Teacher doing practical lessons with students at Fountains High School
Andrew Maddox doing practical lessons with students at Fountains High School

A teacher at a special school in Stretton went back to being a student to complete a research project which has transformed lesson planning at the school. 
Andrew Maddox, head of department at Fountains High School, has completed a year-long research fellowship with Nottingham Trent University. It was done through the Esteem Multi-Academy Trust, which Fountains High School is part of. 
The project allowed him to investigate how a more practical style of teaching, using experiential learning, could help students with severe learning difficulties (SLD) engage in lessons. 
The results have shaped not only the way he conducts lessons but also how he has planned the curriculum for pupils with SLD at Fountains High. 
“When I’m planning my lessons now, I always think now of how I could make this a practical lesson, it has flipped the way I work,” said Andrew. 
Andrew monitored eight students during normal lessons to get an idea of how they engaged with lessons ordinarily. He then continued to study their engagement over three cycles of English lessons, analysing the ways they engaged and interacted with the lesson content when it was done through experiential learning. 
“We were learning about the book Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the outcome was to get them to do a piece of writing about a time when they were the subject of bullying or something unkind,” explained Andrew. 
“Normally we would go straight into storyboarding ideas and then writing, but instead I flipped it so there was an activity to start. 
“They acted out a scene from the movie of the book, which we watched some of, and we talked about how they felt during the scenes. 
“Then they had a think of a time they had experienced unkindness, and they drew pictures to show a storyboard of this, and then acted those scenes out. Again, we stopped to ask how they were feeling at different points in the scene. At the end, they used their storyboards to then write a small piece. 
“I often find that students with SLD can struggle to imagine scenarios if they haven’t experienced them so imaginative writing can be challenging. But at the end of this way of learning, we got some brilliant bits of writing.” 

And the assessments and monitoring of the students, which Andrew had support from other staff in recording during the lessons for his research project, showed that engagement throughout these ‘active’ lessons was higher, with students asking questions, giving their attention to the topic and completing the piece of work expected of them on their own. 
Andrew has now finished his research project which has given him points towards doing a Masters Degree at a later date if he wishes. And while he still hopes to do that at some point, when he isn’t as busy, he says he has been able to immediately bring the results of his study back into the classroom at Fountains High. 
“While I was finishing my research, I was in the process of writing the curriculum for the Connect department, which is for pupils with Severe Learning Difficulties. It meant I was able to bring in the learning from my research to feed into that and so now there is a more practical element to it with more life skills-based lessons and trips out of school.” 
Andrew said he was keen to do more research with larger cohorts and different schools but was currently focusing on his senior leadership qualifications before deciding whether to return to his research. 
“The research fellowship was really worthwhile, and it gives you the change to think about what you are passionate about and I know since I have done it, I have become much more experiential and am always thinking how I could make lessons practical,” said Andrew. 

Julian Scholefield, Chief Executive Officer of Esteem MAT, said: “At Esteem MAT we take great pride in ensuring our staff have access to state-of-the-art professional learning opportunities. 
“One notable component of our continuing professional development (CPD) offer is the Research Fellowship, conducted in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University. 
“Over the last two years, numerous colleagues have successfully completed this year-long teaching and learning project, earning a Masters-level accreditation. This initiative is designed to immerse our staff in evidence-based research, fostering a culture of inquiry through reflective educational practice.

“Simultaneously, it provides the essential time and tools to support and challenge our educators, encouraging them to evolve into more reflective practitioners dedicated to securing optimal outcomes for all learners. Notably, several Fellows have embarked on Trust roles within our Expert Team, and Jolene Carter, Head of Centre at Esteem South, has started the full Masters in Education with NTU which is sponsored by the Trust through the Kevin Dean Scholarship Award. Excitingly, we anticipate launching the next cohort in September 2024, further enriching our commitment to professional growth and excellence.” 

This story was written and shared on behalf of Esteem Multi-Academy Trust by Kirsty Green. Can we share your news and get you in the headlines too? Find out how we can help by getting in touch.

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