Extreme Learning – claims for competence

 Our Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) met yesterday for the second session on Learning and Teaching.  As I explained earlier this week we focussed upon Extreme Learning and experimented with the process and explored possible assessment models.

Reading the feedback it would appear that responses to the session are something of a curate’s egg – some people loved it and others felt confused and possibly exploited.

What did we do?

I introduced the session by reminding them of the purpose and rationale behind Extreme Learning. I then suggested that in they would hopefully gain something which they might employ in their own teaching – and not necessarily through using Extreme Learning.

It was a fine line to tread between giving the groups too much direction – which would result in uniformity of response – and enough direction so that they were clear about what they had to do.  The truth is – as I explained – that this was an experiment – where we were the participant researchers.

Each group (4/5 people) – which was cross sectoral – and had an observer who acted as the ‘metacognition’ for the group – was to select a research question and then provide an outline of how they would tackle this task if it were an Extreme Learning Project.  The groups had flip charts, pens and bluetack but no accesss to computers or any other resources.

In the introduction I explained how the four capacities would act a framework for the process – “we need to “do” some of these things in the course of our project”.  I also reinforced the point about Intellectual Challenge and the need for depth and breadth within their project. The teams had 90 minutes to complete the task before they posted their work on the walls.  I told the group we would be looking at assessment at the end of the 90 minutes but that assessment would focus upon the four capacities and the intellectual challenge.


How did we do?

It was apparent that they actually needed much more guidance than I had given about the way in which to construct a good research question.

The groups also needed more guidance about the assessment fromat – which we couldn’t do as it was to emerge as part of the process.

Some groups selected questions which were about education – such as transition from primary to secondary – this confused the issue as they were looking at how they could develop the four capacities as part of transition, yet the purpose of the project was to develop the four capacities in the writer of the project (through through the project process) – if you can follow that?

We proved that this paper-based approach towards starting an Extreme Learning Project can work – it is not dependent upon access to technology.

It was fascinating to see how the afternoon group did in  comparison to the morning groups – simply down to the fact that there were models on the wall which gave them an insight in to the task- the morning group were working blind.



How did we assess?

At the end of the 90 minutes the groups were asked to go round the room and reflect upon the other projects.

Using reference to the four capacities and intellectual challenge – they were asked to rank their own performance in relation to their peers (not to rank their peers), for example – “we ranked ourselves 3rd out of 9”.

They were also asked to identify three things they might do next time to improve their project.


What did we learn?

People who are going to try Extreme Learning projects would benefit from doing some sort of paper-based group exercise in the first instance.

There must be clear guidance – preferably with modelling – of what a ‘good’ research question looks like; how the project is to be assessed – they can’t go in blind which is what the NQTs really did.

Having access to exemplars – such as those around the walls – is of enromous benefit to the learning process – the on-line access of projects would facilitate this.

It emerged – particularly in the afternoon session that there might be an parallel between what NQTs have to do to gain ‘full registration with Genaral Teaching Council, Scotland, and assessing the four capacities.  The idea of “claims for competence” is a powerful one.

In other words, lets say I do a project – and I know that something I’m doing in the course of the project – let’s say intervewing old people at an old people’s home – links with being a confident individual and successful learner – I can make a “claim for competence” in that area.  My project provides the evidence partiucularl;y if my claim can be validated by peers and otheres (teachers, adults).

Intellectual Challenge was weell accepted by the group and it became apparent that many of the projects did not facilitate ‘depth’ in any way until it a suggested that this might be an isssue.  It was at this point that some groups said “well we could dig down into this particular aspect” – and that would appear to be the answer – depth does not need to be uniform within a project – but can be a specific focus within a broad peice of work.

“But what about plagiarism?” – I didn’t think this would be an issue oi we could focus upon the importance of the projects being about developing skills and knowledge and not the summative result.  If we can highlight that the only person to suffer by copying huge tracts of texts from other sources is the person doing the project then we would have made real progress.  Similarly the project which gets “done” by the parent would be thing of the past – however a child and parent could work together in a productive way but with the focus being on developing the four capacities of the learner.

Having access to on-line “real’ projects has enormous potential in providing a real Zone of Proximal Development which would engage and encourage learners to raise their ambitions and aspirations for their own work


The secondary school curriculm was highlighted as being too full to do anything like this.

“What about exam results- we can’t take risks like this” – what have we got to lose?- was my response.  The evidence from the recent cross-sectoral shadowing make disturbing reading – with both primary and secondary NQTs being amazed at the general levels of disengagement of secondary pupils in comarison to their younger peers – and that disengagement being directly related to what children are being asked to do in class and the structure of the curriculum.

“So many secondary teachers see Cuirriculum for Excellence to be another thing they have to add on to the curriculum as opposed to being enbedded within their practice” – perhaps the “claim for competence” approach has some merit here? – for example – if I’m teaching a lesson and I know that it will make certain demands oin the childernw chin  relate to the four capcities then I just need to be aware of this and don’t need to change anything. However, there may be other capacities which I never develop in my classroom because I don’t provide these sorts of opportunities through my teaching – the answer lies not in changing the curriculum but in how I structure the learnig process!!

“What about lack of access to ICT?” – we showed during the session that ICT is not necessary – ICT is only 5% of extreme Learning yet it holds the key to the ZPD, modelling and portfolio concepts. Most of the work can be done at home to follow up on the planning and dialogue which can take place at home. We need to explore how we support those few children who don’t have ICT assess at home.

“Would all the curriculum be delivered this way?” absolutely not – we must have a focus upon Disciplinary learning in our schools as well as process but some of the lessons for teachers in implementing Extreme Learning will undoubtedly lead to  changes in the way that even disciplinary learning takes place.

In understand the frustration of some of the NQTs who came along to the session expecting to be given something in terms of new information. Perhaps that’s the reality of Extreme Learning – it changes the relationship between teacher and learner in a fundamental way.

I am indebted to the positive way in which everyone engaged with the task on Thursday – I can only apologise if you felt exploited – that was certainly not our intention.


4 thoughts on “Extreme Learning – claims for competence

  1. I am surprised you have had such a mixed reaction to the session. I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. Although the term ‘Extreme Learning’ is very familiar to most of us, the detail of what it entails, and the chance to explore it in more depth was very welcome. But perhaps my expectations were tempered in advance as, having read your blog beforehand, I knew what was on the agenda! Certainly my group all seemed to find the afternoon informative. Perhaps the more negative feedack arose from frustration – many NQTs would be motivated to put this into practice, but the reality of the situation is that without a job most of us won’t be in a postition to do so.
    And I’m all in favour of your healthy eating policy too!

  2. I don’t work in your Authority and have often thought that the sessions you offer your teachers sound exciting and stimulating. This one too.

    And I read recently on a blog (was it Ewan’s?) about people reading but not commenting, so I’ve decided to let you know my thoughts this time…

    I’m surprised that you don’t mention that the better performance of your afternoon group would have been partly because, with the experience of the morning group’s reaction to the outline of the task, you might have explained it better the second time around!

    And I can well understand the benefits of having the exemplars of the morning group’s work there for the afternoon group. When putting together our claims for APEL for Chartered Teacher, one of the things we all desperately wanted was to see portfolios which had been successful.There weren’t many around when I did mine, though you could and can still, see some by going in person to the GTCS. How good it would be if they were more readily available? It’s not that people want to duplicate or plagiarise from what they are shown, but just that we all want to be able to understand what is being asked of us, and seeing something that has been considered to meet the criteria is reassuring.

    I was also thinking this must have been a stressful session for your poor probationers. From my conversations with probabtioners and 1st year teachers round here, I know that any will have been feeling under pressure due to the job situation. Is there a chance that some will have felt that their performance in this task was somewhat under inspection? And that their job prospects might be enhanced or otherwise by their performance? Education Authorities are known to be small communities where word of mouth and reputation are easily linked. What effect would that have had on their engagement with the task, their satisfaction with the outcome and thus the feeback they gave?

  3. Dorothy

    Thanks for the comment – it really does make a difference when people make a contribution – and does have an impact upon how I think.

    You’re absolutely right about my being able explain it better the second time around – I’d learned from the morning session and forgot to mention that in my post.

    Perhaps people were worried that they were being assessed in some way – although I did point out at the beginning that this wasn’t “The Apprentice” or “Big Brother” and it was the outcome we were focussing upon – but people always have their own perception of events.

  4. Hi Don,

    As part of our probationary year, Hazel and myself are completing a small scale research project about ACfE.One of our research questions is “What is ‘our’ school doing to meet the four capacites of ACfE”. We would like your views on what ELC is doing as an authority to encourage and support schools with ACfE and what your personal views are on the success of it so far.Any help you could give us would be much aprecciated

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