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September 2020 BLOG

In the first of our teaching and learning blogs of the new academic year, I thought it was important for us to reflect on how we are all trying to adapt to the different situation we find ourselves in and how our pedagogy must adapt for the foreseeable future.

Due to the requirements that teachers are required to maintain 2m from students as much as possible, or stay at the front of the room and not move around as much as we used to do, this fundamentally changes the way we teach. From my coaching visits so far, it has been noticeable that we are all struggling to do this as the habits of us working closely with children has been engrained over such a long period of time.

How often have we moved around the classroom to either support students who are struggling or offer one to one support or place ourselves near or very close to students who are struggling with staying on task? It feels like these normal parts of our teaching practice have been lost for the time being and we need to come up with new ideas to make sure our students can access and stay on track with their learning.

In our training at the start of the term, Chris and I went through a couple of important strategies that we want all teaching staff to consider as you reflect on your own practice in the classroom. We talked about the use of questioning and modelling by using the visualiser but I want to expand on these in this blog and guide you to some good videos from Teach like a Champion which show you some excellent examples.


Targeted Questioning: A quick series of carefully chosen, open-ended questions directed at a strategic sample of the class and executed in a short period of time.

Targeted Questioning is a Teach Like a Champion Strategy that aims to ensure all students are understanding the most important aspects of a lesson. Targeted Questioning replaces unreliable forms of questioning, like self-reporting where a teacher simply asks the class, "Does everyone get it?" and a few students mumble yes or shake their heads. Self-reporting does not really tell a teacher if students understand, but Targeted Questioning can.

There are a few important principles of Targeted Questioning:

1. Plan Ahead: Choose a few transitional points in your lesson where you know in advance you want to ask a few questions to see if students learned a concept. Remember Sarah’s quote from our INSET training- it’s not if we have taught them but have they have learnt it.  This may add time to your lesson but choosing a few points throughout the lesson instead of one at the end will help you catch points of confusion early in the learning process.

2. Write the Questions in Advance in your MTP on itslearning: Prepare questions in advance, ideally when you are lesson planning in your Tuesday CPT sessions. While this may take extra time, it frees up your brainpower during the lesson to analyse how well students are understanding the content. For each transitional point, have a few questions ready that will help you assess how well students have learned the information. My teaching hero Dylan Wiliam explains it far better than I could possibly do!

3. Speed Counts: Each time Targeted Questioning is used in a lesson it should take less than a minute or two. If the questions take longer, it is harder to consistently work Targeted Questioning into your lesson.

4. Sample Strategically: When calling on students to answer the questions, try to call on 5-6 students who represent the range of abilities in the room. Select the specific kids you will call on in advance to save time. If they are answering on whiteboards specifically look at students’ answers that will give you a good idea of the different range of answers and consider what that is telling you about the learning.

5. Cold Call: We talked about cold calling in INSET and we would really like to see this on a more consistent basis around the College. Best practice is to ask the question, pause to give all students time to consider the question and then ask a student. Try the no hands up policy many Crookhorn teachers are using and keep the students on their toes! This video from TLAC is a good example of this.

Targeted Questioning goes well with Feedback because taking the time to question students in this way allows them to show the teacher what they know. It also gives the teacher an opportunity to let students know how they are doing and what might need to be fixed.

2. Use the Visualiser

If you don’t yet have a visualiser, then please let me know immediately so I can get one to you ASAP. We should have a visualiser in every classroom and they are the ultimate resource for teaching from the front.

From model answers to live feedback, these can transform the experience for both students and teachers. We want you to continue to give feedback via itslearning or through the books as normal but our strategy of ‘live marking’ during the classroom was having real benefits before Covid. We need to keep this going so if you can get their work under the camera to give live feedback, then yet another barrier to "usual" procedures is removed.

Getting the permission of the student is important; not all of them will be comfortable with such exposure, but, over time, a culture of trust can be developed so that all students feel able to get involved.

3. Model, model, model

My recent coaching conversations highlighted the feeling that teachers won’t be able to see the immediate mistakes that are being made if they can't move around the room and observe students as they work. We often look over shoulders and catch a student before they derail an entire paragraph with a simple mistake. To counter this, extended and front-ended modelling can really help.

Teacher toolkit has the policy of ‘We use "I do it; we do it; you do it" as a structure – and the dialogic element of the "we do it" is absolutely crucial.

Time needs to be spent on this part of the process. As the scaffolding is removed, students' confidence will flourish – and although we won’t be able to see the mistakes in the first instance, the build-up will hopefully mean that there are far fewer who we need to catch.

I want to thank all teachers who have embraced the new strategies needed to give our students the best possible learning experience since they returned. If you would like to contribute to future blogs, please do let me know and any feedback or questions on this blog are gratefully received.