Example of an average no bias profile

This example shows the profile for Bisset Billy for whom all four scores are average (stanines 4, 5 and 6) and the overlapping confidence bands for the four batteries indicate an even profile of average scores. Bisset has standard age scores of 92, 93, 98 and 99 on the Verbal, Quantitative, Non-verbal and Spatial Batteries respectively, placing him in stanine 4 or 5 on each battery.

This is a no bias profile, demonstrating verbal reasoning and spatial abilities in the average range.

  • The student may achieve at an average level in most areas of learning, including writing, discussion, paired work and creative tasks, and the profile indicates similarly average skills in visualisation and working with pictures, diagrams, 3D objects, mind maps and other tangible methods of learning. However, teachers should ensure that high expectations, the sharing of clear learning intentions, the use of challenging questions and the creation of opportunities for the student to demonstrate their learning are all integral to the learning environment.
  • The student may not show a clear preference for specific learning methods but will benefit from a variety of active teaching approaches such as modelling, demonstrating and the use of simulations.

What does this look like in the classroom?

It is important that teachers do not lower expectations for students with an average no bias profile. They should:

  • Identify learning objectives that support all student aspirations. It is better that teachers do not ‘differentiate’ using the language of ‘all students, most students, some students’, but instead provide one common objective, for example, Describe and explain the way in which blood circulates around the human body.
  • Setting higher expectations across the board works positively for most students – ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ – and helps to develop a culture of aspiration and an acceptance of challenge as part of the learning process.

Every class is a ‘mixed-ability class’. There is always a range. … I’ve found that it is a win-win to cater explicitly for the highest attaining students in any group: to ‘teach to the top’, pitching every lesson and the general thrust of every unit of work to stretch them. In doing so everyone benefits.

Sherrington (2017)

Given that a significant number of students in any group will fall into the average-achieving no bias category, it is important that teachers use their classroom management skills to help raise the group level of achievement while paying close attention to the learning demands of all students in this category.

The effective teacher understands that scaffolding support for student learning is the gateway to achieving independent success, and examples of effective strategies are provided below.

Examples of strategies for an average no bias profile

Teachers should be focused on using strategies that encourage these students to move securely from guided practice to independent practice. The aim for average no bias profile students is to develop the independent learning skills that above average no bias profile students are already likely to possess.

One key finding from cognitive psychology is that subject experts approach a problem differently to non-experts. Experts are more able to discern pertinent information from the irrelevant information presented, which decreases the load on the working memory. They are more likely to select the most relevant process to solve a problem, and then attend to the degree of success from that process and change tactic when needed. Experts have better retention of new relevant information (these factors will be returned to in the section on metacognitive skills).

For example, experts in chess are very good at remembering arrangements of pieces on a chess board, but only when the arrangements are from a plausible game. When pieces are arranged implausibly or at random, chess experts have much less memory advantage over non-experts (Chase and Simon, 1973).

The relevance of these considerations for education has been covered by the National Research Council in Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment (2001), which calls for a complete rethink to curricula and assessment in the USA, and leads to the formation of ‘learning progressions’ based curricula and schemes of work (Gallacher and Johnson, 2019). Even without a ‘learning progression’ based curriculum, the interplay between expertise and skill learning will still be a relevant consideration for teachers. The strategies below cover related ideas about how expertise can be communicated to learners of average performance and no bias.

1. Scaffolding learning

The tasks and activities that students should be aiming for are what Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is simply the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what can be achieved with the support of a more knowledgeable other (MKO). The MKO need not be a teacher – it could also be a fellow student or a carefully developed resource. This principle is often simply called ‘scaffolding’ and it is important that – as with the support provided for a new building under construction – the ‘scaffolding’ is removed once it is not needed. In this way, students can make progress through a series of clearly defined steps.

Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first on the social level and later on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals.

Vygotsky (1962)

A lot of the teaching strategies presented here build on the ideas of memory, expertise and ‘scaffolding’. Readers who are particularly motivated to understand more about how these principles can be applied to develop thinking skills themselves are recommended to read the Let’s Think! Handbook: A Guide to Cognitive Acceleration in the Primary School. Drawing on years of research into applying a family of cognitive intervention programmes, the handbook covers skills relevant to the primary curriculum in literacy, maths and science, using the material to develop general thinking skills.

2. Small-step learning

One key assumption of this approach to teaching a group of students is that the teacher has a clear understanding of the students’ starting points. It is crucial for the teacher to know what the learners already know: their prior knowledge and skills.

Many teachers will know this strategy as part of a KWL activity: finding out what children Know, what they Want to find out and, finally, identifying what they have Learned. Using a KWL grid in the classroom will give teachers a good idea of what is already known and provide a structure for students that shows where they are going in their learning journey. This, and other similar strategies such as quizzes at the start of a lesson, is an essential part of ensuring that the greatest number of students in any group have accessed and learned as much new knowledge and skills as possible.

The use of KWL grids has another key function in the learning process.

One of the lessons from cognitive psychology is the understanding that learning anything new is directly related to our ability to make connections with related previous learning. This goes back to our understanding of working memory (see page 10) that the memory system prefers a few chunks of information to lots of little bits of unrelated information.

Teachers, therefore, need to identify clear objectives for most activities that are designed to show new learning. In this way they will ensure that students have a clear end goal in mind. Hattie calls this “showing students what success looks like”. What this looks like in the classroom will be demonstrated in the guidance for the below average no bias profile student, Elena Mazzoni (see page 38), and in the guidance for the relative weakness in the Quantitative Reasoning profile of Aelwyn Probert (see page 105).

Thinking carefully about the delivery strategies used in the classroom, teachers have to match the choice of activity with the intended outcome. Good teaching is not limited to one pedagogical approach: progressive or traditional, student-centred or teacher-led, enquiry learning or direct instruction. Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence that promotes the effectiveness of good, dynamic teacher instruction in the classroom, and the research of Rosenshine and others clearly illustrates this. Rosenshine’s 10 key strategies are:

  • Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning
  • Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step
  • Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students
  • Provide models
  • Guide student practice
  • Check for student understanding
  • Obtain a high success rate
  • Provide scaffolding for difficult tasks
  • Require and monitor independent practice
  • Engage students in weekly and monthly review

For further on modelling see page 62.

Much of this is not new and good teachers are likely be using these strategies in their classrooms. However, the systematic adoption of such practices will benefit all students’ learning and help to support learning for the individual profiles identified in this document. Teachers will find references to many of these strategies in this profile guidance document. As a quick reference, the infographic representation of the 10 principles developed by Caviglioli (2016) is a very useful tool. It can be found here: https:// teachinghow2s.com/blog/principles-of-instruction.