Are you up to date?

These are the current top research papers and edu books – have you read them all?

RESEARCH PAPERS

Principles of Instruction – Barak Rosenshine

What makes great teaching? A review of the underpinning research – The Sutton Trust

What will improve a student’s memory? – Daniel Willingham

The science of learning – Deans for Impact

Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques – Dunlosky et al

EEF Metacognition and self-regulated learning guidance report

Putting students on the path to learning – Clark, Kirschner & Sweller

 

BOOKS

Making every lesson count – Shaun Allison & Andy Tharby

This award-winning title has now inspired a whole series of books. Each of the books in the series are held together by six pedagogical principles challenge, explanation, modelling, practice, feedback and questioning and provide simple, realistic strategies that teachers can use to develop the teaching and learning in their classroom.

Packed with practical teaching strategies, Making Every Lesson Count bridges the gap between research findings and classroom practice. Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby examine the evidence behind what makes great teaching and explore how to implement this in the classroom to make a difference to learning.

Why don’t students like school – Daniel Willingham

Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham focuses his acclaimed research on the biological and cognitive basis of learning. His book will help teachers improve their practice by explaining how they and their students think and learn. It reveals–the importance of story, emotion, memory, context, and routine in building knowledge and creating lasting learning experiences.

The hidden lives of learners – Graham Nuthall

The Hidden Lives of Learners takes the reader deep into the hitherto undiscovered world of the learner. It explores the three worlds which together shape a student’s learning – the public world of the teacher, the highly influential world of peers, and the student’s own private world and experiences. What becomes clear is that just because a teacher is teaching, does not mean students are learning. Using a unique method of data collection through meticulous recording – audio, video, observations, interviews, pre- and post-tests – and the collation and analysis of what occurred inside and outside the classroom, Graham Nuthall has definitively documented what is involved for most students to learn and retain a concept

What does this look like in the classroom? – Carl Hendrick & Robin Macpherson

In this thorough, enlightening and comprehensive book, Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson ask 18 of today’s leading educational thinkers to distill the most up-to-date research into effective classroom practice in 10 of the most important areas of teaching. The result is a fascinating manual that will benefit every single teacher in every single school, in all four corners of the globe.

What every teacher needs to know about psychology – David Didau & Nick Rose

Here, David Didau and Nick Rose attempt to lay out the evidence and theoretical perspectives on what we believe are the most important and useful psychological principles of which teacher ought to be aware. That is not to say this book contains everything you might ever need to know – there is no way it could – it is merely a primer. We hope that you are inspired to read and explore some of the sources for yourself and see what other principles can find a home in your classroom. Some of what we present may be surprising, some dubious, but some in danger of being dismissed as ‘blindingly obvious’.

Closing the vocabulary gap – Alex Quigley

As teachers grapple with the challenge of a new, bigger and more challenging school curriculum, at every key stage and phase, success can feel beyond our reach. But what if there were 50,000 small solutions to help us bridge that gap?

In Closing the Vocabulary Gap, Alex Quigley explores the increased demands of an academic curriculum and how closing the vocabulary gap between our ‘word poor’ and ‘word rich’ students could prove the vital difference between school failure and success

The learning rainforest – Tom Sherrington

The Learning Rainforest captures different elements of our understanding and experience of the art and science of teaching. It is a celebration of great teaching and the intellectual and personal rewards that it brings. It’s aimed at all teachers; busy people working in complex environments with little time to spare. The core of the book is a guide to making teaching both effective and manageable using a three-part structure: establishing conditions; building knowledge; exploring possibilities.

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On what a research-informed classroom actually looks like #EducationFest

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Today I had the pleasure of presenting with Claire Hill on what a research-informed classroom actually looks like. Both Claire and I share a vision of using research to guide effective classroom practice in our departments but also as a way to reduce unnecessary workload by focusing on the things that are more likely to really make a difference. Link to the PowerPoint slides here.

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I started by talking about the fact that in the first years of my teaching I did not have a good definition of learning – which now seems pretty remarkable given that I was in the job of getting students to learn stuff… However, if we take this notion from Kirschner, Sweller and Clark (2006) it’s a bit of a game changer. If we make long-term learning the goal of our teaching then it calls into question all sorts of practices which have long been established. For example, the model of massing practice in half-term long units (sometimes focusing on knowledge/skills which will never be revisited) is perhaps not the best model for learning.

Such massed practice is great for performance of learning – your students will probably appear to know a lot about a topic by the end of the unit. However, this gives us a false sense of security because it’s so easy for students to appear as if they’ve learnt something if we’ve only just finished teaching it.

The truth is that when teachers try to facilitate learning by making it as easy as possible they’re increasing the immediately observable short-term performance but that often comes at the expense of important long-term retention. In short, we often seek to eliminate difficulties to the detriment of long-term learning.

I think it’s important that I say here that I completely understand why, with certain in-school accountability measures, teachers do strive to make learning as easy as possible to increase perceived performance or perceived progress. School leaders need to understand that excessive data drops/captures/trawls are having a negative effect on learning. In seeking to measure performance, presumably to implement targeted intervention, they are actually making progress and learning LESS likely.

So how can we ensure that the time and effort put into lessons, by both students and teachers, is resulting in long-term learning and not just performance?

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Well Bjork suggests introducing what he terms ‘desirable difficulties’. Bjork argues that by introducing these ‘desirable difficulties’ we can improve the long-term retention of what students are learning. As teachers, our goals should be long term and not about what a student has leant by the end of the lesson, unit or key stage.

To appreciate why difficulties might actually be desirable, we must first make a distinction between performance and actual learning itself.

Performance: Observable during learning and testing
Learning: A long-term process that is difficult to measure

We need to separate performance and learning and prioritise the latter in our classroom.

Bjork begs the question that ‘if the research picture is so clear, why then are massed practice, excessive feedback, fixed conditions of training, and limited opportunities for retrieval practice such common features’ in the classroom?

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Claire then began to talk about the classroom application of this research about learning and desirable difficulties by talking about using multiple-choice tests to exploit the testing effect and to increase the durability, and students’ ability to recall, what they’ve learnt.

With the new linear specifications and the vast body of knowledge that needs to retained, it is no longer an option to teach a text or topic in September of year 10 and then only come back to this in the lead up to exams in year 11. It is little wonder that with this approach the period between January and May of year 11 is oftentimes filled with intervention and revision sessions because students have not revisited or revised half of the topics since year 10.

No revision happens every lesson through different forms of retrieval practice with students being pushed to retrieve knowledge from things they learnt in a previous topic, month, term or year. This retrieval practice is low stakes and can take many forms.

Multiple choice questions (MCQs), like those on the slide, not only allow for retrieval practice but also serve to give teachers an insight into which students still have misconceptions or misunderstandings. For example, if a student identifies that ‘lovely’ is an adverb because it ends in ‘ly’ then that’s a misconception that can be identified through MCQs and addressed. MCQs, once created, can be used, refined and used again. Your team can work together to generate these and, if you have a team with varying experience, your more experienced teachers can really inform the creation of these because they’ll know the misconceptions that students will likely make.

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I spoke briefly about how providing students with a knowledge organiser is a powerful way to be explicit about the knowledge all students are expected to know. This knowledge can then easily be tested in the form of 5-a-Day Starters which include a mix of questions from topics covered so retrieval is distributed. They’re also a great way to establish a routine at the start of lessons where students are expected to ‘get in and get on’ with their learning.

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Claire then shared the next step in creating retrieval practice questions which is to consider how these might be used to really extend students’ thinking and to include comparison and evaluation as well as recall. The example here is adapted from one used by Claire’s 2iC and this structure is now followed for a series of questions on different texts and for different year groups as a further development to her department’s work on retrieval practice. Creating a bank of these questions by dividing texts across members of the department has been a good way to save time and share workloads whilst also offering teachers the opportunity to really think about students’ possible misconceptions and ways to further interleave topics across the curriculum.

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Reducing workload is at the centre of nearly every policy and practice Claire introduces. Claire has not marked a single piece of homework for over four years and never intends to again. This doesn’t mean that students in Claire’s school don’t do homework – they absolutely do and it is checked in lesson along with seeing just how well the homework has been completed. However, most homework is checked through retrieval practice in of the many forms already mentioned which does not require teacher marking.

However, essay homework is dealt with slightly differently. When students write an essay for homework, Claire will take it in and have a look over it but won’t give any feedback. The reason being that Claire is unable to control the conditions in which the homework has been completed – any feedback given on homework is not going to be as accurate or helpful as feedback on a timed piece written in lesson. Claire will, instead, mark their essays written in lesson and give feedback before asking students to use the feedback from the lesson essay to improve their homework essay thereby transferring the feedback to a new piece of work. The idea behind this is based on Dylan Wiliam’s assertion that the ‘main purpose of feedback is to improve the student [to help] the student do a better job next time’. By using this model, Claire can see that they are transferring their feedback to another piece of work and therefore they are more likely to be able to apply this to their next piece of work.

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I then spoke about the best thing I’ve introduced for homework at both KS3 and KS4: self-quizzing. This idea was inspired by reading Joe Kirby’s chapter in ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way’ entitled ‘Homework as Revision’. Not only does it complement my department’s approach to homework (activities which have high value but require no marking) but students’ knowledge has improved as well as their confidence.

Students are expected to spend 30 minutes every week self-quizzing on a section of their knowledge organiser. They do this by recalling, as accurately as they can, everything they can and, once finished, checking their work against the knowledge organiser and using a different coloured pen to fill in gaps and correct errors. This way, progress can easily be seen and it’s incredibly quick and easy as a class teacher to check that the homework has been completed by expecting students to have their books open on their desks and quickly walking around the room.

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It’s also a great revision activity in the classroom to give students a blank knowledge organiser or a mostly blank knowledge organiser to fill in. Students really enjoy the challenge and it highlights very clearly to them where their gaps in knowledge are.

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Students at KS3 an KS4 in my school also self-quiz on their ambitious vocabulary using the Quizlet App (or look, cover, write, check if they haven’t got access). Students are encouraged to spend a few minutes every day self-quizzing on their vocabulary.

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In his New Theory of Disuse (1992), Bjork theorises that memories don’t decay. He suggests that it’s not that memories disappear but that we stop being able to retrieve them. You could liken this to having a shoe cupboard full of shoes and knowing there’s a certain pair in there but being unable to dig them out. The shoes still exist but you can’t find them under the mountain of other shoes!

What’s really exciting about Bjork’s ideas is that it suggests we have an infinite long term memory store – there’s potentially no limit to the amount of knowledge we could know but we need to get better at retrieving that information.

However, there’s a barrier to getting things into our long term memory: our working memory. Our working memory is limited and there’s research to suggest that our personal working memory limit is fixed and there’s not much we can do about that. We need to navigate the bottle neck of working memory to get more stuff into long term memory.

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We need to reduced the extraneous cognitive load in lessons in order that students can manage the intrinsic cognitive load of what we’re trying to teach them. We can’t change the intrinsic challenge of a text like Jane Eyre (and we certainly shouldn’t avoid teaching it because it’s challenging) but we can change our lessons to reduce the extraneous cognitive load which will be taking up students’ working memory.

For example, we need to ensure that students can see the board easily e.g. by seating them in rows. We need to have periods of silence in lessons so that students can concentrate on their deliberate practice. We need to give students enough time to complete tasks. We also need to avoid flooding our PowerPoint slides with lots of text and then talking over it.

Dan Willingham argues that ‘memory is the residue of though’ and that students will remember what they think about. I shared an example of a lesson that almost certainly ensured students did not remember what they were meant to though they probably do remember spending an English lesson sticking their hands in kidney beans and mash potato… We must be mindful of what students are spending lesson time thinking about and directing that very carefully to what we want them to be thinking about.

All teachers can probably think of an example from their teaching career where they’ve done something similar – it speaks of a zeitgeist of teaching (circa 2006 onwards but perhaps earlier) where the primary goal of lessons seemed to be engagement and ‘wow’ moments. Outstanding gradings were awarded in lessons where poor proxies of learning were evident (e.g. minimal teacher talk) and questionable practices abounded such as discovery learning and group work (de Bono’s thinking hats anyone?).

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We must work towards using the most effective methods in lessons such as modelling. There’s lots of evidence to suggest the power of metacognition and modelling. Spending time modelling though processes and showing students how to construct an answer is an extremely powerful lesson activity. Live modelling was a regular feature of lessons before PowerPoint (the temptation to show ‘one I made earlier’ is strong) and it’s something we need to do more of. We need to show students that it’s a complicated thing to construct an essay response but by modelling the process of working through that we are empowering students to do the same whilst also providing them with a model of excellence.

I’ve bought everybody in my team a visualiser and we use them all the time both to model and look at student work with the class.

 

Claire talked about the principles of designing a knowledge-led curriculum and distinguishing between disciplinary knowledge and substantive knowledge. A more detailed blog to follow on this…

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When designing a curriculum it’s important not to see learning as discrete bundles that can be tied up at the end of a lesson or unit. We must also strive not to be dictated to by the calendar (where’s the logic in a six week unit of work other than because this is how the year is divided up because of holidays?) or by the data monster. Too often we distort the learning process by trying to meet certain deadlines throughout the year.

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I talked briefly talked through my curriculum design. In KS3 students cover two main topics a year (a novel and a Shakespeare play) but this is interleaved with poetry lessons, weekly writing challenge lessons and analysis of unseen fiction and non-fiction. The rainbow strips across the top are threshold concepts which essentially represent the idea that that we are doing all of the things all of the time rather than massing practice into blocks.

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At KS4, students sit their English Language exam at the end of year 10 but they study two of the Lit texts. In year 11, from September until Christmas the other two texts will be studied so that after Christmas, though commonly after February half term due to PPE disruption, all four texts are interleaved in the course of study.

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Here’s a the beginning view weeks of a typical KS3 medium term plan. What you can see here is that students don’t have consecutive lessons on the same thing. Initially teachers found this a real challenge and we had to work towards not blocking lessons together but students have never found this difficult or even questioned why they’re studying Animal Farm one day and writing skills the next. This may be because they’re used to bouncing from subject to subject. In their day they might go from studying trigonometry lesson one and then the water cycle period two, running around playing hockey period three before coming to English. The other thing that’s been built into the curriculum is whole lessons for feedback.

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I shared an example of the whole-class feedback approach which my department have adopted. Students receive a specific numbered target and a whole class feedback sheet (either printed and/or displayed) that includes praise, common spelling errors and exemplars of great work. It’s so much quicker to mark in this way then laboriously write out individual comments and litter students work with comments/questions. I simply jot down comments on a sheet of paper as I’m marking and then it takes me 5 minutes or so to create a whole class feedback slide with a set of numbered targets specific to that class and what I’ve seen from reading their books.

Feedback lessons are an opportunity for teachers to re-teach and model where necessary and then students spend the rest of the lesson completing a ‘DIRT Task’ that will be specific and actionable – an opportunity to act on their targets either by redrafting a piece of work or completing a new task where they can demonstrate that they’ve acted on the feedback and made progress. Students will then draw a yellow box around this.

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Claire shared this extract from Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson’s book ‘What Does This Look Like In The Classroom’. The highlighted section clearly questions the common practice in school of writing lengthy summary comments at the end of a piece of work. Not only are these time-consuming but also largely ineffective.

 

Sharing WWWs for the whole class is far more effective, and efficient, than giving every student a WWW comment. Not only will one document save time in writing, but it also means every student can see the possible ideas they could have used and gives an opportunity to re-teach some of these ideas if not may students used them in their work.

In terms of teacher input, Claire will read through the work and add codes linked to EBI tasks, at first this will be next to where students need to include more detail or make changes, but later it will just be at the end of the work and students work out where their improvements would be best added. As suggested by Daisy Christodoulou, the tasks are ‘actionable’ and students have ‘something they can go away and do in response to it’. Therefore, instead of writing ‘EBI: Analyse in more detail’ for the 60-70% of the class you may need to use that comment for, you simply write one number and give students a specific task to complete i.e. ‘pick out key words such as ‘milk’ or ‘gall’ and analyse in more detail, considering the connotations of those words’. The next time a student completes a similar piece of work, ask them to prove that they will not need the same target as last time, by asking them to highlight evidence that they have met this target in their new piece of work.

new cover leading from the middle

We wanted to our presentation with the exciting news that we are working on a book together. Leading from the Middle: A Guide to Effective Middle Leadership will be published later this year by John Catt and is available to order now here.

What is a knowledge-rich curriculum? Principle and Practice.

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:

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 

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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. 

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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….

Ten Teaching Techniques – Tom Sherrington

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It’s a well-established idea that, to develop expertise in a particular skill or technique, you need to practise. The more you practise, the better you get.  As outlined by the excellent people at Deans for Impact in their Practice with Purpose document, it helps to identify a specific element of your teaching to practise on and then focus very deliberately on improving in that area.

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Instead of flitting from one thing to another, dipping in and out, the suggestion is that teachers would do better to select one thing from all the options and try hard to keep at it until the practice feels more like a habit. This approach absolutely applies to numerous elements of behaviour management and most of the Silver Arrows I highlighted in this popular post.  However, for this post I wanted to focus on pedagogical elements of teaching.

Here are ten things you might want to try to practice – deliberately:

1. Developing routine knowledge recall procedures.  

It takes practice to establish this as a snappy, low-stakes routine, conducted in a disciplined fashion, at a frequency that really helps your students to retain the knowledge you’ve taught them.  You need to establish a pattern that you can stick to:

  • identify the specific knowledge elements that lend themselves to snappy tests – a knowledge organiser broken into sections that students can focus on.
  • a quizzing method that students are familiar with and can organise readily – are you going to read out the questions, prepare each test or use ppt slide?
  • a quick method for self or peer checking of the answer – eg with answers on a visualiser or ppt slide.
  • a routine that returns to the same knowledge elements repeatedly so that the recall is strengthened; it needs not to take up too much time in any given lesson and happen often enough to become low stakes and habitual.

Develop the technique with  multiple choice questions,  sequencing of concepts/events and more sophisticated ‘which is a better answer’ style questions.

2.  All-student response: using mini-whiteboards really well. 

As I outline in this post – the No1 bit of classroom kit is a set of mini-whiteboards. The trick is to use them really well.  You need to drill the class to use them seriously, to do the ‘show me’ action simultaneously in a crisp, prompt manner and, crucially, you need to get students to hold up the boards long enough for you to engage with their responses. Who is stuck? Who has got it right? Are there any interesting variations/ideas? Use the opportunity to ask ‘why did you say that? how did you know that?’ – and so on. It takes practice to make this technique work but it’s so good when done well.

3. Questioning techniques: 

Each questioning technique takes practice, especially if you are in the default-mode habit of asking the whole class every question and taking answers from those with their hands up. Make a deliberate effort to try out and practise these methods:

  • Random selection: use an online name generator or lollisticks or some other means of selecting students at random. It’a powerful effect. (Lollisticks need to be a no-nonsense practical tool, not a fussy gimmick – I’ve seen this done superbly well.)
  • Cold Calling: just check out technique 33 in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion 2.0.  I prefer this when combined with wait time and the name selected after the question. eg “What is 7 cubed?…..pause….. John?”  With “John, what is 7 cubed?”, only John has to think about it.
  • Probing:  routinely ask follow-up questions for every question you ask, two or three times.  Go deeper.  I’ve explored this in Great Lessons 1: Probing. 
  • Going Dialogic.  An extension of probing – you set up the expectation that one student might engage in an extended dialogue to probe ever more deeply into their understanding with the rest of the class as an audience.  It takes practice but works incredibly well. See Pedagogy Postcard 1.

4.  Think Pair Share

A strategy I firmly believe is underused relative to its power.  It takes practice to make it a routine with the necessary behaviour management strategies.  It is fully explained in this post: The Washing Hands of Learning

5. Metacognition and modelling

NVR

Metacognition scored very highly in several ranked lists of effective teaching and learning strategies – eg Hattie’s visible learning effects or the EEF toolkit. In a nutshell, it is the process of teaching students how to solve problems and complete complex tasks by  making the strategies and thought processes explicit by modelling them.  For example, in these non-verbal reasoning questions, you can show students how you go about solving them, narrating the process explicitly including double-checking all the wrong answers. This is something they can then practice.  It works for modelling writing too – you need to  walk through the full details of how you construct sentences and paragraphs to convey what you want to say in the way you want it said.  Doing this well takes practice – try it.

Look no further than John Tomsett’s posts on this, featuring some videos of modelling in action:  Modelling and meta-cognition – and this one too. 

6. Whole-class feedback instead of marking

Instead of slaving away late into the night with your red pen poised to ink up a massive set of exercise books, just read this brilliant post by Jo Facer: Giving feedback the ‘Michaela’ way.  Read through the books, make some notes and give whole-class feedback instead.  Do it over and over again and get good at doing it – practise. It’s a game changer.

7.  Critique-method feedback

Instead of merely nodding in jaded recognition at the Austin’s Butterfly video, why not actually use the critique method it describes and develop real expertise with it.  There are lots of ideas and resources to support you – nicely compiled in this excellent post by Dave Fawcett Creating a culture of critique .  Let’s see your students developing the expectation that their work will be critiqued in a  specific, support manner allowing them to reach higher standards than they thought possible.

8.  Deliberate vocab development 

This links to the recall method above but here I’m thinking about a technique to cement vocabulary development specifically.  Very often new words are encountered in lessons and teachers might explain them at the time – only for them to be completely forgotten about and, consequently, not learned.  I suggest adopting a routine:

  •  a region of a board is dedicated to new vocab;
  • new words are listed during the lesson with awkward spellings explored explicitly
  • new words are sounded out through choral repetition so that students all experience saying the words
  • students are asked to put the words in a sentence orally or in a place in their books for new words
  • the lesson list forms the basis of a systematic recall test the following day/week/month – something students learn to expect thus supporting their engagement with the words in the first place.

9. Embedded tiering:  Mild, Spicy, Hot or Challenge, Turbo-challenge

Instead of differentiation meaning providing different work, develop a collaborative planning approach where question relating to any given topic are constructed with in-built tiering.  I’ve seen this used superbly well at primary and secondary with labels such as bronze, silver, gold; mild, spicy and hot or, Core, Challenge, Turbo-Challenge.

This is not the same as setting artificially differentiated learning objectives – but it supports the organisation of a class where students progress at different rates, allowing everyone to find a suitable challenge level (seeking an optimal 80% success rate).  Practice is needed not only to devise really good tiered sets of questions that still offer enough repetition at each level – but also to manage the learning in the classroom when everyone has diverged from the initial instruction phase.

10. Third time for excellence: Draft, re-draft, publish.

Again, taking something from Austin’s Butterfly, try to create space in your curriculum planning to go the whole hog on redrafting so that students get to the third version: the third draft of a poem, story, essay or piece of writing in French; the third attempt at a painting; the third run-through of the performance, recitation or speech.  The first one might be ‘a great start’. After feedback, the second version is a big step forward, taking the feedback onboard.  But you will find that Version 3 is where you see Excellence emerging. This is where it gets exciting.   You can’t do it for every piece of work – so pick your moment – but when you can, go for the power of three.  You can get better at this – more streamlined; less bogged down in the individual feedback; less fussy about every detail of the first draft, focusing on specific elements over others.  Try it.

Let me know how you get on.