Published on: 09 Feb 2016

The data we extract from GL’s Cognitive Abilities Tests (CAT4) is rich and multi-layered, but most useful for us is what I call the Verbal Deficit – the gap between a child’s Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning

How do we support the ‘Hard to Spot’?

Merely identifying the #hardtospot students (see previous blog post) is without benefit without the implementation of effective interventions to support each and every one of them. At Bromsgrove International School Thailand, it is these interventions which constitute #themonalisaeffect. Schools worldwide bandy about spurious claims of ‘Personalised Learning’, but we are determined to turn jargon into measurable reality.

The data we extract from GL’s Cognitive Abilities Tests (CAT4) is rich and multi-layered, but most useful for us is what I call the Verbal Deficit – the gap between a child’s Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning. Students at Bromsgrove typically have a high Verbal Deficit, but it is those with the largest gap whose identification is most critical. This can then inform our various interventions aimed at accelerating their acquisition of academic, spoken and written English.

We are very clear upon recruitment that every teacher at Bromsgrove is a teacher of EAL, but our team of specialist EAL teachers retains a particular focus on those students with the highest Verbal Deficit, whether through mainstream support or, sometimes, withdrawal. We then use the NGRT (New Group Reading Test) to assess, biannually, their progress, and we also maximise their exposure to high quality language by ensuring they do not languish in low-ability sets.

However, the majority of our interventions, in our pursuit of #themonalisaeffect, are in response to the attitudinal scores from the PASS survey. First and foremost, we aim to ‘validate’ this data, maintaining the human angle at all times: this is a complex and finely nuanced process which requires teachers to ask searching questions about their own preconceptions, prior to careful and sensitive conversations with the children themselves. After that, we employ a variety of invisible interventions – intervene too visibly and we risk undermining the process and contaminating the data from future survey cycles.

Sometimes, this might take the form of a strategic shift for the school, as has been the case in our response to what was a low, institutional score for Preparedness for Learning or for Response to Curriculum. We have adapted our unique PSHE programme, BEAM (Building Effective Attitudes and Mindsets), to incorporate a specific focus on metacognition and ‘learning to learn’, and we have also introduced vocational pathways post-16. Often, however, the intervention will focus on small groups, perhaps in terms of reducing risk aversion and fear of failure, or increasing students’ role in shaping their own curriculum and learning.

Indeed, it is this final thrust which I believe will hold the key to the greatest attitudinal improvements, and which I am exploring as the main research focus of my doctorate with Bournemouth University’s Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP): to what extent can a child’s attitudes to learning be measurably improved through greater democratisation of her learning experience? If PASS tells us where attitudes are flailing and drowning, any and all subsequent efforts sincerely to democratise learning could be the lifejacket ultimately rendering those attitudes buoyant again.

Matthew Savage, Deputy Head of School, Bromsgrove International School, Thailand
Follow Matthew on Twitter @savageeducation 

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