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Research review

This week we will explore the idea that effective partnerships, in a range of forms, are central to the learning experience of girls. Read this extract from the Effective Pedagogies for Girls’ Learning report.

Do you think the girls in your classrooms would respond similarly? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Whenever focus group interviews with students form part of research projects, the outcomes are similar (MacBeath et al,2003; Rudduck & Flutter, 2004; Younger et al, 2005; Warrington et al, 2006), such that it is remarkable that texts on pedagogy do not highlight these insights more explicitly. In the research in the GDST schools, for example (Younger et al, 2013), most effective lessons were characterised as having a clearly visible and articulated structure, with a “high impact start which takes our interest and gets us listening and involved; the teacher intrigues and captures us”.

The lessons where “we learn most have a format which is explained … but not only this, the teacher keeps to it, we can follow it through and see where it is going and where we are … everything is set out carefully, there is good pace, clear explanations which are repeated where necessary”. But girls stressed that lessons needed flexibility, “to cater for things which arise and we don’t understand”, and teachers needed to create a sense of security, with a clear direction and helpful prompts. Many times, girls stressed the importance of the teacher offering a coherent summary at the end of the lesson, so that “you know what you should have gained from lesson … if you do not understand, then you know what to ask about, and seek extra help”.

High value was also placed on lessons which offered variety and interactive approaches … role play, games, “groupwork to get different opinions, to share ideas and get more ideas”, hot seating activities in drama, “making cake volcanoes”, participating in historical debates. An emphasis on collaborative learning was also welcomed because “groupwork encourages learning … you share and discuss ideas … you can try things out … you can compare with other people, learn from other people, realise when you need to do better”.

Significantly, though, interactivity does not always mean variety, because there is the need for space and time to complete tasks properly: “We know it’s tricky for teachers, but it is soooo important to get the pace right, to give extension work which is interesting not boring, and to give us time to learn… sometimes teachers try to create a whirlwind of activities, and it gets too much”.

Many of these points are well-rehearsed, of course, in initial and continuing teacher education courses, about the nature of effective lessons, but there are subtle variants in these descriptions by the girls, and challenge to some accepted strategies, particularly in regard to pace, variety of activity and independent work. Equally, girls commented on the particular effectiveness of lessons where teachers allowed a dialogue about learning … “how you learn, what you are not understanding, the purposes of activities … the need to continually ask questions to clarify learning”.

When they learnt best, girls stressed that the teacher actively taught them, was not simply going through a set of routines but challenged, demanded, offered explanations in different ways, got girls to teach each other… “teachers find clever ways of explaining things … showing things … helping you through the difficulties”. In such a context, “lessons are not exactly fun, because you are always on the alert, but you get a huge sense of satisfaction because you know you are learning, and you feel secure and good about it”. Then, as several girls noted, “the lesson is actually a partnership in learning” and “you learn loads”.

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Girls' Education: Teaching Strategies That Develop Confidence, Resilience and Collaboration

Girls' Day School Trust