Friday, 19 April 2013

Follow Jim Smith, he's right behind us

Just a quick post tonight, having got home and sat down with a cup of tea after a long week. Over the past few days within my school we (the SEN & learning support team) have started a discussion about how we respond constructively to students who come to over-rely on support staff, often approaching them habitually with quite trivial issues.

One of the many books I've been dipping in and out of recently (I tend to never actually complete any book these days!) is 'Follow me, I'm right behind you - Whole School Progress, The LAZY Way' by Jim Smith. The author also wrote the hugely popular 'The Lazy Teacher's Handbook: How students learn more when you teach less' which is also laying around my house or office somewhere. Both books share the same theme - re-focusing teachers and support staff on the learning process rather than the teaching process, with students doing the thinking & talking rather than the adult taking centre stage.

In our discussion about this kind of learned helplessness, I recalled Jim Smith's advice on how we could respond when a student cries 'help I'm stuck!' or words to that effect. Jim Smith suggests that rather than leaping to a student's aid, we can respond (kindly) with phrases like:

"Well think about someone you know who doesn't get stuck with this problem, what do they do?"

"OK, what did you do successfully last time you were stuck on a problem like this?"

"Imagine I wasn't here, what could you do to help yourself?"

I think that if said sensitively, and with a touch of humor, these could be prove quite useful for both the students, and ourselves, in trying to foster the independent thinking skills and self-esteem that some of our students can lack. It is certainly something I intend to try out within my own classroom over the coming weeks.

Jim Smith also advises we go further by creating 'More Progress Coaches' whereby students who demonstrate good problem solving skills provide peer-mentoring to other students - with the students delivering the peer-mentoring receiving training and a level of kudos for performing such a role. This is also an initiative the Sutton Trust reports to be high impact for relatively low cost.

Another interesting idea is creating a 'help wall' (either online or more traditionally as a display) where students can post up common problems relating to learning and the social side of school, and from there, other students then provide suggestions. Again, I think if this is carried out in a carefully thought through way it could prove useful. 

Sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most effective - and of course, all of these are very cheap to run!

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