Moderation: a Learning Strategy for Teachers

Recently I’ve spent a lot of time in moderation meetings with many of our PYP teaching teams and our Instructional Coach for Literacy. Moderation is one word in a school that will make a number of teachers panic. Sadly, there’s an assumption that this is code for ‘let’s catch the teachers out’ – and I get it. I’ve been in schools where that was true. But moderation is a powerful learning tool for teachers, and consequently one which improves learning for our students – so we have to find ways to challenge that negative connotation and transform moderation meetings into powerful and positive experiences for teachers.

Recently our moderation has been focused on writing.  We follow Lucy Caulkin’s Writer’s Workshop which connects well to many (not quite all) of our units and is strongly focused on the process of writing rather than only the end product.  

Preparing for Moderation

As leaders, we ask teachers to bring the entire writing book/folder of each child.  This I think, fed into some teacher panic, but far from trying to ‘catch them out’ we were trying to help teachers.  We want all the work, from every student as often discussions in these meetings flow from one skill to another and between different students.  If a student, or group of students, didn’t complete a particular lesson for some reason the teacher can still draw on other examples of them working on the same skill.  Bringing only 1 example of student learning would have limited our options for discussion significantly. Once we began to explore examples of skills, many teachers were flicking back and forth between different pieces of work and different students. 

Whilst teachers gather student writing, we select skills we’re looking for.  I’m fortunate to with Ken Bence, an outstanding Literacy Coach, who took this on and identified skills and strategies new to each grade level, or that formed critical building blocks in later grades – and then found lessons which would allow students and teachers to practice these skills. These would be our starting point for discussions. 

Progress over Product

The reason we moderate for specific skills is that we want to look at growth.  Moderating the final product is valuable – it helps teachers understand standards, outcomes and fairly evaluate student learning and achievement.  It wasn’t our focus here though. We wanted to see how students were developing particular skills – what evidence do we have that they were getting better, that our approach to teaching and learning was working?   

Focus Points

If you put teachers in a room and asked them to talk about their students learning, you could lose days.  We’re a passionate profession – we love these kids. It’s our greatest strength…and it means meetings need a clear focus if we don’t want to lose track of time! 

So here’s our focus points:

  1. Identify skills (and discuss significance) 
  2. Look at examples: describe how this lesson/skill development went in your class, share successes and challenges
  3. Identify as a grade: What was challenging? What things do we need to monitor? Where there patterns in what students found tough? 
  4. Share best practices/ideas/strategies to help each other
  5. Identify as a grade: What was successful? What strategies worked? What helped kids connect? 

Discussions

Once we’d located examples of students working on our target skills the discussions between teachers moved quickly.  There was a lot of sharing of what was challenging 

“A lot of my students found this hard…”

“A few of the children didn’t seem to understand…”

This flowed smoothly into sharing tips, tricks, strategies and ideas to get around this;

You have a student struggling to group sentences into paragraphs? You could try having them cut them apart so they can see the ‘break’ between them.

A student is struggling to go beyond a superficial attempt to edit? Try using different colours so that they can see more clearly edits and revisions they’ve already made. 

We also shared successes – what had worked well for teachers? Which VTRs and graphic organisers were helping students clarify and expand on their thinking? Which read alouds and anchor texts were proving to be powerful for student engagement? 

By the end of each meeting, teachers had shared experiences, gained new ideas (or remembered some they’d not used in a while) and been able to trouble-shoot together.  It was truly a collaborative learning opportunity for teachers. This is what moderation should be.  

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