The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Opinion: Read, discuss, repeat

Jamie Orr writes about professional reading and collaborative learning

My enthusiasm for professional reading began when I started to train as a primary teacher. Coming from a corporate finance background, I was struck by the wealth of accessible literature available to teachers. My old job didn’t generate the kind of career-focused literature to help me in my role.

One of the first educational books I read was given to me by a friend. It was aptly named, How to Survive Your First Year of Teaching. Thankfully, my trusty teacher survival book got me through my first year and proved to be a very useful asset. Over time, I was guided to lots of other fabulous books, which were filled with fun, practical and useful ideas to try in the classroom. A firm favourite to pick up when in need of inspiration is Talk-Less Teaching by Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman. This has lots of ideas for creating engaging lessons and establishing solid classroom routines.

Spreading the word

In my mind, reading professional literature is arguably the easiest, quickest and best way to learn. I began to sense, however, that not everyone was aware of the rich resources that were out there. To increase awareness and get others on-board, I decided to start an in-house professional reading group. In creating the group, the aim was to get interested teachers to reflect collaboratively on short pieces of literature.

Five teachers signed up and we began our reading adventure with John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers. I was struck by my colleagues’ commitment and enthusiasm to take part in the reading. Some teachers went on to find more reading and share podcasts related to John Hattie’s work. (Turn to page 36 for more on Hattie’s Visible Learning resources). The group met monthly for 30 minutes, typically reading about 40 pages in preparation. The impact of our reading became evident quickly, with some members instigating pupil evaluation surveys in order to aid our teaching reflections. This group offered colleagues the chance to take part in meaningful discussions and read professional literature on a more regular basis.

authro-jamie-orrTaking reading to the next level

As the group entered the second year, I wanted to attract more colleagues. After careful consideration of which book to move onto, I decided that something with well-researched pull-out strategies would be the way forward. I chose Active Assessment in English: Thinking Learning and Assessment by Stuart 
Naylor, Brenda Keogh and John Dabell. This book did what it says on the tin: it provided a great stimulus for discussion in the use of active assessment to spark pupil-led thinking and discussion in lessons.
Our group went from having five to eight members, with meetings having even more buzz, rich thinking and discussion. Each session, colleagues reported back on at least two strategies they had previously used in the classroom and keenly shared their reflections in relation to their teaching. Group members went on to develop their use of formative and summative assessment as a result of the reading and discussion.
To promote the reading and learning of the group more widely, we set up a group display board in the staff base. Here, teachers outwith the group were able to see what we were reading, discussing and trying in the classroom. This was popular and even sparked discussion about pupil thinking and learning, in the photocopier queue.
Clearly the enthusiasm and new initiatives from our nucleus group has impacted upon others as this year, 13 enthusiastic colleagues volunteered to join our increasingly popular professional reading group. Currently, we are reading How I Wish I’d Taught Maths by Craig Barton, which has been well received and has resulted in continued rich discussions. This then led us to the work of Barak Rosenshine on the Principles of Instruction.

Putting theory into practice

From the reading, teachers have considered carefully how pupils think and learn and have shared that they consciously use this knowledge when planning lessons. Using the suggested good practice, members of the reading group have been making new use of diagnostic questions and are regularly revisiting learning in lessons.
Just as importantly, the regular meetings are providing valuable opportunities for members to share their experiences and use of new teaching theories. Members of the group will be running workshops to share learnings and experiences more widely. The hope is that the wider school will also benefit from all of the great literature out there.
Looking around my work bookshelf now, I feel enthused and encouraged to be part of a profession where so much extensive research and literature is available at my fingertips. Through a love of teaching and a little of reading, my pupils, colleagues and I have benefited hugely from the work of fellow educators. I would encourage everyone to pick up a book and share it with a colleague.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jamie Orr is a primary teacher at Dunbar Primary School.