There are no shortcuts or golden tickets. Get teaching right first. [Sir John Dunford]
Education is not just for the elite. It is for everyone regardless of the circumstances into which they are born. In order to ensure students are every background get the same opportunities as everyone else, teachers have to pay meticulous attention to disadvantaged students for it’s those students who stand to gain the most from effective teaching and learning.
‘Get teaching right’ or ‘quality first teaching’ gets mentioned a lot when talking about ‘closing the gap’ between disadvantaged students and their peers but what does this actually mean? Saying these things repeatedly is not overly useful – it doesn’t encourage teachers to change their teaching habits or reflect on their practice. Should teachers be doing things differently for disadvantaged students in lessons day to day? Probably not, but disadvantaged students should be at the top of a teachers thought process when teaching as it’s these students who stand to gain the most from teaching that increases subject knowledge and provides lots of opportunities to bring that information to mind.
What does it mean to be disadvantaged?
Dr Nicholls has a great insight into disadvantaged students here. He talks about the need to disrupt the loop of unequal outcomes for disadvantaged students and has come up with a list (this does not assume all disadvantaged students are affected by these things) that highlights some of the key factors that may identify a young person as disadvantaged…
Another significant factor that relates to learning is that disadvantaged students tend to arrive at secondary school (and primary school) with a lower number of words in their vocabulary and a distinct lack of cultural knowledge (compared to their peers) which restricts their understanding and delays their progress. Joe Kirby makes a great argument for scientific based curriculum design here that would certainly help close the knowledge gap for disadvantaged students.
What can teachers do day to day?
Routines. A lack of routine can disrupt the start of a lesson, waste time handing out books, lead to confusion and a general misunderstanding of expectations in a classroom, all of which will affect learning for students. Consider:
- How will students enter your classroom and what will they need to do upon being seated? For example what if the expectation was that students had 30 seconds to enter and get seated and then immediately completed a short quiz of 4 or 5 questions that tested their knowledge of lesson content from last week, last month, last term and last year? The accumulative effect of this interleaved approach on learning could increase a students knowledge over time whilst providing a smooth start to the lesson that focuses on learning from the outset.
- Also consider your routines/expectations for:
- getting students to be silent.
- TRY: ‘3,2,1, eye contact’ and explain to students that once you get to 1 all students should have eye contact with you. This is a great way of getting students attention. Be persistent, habits don’t form over night.
- questioning and how students should respond [see below].
- handing out books / resources – what’s the most time efficient way to do this? Are students trained in this so that it becomes automatic? Every second counts!
- circulating the room whilst students are working? Do you check in on disadvantaged students first?
- working environment during a task – what is the default noise level? Purposeful, directed talk amongst students is useful for developing understanding but when this is not part of the task do students need to talk? A noisy classroom makes it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time.
- getting students to be silent.
Directed questioning. No reasonable person would expect a teacher to know every disadvantaged student that they teach (especially with large cohorts) so use your annotated seating plan.
- Don’t be afraid to have your seating plan in your hand whilst questioning and use it to ensure disadvantaged students get questioned regularly. I’ve seen teachers use this strategy in my own school to great effect.
- Use the no opt out strategy from TLAC – don’t allow any students (let alone disadvantaged to simply say ‘I don’t know.’ Give them wait time, let them look over their notes before attempting answer. Circle back to them to ensure they have understood.
- Use ‘no hands up’ when questioning. This blog from the Learning Scientists highlights the negative affect ‘raising hands’ can have on student performance… Asking students to raise their hand to signal their achievement (when they knew an answer) highlights differences in performance between students, making it more visible. This can lead to students in lower social classes, or with lower familiarity with a task, to perform even worse than they would have.
Frequent quizzing. As already stated this is a great routine for getting students into a class and settled whilst also benefitting their learning. As Joe Kirby suggests in his blog, we have over 100 years of scientific studies that frequent testing is the best way to disrupt the curve of forgetting. The best thing about low stakes quizzing is that teachers don’t need to grade, track or spend hours marking them. They can be self-marked by students as teachers explain the answers and knowledge gaps can be addressed immediately.
- TRY: For the next six weeks instead of your planned starters try quizzing students at the beginning of each lesson using the ‘last week, last month, last term’ approach. What do you notice about their learning? What if students were quizzed at the beginning of every lesson, every day, every term? Would that help balance out the knowledge deficit?
Modelling. When teaching it’s important to model what great performance looks like in your subject and even more important that you model the process (meta-cognition) of how to approach problems / tasks. The EEF see meta-cognition as one of the most impactful learning strategies that especially helps disadvantaged students.
Feedback. This is another strategy which the EEF deems to have high impact on student performance. The most important thing about feedback is that students do something with, ideally acting on the teachers feedback to improve their work and consolidate or extend their understanding. How can teachers be more meticulous with their feedback for disadvantaged students?
- Marking little and often rather than a whole set of books in one go. I’m not a fan of ‘marking PP books first’ as this suggests that other student books are less important or may receive feedback that is of less quality then the books marked first – which is wrong.
- Try whole class feedback that addresses common misconceptions.
- When conducting a feedback lesson have your annotated seating plan in your hand and visit the disadvantaged students frequently to ensure they have understood and are acting upon your feedback.
Read. Encourage students to read lots. Make it part of your lessons and teaching rather than an ‘add on’. As Katie Ashford describes, a good reading lesson should follow these principles…
- In any lesson, reading should primarily be for comprehension. Pupils need to understand what they are reading, and so the teacher should pause at appropriate moments and check for understanding.
- Reading is an opportunity to improve pupils’ fluency and ability to read with expression. Teachers should therefore model good reading and ask pupils to read aloud (year 7s love this, so get them into that habit then- it’s harder as you go up the school, in my experience).
- Reading is an excellent opportunity to improve pupils’ vocabulary. Teachers should pause to explain the meaning of key words, and may want to give further examples of new words used in context.
TRY: As part of explaining a new concept give students a a passage of text to read that explains the concept (perhaps with a diagram if appropriate) to compliment your explanation. This could be read as a class or individually. If this habit is formed over a time it could help increase student vocabulary, fluency and understanding whilst enabling them to read outside of their normal experience (e.g. scientific articles, classical literature, e.t.c.).
The thing that does make a difference, not just for disadvantaged students but for all students is effective teaching and learning. The challenge for teachers is ensuring that disadvantaged students get overexposed to this every lesson as it is those students who stand to gain the most. Be bold. Be courageous. Have relentlessly high expectations of all students. Form effective habits and don’t leave anything to chance. We only get one chance to help all students access the opportunities they all deserve.
“To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages today that determine success–the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history–with a society that provides opportunities for all.” [Malcolm Gladwell]
If learning happens over a period of weeks, months and years.
Is lesson planing always carried out with student learning in mind?
Recently I have led a series of talks/sessions/workshops on the challenges of leading teaching & learning across a school. What has struck me as somewhat odd is the number of people that hear the phrase ‘teaching & learning’ but only really register the ‘teaching’ part. Teaching without any understanding of how people learn or what learning is, conjures up thoughts of the blind leading the blind. What does your school focus on? Is their balance between teaching and learning with links between the two?After reading books like ‘Why students don’t like school’ and ‘the hidden lives of learners’ I can’t help but think about learning whenever I’m planning a lesson or reflecting upon my teaching. This has led me to reflect further on lesson planning and a few questions that teachers could consider, to focus the planning of a lesson to maximise learning:
1. What is the desired learning outcome?
2. What do I want students to think about at different points during the lesson?
3. Will the activity make them think hard about the desired content or distract them from it?
4. How will I link new knowledge to students existing knowledge base?
5. How will I model the learning outcome?
What I think about when I plan a lesson.
I always go back to a definition of learning by Professor Coe that has stuck with me. and stays at the forefront of my mind…
So I think about the one thing I want my students to learn and then design a sequence that will enable them to think hard about the knowledge and apply / practice the desired skills. If an activity does not contribute to the learning then it doesn’t form part of the lesson.
The spectrum below (created by Shaun Allison) expertly depicts what teachers should be aiming for – the struggle zone. Learning should be difficult enough that students grapple with the content but not so difficult that it flies straight over their heads or so easy that it doesn’t require any real thought at all.What is the quickest path to the learning?
On a recent trip to Malaysia (so recent I’m currently sat in my wife’s parents house in Malaysia writing this post) me and my wife decided to fly direct from London to Kuala Lumpur, with a 3 month old in tow it seemed like a sensible idea. Our objective was to get to Malaysia as quickly as possible with the least amount of hassle and distraction. Now we could have flown from London to Amsterdam, wait a few hours flown to Dubai, wait several hours before flying onto Kuala Lumpur which would have used up almost a whole day on travelling. This option might have saved us a little money but would have almost certainly used up lots of time and energy. This scenario made me think about lessons and the quickest possible route to learning.
I’ve observed a number of lessons where the objective has been really clear on the learning that the teacher wants the students to engage with, but the students have been held back by a flurry of activities with questionable links to the desired learning. This leads me to think that as teachers, if there is a direct route to the learning we should take it. When planning a lesson, if the objective is for students to learn X why should they embark upon an array of activities that eventually lead them to X or miss the destination altogether? We sometimes get bogged down in planning lessons to fill time using multiple activities (that sometimes take us off course) to buffer the learning rather than getting straight to the learning.
Consider the two diagrams below – which one best represents your lessons?
When planning a lesson it’s important to keep in mind the learning and design activities that will enable students to think hard about the desired learning by spending time in the struggle zone and allow time for students to practice the application of desired knowledge / skills.
Habits of highly effective lesson planning.This blog post by Pepe Mccrea outlines habits of highly effective planning. Below are the 7 habits with a few key extracts from Pepe’s blog.
1. Start with the end in mind.
Excessive clarity – The clearer you are about where you want them to get, the better you’ll be able to help them get there.
2. Take the shortest path.
Don’t waste time designing overly complex learning experiences. What is the least I need to say to explain this concept to my students? What is the least amount of information I need to give them before they can get started?
3. Assess reliably and efficiently.
Hinge questioning Asking the whole class to: answer a multi-choice question using hand-signals; or show their thinking using mini-whiteboards.
Exit ticketing Giving students 3 questions to answer on a sheet of paper which they have to hand to you as they walk out the door.
4. Build learning that lasts.
Plan for thinking As Daniel Willingham so eloquently puts it, ‘learning is the residue of thought’. Plan what you want your students to think.
Anchor thinking David Ausubel tells us that ‘what students already know is the most important factor in what they can learn’. Design activities to help your students tap into what they know and make connections with what they’re going to learn about.
5. Anticipate the unexpected.
Increase your impact further by looking for points in your lesson where students are likely to struggle, make mistakes or develop misconceptions.
6. Move towards inter-lesson planning.
The relationship between lessons is just as important as what happens within them.
7. Plan better together.
Sharing your planning and practice not only brings fresh eyes to old problems and helps us articulate what we’re doing and why, but it also spreads our understanding of what works (and what doesn’t) amongst our profession.
We often have lots of great ideas for lesson activities but must consider the execution of them and the effect they will have on the desired learning. When planning a lesson consider:
– working backwards from where you want students to end up.
– what you want students to think about at different points in the lesson and how your planned activities will foster that thinking.
– the quickest path to the learning – don’t waste time with lots of activities that just keep students busy – focus on tasks that enable students to grapple with knowledge / skills in the ‘struggle zone.’
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.
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
Ever felt like giving up on something? A project, a run, a blog post, organising an event, revising for an exam? If the answer to this question is ‘No’ I applaud you. You are either an extremely ‘GRIT-y’ person or perhaps you haven’t found a real challenge yet. If you answered ‘Yes’ then you have experienced the ‘Dip.’ In this, the first in a series of posts that explore motivation, GRIT, character strengths & growth mindset, I’m hoping to summarise what I have discovered from reading a series of books on these areas and what potential impact I believe it could have in the classroom. This first post looks at the bigger picture and addresses the general myth that successful people ‘never give up.’ In Seth Godin’s short book ‘The Dip’ he looks at why some businesses, organisations and people are successful and why some are not. Over the timeline of any successful project he argues that more often than not there is a ‘Dip’ where things get hard, more effort is required and the honeymoon period of the initial idea ends. The dip looks something like this:
The Dip is the point in a project whereby people leading make a decision. Is the outcome worth the extra effort and resources? Successful people are able to make the tough decision to either persevere because the outcome is worth the extra effort and resources or quit and invest their time, effort and resources into something that will be truly remarkable instead. Being able to successful make that decision at the point of the dip is tricky, risky and requires some experience, clear bigger picture thinking and the confidence to quit. Godin suggests the ‘Dip’ is the secret to success…
…the Dip is the secret to your success. The people who set out to make it through the Dip – the people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip – those are the ones who become the best in the world. They are breaking the system because, instead of moving on to the next thing, instead of doing slightly above average and settling for what they’ve got, they embrace the challenge. For whatever reason they refuse to abandon the quest and they push through the Dip all the way to the next year.
If something is worth doing then it will probably involve a Dip. But not always. How do we know it’s time to quit something? Have a look at the curves below:
Godin talks about knowing when to quit if the project curve looks like a ‘Cliff’ or ‘cul-de-sac.’ The cul-de-sac is described as…
…a situation where you work and you work and you work and nothing changes. It doesn’t get a lot better. it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is.
Godin describes the ‘Cliff” as…
…a situation where you can’t quit until you fall off, and the whole thing falls apart.
The main problem is knowing when you are on either of these two paths. It would be quite easy to mistake the Dip for the ‘Cliff” for example. Having a clear goal, starting with the end in mind will help you determine what path you are on. Revisiting the purpose regularly, reflecting and being brutally honest with yourself will also help – sometimes it may be easier to continue a project (even if you suspect a ‘cul-de-sac’) then quit and devote your time and resources to something will make a bigger dent in the universe.
I experienced the Dip recently whilst organising a teach-meet. After the initial buzz of announcing that I was going to host a teach meet for 200 teachers I was hit by the never-ending list of things that needed to happen in order for the event to be a success. Coupled with a full teaching timetable and responsibilities within my department – there was a point (if I’m being honest) where the thought of quitting crossed my mind. My goal was to put on a truly remarkable event and if I didn’t have the time and resources to do that, perhaps I should focus my time and resources into something else. However the end of goal was too important and I instead decided to lean into the Dip and persevere (something I’ve learned from ultra running). Having attended other teach meets I knew how inspirational these events can be and how much they make teachers think, re-focus and offer opportunities for teachers to take ideas that can have a positive impact on students.
Links to teaching.
As a teacher I’ve certainly had many moments where I’ve felt like quitting something because the outcome didn’t seem worth the time and effort. There have been times when I’ve powered through the Dip and had some truly amazing lessons, CPD sessions, e.t.c. There have also been other times where in hindsight I would have been better off quitting earlier and re-focusing my time and effort. But still I learnt from those experiences so all is not lost. From reading Godin’s work I will definitely be thinking of the curves mentioned earlier in this post when planning new department and school wide projects. It has also made me think about planning lessons. In a lesson or scheme of work when will students experience the Dip? What will students be thinking during the Dip? What action should I take? I believe this is where GRIT, character strengths and the growth mindset model fit in. These habits can be used to help navigate through the Dip. In my next post I’ll be exploring these habits and how they can positively influence learning.
“We don’t need to spend much time on that, we all know the moral purpose.” The moral purpose of schools is obvious isn’t it?
Last week during an NPQML session we were tasked to articulate our school’s moral purpose and describe the last time we’d heard it. A few heads turned. People began to think. It wasn’t as straightforward as first thought. Something came to light in the discussions that followed. Is the moral purpose of your school to do everything in your power to provide the best possible education and outcomes for the young people in your care? Or is the moral purpose of your school to be an ‘outstanding’ or ‘great’ school? Are these two things one in the same? The latter could end up focusing more heavily on the WHAT and HOW rather than focusing on the WHY.
School’s can be very complex places to manage and lead with so many variables to contend with. The best schools (I think) seek to simplify processes and procedures to ensure time is not needlessly taken away from teaching and learning. But what role does the moral purpose play in making strategic and tactical decisions? It should be part of the DNA of these decisions and well articulated to all staff consistently on a regular basis.
Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden circle’ model sums it up quite nicely for me. The WHY (cause, purpose, belief) should be the driving the force behind WHAT you do as a school and HOW you do it.
What is your school’s purpose, cause or belief? Here’s my attempt at articulating a moral purpose for schools –
We believe that every student has the opportunity to succeed given the right school environment. As a school its our purpose to ensure teachers can teach so that students can learn. We aim to grow amazing young people with great outcomes that unlocking better futures.
How often should we revisit and articulate our moral purpose? The more complex it becomes the less impact it will have, which is why I really like KIPP’s tagline – ‘Work hard. Be nice.’ The moral purpose should be at the heart of everything we do in schools and should not be skipped over because it is ‘obvious.’ Schools are extremely busy places and we need make an effort from time to time to ensure the moral purpose remains at the heart of what we do.
At this extremely busy and intensely pressured time of year for teachers, its worth taking a bit of time out to revisit WHY you do what you do. Every interaction you have with young people in school is an opportunity to positively influence and inspire. That’s why we signed up.
Keep making a difference.