Bright spots // 11th November 2016
Mr Bates (Music) – Year 8 students were busy practicing a scene from a common nursery rhyme. Students were challenged to think about their placing on the stage using technical language and in small groups were developing a scene. After a period of practice (during which Mr Bates gave students feedback and further challenge) students were then asked to perform their scene. This is something students often find difficult or are reluctant to do but Mr Bates had built a safe environment in which students could perform. Strict rules were enforced so that the audience respected the performers. Mr Bates questioned the audience following the performance to elicit feedback to the performers based on the success criteria discussed earlier in the lesson. The questions often probed deeper and challenged students to elaborate on their answers giving reasons.
Mrs Horrill (Business) – Year 10 students were working on a piece of coursework as a result of a series of lessons leading up to some extended writing. Students were able to work independently and made good use of the course textbook. Students worked in silence which in this particular situation appeared to enable students to work to depth. If they needed help they were able to consult the textbook first before asking the teacher. Whilst this was going on Mrs Horrill was giving 1-to-1 verbal feedback to each student to ensure they understood how to improve. The set up for this lesson showed clear planning that focused on students practicing the skills and knowledge they had built up over a series of lessons.
Mr Ferguson (Technology) – Mr Ferguson began this lesson with some retrieval practice in the shape of an exam question. Students were given time to complete the question before going through possible answers. Mr Ferguson questioned students to depth asking them to offer answers and give reasons for their answers. He also modeled the thinking behind the approach and asked students to explain how they approached the question and came to an answer. Mr Ferguson had really high expectations of student responses and encouraged them to always a give a reason for their answer. In the lesson students had also been making use of a knowledge organiser to start assessing what they knew and what they needed to revise.
Ms Campbell (History) – Year 8 students were acting on feedback from their most recent assessment – an extended piece of writing. Before students got started Ms Campbell spent some time recapping the PEE (Point Evidence Explain) method for tackling long answer questions. She did this really well by modelling a paragraph on the board and then asking students to pick out the different parts of the PEE method. Ms Campbell used questioning to challenge students to think about how this might help them with their own work. With a clear understanding of what was expected of students they were then given time to act on the feedback Ms Campbell had given them. She had used ‘code marking’ to reduce marking time and students were being trained in how to do this. Students then worked in silence to improve their work whilst Ms Campbell circulated the room to give more verbal feedback.
Ms Harry (Drama) – Year 9 students were being introduced to a new topic about ‘Developing empathy.’ Ms Harry started by questioning students of the word ’empathy.’ She then followed this up by giving students the example of young homeless people to discuss: “What are the common assumptions we make?” This led to a rich discussion partly due to the choice of example planned for this discussion – something all of the students were already aware of. The talk in small groups was really purposeful and when Ms Harry got the class back together to feedback some wonderful responses were shared. Student oracy was really strong in this lesson which was down to Ms Harry’s high expectations of student language.
Mrs Dixon (Maths) – Year 9 students were revisiting a topic from a previous topic and were given time to practice their skill in substituting numbers. This was great retrieval practice. Student voice suggested that students could remember the topic but were a bit ‘rusty’ when it came to application of the skill. Retrieval practice is absolutely vital for learning so it’s really encouraging so see this happening in many lessons across the academy. Whilst students were practicing Mrs Dixon was able to move around the room offering 1-to-1 feedback and further challenge. The task had been designed so that it gradually got harder as students moved from left to right.
Mrs Atkinson (Computing) – Year 8 students were engaging with some DIRT time following a recent written assessment. They had been given feedback on their assessment and were now practicing skills based on knowledge gaps identified through the assessment. The class was quietly working and being supported through additional resources and feedback from Mrs Atkinson. In order to dissolve some common misconceptions Mrs Atkinson spent time modelling the process of converting binary numbers on the board so that students could revisit the process. This then enabled a number of students to work independently through the practice materials.
Ms Jenkins (Science) – Year 8 students were investigating how mass effects the speed of an object falling. Ms Jenkins had used the example of aid agencies dropping food parcels into hard reach areas of the world. This example gave students a concrete starting point for understanding the concept they were learning about. Next, students built mini paper helicopters for an experiment that involved dropping the helicopters from a set height multiple times, adding more weight after each drop. Before carrying out the experiment students were asked to make a prediction as to what would happen as more weight was added. They then went out into the academy to test their predictions by dropping paper helicopters from the first floor to the ground floor. Students had been put into groups and assigned roles to carry out this experiment. As students conducted the experiment Ms Jenkins visited each group to question their method and challenge them further about their results and what the results meant. Students appeared to enjoy this practical but at the same time felt challenged by the science!
‘Quick wins’ #16 – SLANT – Building habits in the classroom.
Why? I’ve struggled to get 100% attention from students 100% of the time. Quite often when I instruct students I’ll use the “3,2,12 technique to get students attention, which works well. But I then struggle to retain attention. This is made especially difficult when teaching in a Computing room – the lure of the computer screen can be too much for students. A typical instruction will have to be halted within seconds to address students who’s eyes have wondered back to their computer screen.
Possible solution. I needed a routine to retain student attention. I started my research by looking at Doug Lemov’s excellent collection of videos for his ‘Teach like a Champion’ book. I came across the video below.
It was during the video I saw a poster on the wall of one of the classrooms with the word ‘SLANT.’ Further investigation led me to discover the meaning of this term. SLANT is a strategy used to get students to pay attention not only when the teacher is talking but also when a student contributes to a discussion. An overview of the strategy can be found below…
Sit up: What is the right posture to sit in the classroom? Is it to rest your head on your hands, sit slouched in your seat or put your head down on the table? These are all positions that will put students to sleep. In order to develop attentive listeners, it is essential to encourage students to sit up straight with their back against the seat, feet placed firmly on the ground and hands on the table. This is the optimal position to ensure good learning and processing of information.
Lean forward: Another position that is critical to promote active listening is leaning forward. Students should be taught to lean forward during a lesson. It may also help teachers understand the interest level of the class and fine tune their presentation to make it more interesting for the students.
Ask and answer questions: This component can liven up the classroom and encourage students to be active in their learning process. Encourage them to clarify their doubts, answer questions, and discuss or debate on ideas. These question and answer sessions can help activate their thinking, encourage critical analysis of the content and strengthen their understanding of the lesson.
Nod your head: Nodding one’s head is a form of nonverbal communication to indicate that the lesson has been understood. When a teacher observes a student nodding his/her head, they may proceed with the lesson. On the other hand, failure to nod will signal that the student has not understood the lesson and the teacher may need to clarify or explain further. “N” can also stand for ‘noting down and naming key information’ which enables students to retain the information and makes learning stronger.
Track the speaker: The attention span of every student is different. Tracking the speaker is a visual cue to be attentive. Students should be encouraged to track both the teacher and other students who are presenting in class. The conscious effort to track the speaker will help students to be attentive at all times and prevent them from getting lost or daydreaming in class.
Taken from Professional Learning Board.
SLANT poster for the classroom [PDF]
Outcome. I am in the early stages of trialing this technique with Year 7, 8 & 9 students. I have found ‘Track the speaker’ particularly useful as a cue for students to pay attention to whoever is speaking. At the time of writing it has taken a lot of hard work to embed the routine but I am beginning to see more students listening to instructions and positively engaging in class discussions. Other teachers in my department have also started to embed these commands and the initial feedback from them is positive. One restriction at the moment is that students are only exposed to the routine in my classroom for 50 minutes a week so they don’t get to practice as often as I’d like. This means I have to continually remind them, but I believe the effort I put in is worth the outcome.
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‘Quick wins’ #15 – Getting students to articulate their learning.
Why? I guess I was never really convinced by the idea of getting students to articulate their learning; I thought it was one of those tokenistic additions to lessons, something that would please the observer rather than having an impact on students’ learning. So, when students were clearly making progress through their written work, I was little concerned if they couldn’t express precisely what they were learning, verbatim, like they had regurgitated every word of the specification. I was also very cautious of time that this took; I feared it would slow down the pace of the lesson, that I would lose the students before I had a chance to engage them. I was wrong…
Possible solution. I now think that getting students to precisely articulate their learning is integral to their engagement and to their progress. So, what changed? Persistence and developing habits. Just like Einstein said,
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Although I had always shared the lesson outcomes with students, their interaction with them was something that I tried to build on, every lesson; before, I had just assumed that reading the objectives to students was enough. However, David Didau’s book, The Perfect English Lesson, was something which helped me to question this process. He talks about getting students to interact with the lesson objective in creative ways – getting them to guess missing words; to write the lesson objective as a facebook status and then allowing students to comment on this. Therefore, I took inspiration from this.
Firstly, I started with the language in the outcomes of the objective. I stripped the specification down, picking out the key words. For a reading lesson in English this usually translates to getting students to explain, explore, analyse language or ideas. Through questioning, I then got students to define – precisely – what these words meant. To help with this I added pictures beneath my outcomes and I asked students to match up the correct pictures to the outcomes. This led to an increased sense of clarity. For example, students were able to link the picture of an explorer surveying a landscape to the need to look everywhere in a text; to find more than one quotation to support a point; to look at more than one interpretation when looking at a quotation. Discussion evolved further to looking at sentence starters which would help students to demonstrate that they were explaining or exploring an idea.
Example learning objectives (editable).
Outcome. This strategy has worked successfully. Students are now clearly able to say what they are learning in a lesson and they can also precisely say what level they are working at, as well as being able to articulate how to move to the next level. This has motivated students: their next learning milestones have shrunk, becoming tangible, and within their reach. Also, with a new emphasis on lesson grades being linked to ‘progress over time’, students’ ability to articulate what they have learnt and how they have progressed is more paramount than ever. In a recent observation it was great to see students explaining to the observer what they had learnt and how they could progress further. However, I don’t think this has solely been achieved by getting students to interact with the lesson objectives and outcomes alone; the language used in the objectives has permeated all aspects of learning. I have used it repeatedly through questioning and book marking, too. In this respect, it has also sped up the latter as, in some cases, I am able to write ‘explain your point’ or ‘analyse these words.’ In short, having high expectations around students being able to articulate their learning has led to significant improvements in my classroom. So, if you are worried about this absorbing too much lesson time, fear not: just persist. And slowly, students will possess a clear understanding of what they need to learn, and know exactly how to get there.
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‘Quick wins’ #14 – Walking dictation – Team work, communication and accuracy.
Why? Proof reading – self assessment. I am forever correcting the same mistakes which arise from a lack of proof reading. As soon as I question a student they know how to correct their work, but they don’t seem to do it!
Possible solution. Walking dictation. Students work in group of three – one student is the scribe and the other two are runners. Differentiated texts, images or sound files are placed across the classroom from where the groups are based.
One runner from each group at a time ‘walks’ to their allocated text, reads part of it and returns back to the group where they dictate to the scribe what they read. The other runner hears how far their team mate read and goes up to the text to read and then return to relay the next part of the text to the team. The scribe is using listening and writing skills and the runners are using listening, reading and speaking skills.
All members are working on their communication and team work skills.
What’s the carrot? Well there has to be a success criteria and I use the least amount of points win. Winners win one point, second place two etc. However, points are incurred for misspelt words, or indeed missed words.
Walking Dictation – How to – editable
Outcome. Challenge and drive for accuracy. It is an engaging task where students realise the importance of accuracy and to check over their work to eliminate avoidable errors.
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‘Quick wins’ #9 – Developing oracy: Getting students to respond in full sentences.
Why? Students, due to apathy or due to the state school pandemic of not wanting to sound clever, often avoid giving a thorough explanation to reveal the depth of their learning; rather, given the chance, they will utter a barely audible ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and quickly retreat back into their protective shells. Sound familiar?
Possible solution. To combat this – a simple solution: have high expectations of students’ oracy so that they respond in full sentences.
a) To achieve this, get students to rephrase your question as part of their answer.
For example: Why does Dickens open his novel, Bleak House, with pathetic fallacy?
Student answer: Dickens opens his novel, Bleak House, with pathetic fallacy because…
b) When posing an open-ended question, provide an oral scaffold to extend students’ thinking.
An example slide scaffolding oracy.
Outcome. Having high expectations around students’ oracy has resulted in students providing in-depth feedback as opposed to giving one word answers. In English, levels can also be attached to the quality of student responses: level 5 is linked with being able to explain your ideas; level 6 requires students to explore ideas, thereby showing that information can be interpreted in different ways. As a result, students have evolved to see the value and importance of talk in a lesson – no longer is it an opportunity to doze off or give a mere one word answer, which had previously given them the impression that they were making a meaningful contribution to the lesson – but, by giving extended answers, students now realise that this is an integral part to the lesson. It has also helped to bridge the gap between the talking and writing stage of the lesson. Students recognise that if they can articulate their ideas verbally, this also helps them to translate their ideas to the page.
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