Marking and feedback is a hot topic at the moment following further guidance from Ofsted that they don’t expect to see a particular type or frequency of marking/feedback on student work – it’s for schools to decide what is the best method to help students improve.
One of the biggest groans from any teacher will be the frequency at which they are expected to mark and give feedback (usually written comments with coloured pen responses) to students. This is generally dictated by a schools marking/feedback policy. Verbal feedback is probably the most useful type of feedback as the frequency of this is relentless on a day to day basis. But what about the frequency of assessed student work…
Should the frequency of feedback be dictated by a central policy?
A quick poll on Twitter suggests this approach is common practice. But are we wrong to adopt this approach?
What are the advantages for dictating the frequency of feedback in a policy?
- It may encourage some consistency and ensure it happens with some regularity.
- It may be easier to check that it’s happening.
What are the potential drawbacks?
- It potentially creates artificial assessment opportunities that meet the frequency (as laid out in school policy) rather than assessing and giving feedback where appropriate to aid and improve learning.
- Its a huge workload for teachers especially in subjects such as humanities where you might teach an entire year group and have to mark / provide feedback for 100s of books every few weeks. The amount of work required here is likely to diminish the effect of feedback.
- It may promote a culture of valuing the evidence of marking / feedback instead of having a broader understanding of how feedback helps students to progress their learning.
- Teachers become confused with the idea that working endless hours to evidence marking (often more than a school policy dictates) is whats requires to show they care about student learning (when it may well be holding it back).
Are we wrong about stipulating the frequency at which teachers mark and give feedback to students? Is this having a detrimental effect on workload and staff wellbeing? Should we allow teachers to mark/feedback more than a policy dictates?
What could we do instead?
What if the frequency of feedback was directed by departments at critical points during sequences of lessons where it will enable teachers to understand more about student performance and enable them to give useful feedback on student performance? This could be planned into a schemes of work by identifying in meticulous detail what will be assessed, how feedback will be communicated and when students will be given time to act on the feedback from the teacher. It might look something like this in the first instance…
Long term (reduce teacher workload increase student learning):
The long term plan above shows where assessment takes place in sequence with learning over a long period of time rather than every 3 weeks (or some other arbitrary number). This could reduce teacher workload by specifying in detail when assessment, feedback take place (teachers should do no more or less) and potentially make marking/feedback more impactful for student learning. It would give clarity of the amount of marking/feedback to teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders. The focus for development could then be on the quality/effect of the feedback on student learning rather than the amount of feedback given.
These assessments could also be accumulative so that they build knowledge over time:
Short term (reduce teacher workload increase student learning):
- Verbal feedback every lesson, in the moment close to student learning – correcting common misconceptions and modelling great performance /meta-cognitive approaches to tasks.
- Rather than ‘flashy starters’ embed retrieval practice into the beginning of every lesson as routine to help build memory. Teachers can address gaps immediately (whole class feedback), re-teach and ask students to re-draft / improve work every lesson (without having to mark). This also allows you to interleave knowledge over long periods of time (the retrieval practice doesn’t necessarily have to synchronise with the main objective of the lesson).
What about the mock exams?
With the rise in the number of mock exams students sit (regular testing is not something I immediately oppose) across key stages, how would the marking and feedback of practice papers fit in? If the purpose of sitting these practice papers is to generate a grade/score then there’s no getting away from marking them. But the amount of information they yield about what students know and don’t know could provide weeks of possible feedback on different bits of knowledge which might reduce the frequency of marking. For example if year 10 sit a mock exam in the first week of term 2 and it takes 2-3 hours to mark a set of papers, provide question level analysis and input data, then that time invested should replicated in the amount of work students have to do in response to the gaps in learning identified by the mock exam. This could manifest itself as a series of homework tasks, retrieval practice starters or entire lessons (D.I.R.T.) given over to improving knowledge. The amount of feedback a teacher could give over the coming weeks could mean that they are not required to mark (written comments, e.t.c.) any further work for the rest of that term.
In summary there’s an opportunity to…
- create a system that not only increases the amount of quality feedback students receive (which will in turn progress their learning) but contribute to reducing teacher workload so that students experience more happy and energised teacher.
- clear the murky waters of ‘book scrutinies’ and have real clarity from each department about what is the best method / frequency of feedback within a specific domain of knowledge, that aids learning. This could be evaluated regularly to ensure that the type/frequency of feedback stipulated by the department is having the desired effect and ensuring that all students are improving their work.
- clarify for students, teachers, middle and senior leaders precisely when and how feedback will occur inline with what students are learning and in a way that will best serve a particular domain of knowledge.
I asked Sean Harford (Ofsted National Director of Education) via Twitter for his thoughts and this was his response…
Thanks for clarifying Sean!
Asking whether something works or not in education is an endless, perilous quest that normally results in argument, resentment and division. It’ll be more useful to ask “under what conditions does it work.*” The more I read about Michaela Community School the more I’m convinced that high expectations and brutal honesty are whats needed in schools to help young people exceed their expectations. It seems (from the outside looking in – I’m yet to visit) that Michaela have created the conditions that enable their core values so that students can flourish.
Following an article published in the Sunday Times, Twitter was alive with debate about Michaela’s approach. I’ve yet to visit the school (hoping to visit in early 2017) so I’m trying to keep an open mind, but have read blogs from many of their staff. Regardless of whether you agree with their approach or not, one thing that has impressed me (from the numerous blog posts/articles/presence on Twitter) is that they appear to be asking the right questions. Their answers may not fit your view of education (there are a few things I’ve read that are currently at odds with my own views) but the questions they are asking will almost certainly be useful in moving your thinking forward. If anything it’s refreshing to follow the development of a school that is challenging the status quo – committing to long term strategic goals rather than settling for short term quick wins.
Here’s a few questions (I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg) that Michaela has prompted me to consider:
- What is the purpose of our school?
- Can this be summed up in one phrase?
- How is this communicated to staff, students & parents?
- When we say ‘high expectations’ what do we actually mean (down to the detail of day to day life in the academy)?
- What do we mean by ‘high expectations’ of:
- School environment?
- What do we mean by ‘high expectations’ of:
- How are new students inducted into the school?
- Is an assembly and some extended tutor time enough to train students in the detail of school rules and expectations?
- Would allocating sufficient time (2-3 days to a week) to effective routines/rules at the beginning of the school year save time later on and reduce consistency amongst students/staff?
- Is the school culture dialled in so that everyone is moving in the same direction?
- Is the culture amongst staff to a level where people feel they are able to give their honest opinion and be part of the development of the school?
Teaching, learning, curriculum & assessment:
- What is learning?
- What are the most effective learning habits for students to develop?
- What do we mean by effective teaching? How do we know?
- What is the best way to structure a curriculum to enable learning?
- How is learning interleaved over time (to increased long term memory retention)?
- How can assessment be used to challenge students and provide useful data that enables teachers to plan effective sequences of lessons?
- What do students need to know? How is this communicated to students?
- How do we convince students that success is achieved through a series of habits (and that anyone can achieve this)?
- What is effective homework?
- How often should it be set?
- Should there be a tight whole school approach or complete teacher autonomy?
- How will homework be monitored?
- What happens if homework is not completed to an acceptable standard?
- Is marking every single book an effective use of time?
- Are teachers happy, appropriately challenged and given enough support to teach well day in day out?
Literacy & numeracy:
- What is the most effective way to catch up students who are already behind with literacy & numeracy upon arrival?
- How is this embedded across all subjects becoming part and partial of every lesson?
- What is the most effective way to accelerate the progress of weaker readers?
- What role does reading play in school, every day?
- How do we support students to truly love reading and see it as a worthwhile use of their time?
- What are our expectations of every student every day?
- What systems are in place to deal with disruptive behaviour?
- How do we ensure consistency across all staff?
- How do we get the ‘right people on the bus’?
- Is the school vision / value so clear that potential candidates knowingly opt in?
Approaching Michaela through the lens of ‘right or wrong’ is a waste of time. Use their model to challenge your thinking, your values / beliefs and most importantly what purposeful education is so that we can all continue to do whats best for the students. For doing precisely that I’d like to thank Michaela and its staff for making me think.
*stolen from Dylan Wiliam but couldn’t find the exact quote.
This post aims to collate news coverage and blog posts about the recently published Sutton trust report into what makes great teaching.
- Sutton Trust report PDF
- Summary of Sutton Trust report
- Professor Coe’s presentation – What makes great teaching?
- Durham lecture: Improving eduction. By Prof Coe
- YouTube playlist of Prof Coe speaking at ResearchED conference.
- 10 things teachers should know from the research. By Lee Elliot Major
- What makes great teaching. By Daisy Christodoulou
- Who needs the sutton trust when you have Mr Clarke. By Shaun Allison
- This much I know about… what makes great teaching. By John Tomsett
- Much about what we believe about teaching is wrong. By @websofsubstance
- Myth-busting. By Shaun Alison.
- What makes great teaching and the role of technology. By Jose Picardo
- What makes great teaching – expert views. By Guardian teacher blog
- 7 things that don’t work in the classroom. By World Economic Forum
- The problem with praise. By Richard Bailey.
- Great teaching leads to student progress. By Stephen Cavadino
- What makes great teaching. By Huntington School T&L blog.
- The Sutton Trust report – Great teaching? By Donal O’Mahony.
- In search of praise in PE. By @ImSporticus.
- Our checklist for great teaching – How does it fit with the Sutton Trust report? By John Smith.
- My lessons from America – Reflections on Sutton Trust teaching summit. By Tom Sherrington
In the news
- Education study finds in favour of traditional teaching styles – The Guardian
- The seven deadly sins of teaching – TES
- Teachers warned that praise can make pupils complacent – The Independent
- Lavish praise from teachers does not help pupils – BBC
- Traditional teaching best, modern popular styles harmful – BREITBART
- Teachers told praise can hamper pupils learning – The Scotsman
- Why praising to the skies clouds the issue – TES
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.
Seth Godin – Linchpins.
I recently submitted my evidence for the NPQML qualification and thought it may be useful to share my experience. The qualification is a middle leaders qualification which looks at the challenges of being a middle leader from a variety of perspectives.
The qualification requires participants to undertake a school based project. I was already involved in a number of whole school projects so decided to use something that I was already doing and felt passionately about. My project looked at creating more opportunities for staff to engage with effective, meaningful CPD across the school. For me I don’t see this as work but as something I really enjoy doing – finding innovative and creative ways to engage staff with CPD with intent of improving experiences for students beyond just those that I teach. This is my art.
My project had a clear trajectory.
- Assemble a group of great teachers.
- Plan and deliver a 50 minute CPD marketplace session.
- Plan and deliver a school INSET day (each member of the team would deliver a workshop).
- Plan and deliver a TeachMeet.
I collected evidence as I went along with some of the highlights below:
The one key element that made the project worthwhile were the people. The group of teachers I managed to get together and work with were (and still are) truly remarkable people – doing everything in their power to help young people. It was a real inspiration for me to work with this group and made me want to work even harder and take on more challenges. The people I met at the away days during the course were also a great source of inspiration and challenge. One of the best parts of the course was meeting people outside of my school and talking about teaching, learning and the challenges of middle leadership. Teachers talking about teaching.
My advice to people interested in enrolling on the course – find something you are truly passionate about that will make a positive change and then make it happen. If you can’t get on the course do it anyway. Don’t do the course for the sake of getting a certificate – do it because you want to make a difference. Find you art and make it happen.
In my last post on leading whole school CPD for teaching staff I described my plan for the year and my thinking behind it. Now that the first term is over it seems like a good time to reflect on how the schools vision for genuinely continual, personalised CPD is taking shape.
At my school CPD sessions are scheduled every other Wednesday afternoon throughout the whole year. During term 1 these sessions were given over to departments. This has been really popular with staff and has enabled departments to recap and embed expectations whilst sharing great practice. In preparation for this department heads were asked to submit a plan for the sessions (brief summary of what would be covered in each session). This was really useful for me as I was able to see at a glance what departments were working on and also start to connect the dots across the school – linking up departments that were focusing on similar things.
Outside of the Wednesday afternoon sessions being run in departments I now had term 1 to set up and embed optional CPD activities for staff, something that had not happened before in school. Before I outline some of the optional activities, first let me explain my thinking behind this approach.
In John Kotter’s book ‘Accelerate’ he puts forward an idea of how great organisations stay creative and innovative as they grow in size. When most start up companies begin they don’t tend to have a hierarchical structure, instead they work in small groups that collaborate and innovate with flow. This is in essence one of the driving forces behind successful start up companies – their ability to work in a way that is free from hierarchical structures which encourages and enables innovation and creativity. Ironically as these companies grow into large organisations they tend to develop a more structured hierarchy and lose the spark of creativity they once had when they were a small start up. Kotter argues that the truly great organisations run what he calls a dual-operating system – they have a structural hierarchy to ensure organisational accountability but they also deliberately create opportunities for groups of people to get together and collaborate outside of this structure.
This is what I wanted to create with optional CPD activities – opportunities for people (regardless of job role) to get together and collaborate on things they are interested in. Making these groups optional means you get the right people on the bus at the beginning which increases the chances of success. Success is teachers talking about teaching. Success is collaborating in meaningful ways which empowers people to take action and improve because they feel passionately about doing so.
With Kotter’s dual operating system in mind I went about setting up a few optional CPD activities over the course of the first term…
15 minute forums.
Over the course of the first term we have held three 15 minute forums on Friday lunch times. Each session is lead by a member of teaching staff and attendance is completely optional. These sessions serve as a great opportunity for colleagues to share ideas and discuss them in more detail. The worry is always ‘will anyone turn up?!’ Thankfully numbers have been good with sessions ranging from 15-20 colleagues in attendance. Sessions this term have included:
- Positive relationships with staff and students.
- Effective mind-mapping techniques for revision.
- Learning dialogue.
What has been really pleasing is that the sessions are not necessarily about someone giving you a ‘silver bullet’ on how to do something. The theme that has evolved is that staff bring something they are working on, explain their thinking and any impact it has before others from the group share their experiences or thoughts on how a strategy could be improved or implemented more widely.
Another relatively easy activity to set up. I choose the book ‘The hidden lives of learners’ by Graham Nuthall to start of with (after the first cycle I will be asking staff to submit book options and then vote on a range of books). I sent an email out to all staff advertising the activity and set a limit of 10 places. Within a couple of days the places were filled, books were given out and the ball was rolling. Towards the end of term 2 we will meet to discuss the book and present back to the staff body during a morning teacher briefing on what we found out.
‘Bright spot’ learning walks.
No grades no forms. The purpose of these learning walks is to find great practice, those bright spots that exist somewhere in every school. I conducted one in our Science department recently where I managed to take pictures of several great resources and bits of student work. These then go into a presentation which can be used for a teacher briefing. During the teacher briefing you display the images and ask colleagues to explain more about the context of what was going on in the lesson and how the resource / strategy helped. Longer term I would like to create more of an ‘open door’ culture across the school and involve staff in searching out the bright spots for themselves.
I’m not sure if it was over-ambitious and just stupid to organise a TeachMeet for the penultimate evening of an 8 week term, but I did and it offered another opportunity for staff to get involved. Just over 100 heroic teachers from different schools (across multiple phases) showed up for an evening of having their thinking challenged whilst also being inspired and thanked for their hard work. The theme of the evening was about understanding what works rather than just being bombarded with 1000s of ‘quick wins.’ TeachMeets are a great opportunity for expanding your thinking, developing ideas and networking with great people outside of your immediate day to day surroundings. Last weeks event was brilliantly captured by David Vignolli (a visual artist from London).
Now that these activities have been set up it’s my role to ensure they continue (for as long as they are useful to people). My hope is that these additional activities provide staff with opportunities to engage and develop in ways which suit them. The one size fits all approach to CPD is dead. To make great teaching a typicality across a school, staff must be given meaningful opportunities to develop and feel supported in doing so. Investing effectively in staff will ultimately lead to better experiences for the students which is what all of this is about after all – the students.
Dave Scott is a 6 times winning world Ironman triathlete who left nothing to chance. During peak training you could catch him cycling 75 miles, swimming a few 1000 metres and running up to 20 miles on a daily basis for weeks on end. In order to win six world championships he continued to reflect on his training and make tweaks to it in order to achieve optimal performance (much like the British cycling team under Sir David Brailsford – searching for a series of small marginal gains which would combine to produce a larger impact on performance). Dave Scott took it a step further and use to rinse his cottage cheese (not a euphemism) with water in order to reduce the amount of fat it contained upon consumption. He believed that this was one in series of other small steps which enabled him to reach peak performance. This got me thinking about teaching and how teachers develop their practice in the classroom.
As teachers we are in the business of changing lives. The best to do this is to get a better understanding of what works in the classroom (rinse our classrooms of wasteful practices and focus on what actually works). CPD is often fraught with difficulties – whole bodies of staff being forced to engage with CPD in one particular way which leads to minimal buy in. One off INSET days on a magical strategy to transform your teaching and the cult of outstanding can also end up leading to more lip service but even less action in the classroom. As David Weston (@informed_edu) points out we need to move our teacher development from awareness to transformative practice if we want teaching to improve. We need to take action.
From September I took up a leadership role in my school to lead CPD for teaching staff. I’m passionate about helping all students to succeed and understand that the best way for that to happen is to ensure they are exposed to great teaching. I want teachers to flourish and engage with CPD that personalised and enables them to take control, take action and subscribe to continual improvement in a way that works for them. In previous years CPD has consisted of a ‘one size fits all approach’ and so this year I wanted to do something a little different.
Based on the ideas of @Shaun_Allison and @Dan_Brinton I set out to offer a much more personalised CPD programme that focused on transformative activities. In the rest of this post I’ll attempt to outline the CPD programme I have planned for the year.
I adopted @Shaun_Allison ‘s layered approach to CPD.
Blanket activities relates to whole staff CPD activities in directed time which in my school equates to one 60 minute session every fortnight throughout the whole year.
Optional activities means exactly that – CPD activities like 15 minute forums, teach-meets, Edu-book club that teachers opt into if they want to. These activities are about getting the ‘right people on the bus.’ In order for them to be successful you need to create clusters of staff that want to be involved (and quite often lots do but just haven’t had an appropriate forum to get involved).
Directed activities relate to sessions for specific groups of staff like NQTs who may need additional support but also under-performing staff. Providing support for these groups are vital to ensuring that students get the best possible learning experiences.
CPD Overview 2014 – 2015.
Here’s my plan – Download a PDF copy here.
Staff will spend blanket time in departments during terms 1 and 6. Department leaders put forward a plan as to what their CPD will look like in these sessions. It focuses on specific needs of each department.
Terms 2 – 5 is where the personalised CPD takes place. Staff will opt into one of four pathways. The staff leading each pathway have opted to lead and take part in their pathway so will not miss out on CPD. During term 5 staff will be given directed time to create a piece of work to explain what they have investigated and then present it in a market-place style event at the end of term 5. I’ll blog about each pathway in more detail later in the year.
Outside of the blanket sessions there are a number of optional CPD activities aimed at building a culture of continual improvement. So far take up has been overwhelmingly strong for the optional activities.
Teaching is difficult but rewarding. We fail at it a lot which provides us with opportunities to learn more about what works and what doesn’t. Engaging with research is an accelerator that can challenge the way we think about teaching and in turn move our practice forward. So lets strip away the novelty gestures, rinse our cottage cheese and get better at understanding what works.
About 18 months ago I had a moment of clarity and made a decision that I wanted to become a head teacher. Why wouldn’t I? It makes sense to me. I want to make a positive difference to as many young people that I can and allow as many colleagues to flourish as possible. I thrive on challenge both professionally and as a hobby.
Since making that decision I have been busy learning and taking action. I decided not to wait for permission to lead but to start leading. Leading with a clear moral purpose. Leading by example. Leading with a sense of urgency but also on the side of caution. Leading to improve.
Fully support by the SLT, I decided to set up a group of ‘Pedagogy leaders’ (original idea from Kev Bartle) with the aim of improving awareness of great teaching and learning. This led to delivering a number of CPD sessions, teacher briefings, workshops on INSET days and a teachmeet under the guise of #NeverStopLearning. Inspired by Seth Godin’s idea of the ‘Linchpin’ I sort out other opportunities like coaching and helping to set up a link with a school in China. I joined teams working on whole school initiatives like IT refresh and improving provision of CPD. All whilst teaching a (nearly) full time table and maintaining excellent standards in the classroom. Teaching is the guide rails I will cling to as I move towards headship. As John Tomsett (I think?!) put it, “The headteacher should be the head teacher.”
It has been an extremely busy 18 months but equally rewarding. As a result I will join my schools leadership team in an extended leadership role responsible for teaching and learning CPD from September. I owe a lot to the inspiring colleagues I have the honour of working with but also to the extensive list of leadership books that I have ploughed through. They have given me lots of ideas to think about in terms of leading teams and implementing change. Increasing my knowledge through reading has also allowed me to spot ideas from books in a school context (usually school improvement) and give me a deeper understanding of how ideas from books can be implemented in a school setting.
Following on from my post on Reading for CPD, the following is a list of books to get you started on (or to add to) your leadership journey. The list is by no means comprehensive (and is in no particular order). It is a mixture of my own reading list and contributions from people on Twitter. Please add more titles in the comments section at the end of the post.
More to explore – thank you Twitter!
On Thursday 22nd May I presented some ideas at #TMCOOP about how to raise attainment at KS4. Below is a summary of my presentation.
Raising attainment at KS4.
I’ve noticed in my relatively short time of being a teacher that one of the overwhelmingly strongest indicators of how well a student achieves is effort. This may sound obvious. It is. Angela Duckworth discovered this in her research on GRIT (persistant effort towards a long term goal). If we want to do well at something that’s difficult it will require a huge amount of effort. How often do students not realise this until it is too late… “I wish I’d put more effort into revising.” When I look back over the past few years and analyse why some students have performed well at KS4 and some didn’t, the main differentiator is effort.
During last two terms I have attempted to build an ‘ethic of excellence’ in my classroom. I want all students to aspire to achieve the very top grades and I want them to know it will take a huge amount effort. I also want them to know that I will match their effort by supporting them through rigorous marking and feedback. Students aren’t always the best at following instructions from adults but they can be extremely good at mimicking behaviours.
An ethic of excellence.
Having read Ron Berger’s remarkable book ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ I was motivated to get my students working their socks off. In the book Berger talks about how he spends a lot of time ensuring that the work he asks his students to do is as close to a ‘real life’ as possible. He also discusses how he built a culture in his classroom whereby students only received one of two grades for their work – ‘Excellent’ or ‘Not finished yet.’ What a powerful system. I decided to give it a try with a GCSE class that were about to start a 10 week coursework project. Target grades ranged from A to E.
Do target grades have an adverse effect on effort? If a student is targeted a D/E grade, is it possible that they might see that as an opportunity to adjust their effort to reflect the low target, i.e. not try very hard. To test this hypothesis I started by setting a default expectation of all students in the class: A*. Was I confident that all students would achieve this? Realistically, probably not as there are many factors out of my control (attendance being one of them). But I was confident that this strategy would help everyone achieve or exceed their target grade (something that I hadn’t managed to do in the past).
Talent isn’t born.
I spent sometime explaining to students about the David Beckham’s and Jonny Wilkinson’s of this world and how much effort they put into practising. At the beginning of most lessons we would watch a short clip that actively demonstrated how high levels of effort matched with deliberate practice can lead to very impressive results. I found the work of Daniel Coyle (and his book ‘The Talent Code’) particularly helpful in shaping my thinking around this. In his book, Coyle explains how he spent almost two years scouring the world researching groups of talented people – from teenage Brazilian football players to young musical prodigies. A recurring theme was shared amongst all these successful groups. Lots of effort coupled with deliberate practice that was guided by a master coach.
Students were beginning to understand that the more effort they put in, the more they asked for my advice, the more they thought about their work the better the chance they had at achieving an A*.
This is where the effort manifested itself in the classroom. I introduced Berger’s idea of grading work as either ‘Excellent’ or ‘Not finished yet.’ Berger describes the art of re-drafting brilliantly in the video ‘Austin’s butterfly’ which is about a young boy who is asked to draw a butterfly by copying a photograph. You can see the difference in quality from the first attempt to the final attempt.
I attempted to build a culture in the classroom where it was typicality that all students would re-draft their work. Students were asked to re-draft their work several times which often led to a small incremental increase in marks between drafts but a huge difference by the time the final draft was submitted. Students also learnt to take a bit more pride in their work which appeared to come about because they had put so much effort into the redrafting that when it came time to submit a final copy they wanted it to be as close to perfect as possible.
Feedback – no grades.
The re-drafting was helped along by precise feedback in which I gave no grades. Instead I opted to simply tell students how many marks they were away from an A*. I then broke the mark scheme down into very small specific chunks which when added up would give full marks. This helped me move away from phrases like “Explain more” and enabled me to give really precise feedback to students. If a student was 15 marks from an A* they were able to tangibly see where they could add those marks to their work. With a potential A* on the line they were happy to continue to re-draft.
I’d like to say a class full of A* grades but that was not the case. However all students did either achieve or exceed their target grade with no student scoring below a C and four students securing an A*. It wasn’t just the grades that pleased me but also the students attitudes towards their work. In class they were more focused and keen to give me work to mark. The students were proud of what they had achieved and I was extremely proud of them.
What I have described in this post is by no means an exact science and I’m certainly not telling you to change what you’re doing, but this worked for these students.
And remember… “Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.” I think this applies to us all.
GCSE Computing revision materials.
This is a work in progress. This post will be updated regularly over the next few weeks to cover the OCR GCSE Computing syllabus. The resources can be easily adapted if needed. Feedback welcome!
1. Computer Systems
Self-reflection[PDF] [.DOC] | Chunked revision booklet [PDF] [.PPT] | Multiple choice questions [PDF]
4. Data representation
Talent isn’t born. It’s made.
In Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code’ he travels the world to seek out groups of very successful people and in an attempt to discover why they are so successful. Through his observations of multiple different groups from musicians to football players he noticed one recurring trend – deep practice. In fact he has created an equation that summarises the elements needed to make progress and succeed at something. It looks like this…
Ignition or primal cues relates to the motivation a person has to be successful in the first place. As a teacher I believe it’s part of my job to talk to students about what motivates them to succeed. Some students are able to easily articulate this. whereas some will need some help finding the reason why they need to be successful. Either way I need to support the students I teach in understanding their ignition to succeed.
Continual deep practice is about increasing the amount of myelin in the brain*. Have a look at this great interactive guide to Myelin on Daniel Coyle’s website. Myelin is…
Myelin is a lipid and protein sheath-like material that forms an insulating cover that surrounds and protects nerve fibres.
The general idea is that the more myelin you have insulating your nerve fibres, the faster impulses (or information) can travel between nerve cells. Some scientists believe that myelin can be increased with regular deliberate practice. It’s similar to bandwidth in the speed of an internet connection. The more bandwidth you have the faster the transfer of data. The more practice you put in, the more the myelin wraps around the nerve fibre increasing the bandwidth (the diagram below shows this in a bit more detail). It’s worth noting that this works both ways and needs to be maintained with regular practice.
Daniel Coyle uses the example of Brazilian soccer players to explain deep practice in action. From an early age they play a game called Futsal and they continue to play it into their teenage years. Futsal is played on smaller court with a smaller ball which means that players will touch the ball more often than playing 11 a side on a full size pitch. This is deep practice. It’s quality controlled by a master coach (someone with expert knowledge of the game / subject) who intervenes with striking impact to ensure learning is meaningful. The video below examines more examples of where deep practice has produced successful outcomes.
How does this apply to revision?
If we want students to be successful in exams then they need to practice – sounds simple enough, but is not entirely true. If we want students to be successful they have to fine tune their practice so that it is deep, deliberate and regular in order to build up a thicker insulation of myelin. What follows are few strategies that I am currently trialling to achieve this.
1) Regular self assessment with input from the teacher.
It’s important to let students assess their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to a topic to revise. Teachers are the master coaches described in ‘The Talent Code.’ We have to know our students well and track their learning and use this information to intervene with self assessments so that students know what they are actually good at and areas that they need to improve. The key to good revision (I believe) is to focus more time on the weaker areas (being deliberate) rather than spending lots of time revisiting knowledge/skills that a student is already competent in. Below is an example of a self-assessment I have used with students. The black ‘X’ represents the student response. The green Y’s represent my response based upon prior testing and my knowledge of the students competencies through questioning and classwork. If I have agreed with the students response I have not added an additional symbol.
The grid provides a clarity. Students get validation for what they think they already know or an opportunity to discuss area for improvements. It also helps students to focus in on the weaker areas and thus provides a starting point for revision.
2) Chunking information.
Once students have self assessed their strengths and weaknesses and they have been agreed, they can then begin revising required knowledge. In order to not overload the students working memory I have created a resource that chunks the information down in smaller sub-topics (see the list on the self reflection diagram above). Each sub topic has a series of questions that students answer in an open book environment. Example answers to these sections are released to students once they have attempted to answer them. They also have access to past paper exam questions and answers. Students are free to work through this revision pack using the self assessment as a rudder to guide them towards topics that will require more attention.
3) Regular rigorous multiple choice tests.
The ‘chunked’ revision materials are sync with a multiple choice test. I have created the tests using Joe Kirby’s brilliant posts on designing rigorous multiple choice tests (Post 1 | Post 2). I’ve attempted to increase rigor by adding more incorrect answers that are based on common student misconceptions.
The tests can be taken multiple times and using a platform like Edmodo means the tests are also tracked and scored without the teacher lifting a finger. Edmodo also allows students to go back through the test and see where they dropped marks.
A key element here is frequency and over a 6 week revision period it’s important to space the timing of these multiple choice tests to aid retention. As Joe points out in his most recent post on curriculum design,
Repeated retrieval improves long term retention: frequent quizzing prevents forgetting.
4) Regular ‘Walking – Talking’ mock exams.
One new strategy that has been trialled at my school this year has been ‘walking-talking’ mocks in all subjects. For those not familiar here’s how they work. The students revise for a mock as normal. When the mock exam takes place the teacher walks them through the first question and then gives students an appropriate amount of time (depending on the number of marks available usually) to complete the question and then get some instant feedback on how well they did. It’s hard to judge the real impact of doing this exercise but it certainly helps students feel more comfortable in exam conditions. I know I have been guilty in the past of running a mock exam in ‘exam conditions’, students tend to score poorly on it, get feedback but didn’t get an opportunity to re-draft answers (my fault) and the whole scenario was demotivating and not very productive. A walking-talking mock provide students to feel success in an exam environment. This new found motivation can then be used to drive revision sessions. As the year goes the strategy is to get students to sit 3-4 mock exams and by the end of the process provide them with less and less support as their confidence grows.
This post is by no means a ‘you should run revision sessions like this’ post. It’s a reflection on some of the ideas that have inspired my thoughts around how to do revision better. It is very much a work in progress and feedback is very much welcome!
I often tell my students to not be upset with the results they didn’t get from the work they didn’t do. I feel the same and care deeply about their results. When my students walk into the their exam I want to make sure I’ve done everything within my power to ensure they succeed.
Myelin – by Daniel Coyle
How to grow a super athlete – by Dainel Coyle
The myelin in all of us – by David Shenk
Why use multiple choice tests – by Joe Kirby
How to design multiple-choice questions – by Joe Kirby
Research on multiple-choice questions – by Daisy Christodoulou
Walking, talking mocks: are mock exams the way forward? – by Martin Jones
Hardwiring learning and effort = success – by Domini Choudhury
*I am not a scientist. For more information on myelin please see this interactive guide or even better still, read Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code.