Teaching and Learning Blog
By James Collins, Deputy Headteacher
- Read MorePublished 06/01/20, by James CollinsI bet your confused now, arent you? Lets face it: theres something wrong hear. Your already wondering how many of these errors their are. You our, arent you? Were not used to seeing this sort of thing in print though. You could cheat. You could cu
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November 2019 BlogPublished 03/12/19, by James Collins
The November Blog will take the concept of planning further and will focus on the importance of the drafting as well as the importance of the single paragraph outline, which looks at the power of the topic and concluding sentences as the main framework of a plan. There will also be some examples teachers have shared with me about how they have trialled this with their classes so you can ask questions or have a chat with colleagues who are giving this a go.
Writing is a process, or at least it should be. It involves thinking, jotting down ideas, refining these ideas, thinking about the structure, linking ideas and much more. One problem is that writing is often neglected in the classroom – it’s seen as time-consuming and ends up being relegated to a homework task with little or no proper preparation. This is not going to help our students in these more rigorous, writing-based exams.
If we want our students to become good writers, then we must spend more time in the classroom teaching them how to write. This doesn’t simply mean getting them to write more, as that isn’t teaching. Of course, practice is important, but you can only practice something if you have a clear idea of what your goal is and how to reach it. One of the key things to good writing is a willingness to go back over what you’ve written, edit, receive feedback, revise and rewrite. At first, it can be difficult and sometimes even painful (especially with our students), but, with practice, students will come to realise that what they are producing is improving by leaps and bounds. It’s not simply a matter of reading through a piece of writing looking for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors; it’s about reading through it to see how it can be made better. In a way, a piece of writing should never be finished – it should just be one step further on.
Even if students sit down with a blank piece of paper in front of them (or, more likely nowadays, a blank screen such as I had at the start of this!), they need to have some idea of what they want to write. For most writing, there needs to be a purpose and an idea of who the reader is going to be. This is all part of the planning stage. Often the planning will take longer than the actual writing, but if the result is a better piece of writing then there is nothing wrong with that at all. Planning can take all sorts of shapes and forms, such as brainstorming ideas; noting down important facts or pieces of information to be included or annotating a piece of text with important inferences that can then be ordered into a piece of critical and evaluative writing.
When it comes to paragraphs and compositions, a quick outline can help students structure their ideas and understanding for larger essays. Outlines enable students to develop their writing as a cohesive whole and visualise a beginning, middle, and end in their writing. Outlines can also help students distinguish essential versus non-essential material and, importantly the sequencing information.
An outline has the following benefits:
- Provides Structure
- Eliminates Repetition
- Improves Adherence to Topic
- Aids in sequencing
Teachers should model a quick outline for the class before requiring students to complete outlines on their own.
Before beginning outlines, you might give students a Topic Sense (TS) and Supporting Detail (SD) and have students identify which is the TS and which detail is SD. For example:
__________ Mitosis is a process of cell division.
__________ In the cell nucleus, chromosomes are separated into two identical sets.
This might be a do now for a science class put on the whiteboard before the students come in. Once students can identify the topic sentence, the class might follow up with a conversation to articulate their reasoning.
Another activity would be to give students four sentences and have students sequence the sentences for a paragraph. For example:
_______ Harriet Tubman helped slaves to freedom.
_______ John Brown led a small rebellion against slavery.
_______ The anti-slavery movement began to grow in the 1850s.
_______ Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election.
A third strategy that can be used as a quick do now or exit ticket is to have students identify the topic sentence and eliminate irrelevant details by listing different information or giving students an entire paragraph of information.
All of these activities help students to think about the elements of paragraph writing and building stamina and critical thinking for essay writing.
The Hochman Method Quick Outline is, therefore, this simple formula:
TS; 4 details from the t + CS.
Note the dotted lines for the textual details. The dotted lines suggest to students that they do not have to write in complete sentences, rather include keywords and phrases. The TS and CS are solid lines that require a complete, specific, and detailed sentence.
The Quick Outline template above is for a single paragraph.
Additional lessons for outlining include:
- Students are given details and must generate a topic sentence.
- Generating a concluding sentence from a given topic sentence and details.
- Given a paragraph and convert it into a quick outline by picking out the key details
- Given a topic, generate a Quick SPO (Single Paragraph Outline) independently.
Once students start writing, they need to understand that this is just the first draft – that finishing the writing is only the first step to getting a piece that is good enough. Drafting is a kind of practice exercise for a final draft. What you are asking them to produce in a draft is a rough version of how their final writing will look like.
It is most unlikely that their first attempt will be outstanding, and so you should plan to get them to re-write the draft at least once. The process of making changes to a draft is called re-drafting. Before this, they must develop their understanding through feedback.
It is vital to firstly check that students understand the feedback you have given them. If they do not understand, they will not make the necessary improvements needed. If you are giving feedback through live marking, then it is easy to check for understanding. If they are responding to feedback you have given them in your written marking, then make sure you target students who you know might need further support immediately as you circulate the room. Ask them to let you know if they do not understand their feedback which will help you know where to go first. Ask the students to identify the major problems which they need to work on. There might be many problems but try to get students to focus on the main problems through your feedback as that will help them make the greatest improvement to their work. They then redraft the writing or a section of the writing again.
My thanks to Caroline Nailor and Katy King for providing some excellent examples of how they have started using this in their lessons which have been photocopied for you and come with this blog. If you would like to speak to them further about how they have introduced this, please do go and speak to them and gain their insight.
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October 2019 BLOGPublished 07/11/19, by James CollinsFailing to plan? Then you’re planning to fail! This blog mirrors and outlines the content of the MasterClass that was delivered to ALL Y11 on 16th October 2019. Starting with the entirely imaginary mathematical formula, that: k+p+tm=s
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September 2019 BlogPublished 09/10/19, by James Collins
The Writing Revolution
‘Research – particularly that of psychologist Anders Ericsson – tells us that for practice to improve skills, it has to have a specific and focused goal and must gradually link together a series of smaller goals to created linked skills.’ - TWR
A fundamental part of teaching is the innate desire to impart knowledge and experience to others. We have the great privilege of being a shaping force in a student’s life and all want to guide them towards success. The Writing Revolution (TWR) is full of methods to help synthesise the teaching of skills in small and manageable steps linking towards the greater goal of exam literacy. However, it is not just for literacy-based subjects, it can be used to help students gain order and discipline in their thought processes.
The planning and refinement of ideas is a key skill the students need in order to secure a standard pass. As soon as a sentence appears on your laptop screen you are planning its revision and refinement. Yet, this hidden phase of sentence creation comes intrinsically from many years of experience and practice, which is something our students do not have. Hochman and Wexler focus on regular repeated exercises to gradually develop the key skills needed to write fluently. Editing and adapting the construction of sentences are key to building fluent readers, writers and speakers.
The TWR’s six writing principles
- Students need explicit instruction in writing.
- Sentences are the building blocks of all writing.
- When embedded in the content of the curriculum, writing instruction is a powerful teaching tool.
- The content of the curriculum drives the rigour of the writing activities.
- Grammar is best taught in the context of student writing.
- The two most important phases of the writing process are planning and revising.
Through the writing principles, we are encouraged to plan into our MTPs the explicit instruction of sentence creation as part of the wider learning topic. By creating an expectation of writing about the topic currently studied, the students learn the grammatical skills whilst developing opinions and knowledge for their upcoming test. It is encouraged that upon introducing a new writing activity, begin by modelling and have the students practise orally so that they can first formulate the idea out loud before they need to write it down. This will encourage them to practise self-editing without the stress of written ‘failure’.
A key skill our students struggle with is understanding the difference between a sentence and a fragment. The inability to express a complete thought often derails the results of our ‘forgotten third’ as they struggle to put their knowledge into complete sentences. TWR has many techniques to help these learners and one I have found success with is providing sentence fragments from the previous lesson as DO NOWs.
Example: You may give them ‘settled near rivers’ as a key bit of information they need to remember. The students then need to draw on the content they’ve learned to provide the subject of the sentence: ‘early Americans settled near rivers’. You could further develop this with the extension of the ‘because, but, so’ exercise or alternatively include the use of subordinating conjunctions (although, unless etc.) to change the meaning of the sentence. If struggling, the students can first practice the task aloud to a partner as comprehension is often easier to develop when heard.
An offshoot of this is the difficulty of developing the detail of sentences. I am constantly writing probing questions on their work in order to get them to develop their opinions. Rather than simply providing sentence starters you can practice the ‘because, but, so’ exercise to ensure they extend their sentences.
Example: You begin with a sentence stem that is directly about your topic (Scrooge is a representation of the entitled upper classes). The students then have to expand using the conjunctions because, but and so. This not only teaches them to add extra detail to their work but also encourages them to formulate their opinions/accumulate their knowledge on the subject. If done regularly, they develop the habit of extending their sentences with specific points about the subject, leading to greater retention in understanding.
Another valuable exercise is the commonly used sentence jumble. Rather than spend your life cutting out pieces of paper simply reorder sentences that contain key information for the lesson.
Example: The students first task is to unscramble the sentences correctly before working out what the new information means. You can do this on mini-whiteboards to assist with the visual delay from working off of a central PowerPoint and the ability to erase mistakes builds confidence. They are practising the creation of sentence construction and the intrinsic skills of editing and re-drafting.
Whilst this information doesn’t stem from a new fountain of knowledge, it will help to ensure consistency throughout subjects to aid students development. Building confidence in the creation and expansion of sentences encourages the students to not only develop their writing but also their reading, listening, speaking and questioning. All key skills are tied into meta-cognition, so the more we can encourage them to actively think about their learning the more they will learn.
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June 2019 BLOGPublished 11/07/19, by James Collins
At Crookhorn we put tremendous value in the way our classrooms look and how they should help our students learn. Over the last three years, we have had the ‘clear the clutter’ campaign to make sure our classrooms are clean, tidy and professional and I think this has had a significant influence on how our classrooms look today. We have also asked our teachers to really consider what is displayed on the walls, so they support students and teachers with some key, fundamental aspects of their learning.
Classroom environments can both support and enrich the learning of all children. As well as being rich, enabling and welcoming, the classroom environment can be a learning tool, a way of engaging children and building the class community. It can create a sense of ownership and be used to support and promote learning as well as celebrating children’s work. With thought and planning an effective classroom environment is used as an interactive resource supporting teaching, learning and assessment.
I think the first consideration when planning the learning environment for your classroom is that what you put up around the room can really help set the mood of your room. It’s no secret that schools can be quite daunting places for many students. Having a calm, visually appealing learning environment can go a long way to helping students feel welcome and valued. We have promoted the fact that our classrooms should be SEN friendly, especially with the fact that 25% of our cohorts have recognised barriers to learning. Natalie has done training for us recently on some of the strategies and I urge you to look back over the Power Point I have attached to familiarise yourself with her guidance. The key ideas being for us to analyse our seating plans carefully to make sure the SEN students are in an appropriate place so teachers can easily access them and key vocab with definitions on the walls which students can quickly access.
The second consideration is that we should consider displays as learning tools and not distractions. One of the best things about children, in my opinion, is their ability to absorb knowledge like a sponge. It’s vital that students are exposed to content in as many ways as possible while they’re at College. We know that students can often absorb information subconsciously from visual prompts when they are tested in other spaces. Whether it be information walls, thought-provoking posters, or simple diagrams, your students will appreciate the reminders when their knowledge and understanding requires consolidation.
That being said – you can’t just jam-pack your walls with information! Research also suggests that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing. Research by Fisher, Goodwin and Seltman showed that children can be more distracted by the visual environment, spend more time off task and demonstrate smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed. It is important to avoid clutter! Keep at least 20 percent of your wall space clear, and leave ample space between displays so they don’t look disorganized. Resist the temptation to keep adding displays; it’s better to swap them rather than keep adding more.
So what do you do? How do you find the right balance?
If you are going to be teaching and directing your students’ attention toward a particular place quite regularly (such as the whiteboard), it’s a good idea to limit the content around this area. This allows students to more easily focus their attention on you. This area should be restricted to just the vital learning tools that you often need students to remember!
The areas where children will not be receiving direct instruction, such as the side walls and the back of the classroom are often spaces that can be used. It is important to direct the students to the relevant learning wall when appropriate.
It is essential that any print placed on your walls can be read! If in doubt, do the squint test. Stand about six feet away from your board and squint at it. If you can’t see the key words or read the definitions of what the key words mean then there is very little chance the students can either which means then the learning wall becomes redundant.
When creating a language-rich classroom, learning walls are particularly valuable. The language used within them sets the standard for the vocabulary we want our students to use. So, what are some good ideas for language-rich displays?
Word walls have long been a classroom staple, but how do we decide which words to showcase? An effective display should be clearly organised; it shouldn’t just be a messy collage of random terms. The words we want to focus are referred to as tier 2 and tier 3 words (Academic word list). Tier 2 vocabulary consists of tricky words that are regularly used by mature language users, found and used in any subject across the curriculum. Tier 3 vocabulary, on the other hand, refers to subject-specific terminology, like onomatopoeia or evaporation. A great idea is to build your walls around tier 2 or 3 words that relate to themes or topics that you are exploring in class. If you are teaching maths and doing averages you might want to create a learning wall around tier 3 terms like ‘median’, ‘mode’ and ‘range’.
One of the best ways of preparing your class for new language is through familiarising them with common roots and affixes. Once a student understands that the prefix ‘min-’ means ‘small’, they’ll be able to independently see the links between words like “minion” and “minor”. There are many strategies and templates you can get from the internet which can be used to help you plan out a learning wall for promoting these words.
It was noted by OFSTED that our learning walls are very effective resources to support and check that students understand the work. They also stated that classrooms are used well by pupils, particularly pupils with SEND to help them with their work. Our learning environments are crucial to making sure students are supported in the classroom but they are only effective if you refer to them, you make them relevant to your learners and they are easy to access for all students.
My thanks as always for taking the time to read this and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.
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May 2019 BlogPublished 14/05/19, by James Collins
My thanks this month go to Sean Russell, who has written a fascinating blog. Please read the article and any comments/feedback would be gratefully received. Over to you Sean...
Whilst many of the points I am going to discuss are linked to the way we teach science at Crookhorn, I see many ways in which they have cross-curricular implications. Before I discuss these ideas I want to make a few points about what we are all likely to have in common within our subject areas;
- Ideas can be abstract and difficult to understand.
- Students have to remember these abstract key ideas/knowledge for a long time... (KS3 à GCSE)
- Many GCSE marks are for the application of understood ideas. We must be imparting these skills early from year 7 onwards.
- There is a lot of ideas to remember and apply, we must build the skills needed to address this but also the resilience in individual learners.
- All students have to be able to deal flexibly and adaptively with these issues.
The model we have adopted and adapted this year in science I call the ‘precise learning model’. I am implementing this model because I believe it will help address the points discussed above.
It follows the formula below;
- What do the students need to be able to do/understand to be successful in this lesson? What are the key bits of knowledge they need to have secure in their minds? What precisely is it that they need to get?
- What prior learning do they have/ do they need in order to attempt this lesson? I need to check they have this foundation before introducing new knowledge.
- How am I going to teach them this new knowledge? How can I do this and build resilience?
- How am I going to check they “get it?” If they don’t what intervention/reteach will I introduce to ensure all students access the precise learning points for my lesson?
- How will they then apply this information to a new possibly unfamiliar situation? I need them to solve problems in their final exams, therefore, I need to teach them in a way that makes them a good problem solver.
Below is a diagram we use to summarise this model in science.
I have found that teaching this way has two main benefits:
- It gives their learning a purpose that is obvious to them.
- Provides opportunities for learning to become embedded and remembered.
The part about embedding and remembering is so important. We need ideas to be understood and remembered well enough to be able to build upon them later. So our teaching has to be carefully planned around them understanding key ideas.
But we must plan activities that are designed to support memory. (on top of the interleaving stuff we are all probably doing anyway).
In Summary, I think we need to be really clear about the difference and relationship between ‘teaching’ and ‘problem-solving’. When this becomes clear, and like second nature this model becomes efficient at achieving the outcomes mentioned above.
I found the following information online very recently so from here the writing is no longer my own. I think this article has links to what we are doing currently in the science department and other interesting information, which as you will see has implications for anyone in their classroom.
I would suggest reading the article multiple times. As you will see this is one way to maximise the movement of new information from short term to long term memory. There is no known limit to the amount of information the human brain is capable of storing. However, this is only true of information that is held in our long term memory. Therefore, it is a matter of use/reuse it or lose it!
A sensory stimulus leads to chemical and electrical changes in the brain; these are the basic memory traces in our short term working memory. Cognitive Load Theory suggests there is a limit to the number of these traces that can exist at any one time in my working memory. Whilst by no means certain and there is variability between people; about 4-7 memory traces can be held in the short term working memory at any one time. However, the size of each of these traces/memories can vary from small to huge; it still counts as just one. This will be important to remember when we look at elaboration and generation later on. These memory traces soon disappear unless transferred from the working memory into the long term memory
When teaching directly, don’t overload pupils’ limited working memory with “extraneous” information. Keep the instructions and information focussed particularly when pupils are meeting new material. This requires discipline from the teacher and careful thought about what information is needed, in what order.
The transfer to long term memory involves stabilising the traces by organising them and linking them to associated information, already known. This is the start of building up a mental model or schema. Once learnt the information is pretty much permanently stored in our long term memory; storage strength is strong.
As new knowledge needs to be connected to prior knowledge, the order of teaching information must be very carefully sequenced. Planning the sequential development of knowledge, the learning flow, is the critical first step in planning a series of lessons or scheme of learning. If the sequential development of knowledge wasn’t important to supporting learning we could literally look at what pupils need to know or be able to do and teach the constituent components in any random order we like.
The real problem we have is often retrieving the information and bringing it back into our short term working memory; retrieval strength is weak and it takes time and effort to build up the retrieval strength through memory cues. Once sufficiently strengthened these cues allow, almost without thinking, the recall pieces of information from long term memory; that is, automaticity. Part of learning, therefore, involves forgetting and then recalling. The more effort that is required in the recalling the greater the retrieval strength becomes.
We need to create opportunities for pupils to recall previously taught material, retrieval practice. The retrieval process could involve low stake testing/questioning. Start by retrieving the information taught in the lesson; a set of end of lesson multiple choice questions on the key information (quick and efficient but not requiring a great amount of effort to retrieve as the answer is one of the options provided) or a series of short response answers (require more effort as the pupils must use only their own memory cues) can be used. The correct answers should then be given and pupils mark their own work. This brings in the hypercorrection effect; pupils remember the corrected answer for longer than if they had guessed correctly in the first place. Retesting a day, week, month or months later keeps improving the retrieval strength.
Once recalled or retrieved the memory is now pliable; we can now reform it and add in additional knowledge which will deepen our understanding. In SOLO Taxonomy terms, the pupil is moving from multi-structural (lots of pieces of information) to the relational (the pieces connected together coherently) the to the extended abstract ( a more holistic understanding based on underlying principles or rules).
We need to develop a spiral style curriculum where pupils are able to revisit key ideas over time; spaced learning. On each of these occasions, teachers should require pupils to retrieve prior learning with the minimal number of external cues possible. There is then the opportunity to develop an iterative process where pupils can expand the mental model/schema/understanding of a particular area of the curriculum or life, in general.
Finally, we need to own the knowledge; the deepest test of understanding. Can we coherently and correctly apply our learning to explain a particular phenomenon?
Periodically you should ask students to write a paragraph or two in response to a question that will test their new learning. Why can seagulls dive through the surface of water but not ice given both consists of H2O particles?
The last part here is an example of how we might use application in order to problem solve, as I mentioned earlier.
Thanks for reading, now go and apply what you have learned.
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April 2019 BlogPublished 14/05/19, by James Collins
This month, I am very privileged to have a guest writer for the teaching and learning blog, as Carl Jones-Taylor has stepped into my shoes and has written the blog for April. As you all know, Carl is our assistant Head of House and also a fine tutor and is presently studying for his master’s qualification. Carl has a real passion for developing metacognition within Crookhorn and this month’s blog describes what he has learnt so far and some of the key aspects he has brought into his own teaching to help to improve his students learning habits. Carl, the floor is yours…
Metacognition is defined as “higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.”
Metacognition is unpicking the process with the students of what they are doing and why they are doing it.
When I first started looking at Metacognition and what it entailed, I spent a long time trawling through various websites looking for something that would fit. Eventually, I decided to use the Education Endowment Foundation. This was for a number of reasons. This organisation was established to provide validity and reliability to research carried out in education. If I was going to find something it needed to be worthwhile and valid. They claim that: ‘Metacognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact, with pupils making an average of seven months’ additional progress.’ As a concept, this can be applied to any subject, any lesson and even added to our MTPs. Taking it even further, the students can then start making cross-curricular links. The second reason I chose this variation was the simplicity of the process. Trying to encourage disadvantaged students to invest their time in anything is challenging so the simple nature of this version helps. The following diagram helps really understand how metacognition should be used with students in the classroom and how we can get students to really evaluate, plan and monitor their own work.
The final reason for this decision was that the cyclical process means that the students don’t just stop once they have completed a task or topic. The whole thing is not a linear process that stops once they have ‘done it’. It encourages them to revisit the skills or knowledge, especially as part of a spiral curriculum. I have used this structure in a lesson with Year 7. All of them could tell me when they had previously attempted a similar task before immediately opening their books to find it. They were then able to tell me what worked last time and what they need to work on. They don’t have a teacher telling them everything in an exam; they need to be able to think for themselves. Resilience and flexibility can be developed by them having to think for themselves whilst making the links between prior learning and what they are doing now.
One of the most important aspects of this strategy is the teacher modelling how to use this structure. My tutor group have seen me attempting science and maths explaining my thought processes as I go. Explicitly teaching how to use this method is also essential as it demonstrates the necessary and appropriate level of dialogue expected of the student.
It takes time for these skills to embed. Metacognition is not a quick or instant fix. It is a strategy that needs to be developed over time to ensure the students can use it naturally becoming part of their thought process when faced with any task.
I want to thank Carl for writing this extremely interesting blog and I know he will be highly involved with Dave Lemon in extending the use of the metacognition strategies within tutor time which I truly believe will help develop the Crookhorn learner for years to come. If anyone else is keen to write a guest blog on an area of teaching and learning please do contact me as I know there is so much expertise and passion within our teaching staff on different topics that we would all find interesting, especially after all the educational reading done recently in staff training.
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February 2019 BlogPublished 22/03/19, by James Collins
In the book ‘Leverage Leadership’, one of the core ideas is that effective teaching is not about whether we taught it, but about whether the students have learned it. Through a rigorous assessment structure, we are duty-bound to check the learning so we can analyse why certain students are struggling in topics and develop actions to respond to this. With our recent training looking at curriculum intentions and design, this should have led to us reflecting on how we assess our students and making sure the planning of our assessment map is correct. Below are some key points I want all teachers and Heads of Subject to consider when planning out the actual assessments that sit behind this assessment map.
1. Align assessments with the curriculum
In many respects, this seems obvious! I doubt many teachers deliberately set out to create and administer assessments that are not aligned with their curriculum. And yet, for a variety of different reasons, this does not seem to happen, with the result that students sit assessments that are not directly sampling the content and skills of the intended curriculum. In these cases, the results achieved, and the ability to draw any useful inferences from them, are largely redundant. If the assessment is not assessing the things that were supposed to have been taught, it is almost certainly a waste of time – not only for the students sitting the test but for the teachers marking it as well.
2. Define the purpose of an assessment first
Depending on how you view it, there are essentially two main functions of assessment. The first, and probably most important, the purpose is as a formative tool to support teaching and learning in the classroom. Examples might include a teacher setting a diagnostic test at the beginning of a new unit to find out what students already know so their teaching can be adapted accordingly. Formative assessment, or responsive teaching, is an integral part of teaching and learning and should be used to identify potential gaps in understanding or misconceptions that can be subsequently addressed. At Crookhorn, we always stress the importance of the reteach and if our assessment doesn’t allow us to work out what and where it went wrong, then the assessment has very little value.
The second main function of assessment is summative. Whereas examination criteria certify student achievement, in the school context the functions of summative assessment might include providing inferences to support the reporting of progress home to parents, or the identification of areas of underperformance in need of further support. SLT, Heads of Subject and Heads of House use this data to develop action plans to support students, so again if the data is unreliable, then this could lead to wasted time.
3. Use the most appropriate format for the purpose of the assessment
The format of an assessment should be determined by its purpose. Typically, subjects are associated with certain formats. So, in English essay tasks are quite common, whilst in maths and science, short exercises where there are right and wrong answers are more the norm. But as Dylan Wiliam suggests, although ‘it is common for different kinds of approaches to be associated with different subjects…there is no reason why this should be so.’ Wiliam draws a useful distinction between two modes of assessment: a marks for style approach (English, history, PE, Art, etc.), where students gain marks for how well they complete a task, and a degree of difficulty approach (maths, science), where students gain marks for how well they progress in a task. However, it is entirely possible for subjects like English to employ marks for difficulty assessment tasks, such as multiple choice questions, and maths to set marks for style assessments. As departments why don’t you consider if your assessments are too one dimensional (which might just suit a certain type of student) and if they are, how can you mix it a bit?
4. Assessments that allow all students to succeed
Apart from summative assessments such as GCSE’s, we should always look to support students as much as possible in any assessment we give them, to really make the assessment a formative experience for both the student and teacher. I absolutely do not believe that we should make students sit in silence with no help at all for all their assessments, but we should make sure students are given support where needed and that support should be consistent across the class. Assessment should be about learning, right up to the GCSE itself so my advice would be always try to make the assessment fair but never leave a student behind to just fail.
5. Identify the range of evidence required to support inferences about achievement
We must avoid assessing too much and concentrate on assessing the key concepts that we have decided is vital to student success. Sarah talked on our training day about how many of us have still found it hard to narrow down what we teach to what is manageable and most important for our students to achieve at GCSE level. We find it difficult in practice to sacrifice breadth in the interests of depth, particularly where we feel passionate that so much is important for students to learn. I know it has taken several years for our curriculum leaders to truly reconcile themselves to the need to strip out some content and focus on teaching the most important material to mastery level (reteach and repetition!)! but this is fundamental to our development as curriculum leaders. Now we must do the same with assessment, and make sure that we assess what matters, and develop our future teaching from there.
6. Moderation of assessments
The purpose of moderation is to ensure that teachers are making consistent judgments about standards. In order to do this, they have to have a shared understanding about the expectations for each standard so that a particular level of achievement (for example, giving a student a grading of secure in Year 8 if they are on track for a 4) is awarded to student responses with the same characteristics, regardless of who marks/grades them.
Moderation is an essential part of ensuring integrity in assessment tasks. It is through this process, particularly at the assessment design and point of assessment stages, that issues of assessment validity and reliability are identified and improved.
I hope you have found this blog useful when thinking about how we use assessment at Crookhorn to really develop our planning because this I believe is the most important purpose of assessment. If you have any questions about your future assessments and how they were planned, or how you should plan you're reteaching because of the results, have a discussion with your Head of Subject for advice and guidance.
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January 2019 BlogPublished 10/02/19, by James Collins
Our coaching programme is one of the main tactics we use at Crookhorn to develop our vision of teaching and learning towards ‘Excellence as Standard’. Last year 92% of the teaching staff felt that coaching had a positive impact on their practice in the classroom. This is obviously great and what we now need to focus on, is the benefits now becoming embedded into our daily practice. We know as a teaching body, our GCSE results have been disappointing over the last couple of years, and the only way we are going to improve these results is to improve the quality of teaching provision our students receive on a regular basis.
Every term, we meet as a group of coaches and discuss the key coaching themes moving forward and also recapping some of the essential techniques we have been working on with staff. In our training this term we looked at some more strategies used in ‘Teach like a Champion’. The first is Cold call which is where we target students for our well thought out planned questions, moving away from hands up as this often allows students to hide in a lesson and let certain students dominate. This is also one of the strategies to check if students have actually learnt what you have taught them. Check for understanding has been promoted through how we use mini whiteboards, exit tickets and other questioning techniques. We also discussed if we were seeing staff moving towards live marking in the classroom as we know this has a real benefit to our students. The students often tell us that this type of feedback, which is short, sharp and in the moment really helps them. At Academic Board last week, we discussed the worrying performance of the boys and disadvantaged students in GCSE’s, and the research shows us that when we use these techniques I have recapped above, it has a positive and substantial effect on their performance. In a recent Blink, it was stated that in too many classes, the boys ‘have a place to hide’ because our teachers are not targeting them with questions or checking what they have learnt. Reflect on your own practice now, are these strategies really established in your teaching and if not, what do you need to do to make it embedded? If you feel the students are not making the required progress in your lessons would some of these strategies help if you focus on making them part of your daily routine?
In my last blog, I wrote about how we must improve our student’s vocabulary and some ideas on how to do this. In our examination system in the UK, the amount of writing and quality of writing will determine the academic success of our students. As coaches, we discussed the strategy of Show Call which is a technique where a teacher uses student work to project on the screen and students and the teacher give feedback on what was done well, and what can be done to improve. This is developing the idea of a ‘culture of error’ and also gives students live feedback on how to improve their work. When you use this technique, think carefully about what works to choose, is it exemplary, or does it demonstrate a common error; or does it have a good balance of strengths and weaknesses that will be good to go through. Planning where you use show call, is essential. This might be after a section of writing has been completed, after a reteach and rewrite on a piece of writing, or maybe partway through a task- to give the students quick feedback and help them make quick progress. Consider also how many students you will choose to show call. If you have not used one of the college visualisers yet, please speak to your HOS who should have access to one. Our aim is to make sure all teachers have a visualiser so we can all be using them as part of our routine.
I know a fear we have at Crookhorn is how we get students to write for a sustained period of time and also producing a high-quality piece of writing. As a result, we need to think about building up their stamina for writing just as you would build stamina for running or swimming: start small and scale up. Make the initial task about one minute’s worth of writing and make that expectation clear. You can add that by the end of the next lesson, you know the students will be writing confidently for at least 5 minutes, and it will not be stressful to them, because you will be training them in small steps. The most important thing is to have students’ practice being successful at writing steadily through a block of time when asked to, not only because seeing themselves succeed convinces students that they can, but because it makes a habit of writing steadily through the time allotted whenever asked. The idea is that when you say go, they write straight through because they can’t imagine anything else!
Another way to make sure students hit the ground running is to make sure they have some decent ideas to work from, making it all but impossible to fall back on “I can’t think of anything.” Before you say go, ask students to do a lightning-quick mind map and two-minute discussion. Then, very quickly, say “Now that you’ve got some ideas, you may begin. Go.” Give them the expectation that their pen should be moving for the majority of the time (let them know that there will be pauses for thought and student reflection if needed). This is useful because it’s visible and therefore clear and easy to manage on your end.
Writing is one of the most effective ways to process information, but all too often we run out of time for that end-of-class reflection. Instead, try building in time at the beginning of class for writing. Following your teacher input, allow students to write about the objective or concept, and then build in time for students to discuss their written thoughts with one another. Creating a space for writing at the beginning of the class, as opposed to the tail end of class, gives priority to the importance of writing and allows you valuable check for understanding time as well, that might help shape how the rest of the lesson is facilitated. If a student has not put in the required effort, you have the time for an immediate rewrite. As teachers, we often accept mediocrity as we are just happy they have done it, but we must all get better at saying that at times, that is not good enough and that they must do it again. This is a key learning process, and we must not shy away from it.
We finished off our coaching training at looking at the ‘Door to Do now’ technique. This is making sure we have an efficient and effective way of making sure students enter the class and then start work immediately. Meet them at door, expectations are made and make sure all materials needed for them are on their desk. The students have a clear seating plan that they know, and the first task is in place for them to be getting on with.
There are many research papers and studies about improving boys’ performances over the last 50 years. There are also thousands and thousands of articles about how to improve disadvantaged students’ academic achievements. They all agree that the biggest influence on improving these groups of students is quality first teaching. We all entered education to make a difference and we have chosen to work at a College like Crookhorn because we know we can positively change lives through education, and we will do that through the high-quality provision that what we deliver in the classroom. Please give these strategies and techniques a real go, work on them on every lesson you teach and talk to your coach if you are struggling to embed them in your daily practice.
You can click on any of the blue links which will take you straight through to extra reading on the strategies discussed. Any feedback on the blog, or just how you are getting along in your teaching is always gratefully received.
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December 2018 BlogPublished 06/01/19, by James Collins
As an SLT we are currently reading two books which we then discuss as a group and then decide on how we can implement the key findings from the research carried out. ‘Teach like a Champion’ by Doug Lemov and ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’ by Alex Quigley are both excellent books and ones I would highly recommend to any teacher. I want to highlight some of the key messages I have learnt from these books over the next couple of months and I will start with the key findings from Alex Quigely, which will support the presentation that Chris King gave earlier on in autumn term and will supplement the INSET training Tim Bezant will be leading on next week.
Like most teachers when I taught GCSE PE, as soon as my students were finished in the exam hall I always used to go through the exam paper and guess on how I felt they would have done. Alex Quigley discusses doing exactly the same thing in his book and talks about the time when he was teaching GCSE English Literature paper and he believed that there was a real gift of a question on the theme of dreams in Of Mice and Men. When they came streaming out of the exam he excitedly asked them if they’d done it but none of them had. Why? Because it contained the word ‘futility’, and they had no idea of its meaning. This is just one example of how a limited vocabulary can be a significant barrier to academic success.
In our INSET training we now know that in order to comprehend a text we need to know an estimated 95% of its vocabulary. This might sound surprisingly high but think about the last novel you read, how many unfamiliar words did you encounter? One or two at most? Certainly few enough that your understanding and enjoyment were not impeded. 5 percent of words might be about 10 per page – at that kind of frequency our ability to comprehend disintegrates rapidly.
Conversely, the more words you know the easier you’ll find it to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words. If you know 95 percent of the words not only will you understand the text but you have a good chance of learning the other 5 percent. If you know fewer the 90 percent, then you’re probably stuffed. This leads inexorably to the Matthew Effect: This idea is that children who learn to read in the first three years of their education become fluent readers. They read more, learn more vocabulary which then enables them to read more and comprehend more advanced texts and so they advance further. The children who fail to learn to read, read less, are less fluent, have a poorer vocabulary, comprehend less and the gap just keeps on growing. It is the principle of ‘The rich get richer and the poor get poorer’.
Obviously the best way to build vocabulary is to read, but apparently we only learn about 15% of the vocabulary we encounter in written texts so we need to read a lot to make sure we encounter words on multiple occasions before they’ll become part of our working vocabularies. According to one source, if you read for twenty minutes a day you’ll encounter an estimated 1,800,000 words over the course of a year whereas reading for only one minute a day will result in only 8,000 words. Now I’m not sure of the source or of the maths but if it’s only slightly true then this suggests something important. Is twenty minutes a day doable? I know Martha Coates in her role of literacy leader is going to be developing our DEAR time to make sure that students are reading the high quality books which develop their vocabulary and I am sure we are all on board in making sure this is a success.
Many of us our now considering the key vocabulary we need to make sure the student’s understand when planning our MTP, but how should we be choosing these key words?
Alex Quigley discusses that vocabulary can be usefully divided into 3 tiers:
Tier 1 – high frequency in spoken language (table, slowly, write, horrible)
Tier 2 – high frequency in written texts (gregarious, beneficial, required, maintain)
Tier 3 – subject specific, academic language (osmosis, trigonometry, onomatopoeia)
We don’t need to worry about tier 1 – students usually arrive knowing the basics and if not they will quickly pick them up in conversation with their peers. I also believe that as teachers we’re pretty good at recognising the fact that our students won’t know most of the Tier 3 words so it is important to teach them to our students specifically. Tier 2 words are often the issue- these are usually words that students will already have a conceptual understand of, even though they’re unfamiliar with the vocabulary. We need to consider these words carefully in our speech and our teachings. Isabelle Beck suggests there are 7,000 word families which are very high frequency in written texts and very low-frequency in speech. These are words that feature heavily in textbooks and exam papers. They are part of the language of academic success; without these our students will struggle in the new exams. The Academic Word List (AWL) was developed by Averil Coxhead which produced a list containing 570 word families which were selected because they appear with great frequency in a broad range of academic texts but would be uncommon for many students to understand. If you are interested take a look at her website. https://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/resources/academicwordlist
Obviously as a classroom teacher, you can’t teach all this as you wouldn’t have time to do much else, but giving students access to challenging texts will expose them to much more Tier 2 vocabulary than they will encounter in dumbed down, ‘student friendly’ texts. If we want to make sure students learn this vocabulary we should concentrate on the ‘golden triangle’ of recognition, pronunciation and definition.
•Recognition – how is the word spelt? The ability to use phonics to decode new vocabulary and then to be able to reproduce the spelling makes a big difference.
•Pronunciation – how is the word said? Making students say it aloud and use it in a sentence increases the likelihood they’ll remember it.
•Definition – what does the word mean? It might sound obvious, but if you know the meaning of a word, you’re much more likely to remember it.
If we were to design a vocabulary building programme that concentrated on the words with the most instructional potential and highest utility then we might make a real start in closing the language gap between word-rich and word-poor children. And because we’re focussing on building vocabulary, it makes sense to teach students prefixes, suffixes and roots to help them puzzle out the meaning of new vocabulary more easily.
I am certainly looking forward to our INSET training on the 15th of January by Tim Bezant where he will be covering the technical side of prefixes and suffixes and how to increase our own understanding of them. It should be really interesting beneficial for us all to grasp as we are all teachers of English.
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November 2018 BlogPublished 04/12/18, by James Collins
Many of our students are about to receive their mock results. For some, this will be a time for them to feel relieved that their efforts so far have paid off. For others, they won’t be happy with their result. Ultimately, the result itself doesn’t really matter. It’s how the students respond to their result that counts. The hope is that our students will find the balance between fear of failure and over-confidence in order to best prepare them for their final exams. In this post, I explain the methods I and others have used to ensure that students respond positively so that they will achieve their desired result in the future. The importance of giving effective feedback has never been more pertinent in this pressing time of their school careers.
Effective feedback from you will include the specific achievable steps (targets) to improve their performance. For example, the use of technical vocab, the identification of knowledge gaps, fluency, evaluation skills and ineptness of planning might all be included in your feedback. If a student is missing most of these, you have to give them a place to start.
Students’ lack of engagement with these steps/targets you give them also seems to be caused by their own perceptions of themselves as learners. They often see themselves as a “grade 4” student, for example. This makes it harder for them to come to terms with any grade that doesn’t fit with that label. Following a positive result, they can then become idle in their success. A negative result can leave students thinking it can’t be done. It’s vital that we spend time before giving feedback to help students understand what they should be looking to achieve, both in terms of short and long-term practices. They need to know and be constantly reminded that ‘progress‘ is not linear and that their path to success will not be a straight one.
Students need to see the bigger picture. One exam result can seem like the entire picture to some of the students. In order for these steps of feedback to be meaningful to your students, they need to understand their own learning situation. By this, I mean that your students need to be able to see what their current level of achievement looks like compared to their past achievements. Have they dipped? Plateaued? Accelerated? Where are they going? And how is this related to their end goal?
They should also be made aware of how far a student like them should be expected to achieve by the end of the course. Think about some of your students from previous years who have achieved similar mock results, but have then gone on to have even greater success when they have followed a specific plan. Share that plan with your current students, breaking it down into practical steps, which when followed, led to your previous student achieving the desired result.
By making the steps simple, your current students are able to see further progress as realistic. This provides them with the motivation required to increase performance in preparation for the exam. Because the feedback conversation is focused on future achievement, rather than past failure, your student’s mindset is far more receptive and they should react more positively.
Additionally, students need to feel supported. Many students’ will know that a poor result is their ‘fault’, but guilt and remorse will only make them dwell on negatives. This distracts from the positives and creates a barrier to forming a solution-focused mindset. Instead, ensure you are giving effective feedback by using as many comments as possible about what your students have achieved. By beginning the feedback conversation in this way (and feedback must be a conversation, not just one-way) your students will be encouraged to feel as though they have a platform to build upon for future success. They will also see you as being on their side, rather than just being there to find faults.
What actions can we take to prepare our students to receive feedback? I think it is important for students to consider some questions before they receive their mock papers back. Here are some questions I would consider asking:
- What do you stand to gain from success in this subject?
- What is your end-of-course target?
- What was your target for the mock exam?
- If your two targets are different, then explain why
- What practical steps did you take to move towards your mock exam target?
- Which of those practical steps paid off?
- Which practical steps would you change or not use again? Explain your reasons.
- If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself three months ago, what advice would you give?
Many of these I have got from Sander when he has been working with the students in his MADE sessions. You may change the wording of the questions, or even add/remove some of them. However, it is fundamental that we as a teaching team create a dialogue with each student about their own journey. The questions are really just conversation starters.
After giving feedback on the mock exams, it’s crucial that you put a plan in place to ensure that every single student can be monitored and so that their performance on exam day is not left to chance. The plan should be specific, realistic and time-bound if it is to work. But most importantly, the onus should be on the students to solve the problem. You will need to use the mocks to see where the gap in learning is specific to one or two students or where it has a broader base, which requires a rethink of future planning. What material are they struggling to commit to long-term memory? How will you help facilitate this?
Steps you can put in place:
- Students should respond to feedback as early as possible – create improved answers or redo the mock exam from scratch.
- Set aside specific times for one-to-one conversations with each student (if logistically possible). This should happen as soon as possible.
- Share results with colleagues in other departments and the Head of House to see if there is an issue beyond your subject.
- Students should create an action plan for the final exams. This can contain exam dates, when they will begin revising, successful revision methods, any future assessment dates.
- Book another one-to-one for 6 weeks time to see how students have got on individually. Did they bother to stick to the plan? Where’s the evidence? Did it work? How do they know? What do they now need to focus on? Is parental involvement necessary at this point?
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October 2018 BlogPublished 14/11/18, by James Collins
I heard an interesting talk this week in London about how important it is that as educationalists, we plan for how our students access the learning in our classrooms, acquire the material and knowledge necessary and apply what they have learnt in different contexts. These 3 key aspects of learning should be a day to day practice at Crookhorn but there is always a need to reflect on how well we do these parts of our practice, and whether or not we are guilty at times of slipping into the assumption that they are always done well.
How do your students access the learning in the lessons you deliver? We often make the wrong assumption that all our students are accessing the learning as we are the ones standing at the front and regaling them with our knowledge. This is a dangerous assumption! When we do the regular feedback and marking walks, it is evident in the classrooms where the teacher does a lot of talking from the front, that there is little in the way of quality knowledge in the exercise books. The question is then simple; how do these students prepare for the examinations with little access to the knowledge that they need to revise from?
We recently had a ‘Blink’ from the Deputy Head from Court Moor School, who had the specific brief to look at the quality of teaching and learning in our classrooms. He fed back that when the students were actively engaged with a task and they were accessing the learning in a more independent way, he could see real engagement and progress. When he saw the ‘stand and deliver’ style of teaching, with students sitting and listening to a teacher for a period of time, he could not see the same engagement and progress. Not only that, but the students were clearly disengaged and the behaviour was starting to ‘bubble’.
As we move towards the November mocks, I want you to forensically plan the homework or revision that will help the Year 11s to be successful in these exams. Are you factoring in how they have access to the knowledge and skill they will be expected to demonstrate? This is not just about giving them a revision book, this is about being very clear about what the students need to be relearning to enable success in your subject. Are you making sure they are taking home with them their exercise books so they can revise independently? I have recently looked in some exercise books and read through some of the student’s work/assessment/revision notes. If the standard of these notes is not good enough, are they really going to be able to revise? I have also come to realise that for some of us, we don’t make sure the assessments they do throughout the year are either stuck in their book or given to the students. If an assessment is done correctly, with great feedback and obvious learning from a student, surely this is an important part of their revision.
We all know the middle/low attaining, disadvantaged boy whose notes and books will not help him revise well, and then we are disappointed when they do badly in their exams. Perhaps you could take some photos of some really good notes/mindmaps/flashcards and put them on its learning for all the class to use if their own notes don’t help them. Perhaps we can set some GCSE Pods with follow up questions to aid learning? Some of our teachers are thinking outside the box a bit and using visualisers or videos of themselves to record good revision tasks and add them to ‘its learning’. We need to consider that not all the students are the same and not have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to how they should revise.
I have recently emailed Heads of Subject to check in with them about what homework is being set in their subject, as I wanted to know that homework and revision was being done in a precise and forensic way to really aid learning, rather than just asking students to just revise or set an ineffective task driven time filler. We as a College have invested heavily in our online learning support package, with ‘its learning’ and GCSE Pod two fantastic ways to support teachers in getting more students to access their materials. How as a teacher are you using these platforms? Are you putting your lessons on ‘its learning’ if students miss a lesson? Are you setting suitable and appropriate GCSE pods that are either supporting current learning or setting up future learning? If you need help with either GCSE Pod or ‘its learning’, please come and see Adam or myself and we will happily support you.
If we are making learning more accessible, we need to make sure students are acquiring the learning. Aside from testing them in assessments or mocks, how do you know that students are making progress in your classes, and thus acquiring the learning? Have you really embraced the strategies that we have been promoting in coaching and using them on regular basis? A simple check for understanding strategies really should tell you where the students are up to with their acquisition of learning, and then what needs to be done to support and challenge students further. When you open up your exercise books, can you see that students have made progress and how can you see this? What are the obvious weaknesses from the class as a whole or from certain individuals once you have looked in the books or checked their understanding in class and what are you going to do next? This is where our planning and MTP’s are so important, as it’s live planning and specific to your students, not just carrying on and doing the same old lessons with the same old PowerPoints because that’s what’s it says on the SOW.
The final aspect is how students can show they can apply the learning in different contexts. How do we let the students show they can apply the learning, and how do we plan for this application. How do we check that they can do it and then move them forward? One of the most important ways that we can check they have understood is through the planning and implementation of key questions. In the planning stage, teachers should carefully consider what questions will unpick what students have actually learnt and then allow them to show that they have made progress towards the learning outcomes. In our CPT on a Tuesday afternoon, consider the key questions first when planning out your next MTP, as this should be the basis of how you can see if students’ progress in your lessons.
As usual, please ask any questions or let me know any thoughts about the blog and I hope the questions I have posted helps you reflect on your own practice in the classroom.