My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Establishing Pedagogical purposes

Pedagogy should at its best be about what teachers do that not only helps students to learn but actively strengthens their capacity to learn David Hargreaves, Learning for life, 2004.
This in a sentence is what pedagogical purposes are all about. The benefits are clear, greater teacher clarity, improved student teacher relationships and improved metacognitive thinking by students. These feature prominently on Hattie's table of effect sizes in positions eighth, eleventh and thirteenth respectively. The following quote from Ruth Deakin Crick bears this out and eloquently highlights the benefit with having a clear learning agenda and the sharing of pedagogical purposes.

there is evidence that the key themes which form the necessary conditions for building learning power in classrooms include the quality of the relationships between teaches and learners, the quality of dialogue in which listening to the ‘other’ is central to questioning and debate, the development of a locally owned language for naming these processes, student choice and voice, and resequencing the content of the curriculum, which involves problematizing’ and ‘contextualizing’ the content so as to create  challenge and meaningfulness  Deakin- Crick et al 2002.

 For me there are three ways of quickly establishing a culture of sharing pedagogical purposes in our classrooms. I think the enquiry based and Project based learning may be a more comprehensive way of doing this. However, the three strategies can be categorised as,

  1. Using specific tasks to stimulate a discussion around the act of learning.
  2. Stating and debriefing the pedagogical purpose of each "task"
  3. Increasing the number of metacognitive strategies used.
A splendid example of a task being used to stimulate discussion is the PEEL projects "Dirty trick" strategy (a full description of the strategy can be found on their website). Whereby students are asked to copy a set of notes, which are filled with errors and general nonsense.I like to distract them form this by titling them "Everything you need to know about..." and the like. Here's an example with living rocks that they never notice!

An example of Dirty Trick
Responses can be quite emotive- so use sparingly

I only use this sparingly as students could feel cheated, I love this example as it shows this student cares about what they learn. . If like me you spend a long time building up trusting relationships you wouldn't want to use it inappropriately, so a brief task of no more than 5 minutes is best. However, it does open up discussion about active and passive learning and responsibility. The students tend check and question information before they make notes and some even start to challenge the information I present. I always throw in a few silly ideas into the following lesson to check that they are questioning the information.

Increasingly, my lesson plans that I write that others use  highlight the strategy being used and how to debrief it. This helps turn a complete this task/ worksheet style of approach to developing student knowledge of possible strategies they could choose to use when working on a project or in a more independent way. The debrief of each of these tasks is vital. I normally ask the following questions.
  1. How did you go about using this tool?
  2. What was difficult about using it?
  3. What does it allow you to do? or Why would you use it again?
  4. Where would you use it again?
Question 3 and 4 are obviously there to facilitate transfer of the tool or way of thinking.

This AudioBoo highlights how readily students take to this, I love how they try to persuade doubters to the value, and is a chance for them to show how much they enjoy and care for learning. These students had just used a Whole Part Map for the first time. I think it also shows how it is necessary for the teaching of learning strategies to have a content/ real learning basis.

Students talking about whole part maps (mp3)

I always find this table useful in analysing the tools I use during my teaching.

Developed by Jill Flack.(PEEL)
 The final way of establishing pedagogical purpose with students is to increase metacognition. This can be inextricably linked to the debrief above. Although, I find that specific tasks as render positive results too. A favourite are the metacognitive wrapper tasks asked at the start of a session to prime the kind of thinking wanted (including content) and at the end to see how that metacognition had changed or improved their thinking. Again spending a small quantity of time discussing these often brings out generic strategies that some students use, allowing others to mimic their style of working.

A lot of these strategies can be framed through the use of SOLO taxonomy. It has a clear pedagogical purpose, to highlight what high quality learning woudl look like and providing structure and guidance to get there. The shared language mentioned in the quaote from Ruth Deakin Crick, is clear and unambiguous and readily picked up by students. And, through the clever linking of specific tools to the levels will add another dimension to the student debrief on the tool by asking "Where on SOLO taxonomy does this tool help you think at?".

So why should we share pedagogical purposes with students? This is succinctly summarised in the closing quotation.
‘Effective teaching … should aim to help individuals and groups to develop the
intellectual, personal and social resources that will enable them to … flourish … in a
diverse and changing world.’ ESRC TLRP Evidence-informed principles for teaching
and learning: No 1, March 2006


  1. I like flacks grid for debrief.. think I might try getting my students to fill out one after a task... Why have I had them do that? How does it benefit them? Me? Also like the idea of 'message lies'... Going to try that out!

  2. Its a geat teacher tool too.