Welcome to Philips High Schoolâ€™S Teaching and Learning Magazine â€“ February 2013 - Sharing ideas with teachers! 1
2013…an interesting year so far! Well, four weeks back after Christmas and we get the dreaded phone call! 24 hours later Ofsted arrive!!!! We survived and we did a great job! Great team work, great support amongst staff and some great teaching took place!! Philips High School is a ‘good’ school and we should be proud of that as you all have a part to play in the final result. Well done everyone! The Inspectors particularly liked this magazine and found it a useful way of disseminating information regarding teaching & learning to staff. The articles this month relate to some of the issues Ofsted want us to work on a little more. They can see how much progress we have made in relation to marking and how teachers are providing more meaningful feedback to pupils, but it does still need to be consistent (that word again!) across subjects! The article on page 4 will hopefully make us think (particularly the last paragraph!). The inspectors raised the issue of questioning and how teachers need to ask more probing questions of our pupils at times. They really want us to encourage our pupils to work more independently and ask more probing questions themselves as well as answer them. The article on page 18 has a great selection of tips to help us with this. So, onwards and upwards! Next stop……Outstanding! Happy reading!! EPl 2
1) Work Scrutiny – What’s the Point of marking books? – Page 4 2) Behaviour Management – Page 8 3) Oral Formative Feedback – Page 13 4) Constructing learning SO THAT it is meaningful and purposeful – Page 17 5) Questioning – Top Ten Strategies – Page 18 6) Secret Teacher: we can't be outstanding every day, so why judge us on that? – Page 22
7) Monitoring Group Work : Charting its Progress – Page 24
8) Is there a right way to teach? – Page 26 9) This much I know about…how we teach reading skills to our weakest readers – Page 29
Work scrutiny – What’s the point of marking books? If you’ve never taken part in a whole school book scrutiny, I’d recommend it. Seeing how students treat their exercise books across different subjects is very revealing. I’ll happily agree that students’ books can’t give a complete picture of their learning and progress in particular classes but they certainly ask interesting questions about whether marking and presentation matter. Just for a moment, let’s assume we all understand and agree that giving quality feedback to students is the most important thing teachers can do. Let’s also assume we agree that while other forms of feedback may be equally valuable, teachers marking books is one of the most important and effective ways of ensuring that students are getting clear, timely feedback on how well they are making progress. This being the case, why do we waste so much time doing other stuff? Phil Beadle, in typically provocative style, puts it like this: You can turn up hungover every morning, wearing the same creased pair of Farahs as last week, with hair that looks like a bird has slept in it, then spend most of the lesson talking at kids about how wonderful your are; but mark their books with dedication and rigour and your class will fly. How To Teach Not only does this make me feel slightly better about my weakness for Pinot Noir, it also confirms what I’ve long believed: the more often I mark their books, the more effort they will put into their work. No effort on my part = no effort on theirs. So, at least on one level, decent presentation depends on marking. I may have entertained doubts about the importance of presentation before reading Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence, but not now. In it he sets out his manifesto for supporting students to create beautiful work. My ears are still ring with the words, “If it isn’t perfect it isn’t finished.” It’s such an inspiration to know that this is not just possible but actively worth pursuing. But it’s up to us to explain why sloppy work is unacceptable. If you want titles underlined, get students to think about the reasons and explain what the point might be; don’t just insist on compliance. Students will not value their written work unless we do. I suggest 4
regular Amnesty Lessons to ensure books are up to snuff; get students go back over their work looking for errors and correcting them and insist they take pride in what they produce. I have started referring to writing as ‘drafting’, as in: “I want you to draft an article on…” This then encourages re-drafting. My thinking is that if students know from the outset that this is how writing is supposed to work then maybe then they will see more point in moving towards a beautiful, finely crafted end product. But none of this will happen unless they know, deep down in their souls, that I will be checking. I was criticised recently for mindlessly spouting the research finding that while 80% of feedback comes from peers, 50% of that is wrong. The point was that while this may be case in some classrooms, it doesn’t have to be in mine. Peer assessment has long been a vaunted component of AfL with the point being that students should be “activated as learning resources for one another”. I’ve been as guilty as anyone in the past for getting students to mindlessly dribble about ‘what went well’ and how work could have been ‘even better if…’ Clearly, well designed success criteria are essential for this process to be effective, but even more important is that the process is public and transparent. If students know that you and everyone else are going to be reading their scrawled “Great work LOL!!! – maybe do a bit more next time ”, and that it will be held up as unacceptable then maybe they’ll think a little more about how their feedback can be formative. The best strategy I’ve come across for making this happen is Public Critique, explained superbly by Tait Coles here. To avoid this:
We have this:
The idea is that work is displayed publicly so that everyone gets to see everyone else’s work and everyone’s else’s feedback. It takes time for students to get good at this and, certainly at first, requires the teacher to do a fair bit of reframing of students’ feedback. To begin with this benefits from being a formal process but as it becomes embedded in classroom culture it can become much more on the hoof with students asking for and receiving critique as and when they need it. This can, and does, have a staggering impact on the quality of students’ work; their pride and enthusiasm shines through and is clearly visible in their books. My other contention is that marking students’ work is the only really effective way of differentiating lessons. In an ideal world I would mark their books after every piece of written work and give each student detailed and individual feedback for them to act on the following lesson. The fact that I regularly fail to do this is a constant source of shame: must do better. In a previous post I set out how I thought written feedback should take place: Students do work, I mark it with feedback that requires them to do (or re-do) something, and then they do it. Based on my knowledge of each individual I will have a good idea of what they’re capable or and whether the work they’ve handed in demonstrates progress. I would aim to mark a class’s books regularly enough that at least 1 out of every 4 lessons is spent acting on feedback. Not only does this mean that every student in the class has a uniquely differentiated lesson plan, it also means that I don’t have to fritter away my time planning ‘activities’. Here’s our Triple Impact Marking Protocol for English (other subjects adapt as appropriate)
Easy for me to say? As an English teacher I have fewer classes than, say, your average humanities teacher. How on earth are they supposed to keep up with this workload? This is not easy. If you have 15+ classes a week you’re really going to struggle to look at their books often enough to make a difference to their learning. But that’s the issue, isn’t it? Just covering content won’t cut it and, other than redesigning your curriculum to avoid this kind of logjam, the only way forward to set up a system whereby students do the majority of lesson-to-lesson monitoring and critique and you put together a timetable to mark each classes books once per term. I know this is a tough gig, but if you approach marking as planning then it might seem a little more do-able. I glibly repeated this mantra that marking is planning in a meeting recently only to be bluntly told that this is not the case in science. Now, I’ve nothing against science teachers or science lesson, but I just don’t see this. Of course I appreciate that science teachers are under enormous pressure to cover content but surely not at the expense of making sure that they’ve learnt what has already been taught? Of course subjects are different and what works in my English lesson won’t necessarily work in the same way in science but unless you mark their mark their books how on earth will you know whether you’re teaching is having any effect? Yes, you can use traffic lights, hinge questions, exit cards and other AfL paraphernalia to get a sense of students’ understanding, but there’s nothing like trial by extended answer for separating the knows for the know-nots. Maybe this was a misunderstanding? Maybe we understood different things by ‘marking’. According to Dylan Wiliam this would hardly be surprising: In most Anglophone countries, teachers spend the majority of their lesson preparation time in marking books, almost invariably doing so alone. In some other countries, the majority of lesson preparation time is spent planning how new topics can be introduced, which contexts and examples will be used, and so on. This is sometimes done individually or with groups of teachers working together. In Japan, however, teachers spend a substantial proportion of their lesson preparation time working together to devise questions to use in order to find out whether their teaching has been successful, in particular through the process known as ‘lesson study’ (Fernandez & Makoto, 2004). This is fascinating and begs a couple of questions. Firstly, should we mark our books alone? And secondly, what if marking was concerned with devising questions to find out whether teaching has been successful? On the first question, I’m all for marking collaboratively and of course moderation and standardisation are vital. Sadly, it just isn’t practical to do this all the time. Much as I love the teachers in my department, I really don’t want to spend that much time with them! But having some sort of ‘marking buddy’ with whom we regularly compare our books is probably a healthy and sensible thing to do. The second question is, the whole point of the type of marking I’m advocating and that I’d want to see in students’ books: thoughtful dialogic questions based on the work students have done and designed to prompt them to make progress. Ensuring the progress actually happens requires some DIRT (Dedicated Improvement & Reflection Time.) This has two wonderful advantages: 1. Your next lesson is planned. Every students has an individual lesson plan based on your careful marking 7
2. Students get to consolidate their learning and have an opportunity to master the skills and knowledge they’ve learned. So, all this was a very long winded way of saying, mark your books. At my school our next INSET day will have all staff scrutinising each others’ books. This may sound heartless and unfair but surely this is a matter of professional pride? And if not, just as students need to know I’ll be looking at their work, I need to know that someone else will be looking at my marking. I’ll end with an anecdote. In what has become folklore at my school, one teacher said to another after being given an opportunity to observe each other, “You’re the reason SLT give us a hard time!” A decent leader should have a damned good idea about whose books need monitoring and whose can be used as exemplars. Middle leaders should be scrutinising their teams’ books regularly and sharing the findings in a non-judgmental but in a way which is very clear about their high expectations. This is just too important to leave to chance!
Behaviour Management: A Bill Rogers Top 10
Classic Bill Rogers Video Series Without doubt the greatest personal challenge I’ve faced as a teacher was moving from the Sixth Form college in Wigan where I started teaching, to Holland Park School in London in my mid-20s. Having established the idea in my mind that I was a pretty good teacher, it was a massive shock to discover that in my new context, I was a novice. It was humbling. To begin with I struggled just to get a class to listen (suffering routine humiliation at the hands of a certain Year 9 class) and I went through a terrible phase (2-3years?) of being an appalling shouter, regularly losing my temper and committing various teacher atrocities (such as throwing a student’s book down the stairwell and telling him to get out and never come back at the top of my voice…). I got better, grew up a bit and learned how to manage my emotions and to always be the adult in the room. But it was hard. Later I discovered the seminal Bill Rogers’ video series and watched them back-to-back. Oh, why hadn’t I seen these sooner!? No contest, from all the CPD I’ve ever engaged with, these videos have had by far the greatest influence on me and my philosophy of teaching. The series titles give a flavour of the Bill Rogers approach:
Positive Correction: the basic premise that teachers and schools should adopt a nonconfrontational approach to discipline, based on positive teacher-student relationships, respect for the dignity and rights of individuals, choices about consequences of behaviour and encouragement for student self-discipline. Prevention: planning for good behaviour; teaching the routines and the rules. Consequences: have a clear structure that students understand and use to inform the choices they make. Repair & Rebuild: the imperative to work hard to build and repair the damage that is done when things don’t work out.
I can’t do justice to it all in one post, but here are my highlights. Top Ten Ideas from Bill Rogers 1. The Black Dot in the White Square:
The Black Dot in a White Square: What do you focus on? It is often necessary to get class or individual behaviour into perspective in order to maintain a positive atmosphere in the class. In Bill Rogers’ model, the black dot represents the negative, disruptive behaviour of certain individuals or the class as a whole; the white square represents the positive behaviour of the majority or the normally good behaviour of an individual. By focusing on the black dot, we are forgetting the white square. This illustrates the need to keep things in perspective and helps to avoid using sweeping statements that can harm positive working relationships 9
The class is awful The group never works sensibly The student is unable to behave Everyone is being too noisy
This thinking made me realise I was one who would pick up on the late-comers, the noise makers and the students off-task, at the expense of reinforcing the good behaviour of the majority. Is so much healthier for all concerned to swap that around. I find it applies to homework too… focus on the bits you get in, rather than the ones you don’t. 2. Using Positive Language This is so simple but packs a punch. Instead of “will you stop talking’ you say “I’d like everyone listening, please”. Instead of “John, stop turning around and distracting Mike” you say “John, I’d like you facing this way and getting on with your work… thanks.” After watching Bill Rogers, I found myself saying ‘thanks’ all the time.. and it makes a difference. 3. Choice direction and ‘when…then’ Classic parenting techniques that work brilliantly.
Jamil, you can either work quietly by yourself or you can come up and sit with me, James, you can go next door to work with Mr Anderson or you can work sensibly with Andy as I’ve asked. Richard, you can do exactly what I’ve asked or get a C3 detention as you were warned earlier. When you have finished tidying up your area… then you can sit wherever you want….
This works so much better than crude belligerent ‘do what I say’ command language. 4. Pause Direction Students are in the bubble of their own a lot of the time. Just because you start talking, doesn’t mean they hear you. Make a deliberate pause between gaining a student’s attention and a direction to ensure they have had sufficient ‘take up’ time. Eg. “Michael pause…David…pause…could you face this way and listen, thanks”. You gain their attention, with eye contact, before you say what you want to say. Try it…. 5. Take-up Time: This avoids the horrific teacher domineering – “come here Boy!” nonsense. Simply, “Michael…(pause to gain attention)… come up here a sec please.” Then deliberately look away… talk to someone else. Michael will come. He just will. In his own time. It works – try it. It also works in the corridor. “John, come over here for sec please… then walk away to a private area, away from peers. John will follow – and not lose face.” You can then have a quiet word about the behaviour without the show-down. 6. ‘You establish what you establish’
This refers to the establishment phase with a new class. Right from the start, anything you allow becomes established as allowed; and anything you challenge is established as unacceptable. The classic is noise level and off-task talking. If you do not challenge students who talk while others talk, you establish that this OK; it is no good getting bothered about it later… Similarly with noise level. If you ask for ‘silence’ and then accept a general hubbub – then your message is ‘silence means general hubbub’. If you want silence – you have to insist on it. Bill Rogers is great on this whole area of planning for behaviour; investing time in setting up routines – a signal for attention, how you come in and out of the classroom, the noise level. Talk about it explicitly and reinforce it regularly. The start of a new term is a good time. At any point, if you are not happy with the behaviour in your lessons, you have to address it explicitly. Otherwise, the message is that you accept it. 7. Teacher Styles
Don’t be an Indecisive teacher: hoping for compliance but not insisting; being timid in the face of a challenge; pleading not directing. Don’t be the opposite: an Autocratic teacher : using a power relationships to demand compliance without any room for choice. (No-one likes or wants a bullying teacher.) Be an Assertive teacher: This teacher expects compliance but refuses to rely on power or role status to gain respect. The teacher plans for discipline, uses clear, firm direction and correction, but acts respectfully, keeping the aims of discipline clearly in mind.
In all honesty, the most common problem ‘weak teachers’ have, in my experience, is that they are not assertive enough; it is their Achilles heel. The tough part is that this comes with experience for many. I have learned to be assertive without being autocratic…and actually that is easier than learning to be assertive if you’re not. But you have no choice – it is a key teacher skill that needs to be worked on. 8. Controlled severity – but where certainty matters more than the severity Most great teachers establish very clear boundaries. How? Well, usually, this happens through the occasional dose of ‘controlled severity’. A sharper, harder corrective tone that conveys: “No! You will not do that –EVER!” Followed quickly by a return to the normal friendly, warm tone. Ideally, the simple sharp reprimand is all that is needed – that cross tone that says: “I still love you dearly, but you know that is beyond the boundary and you know I will not tolerate it again”. Most teachers regarded as ‘good with discipline’ only need to use the severe tone occasionally – because it works and the class remembers. As with parenting, the art is getting the balance: not overused or generated from real anger – thus de-sensitising children OR under-used and ineffectual. In both of these cases the boundaries are hit constantly because there is uncertainty about where the boundaries are. With good ‘controlled severity’ the boundary is not hit so often –because the kids know exactly what will happen. Like a low voltage electric fence! You know where it is, without nagging or constant negotiation, and you know exactly what happens if you touch it – so you don’t go there. The key is that the consequence is certain to happen – not the level of severity. Teachers who can never sound cross often struggle. Similarly, teachers who allow genuine anger to build up – also struggle; these are the shouters (note to younger self.) Worst of all are teachers who shout but then don’t follow up with the consequences. All these groups need to seek help and get help. 9. Partial agreement (aka being the Grown-up) 11
Bill Rogers has a strong line on teachers’ being able to model the behaviour they expect. This includes not wanting the last word. Partial Agreement is an essential strategy for avoiding or resolving conflict. It means teachers not trying to have the last word, or asserting their power in a situation when a student disputes their judgement.
Student : “I wasn’t talking, I was doing my work” Teacher : “OK, Maybe you were but now I want you to press on to finish the task.
Student: “It wasn’t me… it’s not mine… I didn’t do anything” Teacher: “Maybe not – but we’re all clear on the rules about that aren’t we..and I’d like you to help me out next time, Thanks. ”
The focus is on the primary behaviour, giving students take up time and a choice about consequences. Expecting compliance is key but we should not regard ‘giving in’ as a sign of weakness. Communicating to students that you may be wrong is an important part of building relationships whilst maintaining your authority. My pet hate is a teacher who wants his pound of flesh; is uncompromising and moans about kids ‘getting away with it’. It never ever helps. (This is where I find the concept of Emotional Intelligence helpful…some teachers simply cannot bear it when asked to give ground; it is a problem they need help to recognise.) 10: Behaviour Management is an emotional issue The overriding message that I took from Bill Rogers is to recognise explicitly that behaviour is about emotions and associated traits: confidence, self esteem, peer relationships, group acceptance, empathy, belonging, resilience, .. and all the opposites. Crucially, this is for the teacher and the students. There is just no excuse for an angry outburst that has no resolution; for forcing a child into an emotional corner through power or using sarcasm to humiliate. We are the adults. BUT –we are human and we sometimes fail to manage. Sometimes, things go wrong and as teachers we put ourselves on the line emotionally all day. No other job is like that – where you risk being burned by a teenager just because you ask them to do some work. So, Bill Rogers urges us to acknowledge our emotions – and, for me, this helped hugely. If you do ‘lose it’… acknowledge it.. “I am angry because….’’; “I am raising my voice now because I’m so frustrated…” And then, after a cool-off, as soon as you can, model the behaviour you want to – calm, measured, warm, encouraging and showing you care. ‘Repair and Rebuild’ is a great concept. Sometimes, the trick is to take the most difficult student aside, away from a lesson and build up a rapport so that they see you as human – and you see them as more than just a naughty brat. As with all these things, it is a question of assimilating the philosophy, practicing the strategies and changing habits over time. It take time. But I wish I’d met Bill a lot sooner than I did! So, a big thanks to Bill for changing my fortunes as a Teacher – via DVD. (Actually it was VHS!)
By #Headteacherguru on Twitter http://headguruteacher.com/2013/01/06/behaviour-management-a-bill-rogers-top-10/ 12
Oral Formative Feedback – Top Ten Strategies.
For me, formative oral feedback and questioning are the two key ‘hinge point marginal gains’ that make for great teaching and learning. I wanted to use this blog to reflect on what I view as the most high impact formative oral feedback strategies that I have been using in my everyday practice. I want to use my list as a reminder, each time I plan lessons, of the key strategies to use – as it is too easy to forget and slip into autopilot planning, forgetting even our most effective of strategies. In the latest OFSTED guidance, they have clearly stated that teachers should react to the progress, or the lack thereof, of their students. This is heartening recognition of what we have known all along – and that is that teaching and learning are contingent activities. Learning is often problematic, changeable, non-linear, beset by a host of unique factors that cannot be exactly replicated (but with experience we can determine common patterns). We must therefore be constantly tracking the evidence of learning with as much precision and skill as we can. That is why effective teaching hinges absolutely on oral formative feedback and questioning on a lesson by lesson basis. It appears to me that the greatest benefit of experience that I observe in excellent teachers is the recognition of how and when to elicit feedback, with the nuanced understanding of what questions to ask, how and when. I have drawn upon this wealth of experience for my top ten – indeed it is my inept stumbling near the shoulders of giants that is responsible for the whole lot! In nearly all of these examples the feedback includes all three parties possible in the class: the learner, peers and the teacher. I dispute the idea of peer feedback as an undertaking exclusive of the teacher – we are always there steering the feedback, establishing ground rules and success criteria, modifying and adjusting the feedback of peers – that is why we are the paid experts! Therefore I do not differentiate between ‘teacher led’ or ‘peer’ feedback in my list. My Oral feedback Top Ten ‘Making the Learning Visible’ – Oral Feedback on Worked Examples: This heading captures a variety of methods and tools to essentially do the same thing – showing student work in the midst of the process. Whether it be through an iPad and Apple TV; a Visualiser; a video camera or still camera, or more simply pinning ongoing work up onto the wall or a display; making the work ‘visual’ is a powerful tool for assessment for learning. For one, it raises levels of pride, giving students a keener sense of purpose, and it 13
often instills a healthy competitive edge to the learning. It is also evident that most successful students have an innate sense of what ‘good work’ looks like, but many students simply don’t have this degree of self-efficacy. Making visible exemplar work, and breaking down its component parts, is a simple and powerful way to modify the learning of each student – helping to enhance what Ron Berger described as the crucial assessment going on “inside students”. Having used an iPad this year, I have repeatedly photographed student work, put it into the ExplainEverything app and immediately annotated through the projector, whilst giving formative feedback. Students are more then willing to get involved (a handy benefit is that good work can be saved and shared through the iPad), given clear modelling and parameters for effective feedback. Student feedback regarding this approach is highly positive. Guided Writing: Ostensibly, the strategy is a writing task – but it is the ongoing oral feedback at the heart of this strategy that is essential in establishing where the learners are and where they are going with their learning. This is one of those activities that teachers often shy away from, perhaps through a sense of fear of making a mistake in their writing, or not having absolute control of behaviour whilst undertaking the writing (a neat trick is to select a student to scribe the guided writing to allow you to freely roam the room; or going one step further and having an object passed around, like a conch(!), for which students need to hold to contribute). Working effectively, it can harmonise a symphony of understanding. Given any topic the teacher can begin with a prompt to the writing to oil the wheels, before students are asked to contribute subsequent ideas and sentences. As an English teacher, I love getting embroiled in debate about the semantic meaning of one individual word choice over another! Once more, it has the attendant benefit of modelling excellence in a very collaborative and fulfilling fashion. Peer Response Partners (or ‘think-pair-share’): This style of peer feedback is well trodden and nothing new, but it is worth reflecting that it is the aggregation of understanding provided by learning in groups which provides the positive impact inherent in collaborative learning. Some people complain about the aggregation of misunderstanding that can occur in group work; however, that ‘failure’ isn’t necessarily negative at all, for it gives the teacher the chance to modify the misapprehensions in whole class feedback, indeed, it opens up new avenues of learning – coming back to the contingent nature of learning! The ‘think-pair-share’ approach has been elaborated upon better than I could possibly explain – so here is a useful blog on the activity and its importance from @headguruteacher: http://headguruteacher.com/2012/07/17/the-washing-hands-of-learning-think-pairshare/. I would add that it is crucial that success criteria is shared with students and that they have a rigorous structure for feedback – whether it be a ‘Two Stars and a Wish’ approach, or something similar. Ideally, it follows from some quality modelling, as exemplified in points 1 and 2 of my list. Critique: Once more, it is Ron Berger I have to thank for this. Put simply, it is a systematic approach to peer feedback that is structured, clearly and positively, depersonalising the feedback, whilst honing in upon the steps required to improve towards excellence. A fuller explanation can be found here by the venerable @DKMead: http://pedagogicalpurposes.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/by-josie-and-emily.html 14
One-to-one Teacher Feedback: This is as old school as ancient Athens I know! Yet, in the hurly burly of thirty GCSE students rumbling along in unison, the prospect of one-to-one feedback appears slim to nonexistent far too often. Yet, we all know the power of the swiftest of one-to-one oral interventions. Too often our elegant written commentaries are ignored or simply misunderstood. We need to talk it through. With our KS3 groupings in our English and Media Faculty we have allocated one-to-one weeks for each class each term. We are going to ensure students work with peers collaboratively ‘marking’ prep books for SPaG in their preparatory writing, before undertaking independent reading and writing challenges. Every student will spend five minutes with their teacher reflecting upon their progress, targets and their finished, or ongoing, work. At GCSE, you may find that mock feedback would be doubly useful given an oral one-to-one to supplement a written commentary. How about setting up a small group task where students devise their own exam questions and answers – a higher order thinking task that requires some scaffolding support, but which is a tried and tested success – whilst undertaking that crucial one-to-one feedback. Opinion Lines: A lively debate can ensue from this kinaesthetic strategy. Select topic sentences that convey a clear opinion and then use both sides of the room as an opinion continuum, from ‘Strongly Agree’ to ‘Strongly Disagree’. This is an ideal task at the beginning of a topic, to determine their understanding, or at the end – perhaps it is a good way to book end learning to identify changing opinions after a topic has been studied. Students must orally feedback their opinions, justifying their ideas with evidence, building upon or challenging feedback from other students. The feedback can be made visible by a student scribing the continuum on the board in note form (photograph it and save it for later, or use it for ideas for a subsequent written activity). The Secret Teacher – ‘The Power of the Post It’: I must commend Zoe Elder aka @fullonlearning for ideas related to the humble post-it note, found in her luminous book ‘Full On Learning’. I have embedded these techniques with real success and with real ease – even though their aim is moving slightly away from oral feedback as such. Firstly, the ‘secret teacher’ aspect comes in when you have students work independently, for example, on a piece of writing (for me it was students working on Recreative writing in preparation for a controlled assessment). Students were asked to note any questions on a post it and place it on the ‘questions wall’, as they worked away. This small step was helpful in eliminating those helpless and distracting questions, like ‘How do I spell such and such…’, when a dictionary is in a box in front of them! The freedom from answering these questions meant my teaching assistant and I could go around quickly giving feedback with limited interference, whilst casting surreptitious glances upon the work students were doing. Rather than interrupt the flow of the whole group by stopping to talk with individuals (students, like adults, are inherently nosy!), we simply made a note on a post it and placed it on the desk of the student – from a simple ‘Proof read your punctuation’ to ‘Should you develop your scene direction further?’ These little nudges actually moved away from the notion of oral feedback explicitly, but the nudge and modify approach is exactly in tune with the notion of oral formative feedback. In reality, you cannot simply use the post it notes without some verbal feedback at times, but that feedback becomes very precise and concise. The hum of learning when this strategy goes well really is a pleasure to behold. 15
TSSSTSSS: This simply strategy relates to the method of questioning to elicit oral feedback. The ‘Teacher-student-student…’ approach explicitly rejects the ‘tennis style’ teacher led questioning, to instead encourage students to feedback upon the ideas of one another – bouncing ideas around the room like a basketball team (without the heavy ball obviously!). It is a timely reminder to ensure students still own their learning, building upon the ideas of one another. ABC feedback: Closely related to the previous point is the very simple model for students to respond to one another – A = Agree with… B = Build upon… C = Challenge. When students know this structure it is a finely tuned short-hand for effective collaborative learning that enriches the quality of feedback. The teacher is the ultimate guide, but students can develop their thinking more independently. This style does work better with a meaty topic where students are grappling with an argument, or questions, that requires higher order thinking. It also helps if students are given notice that they will respond, as it ensures they listen ever more keenly. ‘Learning Spies’ Feedback: Taken from the eponymous @LearningSpy himself, David Didau, this strategy works great for group work where you want students to remain on task purposefully throughout the lesson. It is a great way to celebrate and feedback upon positive learning, making explicit what good learning looks like, sounds like and feels like. I used this strategy a lot in the last couple of years with eager Year 7s, who were energised by the opportunity to seize some teacherly control! By making explicit before the task what behaviours you expect of good group work, the two ‘spies’ (I found a gender and ability mix for the pairing worked well), would note each group at work; making notes about skilful contributions, good leadership, levels of engagement and active listening. At the end of the lesson, they would feedback with real skill about the learning habits displayed by the group, identifying the best insights and behaviours on show. Try it with one of your most ‘challenging’ students – we all know the type – it really gets them reflecting and can be very powerful way to get your group learning about how to learn. Admittedly, it isn’t something I would use daily, but with complex group work of some extended length, it is a great strategy. The excellent @davidfawcett27 has produced his own spin on the idea: http://reflectionsofmyteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/learning-detectives-andspies.html?m=1. I particularly like the recording of evidence idea from the blog – with the iPad learning spies could photograph or film exemplary learning – an incredibly powerful strategy that gets students really focused reflecting upon their learning.
#Hunting English on Twitter
Constructing learning SO THAT it is meaningful and purposeful. http://fullonlearning.com/2012/10/01/constructing-learning-so-thatit-is-meaningful-and-purposeful/ Finding ways to make the complexities of learning concrete and clear to learners is a challenge. Ensuring how we design learning that is both purposeful and meaningful is one thing. Deciding just how we translate the often abstract concept of learning we have in our head so that it makes sense and has meaning for others is what makes a quality learning experience. This is part of my Marginal Learning Gains (#marginalgains) thinking as it involves focusing in on a very small aspect of learning and refining it in order to extract as big a learning opportunity as possible from it. What I have come to refer to as ‘squeezing the learning’. I’ve been grappling with the challenge of how to construct learning outcomes and /or objectives (which I will refer to as LOs from here on) that are both purposeful and meaningful. For many lessons, LOs often become the empty and unloved dark corner of our learning architecture rather than the engine room of the learning experience we are offering. So, with my Marginal Learning Gains thinking hat firmly on I started to unpick this one aspect of learning design to see if there was a marginal learning gain to be aggregated in the use and construction of LOs. The “So That…” of learning By inserting the connective of ‘SO THAT…’ there is a concrete way to communicate the relevance of learning. This can also counter challenges from those students who, when faced with something new or unfamiliar and are reluctant to take an intellectual risk, ask why they need to learn/ do/ understand/ study this or learn in this way. So it gives us a great opportunity to pre-empt what is, in fact the ‘SO WHAT?’ by making the reason for the lesson in the LO overt and explicit from the outset. Some of the benefits of using the ‘SO THAT…’ connective I have begun to notice…
It forces me to really think through the reasons why I have designed the learning in a particular way and it doesn’t let me off the hook! It makes me explicit about what I intend the impact of learning to look, sound and feel like, so I have front-end evaluation criteria from the outset as part of my outcome-focused planning 17
It sharpens up my thinking about every form of learning or training session I design. After all, if I can’t explain the ‘SO THAT…’ it probably means that I couldn’t answer the ‘SO WHAT…?’ if I was asked It means that anybody who comes in mid-way through will be clear about the purpose of the design and content of the learning experience It provides a prompt for all learners to articulate why and what they are learning in terms of content and the how in terms of the organisation of their learning It provides an opportunity to involve the learners in working out for themselves what the purpose of learning is. In doing so, they co-construct the success criteria for individual tasks and can see how these are directly linked into the bigger picture of learning.
Questioning – Top Ten Strategies http://huntingenglish.wordpress.com/ “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein Questioning is the very cornerstone of philosophy and education, ever since Socrates ( in our Western tradition) decided to annoy pretty much everyone by critiquing and harrying people with questions – it has been central to our development of thinking and our capacity to learn. Indeed, it is so integral to all that we do that it is often overlooked when developing pedagogy – but it as crucial to teaching as air is to breathing. We must ask: do we need to give questioning the thought and planning time something so essential to learning obviously deserves? Do we need to consciously teach students to ask good questions and not just answer them? How do we create a ‘culture of inquiry’ in our classroom that open minds and provokes truly independent thought? Most research indicates that as much as 80% of classroom questioning is based on low order, factual recall questions. What we must do is put questioning back to the core of our pedagogy and planning – we need to create is a climate of enquiry and engagement in high quality, high order questioning if formative progress is to be identified effectively. We need to carefully formulate questions with precision, as well as targeting the right questions with the right students. One key issue is that we teach in a ‘answer focused culture’ – students await to be spoon fed answers; they await the secrets to an exam that is typically closed to any breadth of thinking (many of our exams are awful – the English Literature AS level exam appears to have reduced the greatest literature known to man down to a reductive shopping list!). The entire system we work within appears to reinforce a close-minded ‘answers culture’; inquisitiveness, time to explore and think are rail-roaded into a one track exam system. Controlled assessment after controlled assessment – judgement after stultifying judgement. Yet, we can change the system from the inside: we can make our schools and classrooms a world within a world – one where we maximise creativity by encouraging the asking of good, 18
thoughtful questions; one where we crucially foster a culture of enquiry. In a culture of enquiry, questions are no longer the domain of the ignorant; a tool to trip up the teacher – they become dynamic – more about critical involvement, stretching knowledge and enriching understanding. Effective questioning is key because it makes the thinking visible: it identifies prior knowledge; reasoning ability and the specific degree of student understanding – therefore it is the ultimate guide for formative progress. It allows for flexible adaptations in the learning and the righting of misconceptions – it can be the key #marginalgain in any given lesson in terms of time, but it is often the key hinge point between students making progress. My top ten list is roughly organised by transitions within a lesson: beginning with 1 to 4 being questioning that initiates the learning process; 5 and 7 being core questioning techniques to develop the learning; and finally 8 to 10 being questioning strategies that are evaluative in nature: 1. Key Questions as Learning Objectives: what better way to foster a culture of inquiry than to spark the whole shooting match off with a big question that gets students thinking critically about what they are going to learn? By asking a big question you can initiate thinking and group discussion that immediate engages students in their prospective learning. By framing it as a question, it can raise motivation, as students feel like they have invested choice in their learning – and by getting students to subsequently formulate the learning objective they really begin to think about the nuances of what they are to learn and why. 2. ‘If this is the answer…what is the question?’
Taken from ‘Mock the Week’, this simple little technique sparks the inquisitiveness within students – just by quickly reversing the standard question and answer dichotomy it can deepen their thinking. It could be a relatively closed answer, like ’3.14159265359′ (the numerical value of pi); or something more open and abstract, like ‘religion’ (a potential powder-keg that one!). They can be given the idea by showing a short clip of ‘Mock the Week from’ on YouTube – but I would advise you to vet the video carefully first! 3. Thunks - These little gems are great to initiate deeper thinking, with seemingly simple questions opening up a complex array of higher order thinking. Thunks, such as: “If I ask if I can steal your pen and you say yes, is that stealing?” Or “Can I ever step on the same beach twice?” are great fun and thoughtful starters. These clever questions (see Ian Gilbert’s excellent ‘Little a book of Thunks‘ or the website: http://www.thunks.co.uk/ ) can simply be used to spark thinking or dialogue, or they can be more targeted towards the topic or subject at hand. As the students become familiar with thunking (they really enjoy it in my experience) they can begin to formulate their own thunks – a great way to get them to think about higher order, open questioning.
4. ‘Just One More Question…’ (said in the style of Columbo!): Given any topic or subject, they have to work collaboratively in groups to create an array of quality questions. They can then be given a series of challenging question stems to broaden their range of questions, using the following: What if…?; Suppose we knew…?; What would change if…? Suppose we knew…? If they write the questions on post it notes then they can be collated and saved – with the teacher returning to them further thrown the learning line. As the topic develops students can add ‘just one more question’, as well as answering the initial questions as their understanding grows. By following this method you can continue to foster the crucial culture of inquiry in the classroom – encouraging questions as a matter of course. Generating a range of such questions is a great way to initiate a topic, as it helps highlight miscomprehension immediately; it can foster collaboration and it can give the teacher precise and immediate formative feedback to shape their subsequent planning for the topic. 5. Socratic questioning and Socratic Circles – The old dog really can teach us new tricks! Socrates himself believed that questioning was at the root of all learning – and it is hard to disagree. The six steps of Socratic questioning creates a critical atmosphere that probes thinking and once more gets the students questioning in a structured way. There are six main categories: Q1. Get your students to clarify their thinking, for instance: “Why do you say that?” ….“Could you explain that further?” Q2. Challenging students about assumptions, for instance: “Is this always the case? Why do you think that this assumption holds here?” Q3. Evidence as a basis for argument, questions such as: “Why do you say that?” or “Is there reason to doubt this evidence?” Q4. Viewpoints and perspectives, this challenges the students to investigate other ways of looking at the same issue, for example: “What is the counter argument for…?” or Can/did anyone see this another way?” Q5. Implications and consequences, given that actions have consequences, this is an area ripe for questioning, for instance: “But if that happened, what else would result?” or “How does… affect ….?” By investigating this, students may analyse more carefully before jumping to an opinion Q6. Question the question, just when students think they have a valid answer this is where you can tip them back into the pit: “Why do you think I asked that question?” or “Why was that question important?” I like to exemplify the probing nature of Socratic questioning with the attack dog of relentless questions – Jeremy Paxman – and his logical stripping down of Michael Howard! This approach is a fantastic way to structure dialogue and to involve all students in exploring and developing their arguments. It creates a variety of roles and stimulates collaborative thinking and learning. Once more, it is another way to get students to reflect upon the very quality of the questions and not just the answers, with the critique of students from the outer circle. 6. Pose-pause-bounce-pounce - This is a brilliantly simple but very important strategy. The thinking time at the ‘pause’ point is crucial – there is a great deal of evidence about how the quality of responses, and the confidence levels of students, is raised by even a short amount of thinking time. The ‘bounce’ is also crucial in that, once again, students are expected to constructively build upon the ideas of one another, which gives the teacher the crucial formative assessment information required. I will hand you over to Dylan William and his excellent explanation of the strategy and the importance of quality questioning: 20
7. Hinge point questions – This simple but effective question approach does what it says on the tin, but in terms of progress, planning using hinge point questions can be pivotal for formative assessment. These questions really are crucial to identifying formative progress. These can be relatively closed questions, such as in this History exemplar question: In which year did World War Two begin? A: 1919 B: 1938 C: 1939 D: 1940 This allows for a very swift hinge point diagnosis of student progress. But, you can deepen the thinking by asking a ‘Why’ question about the origins of World War Two. You can ask students to orally explain their rationale, or you can add further complexity by having two ‘right’ answers to a question. Regardless of the strategy, again the precision of the question is key to the answer, and the subsequent direction of the learning. Too often teachers plough on regardless to meet the demands of their brilliant lesson plan, when all the formative assessment shouts at them (sometimes literally!) to move in another direction. We should not be frightened by going back steps to consolidate the learning – repetition is at the heart of acquiring knowledge – and without knowledge, skills become meaningless. Like the Green Cross Code tells us, we need to ‘stop, look and listen’ to the quality of the question, and the quality of the answer, before we go anywhere. 8. Question continuum – The continuum involves the students first devising questions, in pairs or groups, on any given topic or idea. Then the continuum is created very visibly, either on the whiteboard, or more semi-permanently on a display board (great to resume the strategy in future lessons) – with student questions being on post it notes for added flexibility. The horizontal axis would represent the ‘Interest Level’ generated by each question – that is how likely the question is to inspire new thinking and new possibilities, and simply the interest level it generates from the group. Then the vertical axis could be flexible in a variety of ways, should you wish to include a vertical axis. The vertical axis could represent ‘Complexity‘ (from ‘closed factual questions’ to ‘open, conceptual questions’) – that is how far the question would deepen their understanding and generate complex thinking. Students could feedback their opinions, shaped by the teacher, to identify the best questions – which then could be the subject of further exploration. Having the questions very visible means you can also flexibly rearrange, such as selecting the ‘best’ nine questions and creating a new ‘diamond nine’ formation. As you can see, the possibilities are endless. 9. Questioning monitor: Once more, this technique constructively involves students in the evaluation and reflection of the questioning process – fostering my now well worn refrain of creating a culture of enquiry. A monitor, or a pair of monitors, would be given the responsibility to track and monitor the frequency of questions: teacher and student – open or closed: factual or conceptual. You can have them monitor for a given task, or relate more cumulative research by undertaking the monitoring over a week or two of lessons. By exploring the evidence you are signalling to the students that you value evidence, and you are diagnosing the quality of your questioning, and that of the students. You will then have the evidence to know whether you really do have a culture of enquiry – and if not, it illuminates some of the steps you need to take to develop one. The activity sends very powerful messages to students about how highly your value quality questioning. 10. The Question Wall (a design upgrade for a well-used technique) Many educationalists have put forward sound reasons for using a question wall, or a learning wall. The ‘Question Continuum’ clearly overlaps with regards to pedagogy with a question wall, so I would be wary of trying both concurrently with groups, as it could potentially confuse them. The ‘Question Wall’ in this instance is a working space for students to communicate questions 21
about their learning. By giving students post it notes and asking them to commit questions to writing typically eliminates those questions that reflect a sense of ‘learnt helplessness’ – the ‘how does you spell such and such’, when they have a dictionary on their table; or, ‘what do we have to do’, in response to your lengthy and erudite explanation you have only just imparted! The question wall helps foster independence and, once more, makes the students think a little more about their questions. To add a level of nuance to the wall, consider creating simple quadrants with simple labels: students can be advised that closed questions are placed on the left of the wall, whereas more open questions are placed progressively to the right hand side. A vertical axis could indicate the timer he student would expect was needed for explanation: placing questions that need a high degree of support, and therefore time, higher up the wall than those shorter, typically more closed questions. This simple visual representation of their questions allows the teacher to make a quick visual judgement about what questions they have time to address, or may want to prioritise. It helpfully indicates the level of ‘stuckness’ of the student, which is important feedback. *Note: You may have noticed that the vast majority of these techniques require, or could benefit from, the use of post it notes. I am a supreme convert of the humble post it! We have just invested in stacks of the larger post its (they are broader than the usual) to ensure they work more effectively as tools for the above strategies and more.
Secret Teacher: we can't be outstanding every day, so why judge us on that? http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacherblog/2012/dec/01/outstanding-lessons-daily-impossible-secretteacher?CMP=twt_gu Outstanding lessons are nigh on impossible to deliver on a daily basis, so why are we judging our teachers and schools by them?
Unrealistic demands and constantly changing priorities are paralysing the teaching profession. Photograph: www.alamy.com
Priorities. We don't always agree on them, we sometimes lose sight of them, we often get them wrong, but I think we can all agree on one thing â€“ we need to get them straight. The problem in education right now is that we have far too many priorities. I sit in meetings where it seems that we get a new top priority weekly. Of course, we all know that you cannot have more than a few priorities or they all cease to be priorities. They become just another thing to add to the list. This knowledge, however, doesn't seem to stop the relentless addition of priorities. In a school that has been ravaged by Ofsted recently, it seems we must try to fix everything all at once, even though, the day before Ofsted came, we didn't believe everything to be broken. This week, including a numeracy outcome in our lessons is our top priority. This is not so difficult if you teach science, but I shudder to think how tenuous that link must be in English or drama. Last week our main focus was intervention, the week before we were reminded that key stage 3 monitoring and tracking was incredibly important, as is literacy development in lessons and before that it was decreasing the amount of teacher-led activities. Looking at the agenda for next week's meeting, we will have a new priority, marking books up-to-date and increasing the frequency of homework set. We also have new focus groups in school. Previously, we had to look out for, and try and tailor our lessons to cater for the needs of SEN and able, gifted and talented pupils. Over the last couple of years free school meals pupils have been added to this list, although quite how a classroom teacher should manage this and, of course most importantly, display they are managing it when being observed, without making these pupils feel extremely self-conscious has yet to be suggested. Now, it seems, we also have to make 'looked after children', 'armed forces' children and, believe it or not, 'British white boys' our top priority. We have so many priorities and so many different focus areas that we all have stress paralysis. We have no idea where to start. A basic lesson is now no longer good enough. We try and shoehorn all our priorities into one lesson when Ofsted arrives, but, alas, trying to get them all in means you now spend too much time talking! Your lesson, despite your best efforts, still "requires improvement." We all, as a profession, readily accept that the good and outstanding descriptions of lessons is nigh on impossible to deliver on a daily basis. Not if you are going to find the time to mark books, attend meetings, run after-school clubs and revision sessions, attend parents' evenings, organise trips, write reports and maybe just maybe, spend a little time with your own family while you're at it. I'm not saying that we shouldn't be doing any of these things, but if we all know that doing them on a daily basis is actually physically impossible without dedicating your every waking hour to work, so why are we judging our teachers and schools by them? There is a generation of children who have been arriving at lessons for years now to be greeted not by an enthralling demonstration or an enthusiastic teacher, but by a whiteboard displaying the outcomes for today, which the teacher will have to read out in order to tick the 'sharing the learning outcomes' box on the observation. Worse still, pupils may even have to copy them down. They are then subjected to formulaic lessons delivered by teachers so exhausted by the demand of planning for all these priorities that they cannot deliver with the passion and enthusiasm for their subject that they once had. Whatever this week's top priority is will be forced upon them five times a day. Every child knows the meaning of the word 23
'plenary.' Right now, across the nation, all of our pupils are learning spellings. In every subject. It's our top priority. We have to allow our teachers to get back to the basics of good teaching and allow them the freedom and time to prepare and deliver lessons that inspire and motivate. I got into this profession because of my passion for science. I am a qualified and experienced AST and a head of department. My students all do well. But this creeping and relentless workload is getting the better of me and my department. Right now I spend nearly as much time documenting as I do doing. We need to allow teachers to get back to their best. We need to allow them some professional freedom, and recognise that a lesson is just one episode in a very long series. Our children deserve passion, enthusiasm and energy. We need to make this our top priority. Today's Secret Teacher is a head of department at a secondary school in the north of England.
Monitoring Group Work : Charting its Progress http://meridianvale.wordpress.com/
A number of posts have been published in recent days discussing the effectiveness – or otherwise – of group work. The arguments tend to the definitive: it’s good….it’s not good. I’ve found that with my sixth-formers working in small groups – often competing groups preparing alternative views on an issue – I have been lifted by their collaboration, the releasing of ideas, and the organisational skills of some of them. In fact, in recent UCAS references I’ve referred to the highly developed abilities of some of my Year 13 to instigate mature discussion within their group, entice reluctant speakers to contribute, and actively value the suggestions of other group members. They have achieved things far greater than I have managed teaching the group as a whole. That, however, is A-level students. With GCSE and KS3 students it is another matter. Putting a collection of sometimes reluctant individuals into a group does not make a ‘team’ – or even a ‘group’ within their perception. The collective has to be processed into a ‘group’ with a relational commitment to one another and a sense of individual accountability for the success of the group’s operation.
This is where I have found Group Effectiveness Tally charts to be of use. Put on the whiteboard, I allocate ticks as I walk round the room absorbing what each group is doing. It clarifies those groups who know what to do, but are sitting there waiting for prompts (black group); those where one or two voices dominate and others sit as
passengers (blue group) and those who are off-task and need more directed guidance (yellow group). I’ve been genuinely amazed at the transformational impact it has on group discussion as it dawns on students what is going onto the public display and behaviour is modified as they realise their group has very few ticks or numbers allocated. The chart can be personalised for rating individual students by allocating each person in the group (in the example 4 students – I wouldn’t consider larger groups) a rating according to how well they are meeting the target. The importance, with both, is to be able to change the rating as groups or individuals change their behaviour to become more immersed in the discussion and the completion of the task. The thrust of the technique is to encourage, then mirror, changes in behaviour towards that which is desired. When students can see the ticks, or their individual grading change before not just their – but the class’s eyes, then their commitment becomes visible within the group and on the board.
Like many ideas – it is simple, but effective. And it can transform a Year 9 group activity from a semi-disciplined romp through their social calendars for next weekend, into productive, task-focused discussion. And goes some way to neutralise the nay-sayers who claim that group-work can never… work.
Is there a right way to teach? It’s become a trite and hackneyed truism that if they’re not learning you’re just talking. We’re all clear that teaching only happens when the little tinkers manage to make some sort of progress – preferably that of the rapid and sustained variety. But this simple truth, like so many others, seems to have been systematically and catastrophically misunderstood by many school leaders and inspectors. Until recently it was universally accepted that the key to a good lesson observation was showing that pupils are making progress in the 25 minutes available to us, and that the only way we could demonstrate this progress was by shutting the hell up and letting the kids do some work. If a teacher was observed speaking to the whole class they’d be exposed as being a bit rubbish and fast tracked on to the capability process. But is this right? Surely sometimes we need to stand at the front and indulge our passion for a spot of whole class teaching? I mean, c’mon, we all do it, don’t we? We just pretend we 26
don’t. When the inspector comes a calling we fall into line and do the Ofsted monkey dance just to ensure we’re not on the SLT hit list. Well happily, Ofsted boss Sir Michael Wilshaw recently said in a speech to the RSA that, “Ofsted should be wary of trying to prescribe a particular style of teaching, whether it be a three part lesson; an insistence that there should be a balance between teacher led activities and independent learning, or that the lesson should start with aims and objectives with a plenary at the end.” He then went on to describe the methods employed by an outstanding maths teacher at his old stamping ground, Mossbourne Academy who, as far as I could work out was one of those old fuddy-duddies who believes in actually teaching students rather than in just putting on a show. Clearly, this doesn’t mean that we should stand at the front droning on endlessly whilst expecting students to pluck peals of desiccated wisdom from our parched lips. For anyone feeling confused, please note: this is still a crap thing to do. Lecturing is emphatically not the same as direct instruction. It’s just that effective whole class teaching requires you, as the most knowledgeable person in the room, to say stuff. Telling kids what’s right and wrong is more efficient and less likely to result in confusion than letting them fumble around in complete ignorance for lesson after lesson. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for a spot of constructivism. I love students working collaboratively in carefully constructed groups on carefully constructed challenges that allow them to deepen their understanding of a topic by getting the hands dirty with the filthy stuff of learning. But I swear that I will throttle the next person to gleefully and unoriginally pronounce that they would rather be a “guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage.” Really? I’d rather teach. When I began my career, direct instruction was all the rage. As a young teacher I was exhorted to share objectives, provide exemplars, model tasks, provide success criteria and then let the students get on with it. At the end of the lesson, said objectives would be reviewed, future planning would be informed and everyone would go home happy, safe in the knowledge that they were able to do something new or better. This was what we used to call the three-part lesson: starter, main course and pudding. I remember my excitement the first time I wrote an objective on the board and students gazed in bewildered wonder at this mysterious collection of words. Boy was I cutting edge! The old lags shook their heads and muttered about this new fangled nonsense never catching on before pulling on their faded corduroy jackets and shambling into their classrooms. Education super boff, Professor John Hattie has found that after formative assessment, direct instruction has the greatest effect size of all teacher interventions. So why has it become so unfashionable? At some point over the last ten to fifteen years, its reputation has become so tarnished that it’s considered by many to be not just passé, but actively bad for kids. In 2008 I was observed teaching in the way I had always understood to be outstanding. I did everything I’d been previously been praised for and turned out what I considered to be a first rate lesson. Students took part in a discussion and, down to the way we analysed the mark scheme at the beginning of the lesson, demonstrated a superb ability to build on and challenge the points they heard in a way which developed the issues and supported each other to make a significant contribution to the debate. The inspector wandered out after 20 minutes and wandered back at break time to tell me the lesson was satisfactory due, solely, to the length of time I had spent speaking. To say that this knocked my confidence would be somewhat of an understatement. 27
I get that things move on. I really do. In my quest to be the best teacher I can be I’ve embraced progressive teaching methods whole-heartedly and am, largely, a convert to the cause. I’m happy to admit that I’m almost certainly a better teacher for being forced to reevaluate my practice, but insisting that teaching from the front somehow prevents students from making progress seems to fly in the face of all available evidence. A generation of teachers have waltzed through their early careers believing that speaking for more than five minutes is the height of unprofessionalism. There’s certainly a time and a place for students to experience those joyful eureka moments when they discover new knowledge for themselves, but sometimes it’s just more efficient to acknowledge that you’re the expert in the room and that it would be in everyone’s interest to take on board the stuff you’ve learned at great taxpayer expense. And I’m not the only one to think so. Hattie asserts that teachers are “indoctrinated with the mantra ‘constructivism good, direct instruction bad’” and suggests the reason for this antipathy might be due to its conflation with didactic teaching. He describes it thus: “The teacher decides the learning intentions and success criteria, makes them transparent to the students, demonstrates them by modelling, evaluates if they understand what they have been told by checking for understanding, and re-telling them what they have told by tying it all together with closure.” There’s surely not much we can find to rail against here is there? Now, we might not want to teach this way every lesson but this is, perhaps, the most efficient method of transmitting knowledge to youngsters. The bottom line is that teaching like this will considerably increase students’ chances of passing those pesky GCSEs. I’m happy to agree that passing exams is not the be all and end all of education and that there are all sorts of other things we should be doing other than getting kids to pass exams, but it’s a relief to hear that Ofsted are no longer telling us that there is only one right way to teach. Maybe eventually that message will filter into schools and teachers will be trusted to teach in the way they judge most effective. In the meantime, I’d advise stapling a copies of Wilshaw’s speech & Hattie’s research to your lesson plan the next time you’re observed by someone you suspect of not knowing their backside from a hole in the ground. That should stump ‘em.
Written by David Didau (#The Learning Spy on Twitter)
#Johntomsett This much I know about…how we teach reading skills to our weakest readers I have been a teacher of English for 24 years, a Headteacher for 9 years and, at the age of 48, this much I know about how we teach reading skills to our weakest readers. Primary-secondary transfer is profoundly important; I know we all know this, but I have to admit that it is only in the last three years that we have set up structures to enable us to prepare effective, targeted provision for our new Year 7s. Gail Naish, our Assistant Headteacher/ex-Subject Leader of English is dedicated to leading on transition and it has transformed our practice. We have seen a significant increase in Free School Meals and Special Educational Needs & Disability students, as the social fabric begins to fray in certain postcodes within our catchment. It is four years since the banking crisis began the worldwide recession and it is no surprise that every year since then the number of Year 7 FSM students has risen at our school; the correlation between FSM and SEND seems to be strong. Our Golden 100 scheme is priceless. In liaison with our partner primaries, we can now identify the 100 students with the weakest communication and numeracy skills in Years 5 and 6; we then share pedagogic intelligence about each one so that our Year 7 provision for those Golden 100 is shaped to meet their needs. Effective preparation for primary-secondary transfer can change lives. We knew six months before they arrived that there were 34 students coming to us last September with specific learning needs around reading and writing. We have two students working at level 1 and none of the 34 is operating above level 3c. More important than the numbers, however, we knew what their reading and writing skills were and what we needed to do to support their development. Change your curriculum provision as the cohorts of Year 7 students change, year by year; it’s so obvious, but we’d never done that before. For the two classes comprising our Golden 34 we added 5 extra periods of English per fortnight, averaging 5.5 hours of English a week. The students were used to an hour of literacy a day and we had to ensure such a level of English learning was sustained. We also assigned four of our strongest expert English teachers to the groups, including the Head of Learning Support, an Assistant Headteacher, and a Deputy Headteacher. 29
You know immediately when you see outstanding learning. Last week I saw learning in one of the Golden groupâ€™s English lessons which was magical. The lesson was taught by our Deputy Headteacher Abigail Brierley, a truly great teacher who works incredibly hard on her teaching; she exemplifies everything I wrote in my last blog about becoming a truly great school. She was teaching the class about the skill of making connections when you read a book, the third or fourth reading skill she has taught them since September. We have to challenge all our students academically; the group is reading Holes by Louis Sachar, and the connections they made were highly perceptive. Abigail says that she expects a lot of the group despite the difficulties they face with reading and writing. Studentsâ€™ learning of reading skills is enhanced through their own drawing and the use of metaphor. The lesson began with the students drawing round their own hand and writing one of the reading skills they had learnt down each finger. These were their handy reading skills!
The first metaphor Abigail used with the group back in September was based upon the idea of a Golden Retriever dog retrieving a stick thrown into the long grass. Through the metaphor she introduced the concept of information retrieval. At the end of that first lesson one boy wrote on his what-I-have-learnt-today post-it, I have learnt how to retrieve like a dog. Another wrote, We are Golden Achievers (sic), a tag which has stuck, with some affection.
Students find it difficult to understand the concept of inter-linking narratives. Abigail’s students don’t – they understand braided hair, so they now understand braided narrative, a phrase they use fluently.
Empathy is hard to conceptualise, but not for Abigail’s group. They understand the idea of walking around in their parents’ over-sized shoes and so understand what it means, metaphorically, to wear someone else’s shoes, or empathise.
Making connections was explored through the metaphor of completing a jigsaw, another completely familiar image used to explain a potentially difficult concept. It was here that the students’ learning was chunked down and reinforced through drawing. As each step was made – making connections: between the book and ourselves; between different elements of the book & other books; between the book and the world – the students drew simple diagrams to represent each different type of connection. The connection between Holes and the real world was supported by a short YouTube clip of Rio Ferdinand talking about ridding football of racism.
When you teach students with acute learning needs, rigour is all. Abigail’s teaching is characterised by the very best examples of basic of classroom management; not once did she begin speaking until all the pens were down. Perhaps most importantly, the students were always given collaborative thinking time before they responded. That rigour was coupled with truly sensitive handling of students who had an idea but then were powerless to stop it floating away before they could articulate it. Graphical representations of the learning journey really work with Golden students. Abigail used the image of a car travelling down the road and allowed the students to articulate where they thought the group had got to on their journey. They knew exactly how far they had got towards their destination.
Whilst we teach the How, teaching the Why is even more important. David Didau is great on this point in a recent Youtube post. Not only did Abigail teach the students how to make connections, she also helped them understand why you make connections when you read. At the end of the lesson, the activity to ensure everyone in the room knew the students had made progress elicited remarkable responses to the question, Why do we make connections when we read? a question my Year 13 International Baccalaureate group might have baulked at. Measure the teaching by the impact on students’ learning. John Hattie would have loved this lesson. So, Why do we make connections when we read? Well, according to Abigail’s group who live in homogenous white York, So that we can step into their shoes, we can empathise…so we can read better…so we can understand the book more better (sic)…so we can make friends with black people…(and my favourite) so I know I’m not the only one who has been in that situation.
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