Teaching and Learning

06/03/2020: Using plenaries to develop literacy across the curriculum

To help further develop the above in our lessons 10 plenary ideas focusing on literacy follow:

  1. Students should summarise a character/scene/chapter in 5 bullet points. Switch books and then peer mark this following the whole school literacy policy (this could be done with the vast majority of the activities that follow).
  2. Get students to create an acrostic poem (scaffold this with examples) to summarise what they have learned in the lesson.
  3. Get students to create a haiku (again scaffold this with examples) to summarise what they have learned in the lesson.
  4. Get students to write their own dictionary definitions for the new terms they have just learnt in your lesson.
  5. Get students to spot the missing words – or suggest a variety of possible words – in a summary of the lesson’s aims.
  6. As all lessons should be being set as questions, get the students to write an answer to the question(s) on mini-white boards. Set a word limit and then reduce this, and reduce this and reduce this, till all you are left with is a single sparse sentence.
  7. Students should create a mnemonic which will reflect the meaning of a new word or concept learned in the lesson.
  8. Use drama – a vital form of literacy – and get the students to perform a series of freeze frames to summarise aspects of the lesson.
  9. Finish with a Pictionary exercise – students need to draw answers to questions on mini-white boards. The class then has to decipher their efforts.
  10. Get students – in pairs or small groups – to design a writing mat based on the key word/concepts learned in the lesson. This can then be used to help other groups who undertake this lesson.

Remember that plenaries need to be organic, yet this does not prevent them from being effectively utilised at a number of points in your lesson(s). It is wholly appropriate to chunk your learning objectives and to check the learning of students at several points upon their learning journey – the key word being ‘learning’.

14/02/2020: Variety, Variety, Variety!

1. Getting to Know You
You are about to begin a new (mini) topic. Decide on a list of 10 to 20 facts or ideas that will be studied during this topic. Transfer the facts/ideas onto sheets or boards and give them to your students. Students are asked to find members of the class who already know something about a fact/idea about which they are in the dark (or any of the other facts on the sheet/board). They do this by going round the class asking others students what they know about a particular fact/idea. You then ask for/choose students who know about a given fact/idea to present their knowledge to the rest of the class.
This provides an engaging way to start a new topic; it is a good way to test the depth and breadth of student knowledge; it promotes oracy/classroom interviews; to differentiate for less able students simply create shorter lists, requiring just facts, while for the more able you could provide a more detailed ‘shopping list’ with more complex ideas. To really take this starter to the next level you should ensure that the activity is pacy and that students get a chance to cross-examine after each presentation.

2. Back-to-Back Diagrams
Identify a key diagram from a textbook/ the internet (using your smart board). Ask students to sit back to back. One student describes the diagram the other – on paper or a ‘Show-me’ board – draws what is being described. Halfway through the exercise you can get students to swap roles. When roles are exchanged you can often hear the ‘ah’ word as in ‘ah, that is what you meant!’ This is a great way for students to learn collaboratively.
Be careful with your diagram choice. This activity requires students to carefully use appropriate language to communicate quite difficult shapes, features etc. The task requires a high degree of concentration and has an amazing retention element to it as what is produced is ‘drilled’ into the memory. The activity also improves students’ ability to divide work into bite size pieces and to turn linguistic instructions into a visual mosaic. The exercise can be extended by a subsequent labelling or note-taking activity, while for differentiation give less able pupils a template of the diagram which they can then fill in, while the more able could be given a more complex diagram and additional information. 

3. Exit Boards
Give each student a number of Post-it notes at the end of your lesson. You set the terms of what they must leave you with: you could ask for them to create a question from the lesson for their peers to answer at the start of the next; or perhaps get students to highlight something they did not (fully) get; you could use the Post-it for feedback – ‘give me a red, amber or green for today’s lesson based on how much you understood/learned today; whether the lesson was enjoyable today; etc.’ – asking students to support their comments with reasons for them. The possibilities are endless and for your next lesson you can get a student-created ready-made starter, while the assessment commentary you are left with is a great self-reflection tool. 


07/02/2020: Successful feedback

There are 4 broad types of feedback:

  1. Feedback from students to teachers – when we as teachers are open to the student experience of our lessons then teaching and learning can be synchronised and powerful. We need to ask: what students know; what they understand; where (and why) they make their errors and misconceptions; what they enjoy and when they switch off. As John Hattie puts it “Feedback to teachers helps make learning visible”. 
  1. Feedback to students from teachers – this will be familiar to us all, however if written and/or oral feedback is to be effective in must be informative and describe clear ‘next steps’. Teacher to student feedback should also try to involve some kind of challenge. Hattie uses the concept of ‘+1’, where the teacher identifies where the student is and adds a challenge that will involve some kind of real and identifiable progression (and thus stretch and challenge). Success criteria and suitably differentiated challenges/materials are vital here. 
  1. Feedback from students to students – this will involve some kind of real (not token) peer-assessment (again to success criteria) where students identify strengths and weaknesses in the work of a peer partner and suggest ways in which it might be improved. To do this successfully requires teachers to establish an excellent classroom environment where it is okay to be ‘wrong’ and where all understand that the object is to progress – in effect that ‘wrong’ is but a stepping stone to ‘right’ (if students knew it all why would they come to school?) Encourage students to engage in learning conversations with their peer partner as to productive next steps. 
  1. Self-reflection – this process involves students reflecting upon their own work or performance and identifying ways in which they might modify their work to bring about improvement. Self-reflection is also a vital teacher tool that we all need to draw on: plan, deliver, mark/assess, reflect and then do it all again but the next lesson/time do it better!  

Regular feedback will be effective only if the ethos of the school – and that means each and every one of us - is supportive. Teachers have to be passionate about adding value (in every sense) to their students, while students need to believe (and be made to believe) that progress is both possible and desirable.

31/01/2020: How to ensure that written feedback is effective:

When feedback is given in writing some students:

  • have difficulty in understanding the points the teacher is trying to make
  • are unable to read the teacher’s writing (I am guilty here)
  • cannot process the feedback and thus are unable to understand what to do next to improve.

The best way to check the above is to incorporate ‘feedback time’ into your lesson planning. Make time to ask each of your students (on a one-to-one basis) what they think you are saying to them. Then (having corrected any misconceptions), get each student to take your comments and to give you a concrete example of how they are going to act upon your suggestions to improve. Try to ensure that your feedback poses questions that students must answer via Dedicated Improvement Time.

With written feedback, the key is to remember KISS (Keep It Short and Simple). Do not give your students a blizzard of targets and success criteria because this will simply overwhelm them and they will not be able to take it in. For on-going written assessment try to stick to the ‘two stars and a wish’ formula, while for formal assessments use your subject specific feedback, making sure that the students understand (as above) how to use this to improve. In short – evidence, evidence, evidence: do not believe that students can do something unless they can successfully demonstrate that they can.

The data on written feedback suggests that if you give only marks/grades then your students will make no gain from the first to the second lesson. If you give and share comment only feedback then the student gains are on average 30% higher. Interestingly giving marks alongside the comments seems to cancel out the benefit of the comments unless these comments are genuinely shared with the students.

24/01/2020: Giving Effective Oral Feedback

Giving effective oral feedback.

Three types of prompts can be useful here to guiding learning:

  • Scaffold prompts – supporting the student in making a next step by focusing attention on a specific aspect of the work, speaking the thoughts the student might be thinking, providing part but not all of a solution e.g. ‘Okay, so this bit of your drawing is clear but this part is very confused, what might you do about that?’ or ‘So, you might be wondering how you will bring the story to an end,’ or ‘These are the shapes turned the right way up, now where do they fit?’
  • Reminder prompts – reminding the student of a principle, technique, strategy etc. that has been previously learned allowing the student to recall it and put it into practice e.g. ‘What do we always do when we have finished using clay?’ or ‘Remember when we collected the hydrogen gas… did we do that?’ or ‘What are the rules when we are using sources?’
  • Example prompts – providing the students with examples of similar, possibly easier (perhaps more challenging) problems, alternative courses of action to choose from, or analogous situations that are more familiar than the work at hand, e.g. ‘How would you cut a pizza into three equal parts?’ or ‘You could decide to make this character like … or like…’

One final, perhaps obvious, point. Oral feedback should be a two-way process. Feedback about learning from students to teachers that you can act upon regarding feelings, understanding, teaching styles, pace, task design, process, environment etc. is vital for good/outstanding lessons and productive relationships.

17/01/2020: Feedback that Impacts upon Learning

Feedback that impacts upon learning

John Hattie’s evidence makes it clear that feedback that relates to behavioural or social characteristics will do little to raise levels of achievement. Examples of this kind of feedback might include: ‘Put more effort in’, ‘You are working well. Keep it up!’, ‘Be more organised’, ‘You are underperforming’.

In addition, feedback that is too vague to mean anything to the learner is also wasted effort, as students have to be able to visualise what is needed. Examples might include: ‘Be more careful with your presentation’, ‘Improve your style’, ‘Expand your ideas’, ‘Answer the question next time’, ‘Remember your grammar’, ‘You need to organise your work into sections’. This kind of feedback suffers from a lack of focus. It is a bit like saying to a driver ‘improve your driving’. The person offering the advice might know what better driving looks like but the driver being asked to improve may well not and thus the advice might be ignored or they simply have to guess what actions to take.

This second kind of feedback can be very easily modified. If we take the 6 examples above, it is very easy to make them ‘visible’ that is not vague exhortations but identifiable tasks.

Be more careful with your presentation.

Underline your headings and leave one line between each question you answer.

Improve your style.

Try to turn two or three of your short sentences into one sentence by using connectives.

Expand your ideas.

Your section on healthy living emphasised the importance of diet. You might also have included sections on taking exercise and avoiding drugs.

Answer the question next time.

The question asked you to evaluate the impact of the bullying on Piggy. You simply described the bullying. You need to look at and come to a judgement on the effects of this bullying on Piggy.

Remember your grammar.

You must use capital letters for the names of people and places, e.g. Hitler and Germany.

You need to organise your work into sections.

You project has looked at 4 main themes – segregation in work, schools, restaurants and on buses. Organise the writing into 4 sections with a chapter heading for each topic.

10/01/2020: Cold Calling (III) – Variations

To develop and finesse Cold Calling for your classroom and your students you could try:

  • Scaffolding Cold Calling when you first introduce this – for example Cold Call on the more timorous to get them to read the question before you draw them into giving answers. 
  • ‘Hands Up’/’Hand Down’. You can still allow hands to be raised and yet make it clear you will also be making some Cold Calls (both strategies have their merits). 
  • Follow On. Here the use of the word “develop” (or an equivalent) can enable you to get the class to dig deeper into a question/answer. 

Building in think time. Using the sequence: ‘question, pause, student name’ ensures that everyone has heard the question and has a little think time. Again you can vary this for example you could lead with the student name: “Okay Kim, I am going to ask you to go over Question 5 from the homework. Be ready”. Likewise when you are circulating the classroom and you see an excellent response – or even an introductory response – you could say “Rachael, I love this idea. Please be ready in case I ask you to share this.”

13/12/2019: Cold Calling (II)

The 4 keys to effective Cold Calling
Cold Calling needs to be effective and indeed poor implementation can do as much harm as good. There are 4 keys to effective Cold Calling

  1. Keep Cold Calling predictable. If you embed Cold Calling then your students will know that it is always a possibility. You do not want students to feel ambushed by your use of Cold Calling. To obviate this use Cold Calling every lesson and thus it becomes and expectation. Students will thus not focus on the past (“why did sir pick on my out of the blue”) but the future (“I know I could be Cold Called and so I am going to be ready!”). Decide upon your style of Cold Calling and model this: be transparent and consistent. However while the practice of Cold Calling should be predictable and systematic, try to  plan your questions and make then as challenging as possible. 
  1. Make Cold Calling Systematic. If you approach Cold Calling with the mind-set that each time you call on a student it is with a view to offering them (whoever they might be) a chance to shine, then you are on the right track. Cold Calling is emphatically not  designed to be used as a punishment and thus be very cautious re tying your Cold Calls to specific behaviours (for which we have a behaviour policy) . Try to be inclusive and even handed when you Cold Call. It is possible (using your knowledge of the students) to plan your Cold Calls in advance; to keep a record of those you have Cold Called upon; to cater your Cold Calls to specific groups/students during particular phases of the lesson. 
  1. Keep Cold Calling positive. Once again, the purpose of Cold Calling is to foster positive engagement and to develop rigour and foster learning. One of the benefits of Cold Calling is that it can bring students out of their shells in a safe learning environment where can even surprise themselves with their own capabilities. You need to use your skills and sensitivities to develop Call Calling so that it becomes a good thing from the off – an opportunity for students and never a “gotcha” opportunity. Cold Calling is designed to engage all students in the academic discourse of the classroom and we must work hard to ensure that we do not confuse an invitation to participate with a consequence or correction.

Unbundle you Cold Calls. Break up larger questions into a series of smaller questions (again plan your questions) and distribute these to multiple students. This helps inculcate fast, energetic pacing (a la ‘Pepper’) and a culture of peer-to-peer accountability

06/12/2019: Cold Calling (Part I)

If you are looking for one technique that can make the greatest possible improvements re both rigour and the level of expectations in our classrooms then Cold Calling is it. In short Cold Calling is the practice of calling on students to answer questions whether they raise their hands or not. Cold Calling is a whole school policy and we all need to be embedding this into our practice.

There are 4 reasons why Cold Calling can be transformative:

  1. Checking for the understanding. Knowing whether you taught something is easy but did all of the class understand and learn? If you only test those who raise their hands you will get a false picture re understanding. 
  1. Creating a Culture of Engaged Accountability. Using a ‘no hands’ rule develops a participatory culture. Students understand quickly with Cold Calling that there is nowhere to hide and they have to prepare for the possibility that at any time they may be called on to participate in the lesson. This helps hugely with classroom focus and learning. 
  1. Pace. Cold Calling obviates you having to wait for hands – can you hear the tumble weed? Neither do you have to repeat tired old mantras such as : “I am seeing the same two or three hands every time I ask a question. This does not work unless we all participate”. With Cold Calling learning time is not wasted. 
  1. Embedding Cold Calling can transform the whole lesson/learning. If you make it explicit that Cold Calling will be the way that you will be checking understanding throughout the lesson (this could be in any or indeed all of the 4 lesson phases – Review, Activate, Demonstrate, Consolidate) then this will make all of the lesson activities non-discretionary and will increase student accountability.

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