverse learning needs were better met. One visiting NQT co-planned an entire year 7 physics scheme of learning (SoL) in an hour!
  • Students worked with teachers on reviewing the transition year 7 SoL, created in 2014 to significantly increase the challenge in the first term at secondary schools.
  • An external review of the co-planning project indicated that the project had had a positive impact on students in terms of confidence, communication with adults and in their belief in their ability to have a positive impact on the world around them.

One parent contacted the school to say how delighted she was for her daughter, who had struggled with communication at primary school, to have been given the opportunity and how it had made her more outgoing and raised her self-esteem.

Suggested advice for other schools

  • Start small, recruiting the students carefully so you are confident about confidentiality and sure that students will keep appointments.
  • Make the co-planning voluntary at the start, except for student teachers and NQTs. If it is good, it will soon grow.
  • As part of the training, ask your most positive teachers to volunteer to come and help you by bringing a lesson for a pair of students to practise co-planning. Teachers will then leave full of praise for how well the students did this and word will get around that it is a worthwhile project.
  • At the start, take the time to ask students and teachers how their co-planning session went. They will feel valued and you will be able to pick up any glitches quickly.
  • Reasonably early on, ask a teacher and the students s/he co-planned with to present to staff, showing an example of a co-planned lesson.

Visit Parliament Hill School’s website.

Follow Parliament Hill School on Twitter: @ParliHill

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