Lockdown Learning

The past eight weeks has taught me that you can work smart whilst delivering quality education and still achieve a work-life balance.  Read on to find out how.

The structure

I have found the most useful format is to give two lessons-worth of content each time so, for example, A level students get two of these each week. Setting single lessons over four days was a lot of work and some students were finishing them quickly whilst others were feeling overwhelmed and falling behind.  I use no more than four to six  power-point slides per lesson and narrate them so that I can help students to develop ideas and think more deeply about the content.  I want the lessons to keep students engaged and have them working harder than me so there is always some new knowledge, a summary note-taking exercise, a self-assessed task and a piece of extended writing or a summary quiz.

The routine

Routines are important for all of us but they are especially important for students and especially when they are working at home without you breathing down their necks.  Set the work at the same time on the same day each week and give them feedback the day after. This will let them know that you still care about them and their education. Give them a time each week when they can contact you if they need additional help. I set this up as a meeting on MS teams (audio only) so that I can get it done in 30 minutes. It also gives the class a chance to speak to each other and listen to answers to questions they may not have thought of.

The lessons

My school has usefully provided us with a template for delivering lessons which work really well at home.  This consists of a ‘big question’ to begin the lesson along with six different categories for content: ‘New Knowledge’, ‘Develop Together’, ‘Let Me Show You’, ‘Assess and Address’, ‘Retrieve, Embed, Refine’ and ‘Independent Application’.

Here are some examples of how you can use these at home.

This independent application task was set during a year 10 lesson on depression. The focus was on treatments for depression. I narrated the presentations so that I could talk through the slides, just as I would in class.

The Big question was: What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? new knowledge was presented succinctly (I hate power point slides with loads of writing) with a summary of the stages of therapy plus web links that students could follow to view mock CBT sessions. I gave them an example of the kind of thought log a patient could be given as homework and talked them through the purpose and application of it.  I  scaffolded the independent application task (see slide below) which was to ‘Write a patient information leaflet for a person who is about to undergo CBT’. This extended writing task requires them to understand the knowledge through application and to think about adapting their knowledge for the target audience.

Slide8

In the narration for the task, I asked them to consider the average reading age of a typical CBT client and the sort of information they would wish to have if they were about to undergo the treatment themselves.

Here is an example of what students produced (reproduced with kind permission) covering all four of the bullet points in the task plus additional interesting points.

Capturecapture 2

Assessment took about 15 minutes for the whole class; check that all the points are covered and make one recommendation to improve.

Here is a ‘let me show you’ example from an A level lesson on treatments for OCD.  I copied a page from the text book and talked through genetic and neural explanations for OCD. I then provided a table so that students could summarise their notes on one page and demonstrated how to complete the first row. students had to upload their tables so that I could see their note-taking skills and give prompts to help them fill in any blanks.

W35OCD lessons 1 and 2

For ‘assess and address’ I snipped a question from an electronic A level text book and asked students to complete the task, self assess and close the gaps.  I talked through the assessment (also snipped from the book) annotating to show where the marks were awarded.

I then asked students to show me their marked work complete with gaps in knowledge closed.

For each class, I also set one teacher-marked assignment per week which is usually an exam question. This does not have to be arduous, a 6 mark or 8 mark question does nicely. This gives students the chance to retrieve and embed knowledge from the week’s learning and refine it using my feedback on www and ebi.

Expectations

It is tricky working from home and some students find this more of a challenge than others. However, do not be tempted to lower your expectations. I always finish with a summary slide (below) showing what I expect to see when students upload work.  If it is incomplete I return it with a message to complete and resubmit. I also note down which students are not meeting expectations.

Slide13

Talk to parents

Parents have a difficult job, probably working from home themselves and coping with the supervision of their own children’s home learning.  For parents of small children, this is challenging but at least small children ‘treat life as a happy comedy whereas teenages treat life as a cold-war spy movie in which their parents star as the emeny!’ (Starling, B., n.d. Haynes Explaines Teenagers.) Even more reason then, that we talk to parents to let them know how their teenage cherubs are doing. Once again, this need not be arduous. I keep a record of students who are doing nothing, as well as those who are doing well and make it my mission to phone four parents every Thursday. This is deeply satisfying as, 1. they are guranteed to be home and 2. they are (by and large) very grateful for the time you have taken to speak with them.

I hope I have given you some useful things to think about with regard to home learning during these unprecedented times. keep up the good work and remember to work smart not hard, so that you have time to exercise, practise your yoga, tend your garden or whatever else brings you joy!

The Big Fat Red Herring that is Differentiation

The word ‘differentiate’ has caused the most damage to students and teachers in the history of education. This article will explain why and what you can do about it.

Teachers’ standards

Section five of the teachers’ standards states ‘Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils’. Two of the bullet points in this section go on to elucidate how this might be achieved.

  1. know when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively.
  2. have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs; those of high ability; those with English as an additional language; those with disabilities; and be able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them.

 

The Damage

The damage to teachers has been in the way schools have interpreted this word to mean that teachers should prepare different work for each and every sub group of students within each and every lesson. HAPS, MAPS, LAPS, SEND, EAL and pupil premium are all labels to describe categories into which students have been placed so that we can ‘know our students’; but what does this mean in practice? Easy! In each and every lesson we can have a stretch challenge for the HAPS, a writing frame for the MAPS, fill in the blanks for the LAPS, a glossary for the EAL and an additional resource for the SEND and pupil premiums. Even as I write this I can see poor teachers burning out by october half term; shadows of their former selves. But it gets even better! Obviously, we need to be able to show that we are doing this and, bingo!! The ‘all, most, some’; ‘bronze, silver, gold’ or ‘must, should could’ rhetoric is now applied to all lesson outcomes and displayed proudly at the start of each lesson.

Students are not stupid by the way; they know which groups they fall into. In 1968 Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard University professor, and Leonore Jacobson, an elementary school principal in San Francisco, published ‘Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development’. Based on a range of academic studies, the book demonstrates that the expectations that teachers have about their students’ behavior can unwittingly influence such behavior. This influence, also known as self-fulfilling prophecy or the ‘Pygmalion effect’, can have a positive or negative impact on student achievement. In other words, if a teacher expects that certain students will do well, they are likely to do well; if a teacher expects other students to fail, they will be more likely to fail. Such expecations come from the group labels themselves. Sarah is a HAP (high ability pupil) and Chardonnay is a LAP (low ability pupil). what are your expectations for Sarah’s achievement and Chardonnay’s behaviour? Be honest; did Chardonnay’s given name influence your answer?

Self-fulfilling prophecy also affects the way in which students assess their own ability. X believes he is not very good at something and therefore, does not try more difficult tasks. ‘After all, the data says he is a LAP therefore, he cannot be expected to achieve very much’. This is also known as reciprocal determinism. Reciprocal determinism is the theory by psychologist Albert Bandura which states that a person’s behavior both influences and is influenced by personal factors and the social environment. Students and teachers seek out tasks for students based on what they think they can do or what they did last time. Furthermore, the categories that students are put into are arbritary yet so much that happens at school is based on this ‘data’ which hides the richness and complexity of each and evey individual and leads to stereotypical ideas of how students will perform. This is incredibly damaging for students’ academic achievement, confidence and, down the line, their life chances. If you are still not convinced, try out the phrase ‘high expectations for all’ and see how that fits with typical diffentiation strategies.

 

Back to basics

Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who studied cognitive development in children in the 1920s and 1930s. He noted that when parents were observed playing with their children they naturally and instinctively did something called scaffolding to help a child solve problems.

For example, a child is doing a new jigsaw puzzle. The mother watches for a while and assesses the child’s attempts. She then makes suggestions such as, ‘Let’s find the corners and then all the edge pieces.’ She may set out the corners so that the child has an idea of the overall size and may fit a couple of pieces together so that he can see how that is done. In this way the mother, or the ‘more knowledgable other‘ (MKO) scaffolds the child’s learning until he can do it for himself. The next time he has a puzzle, he will (having internalised the instruction) sort the pieces for himself. Of course, the MKO may not always be an adult. If a child wishes to improve on the latest X-Box game, he may well be better off asking his friends for guidance!

The other useful concept of Vygotsky’s is the zone of proximal development (ZPD) which he refers to as the transition space between what the learner cannot do and what they can do unaided. Using the jigsaw puzzle analogy again, the child begins at a point where he is not able to do the puzzle and, if left alone, may well give up. He is currently in the ‘learner cannot do’ zone. He is helped into the ZPD by his mother’s encouragement and knowledge on how to solve the puzzle. Once he internalises her approach, he will move to the ‘learner can do unaided’ zone for this particular skill. The middle zone represents the place children must get to (whatever their starting point) so that they can learn to do jigsaw puzzles and sit public exams.

File:Zone of proximal development.svg - Wikimedia Commons

Differentiation and scaffolding in practice

Jonny is a MAP (middle ability student) who is also pupil premium. He is lazy and does not particularly like school and, last night, his mum and dad were arguing which kept him awake. He is still feeling anxious about the argument as he does not really know what it was about but he thought he heard his name mentioned. He is in a science lesson on space, a topic which he studies at home (in secret as his friends would call him a ‘pussy’ if he told them) and quite fancies the ‘gold’ task which is about whether or not we could live on Mars. The ‘silver’ task is to research some facts about Mars, atmosphere, temperature etc. which he already knows. He could try the gold task but he is feeling tired and he remembers the argument. Suddenly, he can’t be bothered and, as the teacher will be satisfied with his choice, he pretends to research facts he already knows.

Now imagine the lesson as a competition for the best poster/presentation on whether we could live on Mars. The teacher has prepared one big question for the lesson; ‘Could we live on Mars?’ and there is one outcome; the answer to that question presented in which ever way the child chooses. The teacher has not spent time preparing different pathways for arbritary groups. Instead, she has provided resources; her own knowledge, books internet sites and you-tube clips and now she goes round from group to group guiding and scaffolding the learning with questions such as ‘have you looked in this book?’ for some and ‘but how would we get enough oxygen?’ for others. She models what a successful finished product might look like, praises effort and challenges everyone at their ZPD organically and naturally, just as a parent would. No child knows what their label is, feels undervalued or stupid and is enjoying the challenge of the task in hand.

 

What to do now

If I have made you drift off into a little utopian bubble, have no fear, this can become a reality. If you teach examinination subjects, all of your students need to pass the exam. They all need to be able to describe, synthesise, apply, analyse and evaluate to some degree or another and ‘high expectations for all’ cannot be achieved unless you teach to the top and then scaffold where needed. Furthermore, you can only do this whilst students are working on a task so that you can diagnose the problem in real time and provide a diagram, model answer or writing frame (which I do there and then; on the spot, depending on the need and not as a ‘here is one I prepared earlier’). So ditch the bronze, silver and gold; have one task that all will complete and become a beautiful organic scaffolder. This is a win, win for all; reducing the ridiculous work load of pre-preparing umpteen colour-coded, learning-outcomes-linked tasks that extend 5% of the class whilst degrading the other 95%. When people ask you,  ‘What are you doing for your HAPS, your EALS and your pupil premiums’? You can reply, ‘The same as I do for everyone; teach, model, develop, scaffold and expect the very best!’

 

 

Retrieval is Everything

Most students and many teachers do not realise the huge importance of retrieval for learning. This post aims to explain why retrieval is important and to give some strategies for doing it well.

DO Hebb (1949) was the first person to acknowledge that, when neurones fire together, they wire together but it was not until the 1980s that scientists discovered what was happening on a physiological level when learning takes place.  Long term potentiation (LTP) is one of several phenomena underlying synaptic plasticity, the ability of chemical synapses to increase their strength the more often they are activated. LTP is widely considered one of the major cellular mechanisms that underlies learning and memory, and retrieval is the best way to make it happen.

 

When a child exclaims they don’t understand how they failed  a test when they revised for hours, I get them to show me what they have done. Invariably they have completed part of the process but not the most important one, why? Learning involves three distinct processes, encoding, rehearsal and retrieval. Students love the encoding part, making colourful mindmaps and cue cards. They don’t mind the rehearsal part, repeating the information they have just learned. But they hate the retrieval part because it is hard and boring. Therefore, there is hardly ever any evidence of completed practice questions as part of their revisionRetrieval is most effective when it is done long after learning and is done cold, without text books or cues to help.  It requires effort and perhaps even some anxiety and that is why it is so often overlooked. Yet it is the part of the process which gives the most robust learning of information and best chance of being able to apply the knowledge later on.

Memory_ProcessThe diagram shows the processes used to lay down a memory. Encoding involves making the information stand out (elaborative encoding), knowing what it means (semantic encoding); rehearsal involves repetition of what has just been learned and retrieval is remembering information learned some time ago.

So let’s go over some 5 minute strategies for retrieval that teachers can use and students can adopt for their own learning.

  1. The brain dump. Five minutes at the start of a lesson using a topic covered last term or even last year. Give students a piece of paper and a pen (no notes or books) and set the timer. Students write all they know about the topic of social influence for example. At that point they can check with the textbook adding detail that they have missed. A week later, they can do the same exercise again and be amazed as to how much more detail and how much easier it is the second time.
  2. The starter question. Pick an exam question from a previous topic and get students to answer it from memory. They will protest that they don’t know it but  must write something. The teacher can then put up a model answer and get the students to complete the question.
  3. Write the opening sentence. Students are given an exam question e.g. ‘Discuss two ways in which people might resist social influence.’ By writing just an opening sentence, students are retrieving their conceptual knowledge and their exam skill knowledge. It is a very powerful tool for uncovering and righting misconceptions in two minutes flat!
  4. Draw me a diagram. I usually get a student to draw on the whiteboard and others call out annotations. Misconceptions can be discussed and sorted there and then. One of my favourites but make sure it is from two topics ago if your aim is to prectise retrieval and not rehearsal.
  5. Kahoot quizzes are awesome.  It takes seconds to make an account and you do not have to write them yourself, simply search for a topic and away you go.  You can use them for AFL as the students are playing. I write down the topics that show the highest rate of variation in the answers so that I can make a note to retrieve those next time.

So remember, for learning to take place on a deep level it must be retrieved, cold, from two topics ago and retrieved often. Students have not revised if they have only done the encoding part so make sure all revision includes practice questions. If you’re still in doubt, take a look at the downward arrow on the long term memory box. Until next time, enjoy your retrieval escapades and let me know if you come across any more strategy gems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dust off Your Text Books

In every staffroom up and down the country there is the group of ‘superteachers’ huddled in a corner drinking quadruple espressos and making snide comments about ‘teacher X’ whose ‘kids just work out of the textbook every lesson’. Fast forward to the weekend; Mr X is spending time with his family, flying a microlight, trout fishing or doing whatever else normal people do at the weekend while the ‘superteachers’ are spending hours and hours  re-writing huge chunks of textbooks to make booklets, handouts and worksheets, occasionally misinterpreting theories and concepts in the hope of dumbing them down, or because they are just too tired to think about what they are writing.

If you are the ‘superteacher’ type PLEASE STOP this nonsense NOW! Not only are you affecting your own mental wellbeing but you are also not helping your students to learn. During hours and hours of martyrdom spent making a variety of differentiated tasks and activities for each topic, it is the teacher who is preparing for the exam in 30 different ways rather than the individual preparing themselves. Worse still, it makes very little difference to student performance and can actually make it worse.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with textbooks.  They are written by experts in your subject who know the specification and are more often than not approved by the relevant exam board.  Decades of recearch into memory shows us that long term memories are laid down when students actively engage with the material to be learned, be it presented in a textbook or any other form, and that effective learning depends on regular recall of that information.  This means that it is the students who have to interpret, apply and analyse the information they need, not you.

Instead plan lessons and prepare activities for students based on their textbook.  For example, ask students to summarise a theory in 6 key sentences or sketch-note a key study as you read it to them. Ask them to respond to a picture as a lesson starter or write one multichoice question as a plenary.

You can find more details including activity, resources, format, differentiation and teacher/student input using the link below. I hope you can adapt, use and develop them so that the students are the ones doing the work.  A good rule of thumb for any planned activity is: If the teacher input is more than or equal to student input; scrap it now!

Textbook Activities

Oh and, by the way, I have a family, 4 granchildren, horse ride every week and practise cello every day. I do not and will not work evenings and weekends on a regular basis as that is my time.  Happy textbooking!

 

Blancmange Brains Vs Blooms

I recently joined a social media Psychology teachers’ group in the hope of sharing and gaining ideas for the teaching of my subject.  In one such post I was horrified to read that the writer had her blancmange brains all made and ready to be transported into school for her students to label in their A level  lesson.

Continue reading “Blancmange Brains Vs Blooms”

Know Thyself

Mastering others is strength; Mastering yourself is true power.” -Lao Tzu, Chinese Taoist Philosopher.

My question this week is how do we get students to master themselves and to know their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing essays?

Continue reading “Know Thyself”

Let Them Go

Plato called Socrates “the wisest, and justest, and best of all men whom I have ever known” (Phaedo) and yet Socrates did not write down his lessons nor stand at the front of his class imparting the results of his experience, personal study and reflection. Instead he questioned his students and, once they came up with an idea, he questioned them again!

Continue reading “Let Them Go”