Always in the pursuit of doing better for the students I teach, two posts have made me reflect deeply on my practice this week.
In the post Joe describes how he specifies the subject knowledge required for a given topic in meticulous detail. This is useful for a few reasons:
– it clarifies for the teacher exactly what the students need to know and enables more precise planning.
– it serves as a good benchmark for students at the beginning of a topic. Seeing the required knowledge laid out in front of you on a side of A4 is extremely powerful and will enable students to highlight what they are already know.
– when it comes to revision, students have real clarity about the knowledge they need to know.
During my relatively short time as a teacher, when starting a new topic I may have shared a vague outline of what the topic will involve but never to the detail suggested in Joe’s post. I feel like a trick has been missed here, which is why I plan to experiment with knowledge organisers from this point forward.
Andy’s post puts into practice Joe’s knowledge organiser for a GCSE English class. Andy also describes in depth his approach to a series of lessons leading up to an exam. Lessons follow a similar routine (although the stages of each lesson might involve different delivery styles / mediums):
1) Begin with a ‘memory platform‘ where they will be tested on key knowledge/quotes from the knowledge organisers using a wide range of quizzing methods. Students need to be fluent in this knowledge and to do this they will need to cover it repeatedly. They will be encouraged to elaborate on these points of knowledge, exploring their wider significance.
2) Revise and extend a key area. OMAM and AIC – the green lessons – will be taught side-by-side, whereas the poems will be revised in pairs.
3) Lessons will end with 15 minutes of deliberate writing practice where students will be expected to hone the finer parts of their analytical style by writing a paragraph at A/A* standard – this is a top set – based on the content of the lesson (modelling and scaffolding will feature here too).
When planning revision sessions (and in a broader sense planning a curriculum structure) it’s worth thinking about the following:
If learning happens when we think really hard about something and we remember what we think about, then engaging students in activities, practices and routines that encourage this is probably a sensible course to take.
GCSE Computing revision.
As a result of reading the aforementioned posts and adopting the collective thinking of Professor Coe and Daniel Willingham, I have developed a revision structure for a GCSE Computing class I teach. It follows this cycle:
1. Start with a memory platform, usually a multiple choice quiz (these are deliberately rigourous with any one of the three answers a potential correct answer, forcing students to study the different answers and think hard about theirs).
2. Knowledge organisers. I have only just started using these as prompted by Joe and Any’s blog posts earlier this week. But I intend to use them at the beginning of teaching a topic as well as revision. It’s a collection of documents that will be referred to throughout the entire course. in revision sessions the knowledge organiser is an opportunity to see an overview of the knowledge and pick out the things they can remember and the things that they need to revisit first.
3. Key subject specific vocabulary. Students are then given time to recall key terms from memory for a particular topic. This is followed up by the TLAC technique ‘Check or change’ where students check their definitions against correct definitions and make changes if needed.
4. Flash cards. Students are then given time to create a set of flash cards based upon the key subject specific vocabulary. Flash cards have previously been identified as a more effective revision technique. I’m working on the premise that if students are comfortable with the subject specific vocabulary then they should be able to at the very least attempt every question for that topic (obviously they need to understand the context of each question, that comes next). Feedback from students has been really positive as the motivation to use the flash cards appears to be higher than to write out copious notes.
5. Past paper questions. Finally students attempt past paper questions, using the subject specific vocabulary in different contexts. I have also experimented with working through long answer questions with students using the following routine:
- students attempt a question in exam conditions
- teacher works through the answer with the class using students answers to prompt discussion and supportive critique
- students attempt the same question again in exam conditions
- teacher works through answer again with the help of students to model an answer
- a similar question (that requires the same knowledge but uses a different context) is then used as a starter in the next lesson.
It’s hard to evaluate how much of an impact the above strategy will have on exam performance but…
… from a teaching perspective, revision sessions certainly seem more focused with a greater clarity of what students need to know for each topic which lends itself to more precise deliberate practice.
… students have a much clearer picture of what they need to know and the work they are producing is of better quality and a greater depth. Students are more inquisitive and motivated to increase their knowledge.
… lessons have a greater sense of urgency to them.
RESOURCE: GCSE Computing knowledge organisers.
Safe is risky. Very good is bad. We must be remarkable. Our students deserve nothing less.
Whatever your line of work it’s not enough to just follow instructions and be a cog in a bigger machine. As Godin points out in ‘The Icarus Deception’ and ‘Linchpin’, the industrial complex is dying and we are now living in a connected economy where it pays to give.
Let me explain a bit further.
Safe is risky. Playing safe will not enable you to grow. It’s only by taking measured risks that we learn and grow.
Very good is bad. This is a phrase we use when people do what we expect of them. The industrial age taught us that the reward for producing lots of ‘work’ is being given more work to do. So we tend to hold back. The trick here is to find your art, the meaningful work you do that doesn’t really feel like work at all. You will have a much greater chance of feeling a sense of fulfilment and viewing the fruit of your labour as meaningful.
We must be remarkable. Do remarkable things. Don’t settle for ‘very good,’ attempt the unexpected. Become a ‘linchpin’ (an indispensable member of your community) of your organisation.
Schools now more then ever need teachers who don’t see teaching as a job but an art form. Our lessons are our art (the work we attribute meaning to). We seek to challenge the status quo of how a lesson has traditionally been taught. We need to encourage students to think. When its work we try to do less. When its art we try to do more.
In order to be remarkable in the classroom we need to take risks and challenge ourselves as teachers, just as we encourage our students to. As soon as you embrace failure as part of the journey to success, the more likely you’ll learn, develop and improve. When I started teaching I saw pedagogy as a ladder to climb but I now view it as a jungle gym to explore.
I’m currently using the following cycle to take measured (and some not so measured!) risks in the classroom:
1. Keep exploring. I’ve made a pledge to myself and to my students to never stop learning. This is my art. I enjoy doing this, it doesn’t feel like work to me. I read lots, blog and engage with Twitter to explore pedagogy and leadership.
2. Connect with others. I understand that the network is far more powerful than the node. I make connecting with others a typicality of my time spent using twitter and blogging. I attend teach meets and visit other schools to make connections and pursue learning.
3. Share discoveries. I blog here and have started a brand #neverstoplearning that offers a platform for more discoveries to be shared #neverstoplearning actively encourages teachers to share their discoveries and experiences. It also offers a stepping stone for teachers new to blogging. I’ll work with teachers to develop their first post and then share it via #neverstoplearning
4. Deepen my understanding. The cumulative effect for me is that my understanding of pedagogy is deepening (i hope!). I regularly take measured (and sometimes not so measured) risks in my classroom with a goal of improving the experience and outcomes for the students I teach.
Do the students light up when they enter your classroom or when they leave?
What is your art?