Presentation of Learning Night: Parents’ Evening with a Twist

After reading Ron Berger’s ‘Ethic of Excellence’ and watching the mightily impressive High Tech High clip with their CEO, Larry Rosenstock, speaking about his philosophy of education, there seemed to be one common thread that linked both men’s view on education:

The power of publicly exhibiting and critiquing student work so their peers, teachers, local experts and parents can examine the work and offer specific and helpful feedback. Specifically, the positive affect this public exhibition can have on student commitment and motivation to produce high quality work consistently.

A worthwhile link here is to Jamie Portman’s blog posts that summarise his visit to High Tech High in San Diego, California. Essentially, every single part of the school is one giant exhibition of student work and peer feedback (the corkboard and sticky note idea is just one simple, yet exceptional feedback strategy) with the students responsible for designing and creating their own displays.

With all this world class practice in mind, myself and Matt Dooling (@MattyDooling) decided to replace a traditional parents’ evening format with an interactive, ‘presentation of learning’ night with our Year 12 BTEC PE classes. Here is how we planned and executed the night:

With all this world class practice in mind, myself and Matt Dooling (@MattyDooling) decided to replace a traditional parents’ evening format with an interactive, ‘presentation of learning’ night with our Year 12 BTEC PE classes. Here is how we planned and executed the night:

Student trying to duck! Not for long...

Student trying to duck! Not for long…

Aims

  • To give students and parents an opportunity to compare their own/child’s work against their peers, hopefully learning from their own and others’ assignments
  • Improving our BTEC students’ communication skills, engage with and take responsibility for their own learning and quality of work, stimulate student reflection and use the work displayed as a basis for discussion and target setting
  • To share our BTEC PE course structure and unit content with parents, other local schools who teach BTEC PE and experts in individual sporting fields
Discussing progress: BTEC PE student with parents and Mr Dooling.  Work displayed in the background

Discussing progress: BTEC PE student with parents and Mr Dooling. Work displayed in the background

Format

  • Students were asked to exhibit two assignments from a range of units up on a board in an open plan classroom. Students were only told which two assignments they needed to display close to the night itself to ensure everyone involved received an honest picture of student progress so far (so students couldn’t cheery pick their best assignments – we encourage consistent effort across all units of work)
  • The assignments were fully and correctly marked – although it didn’t matter if the student hasn’t met all the marking criteria
  • All success criteria (assignment briefs, teacher feedback sheets) were displayed along with the work itself. This was especially helpful for parents and the local expert coaches who were in attendance
  • Students were still allocated a 10 minute formal slot with a member of our PE team to discuss their general attitude to learning and progress so far, whilst referring to their work displayed up on the board. A conversation then took place between a member of staff, student and their parents regarding the quality of the student’s work
  • Before or after their formal appointment students and parents looked at other students’ work to compare the standard – an open door policy
Local rugby expert with Mr Pickup, parents and a BTEC PE student

Local rugby expert with Mr Pickup, parents and a BTEC PE student

Visitors

  • Members of the senior leadership team at Wilmslow High School attended
  • Other local secondary school PE teachers from Poynton High School that run their BTEC Sport course were invited to compare the quality of the work between both sets of students and discuss any teaching and learning ideas with our PE team
  • Local experts (Premier Football Coach Ltd and RFU coaches) analysed relevant assignments and discussed the content of these assignments with the students to check their understanding
  • Current year ten and eleven students and their parents were invited who are contemplating choosing the BTEC Sport course when the progress to our sixth form. This increased their understanding of the course that they will potentially be studying in the future – is it the right fit for them? Will the continuous coursework assessment style suit their learning and working habits?

The feedback received was extremely positive from all involved:

  1. Parents left with a much better understanding of how the BTEC PE course works with all its intricacies – how many units are studied / assignments that need completing / success criteria / marking policy etc…
  2. Students, through being able to discuss their work with their peers, local coaching experts and teachers from other schools had a clear sense of what level they were currently working at and what they needed to do to improve. They discovered whether they were producing work of an exceptional quality or, in fact, were coasting and capable of working harder and to a higher standard
  3. Wilmslow High School and Poynton High School PE teachers found the evening to be a useful, informal collaboration of sharing best practice, especially the delivery of similar units, comparing the quality of student work and BTEC Sport marking policies. This will serve both departments well moving forward throughout the BTEC Sport course this year and in the future.

Finally, this email received from a member of our SLT made our PE team feel this experiment was worthwhile and should be built upon for future ’presentation of learning’ nights:

Dear PE team,

Really impressive: a huge step forward in terms of how we make students more accountable for their quality of work. Some really positive feedback from parents who now have a much better understanding of the course and of how they can support/monitor their son’s/daughter’s work.

So, why not try a little experiment that could revolutionize your school’s parents’ evenings? Instead of teachers and parents dominating the traditional ten minute parents’ evening conversation why not flip the model and allow students to lead the learning conversations?  For one thing, it will stop all those nasty dry mouths we’ve all experienced from talking for three hours non-stop!

3 thoughts on “Presentation of Learning Night: Parents’ Evening with a Twist

  1. Pingback: New Ideas for Parents Evening « Look and Learn

  2. What a great demonstration of how to customise the proven practice of High Tech High and Ron Berger in the field of presentation of learning for introduction it into a UK school event. Impressive!

    We get so stuck in our ways and yet look at the gain from changing something in response to reading and research. Your practice highlights how unnecessarily conservative we all are. What is especially striking is the care you took to get real-world experts and colleagues from other schools to attend. You didn’t play at this but invested in it properly.

    We are pursuing a similar developmental journey to yourselves and have played over time with the following developments: changing the rules (on one occasion “No Powerpoints”; on another “No Noticeboards”) to cut off the opportunity to stand by a resource and rely on it to do the talking; insisting on a didactic element, so that exhibitors have to teach to visitors at least a section of what they have learned; having learners collect critique on short proformas from visitors; and having the experts in at the start to give the provocation with the clear understanding that they will be back to see the presentation of learning.

    Really looking forward to watching your practice develop and stealing your good ideas!

    Mark

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