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.
I’ve just got back from a very interesting meeting with Google in Bristol. Google have recently (24/03/2014) launched a new E-Safety project called ‘Well Versed.’ Click here to visit the ‘Well Versed’ website.
Young people have grown up in a world where they have always used the Internet, so much so that it forms a huge part of who they are and how they communicate. Google’s project has been set up to give young people a voice on e-safety. They are working on the premise that young people who have safety issues online are more likely to take advice from someone their own age rather than ‘un-hip’ adults. The students who attended the meeting backed this up. The meeting was attended by teachers, police school-link officers, local secondary school students and the local MP Kerry McCarthy. A representative from Google started with a short presentation on the Well Versed project followed by a Q&A session.
What is ‘Well Versed’?
In a nutshell Google want young people to submit a tip for staying safe online by creating a 15 video, animation, e.t.c. The more creative the better. These videos will be monitored by Google with the most creative entries being passed onto 4 vloggers who have been recruited by Google to drive the campaign. The vloggers will then create a short film using the entries submitted by young people. The young people who have their clips used in the film will have the opportunity to visit the Google HQ in June to see a screening of the film.
Why get involved?
Safe-guarding our young people and educating them to use the Internet in a safe way is a responsibility we all share. Google are offering a creative way for students to engage and get involved.
What can schools do?
This is a great opportunity to run a creative e-safety series of lessons with a real competition to work towards. Google have provided resources on their site and some example videos from the vloggers. This could form part of formal lessons or work equally well as an enrichment activity.
Is this just Google?
No. Google are not looking replace or compete with other e-safety or child protection services. They are simply offering a creative way for students to get involved and raise awareness.
Other helpful safe-guarding services.
Below is a piece written for the Guardian Teacher Network , before being edited down to size. I’d really like to hear from other teachers who have recently started teaching computing or are planning to in the near future and share experiences (please leave a comment below).
A reflection on teaching computing for the first time.
It was around this time last year I began to fret a little. The novelty of the summer holidays had started to wear off and ‘the fear’ began to settle in. After a couple of years of teaching ICT, I was getting a little bored of churning out coursework and was looking for a new challenge that would really make my students think. Don’t get me wrong, ICT has its place but I felt like students were missing out by not getting a mix of computer science(CS) and ICT. So I made a bold decision and came up with a plan to start delivering Computing from September (2012). My decision to do this was made somewhat easier a few months before, after listening to Dr Tom Crick (@drtomcrick) speak passionately about the merits of a curriculum that combined CS, IT and Digital Literacy.
Having previously studied Internet Technology at university, taught ICT for almost 4 years and being a bit of a geek, I felt quite secure in my subject knowledge for Computing (networks, the Internet, data representation, hardware, software, e.t.c.) but was not feeling confident with my my programming skills. The first thing thing I did was sign up to code academy (http://www.codecademy.com) and began working through the Python exercises. I decided to choose Python as my language of choice because it is quite close to written English and there were plenty of support materials online.
After a few weeks of spending 30-45 minutes a day working through the Python tutorials (little and often) I decided to attempt one of the GCSE programming projects and immediately became stuck! Online tutorial sites are great for learning the syntax of a programming language but don’t necessarily teach you to solve problems. This is where computational thinking comes in. After a call for help on Twitter I quickly found myself being tutored through the problem solving side of things via Skype and email by two amazing computer scientists (@codeboom and @colinthemathmo). Problem solving is the essence of computer science, using a computer as a tool to solve real world problems. The only to get good at problem solving is practice.
In terms of planning for the new school year (2012/2013) I had decided to shrink the change to allow myself time to develop my programming skills further. I incorporated some new units at KS3 looking at hardware and how computers operate and process instructions, computational thinking and an introduction to programming in Python. I also sought to explicitly raise awareness in lessons and across the school of the differences between computer science and ICT, with the latter having a little bit of a negative stigma attached to it. At KS4 I offered OCR GCSE Computing and managed to get 14 students signed up. I roughly planned out the year against the spec and used lots of the many outstanding resources already available on the Computing at Schools website.
Returning to school in September with the annual ‘fear’ instilled after 6 weeks off I was actually quite excited to get started. Teaching the problem solving / programming side of things provided a really interesting contrast to the ICT I had taught previously. Lower ability students were feeling success quicker and gaining in confidence by solving relatively simple problems whereas the higher ability students had come across something that they weren’t getting right first time. The problem solving lessons provided a great platform for differentiation by task and it was amazing to see the students take a step back and really think about the problem and plan out a solution. When I got the level of challenge just right, sessions had ,a really nice flow to them and a 100 minutes flew by. There were plenty of times when students got stuck and I didn’t know the answer so I advised them to do what I did when I didn’t know how to do something – use the Internet. Students started becoming quite proficient at searching blogs and forums to seek out the bit of code that would help them.
In hindsight I think I focused a little to much on students learning the syntax of particular language rather than embedding wider programming concepts, something I’m going to change in my approach for the upcoming school year. I’m also going to give students more open ended problems to solve rather than step by step guides. I found that students really responded well to challenge of solving problems rather than just following step by step guides. Obviously they need a starting point, and tutorial sites / syntax guides will give students that. What I will do differently from September is start getting students thinking about problem solving sooner and try and get them to see programming as a tool for solving problems rather than an exercise that they must get right at all costs.
Computing club was a real success this year and has gone from strength to strength. I initially set it up as an informal laboratory for me to try out some ideas for lessons on a group of extremely keen students wanting to find out more about Computing and specifically programming. If you haven’t already set one up – do so as soon as you get back to school! It was through this club that culture quick grew of students sharing things that they had been working on at home, outside of lessons. One student had been making apps online and had already tried out a number of sites and was able to give me a comprehensive review of each which helped me choose one to use in class. Andover student had been making text based adventure games in notepad++ and running them in a command prompt – an excellent idea for a KS3 project! In the final term I managed to secure some funding to buy a class set of Raspberry Pi’s, and who better to test them out but Computing club! It’s a great way to get confidence with new technologies before introducing them into a formal lesson.
This is potentially the trickiest obstacle to change. Thankfully I work in a great department with teachers willing to learn new things (our mission statement is ‘never stop learning’). I provided a number of after school sessions and helped staff with planning lessons whilst always returning to our moral purpose of WHY we were implenting change – trying to provide a more enriching and challenging experience for the students we teach. We reviewed things every few weeks in department meetings to find out what worked well and what needed tweaking for next year. It has been hard work but extremely rewarding to see both staff and students develop.
I’m really glad I decided to ‘dive in at the deep end’ with Computing. I believe the students have benefitted from much more challenging and engaging lessons which the subject matter of computing tends to lends itself to. With computer science all around us it’s easy to make links to ‘real world’ scenarios that students can relate to. An example of this was a starter I created for a lesson on the Internet where students had to use Google street view to go inside of a data center and locate a stormtrooper (yes a stormtrooper!) that Google had placed in one of their server rooms.
I will continue to develop my knowledge base and schemes of work to ensure students at KS3 get a balanced mix of computer science, IT and digital literacy to enable them to manipulate the digital world in which they live. Above all I want students to be challenged in lessons and enjoy them. I think Computing provides us with a great platform to achieve this. As Dr Sue Black (a senior research associate in computer science at the University College London) said in a recent tweet to students considering Computing as a GCSE, “Knowledge of computer science gives you access to and control over your future. Everything we do is depending more and more on technology and understanding computer science gives you the key to unlock its potential.”