April 23, 2019, by Rupert Knight

What does continuous provision mean to you?

With the perpetually increasing pace of change in education it feels hard to keep up with new initiatives. Often when we do catch our breath we realise we haven’t fully grasped what the new jargon means or how we should be improving practice, sometimes we see repeated patterns and at other times we catch up just as others are moving on to the next big idea. In this post Carmen Mohamed considers the importance of a shared understanding of key ideas and the case of continuous provision specifically.

Defining terms for shared understanding

Education is a nebulous beast most probably caused by the unclear defining of well used terminology. Anyone who has spent their career grappling with new initiatives is regularly confronted by an old fashioned pedagogy, long lost in the mist of time and change, reinvented as a brilliant new solution with a new name. Whole class reading, guided reading, carousels, the integrated day, games for building memory, are all pedagogies which were commonplace in a 1960’s and 1970s classroom. Terminology in education contains assumed knowledge, we all assume that we are interpreting the term or phrase in the same way.

Take ‘play’ for instance, does every member of your staff mean the same thing every time they use this term? What about ‘just playing’, when did you last hear this phrase about learners in your classroom? Sometimes we take fashionable styles of teaching and learning and neglect to situate them within the context which helps us to interpret the evidence effectively. Indeed, before he retired, Howard Gardner toured the UK in 2000 and elsewhere to explain how his 1992 seminal work about Multiple Intelligences had be misinterpreted or reinterpreted.

Not so long ago Bruner’s (1962) enactive, iconic and symbolic modes of learning were revamped as VAK with the significantly important mental imagery lost in the misinterpretation. This new fashion was so far removed from the theory underpinning this way of reflecting on learning, since few of us had studied the original evidence, but it was quickly assumed that we all meant the same thing. Recently, Bloom’s (1968) teaching for Mastery became a hot topic in classrooms with a departure from the three-part lesson to incorporate a more focused teaching strategy. (Mastery is another term which has different meanings depending who is interpreting it in the classroom, as explored in an earlier blog post in this series)

And the latest pedagogy to be revamped as a new technique is as old as the hills but has a new name; Continuous Provision. I have yet to hear one clear explanation for how this approach to learning is making the transition from the EYFS to Key Stage One. Why does this matter if we are all working hard to draw on effective pedagogies to enhance learning for our pupils?

My concern is that as the development of beginner teachers is a shared responsibility between academics and classroom practitioners, we have differing expertise and different roles to play in the shaping of the next generation of teachers. Having a common understanding of the terminology and pedagogies is essential if we are to respect the daily teaching of each other. By way of beginning a conversation about what ‘Continuous Provision’ means in the context of Key Stage One, I offer my own interpretation and hope you engage with the discussion.

Continuous Provision in key Stage One

In a classroom which engages with learning through continuous provision, both the teacher and the environment enable learning as co-constructors with the pupils. This pedagogic approach draws on Vygotsky’s theories of social constructivism through collaborative work and the use of the ‘More Knowledgeable Other’ to move learning through zones of development. Or as Bruner and Bloom might suggest taking the procedural skills taught directly by the teacher and consolidating them by applying the concept in a range of contexts to develop Mastery. This is most effectively enacted through what used to be termed ‘carousels’ of tasks, each task structured by the teacher to enable the pupil to work at their individual pace whilst learning from each other. The practice and consolidation of concepts helps pupils to embed the learning as the effort of learning is a personal one.

When executed effectively in an enabling environment, pupils are taught skills such as self-regulation, perseverance, self- efficacy and responsibility, as well as developing mastery over the concepts they are currently studying. The teacher’s role as co-constructor is to ensure that the tasks and activities have a clear learning purpose, provide sufficient challenge, offer problems to be solved and encourage automaticity through the range of applications.  Providing pupils with a sense of autonomy over their learning can have the added benefit of freeing up the teacher to provide more directly focused teaching to groups of learners without the need to control each group. Given challenge and responsibility for learning requires that the purpose of the task must be clear for the pupils and the outcomes recorded (by them) as evidence of understanding. This is not an easy method of teaching to introduce to pupils, or teachers for that matter, who have no prior experience. However, much research would direct primary classrooms to spend time developing these approaches in order to create more effective learners. Pupils who know how to learn as much as what they should be learning are able to develop knowledge.

There seems to be a new wave of continuing this approach across all Stages of a primary school, some of the arguments for the role of this approach can be found for discussion in  earlier posts in this series on finding a place for inquiry and the dialogic classroom.

Planning for learning through CP

Just as in the EYFS where ‘child initiated’ learning is not about choosing but about making good learning choices, CP in KS1 is about taking responsibility for extending or practicing what I have been learning. Teachers still need to have high expectations of the learning happening in CP, so the children need to be aware of the purpose of each task they carry out. For example:

– If the children are learning about the significance of character through the class text, the teacher will read a pertinent chapter to stimulate thinking and discussion, key features will be explored as a whole class.

– The pupils will then move on to work in collaborative groups to develop their understanding of how a character is developed or exposed in text through pedagogies such as:

  • ‘hot seating’ which develops questioning skills,
  • freeze frames which can develop empathy with characters,
  • artefacts to extend and enhance vocabulary,
  • conscience alleys or thought tunnels to explore underlying issues or dilemmas facing the characters.

Each of these activities could be selected by the pupils or could be experienced as a carousel, but the expectation should be that the experience supports a depth of understanding about the concept of building character in plots.

In maths this approach is especially helpful in moving pupils from procedural understanding to Mastery as they apply the skill they are learning to a range of tasks. The tasks will be structured by the teacher to ensure the learning is situated in the activity and the pupils are clear about the purpose. It gives pupils plenty of opportunity to practice a procedure in a meaningful way. If we consider maths as only symbols on a page then it is difficult to explore the concept in any depth, fractions and percentages are meaningless without the opportunity to enact and interact with the concepts.

I welcome the move to CP in KS1 and am happy whatever it is called if it means we are giving pupils autonomy and responsibility for their learning. I am curious, though, what has prompted this move and wonder if it is directly related to the new OFSTED framework rather than to our reflection on developing effective pedagogic practice. If it is a reaction to OFSTED, history tells us that it is likely to lead to the development of assumed knowledge rather than skilful practice. Either way if we can begin a discussion about the purpose and execution of CP in KS1 we will all be a stronger place to support our beginner teachers.

I hope to engage in a dialogue with colleagues through the blog:

Discussion points

  • How do you employ continuous provision in your classroom?

  • Are you clear about the purpose of structured activities in the enabling environment?

  • How do learners demonstrate their understanding?

  • How do you balance the pace of progress with the depth of understanding gained from collaborative practice?

  • What do you see as the benefits for learners?

  • What do you see as the benefits for you as the teacher?

Posted in pedagogy