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May 2021 BLOG

How do we engage students successfully back into learning in the classroom? A good place to start is the first chapter of Boys Don’t Try, which many of you have borrowed from the staff library as part of your professional development. One of the most interesting aspects of this first chapter is the myths that Pinkett and Roberts explode around engaging boys in learning. Three of the key myths are:

1. Boys like competition and learn best through being competitive.

2. All learning should be relevant to boys- so in other words choose topics like the Second World War, or Macbeth, and they will have more of a natural stake in it, and so will learn better.

3. Boys have particular learning styles, like visual and kinaesthetic. In other words, boys learn best when they are doing something hands-on.

The solutions put forward in the book for engaging boys in learning are very similar to a lot of the pedagogy we have been driving forward in our coaching, from Teach like a Champion (TLAC):

1. Begin each lesson with a brief review of previous learning

2. Provide models and examples with scaffolds

3. Include opportunities for guided student practice

4. Check for understanding, using lots of questions (not closed questions)

5. Trying to find ways for students to be successful- to build confidence

The main point the authors make though is to teach boys exactly the same way as you teach girls:

“High challenge. High expectations. No gimmicks. No shortcuts”

In other words all the attributes of QFT.

We have shared with you before Professor Rosenshine’s 10 principles of effective education, and there are many similarities between these and the solutions offered in Boys Don’t Try as well as our ongoing pedagogical focus. As a teacher, we must consider how these principles should be carefully deployed over a series of lessons, to ensure effective engagement from the students. In our training on this, we shared 9 of the Rosenshine principles with you that we believed fitted in with our pedagogy based on 2 of the Crookhorn bibles, Teach like a Champion (TLAC) and The Writing Revolution (TWR). If you look at the 9 principles, there is a clear correlation with the research from these books which have been linked below.

• Recap previous knowledge (across a series of lessons) (TLAC)

• Present new material in small steps (TLAC)

• Effective Check for Understanding of all (TLAC)

• Teacher modelling (TWR)

• Guided student practice (TWR)

• Obtain high success rate (BDT)

• Scaffolding tasks (TWR)

• Independent practice (application) (TLAC and TWR)

• Interleaving of learning based on a review of learning from previous lessons(TLAC)

Let's look at the planning aspect of using Rosenshine principles. Rosenshine’s evidence shows that lessons should begin with the recall of previous learning – not just of recently learned information, but also of information that was learned much earlier (interleaving). This helps to build and strengthen the schema of knowledge (the map of knowledge) in the student’s mind, enabling new information to be understood, stick more easily and for longer.

New information should also be given in small chunks, ideally with time to practice recalling and using that information, under the guidance of the teacher. This helps the students to take in the new knowledge and synthesize it with their prior knowledge. This strengthens the schema of knowledge. Students have recently told us that they much prefer small chunks of learning, with plenty of opportunities to recall it with low-stakes quizzes (opportunity for obtaining a high success rate). It’s a good plan!

Questions should be asked frequently and to all students throughout the lesson. This can be a huge challenge, so do not feel guilty if you do not get around all 30 of your students in one lesson. However, aiming to get around your class on a regular basis will achieve two things. First, it provides opportunities to assess and give feedback to each student. Second, it instils in the students the idea that there is no opt-out; students cannot just refuse to pay attention, because everyone will be expected to answer at some point in the lesson. The power of the cold call has been promoted many times over the years through coaching and through the teaching and learning blogs. It is a very powerful tool, and we should all be trying to use this consistently.

Live, worked examples (not pre-prepared model-answers) should be demonstrated by the teacher, whether this is constructing a sentence, planning a longer answer, or working through a problem that needs to be solved. The teacher should model the dialogue or thinking that happens internally- to demonstrate that it is not always possible to get things right first time around. In fact, that rarely happens. By modelling the internal dialogue/thinking, the teacher is showing students the importance and natural process of making a mistake, reconsidering, and then trying again (i.e. drafting and redrafting).

Students say they like the teacher doing this on the board or with the visualiser, which you now all have. This process has the benefit of giving the students a visible idea of what knowledge and skills they should be able to replicate or create on their own, the process they might need to go through to complete the task and most importantly of all, how important it is to accept that it might not be right-first-time round. Understanding the “journey” to the answer helps students to tackle challenges one step at a time, thereby building their learning and writing resilience.

When expecting students to take knowledge and transfer it into a coherent piece of writing or to use it in a problem-solving task, students should be given scaffolds to help guide or structure their responses or to help them recall the relevant knowledge. This process of scaffolding links directly with the importance of planning. Planning is vital to all our students as their executive functioning is still developing until their mid-20s. As a result, we need to support the growth of these cognitive processes, by habitualising certain practices with them, which will ultimately enable them to perform longer and more complex tasks more effectively.  This is where the TWR strategies such as Single Paragraph outlines or sentence starters are crucial.

For some of our students, there is the reality of school just being associated with a place where they fail in all areas, repeatedly. Many of us don't know how this feels, so find it hard to appreciate what this must feel like for some of our children. Experiencing success in some form or another is a massive motivator, and we have been witness to this, therefore this has to be a significant strategy for us to pursue in the classroom. How you differentiate, so children do gain success is vital and touches on what we wrote about in the February 2021 blog. We also know that low-stakes quizzes are a great way to develop student confidence in their knowledge base and can leave them feeling upbeat about their learning at the end of the lesson, so long as the questions are appropriately differentiated to allow success for all learners. The use of verbal praise in the class to a student who struggles is a significant tool as is praise in written feedback on a piece of work. We have found that the awarding of Commo’s on ClassCharts is a similarly powerful tool. Please remember to use this where appropriate. The student and their parent get to see that commo and the comment- and it can give a child a huge lift!

Finally, give students the opportunity to practice on their own — a challenge that determines whether the knowledge has been learned or not.

We know implement these steps or practices in our classrooms then we will see an improvement in student engagement and outcomes (with a disproportionately positive effect on our Pupil Premium students). The challenge is for us all to do this on a consistent basis.