Great blog from @ASTsupportAAli for both new and experienced staff.
Here are our top tips to having a controlled and calm classroom.
I tweeted the below thread out a week or so ago, I wanted to expand on the comments and highlight the work the leadership team has been doing to establish effective T&L and behaviour and culture in our school.
Establish a way of doing EVERYTHING.
From entering to leaving the room, to handing out worksheets, books, resources and so on. There should be a procedure. A well practised, set of methods to getting those things done. They should be reminded every time those things are going to be done to ensure they are done smoothly.
We line our students up, outside their classroom, greet them, inform/remind/emphasise the routine on entry and expectations and they enter our classrooms. The first 5 minutes of a lesson are crucial, create the environment where the expectation is to learn.
Every lesson should begin with one. A Do Now Activity.
This should usually be a talking or thinking one, as the books are being handed/taken out. Get your students thinking about your learning instantly, give them a challenge as soon as they pass the threshold.
Let them know in your lesson, every second is a learning opportunity.
My procedure for handing out books is that I always ask 5/6 people to hand out 5/6 books each so the books are handed out quickly. As soon as you get your book, They have a task to do.
This is writing down the title (we call it a Big/Learning Question.) The date. And THUD in the margin.
Start your lesson with a THUD. Give the responsibility to the students. Give them the criteria and expect it. I wander round with a red pen. I place a red dot next to anybody’s work that is missing something, or something is not done correctly. Students then instantly correct.
Students should also underline off last lessons work, and start reading what was covered, to aid with their recall check, if they have finished the DNA.
Ensure you engage with proximal praise at this point.
Notice who has done what they should be doing rather than who hasn’t. I personally use my VIP method here, and hand out a cushion to students who are doing the right thing! See here.
If a student hasn’t started the DNA or opened their book when they’ve got it, don’t ask
“Why haven’t you done what I have asked!”
Just state the instruction again, with a thank you.
“Sylviana open your book, write in the big question and THUD. Thank you.”
Continue with proximal praise.
DON’T overpraise basic expectations. Well done & thank you for things that are simply required is fine. But only praise formally when students have exceeded (their) expectations.
When you want the classes attention; do it in the same way.
Notice the bright spots!
Have a system, be it a countdown or count up!
We use a 5-0 countdown system. The Pivotal way. Include instructions in between each number. For example.
“Right, when you’re ready. 5,
Facing the front 4.
Thanks to those listening 3,
Pens down and looking up 2,
OK, great let’s begin 1…”
Silence should and is always expected at this point.
I use Mary Myatt’s method of ‘When you’re ready’ to alert students attention.
Retrieval- Education is the best therapy:
Start the lesson with a 5 question recall check.
No matter how many times they’ve done it. Remind everybody of the routine or procedure for your recall checks. I will ask students-
How many questions? 5 questions Sir.
How long do you have? 5 minutes sir.
How do you answer the questions? In Full sentences sir.
What does that mean? It means including the question in our answers sir.
What do you do if you can’t remember the answer? If unknown write down question & leave space. Then we will fill in the answers later sir.
Ensure there is at LEAST one answer that EVERY student can answer! This is to enable students to instantly feel like they can participate in the lesson.
Let the students know how long they have by using a timer. I have now phased this out, for some classes, as I want them to practice using the clock to manage their time.
Continue to use the countdown from then onwards. Any time you want the classes attention, use your countdown.
Stand up, be seen, be clear.
When explaining a task, after you have explained ask at least 2 students to explain back what they’ve been asked to do. Then still go over to any other students who you think may need another round of explanation and re-explain! Don’t get upset by that fact!
- Every task should have a sequenced set of instructions.
- Every task should have a time frame. Ideally both available, visually.
- Every task should have the opportunity for you to check/model/support/reaffirm. That could be sat at your desk.
All your visuals should be clear. The font should be large enough to read. Avoid confusing backgrounds.
Use bold to emphasise words and keep colour coding consistent.
Here, we do not cut and stick sheets into our books. We hole punch every book and treasury tag the sheets in. This way sheets can be used for multiple lessons, without students flipping backwards and forwards and if a student misses a lesson, there work can be added in, with ease. It also saves time!
And be clear about expected noise level from/for each and every task. Spy Talk, Low Flow, Formal Normal. If they can’t differentiate, then revert to silence.
Again proximal praise at this point, but not just for doing the right thing.
Do not be worried, or afraid or insisting on Zero Noise or Silence for a task.
Do you give students unconscious opt outs? Instead of saying:
Right here’s an quick, easy, simple task.
Here’s a challenging, hard task.
After the quick, easy, simple task, there could be a few students that thought, wow, that was meant to be quick, easy and simple and I could not do it! Or, a few that thought, why am I wasting my time with easy work. Those students could then be put off the next task, which is more challenging and harder.
Here’s task 1 and here’s task 2.
Reduce the chance for students to be anchored out of a task. Avoid using language that may make students feel like a task is unachievable.
Remind students of what you expect, by explaining why it’s beneficial. Be clear about expectations and beliefs. Have high expectations and clear beliefs about students progress and intended goals. Let students know everybody is going to complete all the tasks and you will help WHEN needed.
I expect calm, structure and respect so we can learn as much as possible, so you can concentrate and challenge yourself. So we can all feel the benefits of school. That’s the language I use.
If a student is off task, ask them,
“Eric, are you clear about the task I’ve asked you to get on with?”
“Sebastian have you made a start? Can I give you any suggestions?”
“Why aren’t you working? Doing as I asked.”
If this is repeated.
“Alisha can you come and show me your work pls.”
If noise levels get too high, then knock it down to silence. If people talk whilst the task should be completed in silence, speak to those students individually.
Use mini whiteboards and post it notes to attempt work before writing it down in books. (Sometimes.) Allow students to talk through an answer first too. As Mart Myatt says, writing floats on a sea of talk!
Your seating plan is vital. Another thread about that, another time.
What do your displays say about you? Your classroom? Are they too busy? Are they updated? Do they support learning. Here, we all use the same colour background and border colours to not make them too ‘loud.’ We are given dedicated time to update them and encourage them to be used as learning tools. As guides to help with recall checks.
Do not afraid to be you in your classroom. I share a few photos of my baby boy, by my desk. Showing students the diversity of us, might be the only diversity they hear/see/feel.
Being “strict” doesn’t mean you are boring or unliked.
It doesn’t mean you shout all day.
It means you have clear routines, procedures and possibly an assertive tone of voice when need be. Don’t fear breaking off task every one in a while to simply have a little joke/giggle with your class!
You will also notice I have not used the word relationships in the entire blog, this does not mean I feel we can have quiet, calm, controlled, effective classrooms without relationships, I just feel whilst we can achieve the above we are creating and building those relationships. I have written about relationships here too.
Remember, you may be really great with all of the different types of students, but ensuring you follow the schools behaviour policy is vital. Whether it is needed for you or not, it helps the teachers that it is needed for. Consistency in approach is vital. Students should not have to second guess what each teacher will do. It should be clear.
Also, do not feel you have ‘nothing to learn’ from those who have well ordered, controlled classrooms, just because ‘they can do it.’ I feel there are the above characteristics in their rooms which enable the calm and control. Go check it out?
Have you ever tried a scripted lesson ?
“There is order in what we wish to teach, just as there is order in the pattern observed in clouds, sea shells, or traffic moving down a freeway. Our task is to discover it and to communicate this order. If we do it properly, the development of the skills will seem so easy that it might strike the naive observer as “cheating”” (Siegfried Engelmann)
I started experimenting with scripted instruction this year. From the outset, it felt like cheating. Just telling students the answer, testing them on it and then asking them to apply their learning felt like a rebellious act. Yet the evidence before me suggested that it was working. Whilst I do not want to suggest that Direct Instruction could be all things to all people, it has transformed my teaching. In this blog post, I will share some of the principles that underpin the planning of some of the DI inspired scripts that I have used in the classroom.
The most striking difference between a ‘normal’ lesson and a DI lesson is that the latter uses “concise teacher scripts and choral student responses” (Barbash, 2012, p.24). Many teachers may balk at the idea of standing at the front of the room imparting facts and hearing students chant these facts back verbatim. Yet, if it’s good enough for the most effective teaching method ever invented, then it’s more than good enough for me. Yes, it is weird to teach from a script to begin with. Sure, students may be initially hesitant to chant in unison. However, there is something unique about seeing 32 students in a classroom understanding a concept and working hard in silence on a topic that you are sure they are achieving success in.
Engelmann’s scripts had the benefit of 50 years of experience, meticulous design and field testing before they were published. There are some fantastic examples available for Mathematics, English, and the social sciences online. As a caveat to everything I am about to share, my scripts are merely imitations of Engelmann’s work. They cannot, and should not, be held up as an example of his work. Nonetheless, I hope they exemplify the application of some of Engelmann’s principles in a more conventional classroom setting.
Typically I have used scripted instruction in content heavy lessons. For example, teaching about the adaptations of flora and fauna to Arctic environments. Alternatively, teaching about the impacts of deforestation in the rainforest. I have not used scripted instruction for teaching ‘skills’ such as interpreting a bar graph. That is not to say one could not design instruction for teaching skills, Engelmann’s work shows that you can, Instead, the context of my planning is that it is to teach content rich lessons.
Some examples of these scripts are available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1y8l5zY5ZHV0tcAemfBE7pIRzoI6fnws-i7rl9f-_uG8/edit?usp=sharing
1. Start at the end
Every lesson that I have used DI style scripts in have a clear question defining the lesson. For example, ‘why did world population explode?’. The outcome of all of my lessons is for students to produce a extended piece of writing to answer the question for the lesson. The planning process will begin with me writing an exemplary model answer to that question. For example, students will need to know that world population exploded because of the control of death rates. They will also need to know that we have controlled death rates by reducing deaths by war, famine and disease.
Having written a model answer I will identify ten pieces of content that students need to know in order to produce a good quality piece of work. These constitute the objective facts and knowledge that I will design my instructional script around. To return to the quote which began this post, this constitutes giving ”order in what we wish to teach”. There is clearly a debate on which knowledge should be taught. However, my experience with DI is that there is a limit to how much knowledge can be taught in an hour so that the students ‘get it’. Therefore, choices have to be made on which knowledge is the most important to teach. Whilst ten pieces of knowledge sounds arbitrary, I have found it to be enough that students can remember it all and apply it properly in a relevant context.
Below is an example of ten core pieces of information for a science lesson script.
2. Atomise the knowledge and chain it together
Once I have a list of ten pieces of ‘content’ for students to learn, I try and break it down into easily digestible chunks. For example, I may intend to teach that some plants in the rainforest have a waxy surface known as a drip tip to drain water so that they do not die. An example of these chunks would be “one example of a plant in the rainforest is a drip tip. Drip tips have a waxy surface. Drip tips have a waxy surface to drain water. Drip tips drain water to avoid rotting and dying”. These instructions would then have simple expected learner responses. For example, “what type of surface does a drip tip have?” in which the expected response was “waxy”. This ‘atomisation’ draws out each important piece of information for the learner to memorise.
Throughout, the expected student response is kept as simple as possible. As Engelmann states in The Theory of Instruction: “if the statement is too long for the learner to repeat, we present only part of the statement at a time”. Getting students to chant “they are waxy so water drains off of the leaf” is unlikely to be successful. Breaking long statements up aids working memory by reducing the amount of information students have to hold. In addition, it keeps the pace of the lesson high, which is an essential part of DI. As is exemplified below, students are then given the chance to build this chain back up by explaining to their partner how a drip tip is adapted.
3. Be economical and consistent in your language
The first two of Shepard Barbash’s rules are ‘be clear’ and ‘be efficient’. The atomisation of content aids this process. However, one method of efficiency is the be consistent in your use of wording.
One example of economy of language is using the same phrase to indicate student response. In the case of my scripts, I will always use the phrase “okay, your turn”. Another way of improving efficiency is the phrase questions in a similar way that you have phrased the instruction. For example, if the information is presented as “the drip tips waxy surface helps water to drip off the leaf”. The question is best phrased as “what does the drip tips waxy surface help water to do”. A less optimal phrasing may be “why do drip tips have waxy surfaces”. Whilst the learner response is essentially the same “to drip water”, the latter example requires a deeper level of complex thinking. In my experience, this deeper complexity can come at a later stage in the lesson. In the initial presentation of information, consistency and simplicity is key.
A second way of improving efficiency is by consistently re-emphasising important pieces of information. For example, one way of presenting a drip tip is to point at a picture and say “some leaves have drip tips. These help them to drip water off.” However, there exists an additional opportunity to re-emphasise the name of the plant. Instead, a more optimal instruction would be “Some leaves have drip tips. Drip tips help water to drip off the leaf”. This is a strategy used later in a script. For example, “draining the water stops the leaf rotting. If the leaf rotted then it would die” this is a more optimal example than “draining the water stops rotting. If this happened it would die”. Alongside the inflection and pacing of instruction, consistently re-emphasising this information can aid student recall.
4. Apply Engelmann’s ‘three level’ strategy
Engelmann’s three level strategy is very similar to small scale interleaving. Within the instructional sequence, information is constantly re-tested, even after learners have given a positive response.
The strategy starts at level 1, which is the easiest, and progresses to level 3, the hardest. In this example, the circled A constitutes an expected student response. For example, each time there is a circled A, students may respond to the question “what percentage of Earth do rainforests cover?” with the answer “7%”.
Level 1 may represent the very first introduction of the piece of content. To progress to Level 2, students have to provide the correct answer to a question straight after the presentation of the information.
Level 2 is the next level of complexity. Students are presented with new information, tested on that new information but then also tested on information that they had previously been exposed to. An example of Level 2 is available below, with students asked to identify the rainforest coverage of Earth and the location of rainforests straight after being tested on other newly presented facts. Throughout the instructional sequence, each set of facts are repeatedly interwoven to aid Level 2 testing.
Level 3 is the final level of complexity. After being exposed to each instruction of atomised information, students are asked to review all of the information at the end. This has given them time to forget the information and places a greater complexity demand by requiring learners to switch between lots of newly learned information.
If students can answer all of these questions at the end of the instructional sequence, then the lesson can move from scripted instruction and choral response to individual level practice drills and extended writing.
5. Plan the application of learning
Once the instructional sequence has finished, I move my students rapidly into a silent 10-12 question quiz on the content. The vast majority of time, if there has been loud and convincing choral response to all of the recap questions, then at least 90% of the students will achieve 90% on the quiz. If the students haven’t done this, then it is likely that there is a problem in either the planning or delivery of the script.
Once students have achieved over 90% in the individual level quiz, then can then apply this new learning into the extended writing that had served as the basis of the planning in the first place.
6. Remember, it’s just an experiment
In all of this instruction, it is important to remember all of the caveats surrounding scripted instruction. It is a difficult and time consuming process to go through. In addition, as Engelmann himself emphasised repeatedly, it will often go wrong in a myriad of stunning unexpected ways.
However, if you were interested in planning your own script then I hope this can be of some use. Feel free to get in touch and tweet me @s_hall_teach if you wanted to share any thoughts, ideas or scripts.
Examples of some of my scripts are available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1y8l5zY5ZHV0tcAemfBE7pIRzoI6fnws-i7rl9f-_uG8/edit?usp=sharing
Ten Principles of Instruction- Rosenshine, B. (2012) Explained from a classroom perspective via @ASTsupportAAli
Here are the principles in their entirety from the 2012 paper- Have them open as you read through the below…
1- Begin Each Lesson With A Short Review of Previous Learning– Start each lesson with a 5 question recall check. Give students 5 minutes to complete this. If they don’t know the answer, they write the question down and leave a space to fill in the answer later. You could do also do these 5 questions via multiple choice questions. Ensure you provide 2 plausible answers with 1 misconception. These must be high frequency and low stakes. Meaning you don’t take grades in, or ask students to share their scores out loud.
2- Present New Material In Short Steps With Students Practicing After Each Step. Explain tasks fully, ask students to repeat back the instructions given. Ask them to explain why you’re doing that task. Then work through examples of the completed task, model the answers. Work on items in front of your class under the visualiser, while they listen. Be OK with talking and explaining. Then get students to do. The check.
3- Ask A Large Number of Questions and Check the Responses of All Students– Ask lots of probing questions. ‘What if?’ ‘How do you know?’ Vary your questioning techniques. Hands up. Hands down. Add, Build, Challenge. Gadfly questioning; socratic questions. Plan for your questions. Do not ask questions before using a random question generator. Share the fact that answers to questions are for everybody, and therefore everybody should list and be ready to add, build, or challenge given answer. When students answer a question, ask them if they are sure, how sure and how do they know.
4- Provide Models– Vary the way you present modelled answers. Students should know that it isn’t solely how much you write that earns you more marks. Ensure students see the process of a modelled answer. Annotate and break down examples of completed tasks. When giving grades back to a class, use aspirational marking and only give the marks off the next grade students are, rather than their current grade.
5- Guide Student Practice– Instead of objectives or intentions for lessons try setting Big Questions- enable steps to answer those big questions. Enable the discussion to take place that breaks the big questions down. Practice and repeat. Allow for live marking to tackle misconceptions immediately, do this collectively if you can? Whole class feedback could support this.
6- Check for Student Understanding– Don’t just take a blanket response from the class to the questions. ‘Are we OK with this?’ ‘Any questions’ and so on. Enable enough time in your lessons for the students task to be checked for their understanding. How do you know they are good with moving onto to their next step in learning?
7- Obtain a High Success Rate– Enable students to have understood something before moving on. Think about teaching and reapplying concepts in 3 different contexts for true understanding and longer memory building. I call it ‘re-mixing‘ lessons. Students should not say, we have done this, unless, they have learnt it!
8- Provide Scaffolds for Difficult Tasks– These can be provided in a variety of ways- think about the concept of Dual Coding. Do you explain visually alongside your written and oral instructions? Do you have a consistent way of dual coding to avoid cognitive overload in lessons? Also have you considered linking abstract concepts with concrete representations. Are you able to bring something obscure into something tangible?
9- Require and Monitor Independent Practice– Circulate the room, check over tasks. Monitor as work is being completed. Don’t be afraid to ask for tasks to be completed in silence. Do not worry about getting students to edit tasks. I prefer the term edit, rather than re-do. Try Red Dot Marking?
10- Engage Students in Weekly or Monthly Review– Remind students you have not just taught them from last lesson, but from the start of the year. Remind them that every lessons learning is vital. Think about the spacing effect in your curriculum . How do you enable recall. Do you refresh on core concepts, skills and important threshold concepts throughout the year? What is your assessment cycle like? Quality first teaching is preceded by quality first planning.
Finally read this blog by
@EnserMark on Rosenshine- https://heathfieldteachshare.wordpress.com/2018/04/23/putting-theory-into-practice/ … and @teacherhead blog too- https://teacherhead.com/2018/06/10/exploring-barak-rosenshines-seminal-principles-of-instruction-why-it-is-the-must-read-for-all-teachers/ … They have both allowed me to summarise my thoughts. Thank you!
Click on the tweet below to read my original thread.
Download an amazing visual by Oliver Caviglioli here–
A fantastic collection of research from Chris Moyse – TLC Educuation Services Limited
Research articles worth reading
Tom Sherrington blog – I have found recent discussions and debates about the concept of a ‘knowledge-rich curriculum’ – or knowledge-led; knowledge-based – fascinating. Some of this has been explored brilliantly in various blogs. Here is a selection:
- Summer Turner https://ragazzainglese.wordpress.com/2018/02/14/pub-quiz-or-published-what-are-the-aims-of-a-knowledge-rich-curriculum/
- Jon Brunskill I’m bringing knowledge back. | Pedfed which is worth reading along with his school’s website info on curriculum. Reach Academy Feltham |Approach to Curriculum Design
- Ben Newmark. Planning a knowledge curriculum.
- Rosalind Walker. My #rEDBrum talk: The Nature of School Science Knowledge
- Mark Enser: Knowledge in the classroom | Teaching it Real
- Rebecca Foster and Claire Hill: On our #rEDDurrington presentation: Practical approaches to bringing research-informed practice to the classroom, the department and whole school | The Learning Profession
There are also numerous blogs from Michael Fordham (Knowledge and curriculum – Clio et cetera), Clare Sealy (Memory not memories – teaching for long term learning – primarytimerydotcom) or Christine Counsell: the dignity of the thing
Along with plenty of others, I initially struggled to get my ahead around this idea. As a science teacher I’ve always felt my curriculum was packed with knowledge and, without question, I’ve seen numerous cohorts sit lots of GCSE exams year after year, each requiring significant knowledge. However, having engaged in the debate, read Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21c and Dan Willingham’s work, I’m increasingly convinced that a knowledge-rich/focused/led/based curriculum is an important concept that we ought to embrace.
Based on my work with lots of schools in varying circumstances over the last few years, I would say that not only is this approach often different to the default practice, it offers a secure route to the rising standards that we’re continually seeking.
What is a knowledge-rich curriculum in principle?
Based on various ideas pulled from the blogs and books cited above, I would suggest there are four components:
Knowledge provides a driving, underpinning philosophy: The grammar of each subject is given high status; the specifics of what we want students to learn matter and the traditions of subject disciplines are respected. Skills and understanding are seen as forms of knowledge and it is understood that there are no real generic skills that can be taught outside of specific knowledge domains. Acquiring powerful knowledge is seen as an end itself; there is a belief that we are all empowered through knowing things and that this cannot be left to chance. There is also a sense that the creative, ’rounded and grounded’ citizens we all want to develop – with a host of strong character traits – will emerge through being immersed in a knowledge-rich curriculum.
The knowledge content is specified in detail: Units of work are supported by statements that detail the knowledge to be learned – something that can be written down. We do not merely want to ‘do the Romans’; we want children to gain some specified knowledge of the Romans as well as a broad overview. We want children to know specific things about plants and about The Amazon Rainforest, WWII, Romeo and Juliet and Climate Change. We want children to have more than a general sense of things through vaguely remembered knowledge encounters; in addition to a range of experiences from which important tacit knowledge is gained, we want them to amass a specific body of declarative and procedural knowledge that is planned. This runs through every phase of school: units of work are not defined by headings but by details: eg beyond ‘environmental impact of fossil fuels’, the specific impacts are detailed; beyond ‘changes to transport in Victorian Britain’, specific changes are listed.
Knowledge is taught to be remembered, not merely encountered: A good knowledge-rich curriculum embraces learning from cognitive science about memory, forgetting and the power of retrieval practice. Our curriculum is not simply a set of encounters from which children form ad hoc memories; it is designed to be remembered in detail; to be stored in our students’ long-term memories so that they can later build on it forming ever wider and deeper schema. This requires approaches to curriculum planning and delivery that build in spaced retrieval practice, formative low-stakes testing and plenty of repeated practice for automaticity and fluency.
Knowledge is sequenced and mapped deliberately and coherently: Beyond the knowledge specified for each unit, a knowledge-rich curriculum is planned vertically and horizontally giving thought to the optimum knowledge sequence for building secure schema – a kinetic model for materials; a timeline for historical events; a sense of the canon in literature; a sense of place; a framework for understanding cultural diversity and human development and evolution. Attention is also given to known misconceptions and there is an understanding of the instructional tools needed to move students from novice to expert in various subject domains.
What is a knowledge-rich curriculum in practice?
The best way to attack this is through some examples:
Exhibit A: The Romans
If you imagine some Year 8s looking back to their time in Year 4, when they ‘did the Romans’, what would we want them to remember? They might remember their trip to the ruins or the museum, the video of the gladiators and something about togas and what the soldiers looked like. They might have a general sense that Romans had an empire and that they were around a long time ago. In a knowledge-rich curriculum they would remember all of this but would also be expected to know the terms empire, emperor, centurion, amphitheatre, aqueduct. They would know who Julius Caesar was; they would know a set of dates, placing the Romans in time in relation to Jesus and 1066 and be able to identify the location of key Roman sites in the UK and Europe.
All of the teaching could be supported by giving students a knowledge organiser with all the key facts on it from which various quizzes and tests are derived to support their retrieval practice. This would be part of a long-term plan that ensured students returned to Roman history beyond Year 4; there would be an expectation that their knowledge would be built on, not left behind.
Exhibit B: Parliament Hill Science
At this Camden school, the science department has developed a superb set of resources to support students with learning. This is linked to their FACE It approach described in this post: FACE It. A formula for learning. The idea is that students need to master the recall of basic science facts and concepts on the road to deep understanding and the ability to apply knowledge to problem solving. They are provided with excellent study guides; more detailed than a knowledge organiser but stripped down from what might be in a text-book. Here’s a sample from the GCSE unit on genetics and selection.
Significantly, students are shown the quizzes that will be used to test them on their knowledge. They are embedded in the books. They are seen in advance so that students can learn the form in which knowledge is sometimes expressed. It guides their learning. Students are asked to learn the material after being taught it and then take the quizzes without any study aids. The aim is that all students get all the questions right. That’s the point. Their theory is that, if students can’t get the simple factual recall questions right, they have no chance of then getting the ‘application to new contexts’ questions right.
This embedded quizzing teachers lower attaining students to build confidence, gaining important study skills and has paid dividends. It also helps a team of teachers to focus their energies and to plan collaboratively. It’s a Godsend for any new or non-specialist teachers too.
Exhibit C: Trial by Ordeal
If you were teaching the GCSE History theme study on Crime and Punishment, you might show this BBC Bitesize video: https://www.bbc.com/education/clips/zrtk2hv. It’s a great colourful story full of information, examples, facts, concepts, gory details. You could watch it and have a wonderful engaging discussion during a lesson. But…. some days and weeks later, what would students remember? If you hoped students would recall as much as possible simply through absorbing information or by making their own notes, you’re going to get a wide range of responses – and for certain, the weakest students will have the worst notes and, in all likelihood, the lowest level of recall. It’s not enough.
In a knowledge-rich approach, we don’t leave this to chance. We spell it all out. Alongside watching the video and having the discussion, we make the note-making absolutely explicit. These are the key facts; this what everyone must know; this is what you must all remember. Not only this, but at least all of this:
You might choose to train students to produce their own structured notes in a quizzable format or you might just give them the notes and focus on the retrieval practice and application. But what you won’t do is all students to scrabble around dredging memories for half-remembered titbits of facts in the hope that they have a coherent picture of the idea of trial by ordeal. You control it; you are precise about it.
Exhibit D: Sequenced knowledge of Motors.
This is my favourite bit of teaching physics – one of them at least. If I teach this through a knowledge-rich approach I want to make sure that the knowledge builds securely. Firstly, say in Year 8, through demos and practicals, I want students to build their tacit knowledge of the key phenomena: magnetism, magnetic fields, attraction and repulsion, the idea of ‘strength’ of a magnet; forces; current in circuits – each with direction and magnitude; the idea that phenomena interact. All of this can be highly qualitative – simply focusing on changes of direction and the simple awe and wonder thing that motors work at all in our universe. I will also secure recall and understanding of some key terminology.
Later, as part of a spiral curriculum, avoiding cognitive overload and building on prior knowledge, I need students to understand and use F = BIL and Fleming’s left hand rule. I need them to know the terms, that magnetic flux density more or less means ‘strength’, has a symbol B and units Teslas. I need them to learn the equation by heart and practise using it and manipulating it. All of that needs focus – so that they think about the equation away from the buzzy distraction of a sparking, whizzing motor. I build the sequence carefully, deliberately with a focus on practice and recall and schema-building.
Is this new? Well, yes I think it is to many teachers and in many schools – especially once the cogscience combines with the idea of subject grammar. It’s way beyond some reductive idea of rote learning and regurgitating facts for no purpose. It’s about ensuring students always have a secure knowledge platform allowing them to reach the next level. But it’s not too important (is it?) whether we did this before… some of us will; some won’t and that will depend on context, subject, phase… The point is that we do it now. It’s actually rather exciting….
Since posting this, Debra Kidd has extended/deepened the ideas here in this superb post. Knowledge is just the start…. https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/a-rich-curriculum/. Read together, I think we’ve nailed it!
This post by Michael Fordham makes perfect sense to me: https://clioetcetera.com/2018/06/12/is-it-more-important-to-understand-than-to-know/ Understanding is really about what we know… the knowledge. Now we’ve nailed it.
Lightbulb Moments with The Learning Scientists
This weekend, we at Advantage Schools ran our first educational conference. It was a collaborative piece of work, with Bedford School providing the venue, and the amazing presenters being The Learning Scientists: Megan Sumeracki, PhD; Cindy Nebel, PhD; Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel, PhD; and Althea Need Kaminske, PhD. Over two hundred teachers joined us for two days of fascinating learning about the insights of cognitive science, and how these can help our students to remember what they have studied more successfully.
I had some familiarity with most of the strategies discussed. A few years ago, I had read about the benefits of retrieval practice, spacing and interleaving and had worked to incorporate them into my planning (at least, I thought I had). As part of induction at Bedford Free School, all staff attend a series of student assemblies run by the Head of History (@JamesRawlins90), in which he talks through the learning strategies and how students can use them best to study. I have also, more recently, become more interested in dual coding, and wanted to leave the conference with some ideas as to how I could develop my use of this.
Despite familiarity with the content I was absolutely fascinated by all The Learning Scientists had to say, and as I listened I had a few lightbulb moments. I use this term to refer to those moments in the classroom when students just seem to get something. They move beyond surface level understanding of something to make a deeper connection or develop an idea. I love these moments and there are lots of metaphors for it – the penny dropping, the scales falling away – and I think it is something all teacher readers will have witnessed. But it was great to feel like a student again and have a few lightbulb moments of my own!
Throughout the course of the two days The Learning Scientists warned against two things: one, don’t feel you have to make big changes or change everything. Rather, make little tweaks. Doing something is better than nothing. Two, don’t see the strategies as a tick-list that will lead to A Good Lesson. My view is, we should use the strategies to overcome learning problems rather than for the sake of it: students aren’t remembering content? Let’s try some retrieval practice. Students are struggling with an abstract concept? Let’s give them some concrete examples.
So here is a summary of my lightbulb moments and the tweaks I think I am going to make in my English lessons as a result over the coming days, weeks and months. These will probably only be useful if you have some familiarity with the concepts already, as I won’t be re-explaining the concept in detail. If this is all new to you, I would suggest heading over to The Learning Scientists website (http://www.learningscientists.org/) where there is plenty of information to get you started. You may also find this blog interesting, written by another delegate at the conference who was coming to the ideas with fresh eyes: https://adastrapermundum.wordpress.com/2019/01/12/discovering-some-cognitive-psychology/.
Lightbulb moment 1: When using spaced practice, don’t use the same materials to re-activate learning.
Humans are really good at recognising things they’ve seen before, but that isn’t the same as remembering them. If I showed you a £5 note, you would recognise it instantly so could easily think “I know this well.” However, if I asked you to draw a £5 note without looking at one I bet you wouldn’t get many details right at all. If you don’t believe me, try it. Or, ask yourself (without looking) what colour each of the letters on the Google logo is. Now consider what will happen if you show students the same information they’ve studied before in the same format – perhaps the same ppt slide or page in a textbook. The risk is that if we just show students the same materials when we try to “re-activate” the learning, we will create over confidence, a feeling of “I’ve seen this before, I don’t need to pay too much attention here.”
Tweak: When re-activating, provide it in a different form. Ask a question or questions that cover the content and re-teach if they struggle. Perhaps combine with retrieval practice or dual coding?
Lightbulb moment 2: When interleaving, the concepts need to be related
This was a significant one for me, as I had not realised the importance of this and I thought interleaving was just about teaching different topics side by side. By ensuring the concepts are related, students can be asked “How are these similar? How are they different?” leading to deeper learning. On reflection I think this is something that happens fairly naturally in English classrooms, for example if you were reading a text you probably would interleave some writing practice that would draw on related conventions. However, I think the explicit nature of the links could be developed.
Tweak: One tweak for me is a mental one. For a while now I fretted that we should review KS4 English Lit and teach a different text every day, but now I think this was a very simplified understanding of what interleaving is. This would have the benefits of spacing, but not interleaving. I feel more reassured now that we don’t have to rush towards that outcome as I am conscious it would involve a huge amount of planning. However, I do think that after a first reading of texts, we could interleave the deeper study of character and themes. I’m also wondering if there would be a benefit to interleaving quotation learning with creative writing, for example after analysing quotations asking students to write creatively using some of the key vocabulary from the quotation. By making the link between reading and writing more explicit here, I would hope to encourage students to call on their literature studies more to develop their own writing in language. After interleaving, remember to ask students how the underlying concepts were related!
Lightbulb moment 3: Retrieval practice can be more than just quizzing and re-writing without notes
Tests are great, but there are ways to scaffold retrieval practice and combine with the other techniques.
Tweak: Recall in mind-maps or ask students to produce a drawing to summarise what they remember. Use hints or prompts at first then get them to work towards relying on memory alone.
Lightbulb moment 4: SLOW DOWN if you are using dual coding
Providing information in visual and verbal formats requires the students to switch between the two. Although this may be helpful it will also slow down their ability to process the information. This seems obvious now and is simple to apply. I’m just not sure I had thought about it much.
Lightbulb moment 5: Use elaboration by getting students to generate their own questions
I have asked students to come up with questions before, but I haven’t done it for a while. After listening to the concept underlying this, and how it helps students self-explain content to themselves, I think it is something I want to return to. I am wary of students asking surface level questions, so I asked whether, as a form of scaffolding, it would be helpful to give students an answer and get them to generate the questions that would lead to the given response. In this way I could explore their questions with them and discuss which were the best questions to ask to aid learning. The Learning Scientists suggested this could be a useful strategy and I think it will be simple to put in place.
Lightbulb moment 6: Get students to generate their own text from images
I’ve done this the other way round – asked students to turn a text into an image – but I’m excited at the idea of strengthening memory and utilising retrieval practice by asking students to turn images into text. Maybe I can provide an image of a scene from a play and ask students to write down the stage directions or dialogue. Or an image of a character and ask students to write a character description. There are lots of options here to try out.
The best thing is, I think these tweaks will be easy for me to apply as I go about my usual day to day planning. Interleaving is probably the one that would take most thought at first, but I am confident the others will be straightforward to implement.
There are so many more thoughts than this buzzing around my head, but they have not crystallised yet into ideas and will continue to give me plenty to think about! I am really looking forward to discussing it all with colleagues when I get into our schools next week. I am hugely grateful to The Learning Scientists for their work and to everyone who made the conference happen.
If you were there, or were following from afar, what tweaks would you like to make in your classrooms?