Why?To raise achievement in my Year 12 and Year 13 classes, I knew that this year I needed to have an embedded exam focus in all my lessons and not just at the end of topics. At the same time, I also felt that the trend for differentiated learning objectives that are leveled or graded in every lesson was becoming meaningless for my students who knew full well that the learning that we were going to cover in a singular lesson would not mean that they were going to achieve a ‘C’ or ‘B’ grade by the end of that lesson. My objectives needed to become SMART: measurable and achievable steps to success with a focus on practicing exam skills and demonstrating exam knowledge in every lesson.
Why? Does anyone else find that every time they think of a brilliant, challenging, barnstorming question, their classroom suddenly resembles this image? No? Me neither. Too often I’ve found that after asking a question, I wasn’t placing a high enough demand on all of the class to consider it. I also noticed that, on occasion, I would ask questions which meant that most pupils did not need to do any thinking. For instance:
“Alex, why might Shakespeare have chosen to start ‘Macbeth’ with the three witches?” Potentially quite an interesting question, but by stating the name of the student first, it’s more difficult to guarantee that other students are also considering the question. Easily fixed:
“Why might Shakespeare have chosen to start ‘Macbeth’ with the three witches? (pause) Alex?” This seems better on the surface, asking the question, then giving wait time, then referring to Alex. But is there any real guarantee or that all students will be thinking?
Possible solution? In the video below, Dylan William describes the difference between ‘table tennis’ and ‘basketball’ style questioning, an analogy which I’m sure many teachers are familiar with. This ties in with the technique Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce which you can read about here.
However, if we want to use these techniques, we need to ensure that all students have fully thought about the question. In order to achieve this, I’ve been trying to make my initial question much more tenacious, demanding that everyone thinks about this question, and making sure that I’ve repeated the question at least twice. Now my question looks something like this:
“Right guys, I’m going to ask you a question and I need everyone to think about it. (pause to check listening) Why might Shakespeare have chosen to start ‘Macbeth’ with the three witches? Think really carefully about how this might affect the play. How would starting the play with the witches affect his audience? Think about it. Why might Shakespeare have chosen to start the ‘Macbeth’ with the three witches. (pause)”
After repeating the question, and giving plenty of wait time I’ll ask a student to offer an answer, before passing the question onward and building a discussion.
Variation. After the repeated question, give everyone a short amount of time to jot down their initial thoughts. Doug Lemov, in Teach Like a Champion calls this technique ‘Everybody Writes’. In his words:
“Effective teachers also set their students tp to hold rigorous discussions and reach rigorous conclusions by giving them the opportunity to reflect first in writing before discussing”
Often, I return back to this post from @HuntingEnglish, giving ten clear and easy to follow questioning strategies. This is also where I first saw the Dylan William video.
Outcome. Just as repeating instructions tends to lead to greater clarity before an extended task, repeating and rewording the question tends to lead to more thinking and more valuable discussion. With enthusiastic younger classes this means more excitable faces, more hands flying up into the air and more incredulous expressions as I demand on ‘no hands up’. With older classes, more meaningful discussion, more students willing to build on each other’s ideas, and less students idly letting just one of their peers do all the thinking.
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