Thoughts on Yr11 – the countdown…

57 Day Plan

Here at Durrington our Y11 students have sat their mocks and had their results and in a number of subjects, teachers have already finished teaching the content of the course.  It’s parents evening tonight and a common topic of discussion will be what the students need to do in between now and when the exams start to maximise their performance.  Curriculum leaders and teachers have been discussing the same thing – how can teachers optimise the use of the next 57 school days (starting on Monday) before the GCSE exams start?  The most effective teachers seem to have a degree of commonality between how they plan to approach the next 57 days with their classes, which we have tried to formulate into a ‘to-do’ list in this blog.

  • Work out how many lessons you have left within these 57 days.  You then know what you are working with.
  • Interrogate the mock papers for the classes you taught.  Which questions and topics  did they perform poorly on?
  • Go further than this though.  It’s not good enough just to identify the topics they under-performed in, as topics are very broad.  You need to know which specific parts of the topic they under-performed in and why?  For example, in physics, they may have under-performed in momentum.  However, there are a number of reasons why they might have lost marks e.g. they couldn’t recall the equation p=m x v; they didn’t know that momentum is conserved, so it’s the same before and after a collision or explosion; they couldn’t remember the units kg m/s.  This is important – you have to know where the specific knowledge gaps are, in order to address it through your teaching.
  • Know your students.  Who under-performed and why?  Have a plan about how you are going to support them e.g. one to one modelling and scaffolding; checking they are OK when they start a task; asking them more challenging questions to really stretch their thinking; boost their confidence when they successfully tackle a question they have previously struggled with.
  • Look at moderator reports and the exam board analysis of students in your centre compared to national results – in the subject you taught.  Whilst this was a different cohort, it might still give you an indication of potential areas to focus on.
  • You now know the lessons you have left and the content that you should cover, so use this to produce a plan.  Lesson by lesson, what are you going to cover?  This will ensure that you cover all the potential problem areas in the run up to the exams.  Leave yourself some flexibility within this plan though, as you will probably need to review it.
  • Producing a plan like this will reduce your anxiety.  You won’t have to worry that you might miss something, or that you won’t fit it all in as you’ve already done all the planning.
  • Next – plan carefully what you are going to do in those lessons?  Retrieval of knowledge will be key and will help boost the confidence of students.  So start with some retrieval questions of the main topics.  Build this up over the weeks, so they have an every growing list of cumulative questions to revise from independently
  • Think about how you are going to model to students how to choose, use and evaluate  the best strategy to tackle an exam question (metacognition).   The EEF metacognition guidance report provides a great 7 step approach to help you model this with them:

  • A number of curriculum areas have simplifed this down to an ‘I, we, you‘ approach, which lends itself perfectly to modelling answering exam questions.  The teacher does one on their own, explaining and discussing each of the steps on the way. The teacher and the class then work through a similar question together. Finally, students work through another similar question on their own.
  • Make sure they have worked examples in their books (after the ‘I’ stage, above), as that will reduce the cognitive load when it comes to tackling similar questions on their own.
  • Give them lots of opportunities to answer really hard exam questions – purposeful practice.  This article in The Guardian talks about a Cardiff maths teacher whose whole class achieved an A* at GCSE.  A colleague describes the teacher:

“We call him the maths whisperer. He instils the belief that they have practised the hardest maths that they have to ever face, so why be scared of an exam? It’s the belief that they absolutely can do it, and the children think it’s magic.”

  • Use this in-class exam question practice formatively.  Where are they going wrong?  Is it identifying topics that you need to re-teach? If so, re-teach them.
  • Use homework wisely – plan carefully the exam questions they can do at home to link it to what you have been doing in lessons, but also include topics that you haven’t covered recently, as an opportunity for some spaced practice.   This should also be used as an opportunity for whole-class feedback – how did they do? What common mistakes were made? How can they avoid these mistakes?
  • Make it easy for parents to support what you are doing at home.  We have put copies of knowledge organisers from all subjects on our VLE for parents to download and use for quizzing.  We have also recorded some YouTube videos for parents, explaining how they can support with flashcards and knowledge organisers.
  • Review your seating plan this is a great time to refocus a class with a new seating plan and think about who might benefit who, through sitting together?
  • And finally – review your plan.  As time goes on, you will almost certainly discover that you need to spend more time on X than Y.  Be responsive.

Shaun Allison

Tutor time – some thoughts from Durrington

Our programme is similar but please feed back to LW with your thoughts…

Waking up to Desirable Difficulties at Durrington

This year at Durrington we have made some major changes to how our students start their school day. Gone are the ‘tutor times’ of old and in their place every student now engages with ‘Period 1’ – a structured programme of learning with the aim of ensuring the best outcomes for all.

Up until last year, Durrington students would arrive at school and spend 20 minutes with their form tutor in the morning and a further 10 minutes with their form tutor after lunch. Since September, we have merged these sessions so that now all students have a 30-minute lesson with their tutor every morning instead. During these lessons, students engage in tasks that cover a range of teaching and learning foci that are central to our approach here at Durrington:

  • Developing students’ background knowledge.
  • Developing students’ cultural capital.
  • Increasing students’ range of tier 2 vocabulary.
  • Teaching students the most effective evidence-informed strategies for learning to use during revision.

We feel confident that bringing these underpinning principles of effective learning to the fore will benefit students across the whole curriculum and help them to succeed in all subject areas.

Accordingly, we have implemented a very structured weekly programme:

Content Aim
‘In the News’Students watch a range of news clips from the week with their tutor and then work on specific evidence-informed vocabulary tasks to discuss the items viewed.

 

We want to develop students’ background knowledge and provide an opportunity for explicitly teaching tier 2 vocabulary in a range of contexts.
KS3 DEAR (Drop Everything and Read)KS3 students have two ‘drop everything and read’ sessions per week. However, this is not a case of students simply bringing a book and reading in silence. Instead, one session is dedicated to reading aloud and the second session is spent reading a personal choice of book but with structured questioning.

 

We hope to continue developing the wider reading culture that is already a strong feature of school life at Durrington, but to also model evidence-informed reading strategies to ensure no student is left behind. There will be more about this in next week’s classteaching blog.
KS4 DEAR (Drop Everything and Revise)KS4 students have two lessons per week learning about and practising evidence-informed strategies for revision and independent work away from the classroom. We want to ensure that the time students are spending revising is as productive as possible. See below for more details on how we have endeavoured to make this the case for Year 10 and Year 11 this year.

 

AssemblyEvery student still attends a traditional assembly at least once a week. It is important to us that students are aware of their place and role in the school and wider community, and assembly is a crucial site for this sense of belonging and responsibility to be fostered and maintained.

 

Friday ChallengeThis is when students work as a team with their tutor to prepare for a whole-school memory challenge. For example, this half term all tutor groups have been memorising the countries of Africa. There will be a quiz at the end of term to test students and tutors to see who can remember the most. This provides an opportunity for students to develop their cultural capital (challenges have been designed with this in mind) and practise essential learning skills such as retrieval practice. Additionally, we did not want to lose the vital pastoral care that is intrinsic to effective tutoring, so the Friday challenge provides a way for students to build relationships as a group and with their tutor that are vital to wellbeing in school.

KS4 DEAR

Our programme with Year 10 and Year 11 students aligns with Bjork and Bjork’s desirable difficulties which you can read more about in Ben Crockett’s Durrington Research School blog this week. Bjork and Bjork identify three problems that learners face which mislead them into thinking they are learning effectively when in fact they are not:

  1. Subjective impressions: Bjork and Bjork state that we can often feel that we are learning when we are not because of what we are doing. The researchers provide the example that rereading a chapter a second time can provide a sense of familiarity and perceptual fluency that is interpreted as understanding but is in fact just low-level priming.
  2. Use of cues: Students can encounter information coming to mind readily and interpret this as learning when in fact it is a product of cues in the environment that will not be present at a later time.
  3. Challenge: Conditions that rapidly improve performance often fail to lead to long-term learning, or in other words retention and transfer of knowledge. Conversely, conditions that create challenge often optimise long-term retention and transfer but are a lot less popular because they are slow.

We are using P1 to try to support our KS4 students in overcoming these challenges. Crucial to this is the introduction of desirable difficulties, which Bjork and Bjork describe as conditions of learning that apparently create difficulty but actually lead to more durable and flexible learning. We have tried to create these ‘conditions’ in the ways set out below.

  1. We have varied the conditions of learning by requiring students to revise specific-subject material with their tutor, i.e. outside of the subject classroom and not just with their subject teacher. This has taken a lot of preparation and coordination by assistant headteacher Steph Temple so that tutors feel supported in dealing with content outside of their specialism but has, so far, proven totally achievable.
  2. We show students how to interleave rather than group topics. For example, most recently Year 11 have been working on the English Literature GCSE text ‘An Inspector Calls’. Using knowledge organisers, students have created banks of revision materials based in topics such as characterisation, themes, context etc. Crucially, the tutors have then modelled to students how to interleave these revision materials by mixing up their topical resources rather than revising in blocks of topics.
  3. The students have P1 DEAR for 30 minutes twice a week which allows for spacing rather than massing their study.
  4. Finally, the revision resources that students have been making and using are specifically flashcards with questions or instructions on one side and the answers on the reverse. This is so that students use self-testing rather than presentations as study events.

Bjork and Bjork emphasise that the desirable element of desirable difficulties is fundamental, and explain that desirable difficulties trigger encoding and retrieval processes to aid learning, comprehension and remembering. Essential to this is the fact that students must have the required background knowledge in place – asking them to revise content they do not already know would create undesirable challenges that would thwart learning . This is why the KS4 DEAR programme has been carefully designed so that students are only revising knowledge that has already been fully taught in subject lessons. For example, Year 11 students are currently covering topics they studied in Year 10.

So far the new P1 KS4 DEAR looks very promising, and, although it is too soon to evaluate the impact, we are hopeful that P1 will benefit students both in their school outcomes and beyond.

Next week we will take a closer look at the KS3 DEAR programme and how this is supporting literacy across subject areas.

 

Fran Haynes

A Walk through of every lesson counts…

This week Michael Chiles has produced an excellent ‘A walk thru…’ series of documents for each of the six pedagogical principles featured in ‘Making Every Lesson Count‘.  Michael explains his thinking behind these documents here:

Since Shaun and Andy’s release of Making Every Lesson Count it has been an integral part of our approach at school, focusing on applying the six principles every lesson, every day. The practical strategies have enabled us to use CPD time to review our approach to each one of the principles and look to share the best approaches in departments to implement the different strategies. This has enabled us to embed a more robust and consistent approach to teaching and learning.

One of the barriers to implementing CPD that is robust and focused on the ‘main thing’, such as the six principles, is time for teachers to engage with and continually review the implementation of strategies. After the initial discussion around the principles, teachers want a handy guide to be able to quickly refer to. This is where Oliver Cavilglioli’s work on providing visual clarity has been integral in providing an approach that will enable teachers to be able to quickly review the strategies for each principle over the academic year, using the A3 walk thrus. This has led to me creating a series of 6 walk thrus for each principle to provide a visual step by step guide of five strategies that teachers can implement in the classroom.

Here are Michael’s six ‘walk thrus’:

 

Michael has very generously shared these as powerpoints for you to download, using the links below:

On the 19th May, we are hosting a one day workshop on the 6 principles.  Details and booking here.

Modelling – a whole school approach

A Great blog by Durrington School on Modelling ! Original post can be found here: https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2019/10/23/modelling-reading-a-whole-school-approach/

In last week’s Class Teaching blog we explained about the changes we have made to the start of the day here at Durrington High School. In essence, students now begin learning as soon as the first school bell rings. This is because the tutor times of yesteryear have been replaced with Period 1. Period 1 is a structured programme that covers a range of teaching and learning foci that are central to our approach:

  • Developing students’ background knowledge.
  • Developing students’ cultural capital.
  • Increasing students’ range of tier 2 vocabulary.
  • Teaching students the most effective evidence-informed strategies for learning to use during revision.

KS3 and KS4 students diverge in the programme for two of the five days in the week. Last week’s blog explored how KS4 students have DEAR: Drop Everything and Revise. In these lessons, Year 10 and Year 11 students are making use of Bjork and Bjork’s desirable difficulties as part of cycle of revision. KS3 students, on the other hand, also have DEAR time, but this is Drop Everything and ReadIn these lessons, Years 7, 8 and 9 enjoy and prosper from the benefits of reading a range of fiction texts.

The evidence-informed rationale behind KS3 DEAR is explicated in the EEF’s guidance report for ‘Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools’. As this report suggests, it is imperative that all secondary teachers ‘should be supported to understand the fundamental ways in which students learn to read, and the most common barriers to their doing so’. Achieving this understanding, through an effective approach, across a whole school, for every teacher, is no mean feat but one that we consider imperative to students’ success.

Coupled with the requirement for this widespread understanding from teachers is also our desire to maintain and further develop the reading culture that is already woven into the fabric of school life at Durrington. Ideally, we would like all students to see themselves as ‘readers’, that is individuals who independently choose to read and feel confident in identifying themselves as someone who reads. In his book The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads (2017) Willingham pinpoints four attributes of successful readers:

  1. Reading attitudes – having a positive emotional attitude to reading.
  2. Motivation to read – having a belief that reading is worthy and a belief that you will succeed at reading.
  3. Choosing to read – being in an environment that facilitates reading.
  4. Reading self-image – seeing yourself as a reader.

Above all, Willingham emphasises that being motivated to read is closely related to reading ability and therefore verbal persuasion is unlikely to be effective. Consequently, KS3 DEAR is based on two principles:

  • Modelling effective reading practices so that all students can participate in reading, irrespective of their starting points.
  • Making reading something that all students can access, both physically (i.e. given a time and place to read) and emotionally (i.e. made to feel like a valued member of a reading community).

The first KS3 DEAR session of the week is based on reading aloud. It is understandable that many people may be surprised that we have adopted reading aloud in the secondary school setting as this is often viewed as a primary school practice. However, as Doug Lemov advocates, reading aloud can be a powerful way of modelling fluent reading of texts (which is a key reading skill), especially texts that are more challenging. Accordingly, during the first DEAR session the tutor reads aloud from a selected fiction text that has purposefully been chosen because it incorporates more complex issues and includes a range of tier 2 vocabulary.

This is not all. Crucially, during the reading aloud session, the tutor models other key reading strategies as well. The EEF’s guidance report identifies five reading strategies that ‘support the active engagement with texts that improve comprehension’ – comprehension being the end goal of all reading. Students who are proficient readers in secondary school will have these skills in place and be using them tacitly every time that they read. However, students who are struggling with reading need these skills explicitly modelled time and time again until they can use them independently.

The five reading strategies are:

  1. Activating prior knowledge — students think about what they already know about a topic from reading or other experiences […] and try to make meaningful links. This helps students to infer and elaborate, fill in missing information and to build a fuller ‘mental model’ of the text.
  2. Prediction — students predict what might happen as a text is read. This causes them to pay close attention to the text, which means they can closely monitor their own comprehension.
  3. Questioning — students generate their own questions about a text to check their comprehension and monitor their subject knowledge.
  4. Clarifying — students identify areas of uncertainty, which may be individual words or phrases, and seek information to clarify meaning.
  5. Summarising — students summarise the meaning of sections of the text to consolidate and elaborate upon their understanding. This causes students to focus on the key content, which in turn supports comprehension monitoring. This can be supported using graphic organisers that illustrate concepts and the relationships between them.

In order to explicitly model these reading strategies, as they read aloud the tutors purposefully stop and ask one or several of these questions as appropriate:

At the start of a new book:

  • Look at the front and back covers. What do you think the story might be about? What makes you think this?
  • Consider the title. What do you think the story might be about? What makes you think this?

 During reading:

  • What would you like to ask the characters or author at this point?
  • Are you finding anything difficult to understand? If you go back and re-read, what can you look out for?
  • Have you read, watched or seen anything else that is similar to this? In what ways?

 

 After finishing a book:

  • Tell me what happened in the story.
  • What is the most important message or idea in the story?
  • What was the turning point of the story?
  • What one message or idea do you think the author wants you to remember from the story?

 

 In the second DEAR session of the week, the students read their own books, and these can be fiction or non-fiction. It is critical that in these private reading sessions, the tutors circulate and have one-to-one conversations with their tutees using the reading questions (above) as a basis for their discussion. In particular, tutors specifically target those that seem to be stuck with their reading as these are the students who are likely to be in most need of the explicit modelling of the reading strategies – thus these students have the opportunity of learning from the modelling twice in a week.

As with KS4 DEAR, it is too early to confirm any clear successes from the implementation of KS3 DEAR. However, our school librarians have reported that the issues figures for books from our Learning Resource Centre have increased from just over 1600 books in September 2018 to just over 2000 books in September 2019.

Ideally, we would like to adopt a disciplinary approach to teaching reading across the school, which you can find out about on our Research School blog here. However, as a step in our journey for embedding effective whole-school reading, our KS3 DEAR programme has made a promising start.

Fran Haynes

The best list of research links – brilliant!

The go-bag

Here, the #CogSciSci community has brought together a whole bunch of blogs, articles and research to help you answer the question “Why are you doing that?” This is far from an exhaustive list but instead aims to find writings that give a good rationale behind the choice explanation of particular areas of cognitive science and how they can be applied to the classroom.

The idea started with this blog by A Common Biologist, looking at ways cognitive science mutates in schools. It’s important to realise that two very different areas of research impact upon the classroom: education research and cognitive science research. Education research takes place in the classroom, with well-designed studies having large sample sizes and well designed control groups to monitor the effect of any intervention. The results from education research tend to be quite hazy, owing to the difficulty in isolating a cause for a particular effect once in the classroom environment. Cognitive science research, on the other hand, is laboratory based, giving researchers a considerable amount of control over the subjects (their environment, their attention etc.) and so teaches us a considerable amount about how we learn. The downside is that results from cognitive science studies will always require a certain amount of interpretation before they are used in a classroom setting.

Here, the ideas of cognitive science are introduced, and teachers/educators then go on to explain how they are using some of these findings within their classroom, altering their practice to become more ‘research-informed’. This list is far from exhaustive and both Adam Boxer and Craig Barton have excellent research lists with their own commentaries.

If you have any questions that you want answered please send them to cogscisci@gmail.com.


THE BASICS OF COGNITIVE SCIENCE AND MEMORY

“How do our brains work?” answered by Efrat Furst.

“What are all these fancy terms to do with memory that you keep using?” answered by Elizabeth and Robert Bjork whilst discussing how desirable difficulties can improve learning.

“What on earth is working memory?” answered by Professor Susan Gathercole and Dr Tracy Alloway, discussing what it is, its limitations, how it changes and how you can support students to learn in spite of their limited working memories.

“What is a schema?” answered by Greg Ashman.

“Do students remember what they learn in school?” answered by Daniel Willingham, drawing on education research and cognitive science to explain why our memory is an incredible but fallible resource.

“Why do students forget things?” answered by Jemma Sherwood who discusses how to design lessons with memory in mind.

“What is the ‘forgetting curve’?” answered by Durrington Research School.

“Is forgetting a vital part of remembering?” answered by Dalmeet Singh Chawla who interviews a range of researchers from neurobiology who point out that if we remembered everything, our brains would be far more inefficient.

“What will improve a student’s memory?” answered by Daniel Willingham, giving examples of methods that work and those that don’t when helping students commit ideas to memory.

“How does research into our memories affect teaching?” answered by Craig Barton, whose commentary on memory research (particularly that of Elizabeth and Robert Bjork) shows that memory lies at the heart of retrieval, interleaving and spacing.

“What are neuromyths?” answered by Thomas Moran, listing the 10 most common misconceptions about the brain. Do we only use 10% of it? Do we have preferred learning styles? Is your mental capacity something you are born with? No, to all of the above.

Remember also that we have an entire module on the basics of cognitive science here.


COGNITIVE LOAD THEORY AND LEARNING

“Can somebody explain simply how cognitive load theory applies to the classroom?” answered by Adam Boxer, who simplifies the theory for practical usage by teachers.

“How can I take into account cognitive load theory in the classroom?” answered by Blake Harvard, who introduces the idea of ‘element interactivity’ as a consideration for when trying to manage the cognitive load.

“What is the difference between learning and performance?” and “What is a desirable difficulty” both answered by Nick Soderstrom. The learning vs. performance argument is a crucial one for teachers to understand and has huge implications for how we assess the ‘understanding’ of students within a lesson.

“Aren’t cognitive load theory and the idea of desirable difficulties diametrically opposite?” answered by Blake Harvard, who tries to reconcile the need for simplifying (from cognitive load theory) and the need to challenge students (from desirable difficulties). A fascinating insight into how to understand ideas from cognitive science when they initially seem to point in opposite directions.

“Why are some things easy to learn and others are so hard?” answered by Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner, looking at David Geary’s work into biologically primary and secondary knowledge, an idea that aims to explain why we can learn to understand facial expressions much more easily than we can understand chemistry.

“Why can we learn some things naturally from our environment but need instruction to understand others?” answered by David Didau, again looking at Geary’s work, but thinking about the relationship to explicit instruction and discovery learning. Why do we discover the talent for speech, but discovery approaches to reading are less effective?

“Why do students think they understand, when they don’t?” answered by Daniel Willingham, demonstrating why ‘familiarity fools our mind into thinking we know more than we do’.

“Why do they seem so confident they’re right, but they’re wrong?” answered by Kendra Cherry, exploring the Dunning-Kruger effect.


SPACING, INTERLEAVING AND RETRIEVAL PRACTICE: THE BASICS

“What is spacing?” answered by Daniel Willingham.

“What’s the difference between spacing, interleaving and retrieval? Are they desirable difficulties?” answered by Nick Soderstrom.

“What is retrieval practice?” answered by Efrat Furst.

Remember that we have an entire module on retrieval practice here.


KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERT TEACHING

“Can’t they just google it?” E.D. Hirsch explains why knowledge is a cornerstone of our understanding of the world.

“Why is knowledge important?” answered by Daniel Willingham, who shows how ‘knowledge brings more knowledge’.

“Why does everyone keep talking about Rosenshine?” answered by Tom Sherrington, who explores why the principles in Barak Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’ are so useful in the classroom.

“What are Rosenshine’s principles?” answered by Mark Enser.

“Can’t we just teach skills?” No, explains David Didau.

“Can’t we just teach skills (number 2)?” Daniel Willingham explains why comprehension can’t be taught as a skill in isolation as it relies on knowledge of the subject matter that you’re reading about.


WITHIN THE CLASSROOM:

PLANNING AND INTERVENTIONS

“Why don’t you have a lesson plan?” answered by Bob Pritchard, who uses cognitive science as the basis to explain why he plans for a longer period of time than simply one lesson (and hence doesn’t have a lesson plan: here are some examples of when he probably did have one…).

“What interventions can I use to help those struggling students?” answered by Ruth Walker, who argues that we shouldn’t focus on interventions to specific groups but instead on the overall quality of teaching to all students.

“How can cognitive science help in the planning of the curriculum?” answered by Ruth Walker, drawing together ideas about schema, memory, hinterland and the true meaning of interleaving to create a better curriculum.

“Can you give me an example of interleaving within the curriculum?” answered by Ian Taylor, who uses ‘teaching by contrast’ as a way of ensuring the links are made between ideas within a topic instead of teaching each idea in a single lesson.

“What is mastery learning? And what isn’t mastery learning?” answered by Daisy Christodoulou.

DIRECT INSTRUCTION VS. DISCOVERY

“Why aren’t they discovering this for themselves?” answered by Paul Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard Clark in one of the must-read papers for understanding one of the fiercest arguments in education.

“Why are you explaining the concept rather than letting them do problem-solving?” answered by Greg Ashman, whose research indicates novices perform better when explicitly taught in the first instance. This study contrasts the predictions of cognitive load theory and productive failure.

SLOP (Shed Loads Of Practice) AND THE EFFECT OF SUCCESS ON MOTIVATION

“Why are they doing SLOP (shed loads of practice) in your lessons?” answered by the learning scientists, who link to and comment on the best ideas about what deliberate practice is and why it is so powerful.

“I don’t like the idea of SLOP, convince me otherwise,” answered by Niki Kaiser who uses her own experiences to show how she came around to the idea of giving students extensive practice.

“Why is practice so important?” answered by Daniel Willingham, discussing the balance between ‘practice makes perfect’ and student motivation.

“Why does success lead to motivation and not the other way around?” answered by Carl Hendrick, giving a motivational background as to why SLOP is effective for all students.

“How can reducing the cognitive load lead to more motivated students?” answered by Greg Ashman who uses cognitive load theory to help students see that is is the ‘process of getting better at something that is motivating’.

“Is interleaved practice better than blocked practice (in maths)?” answered by Doug Rohrer, Robert Dedrick and Pooja Agarwal, exploring the differences between giving practice in distinct blocks (as would be common practice in a curriculum split into defined topics per lesson) and interleaving practice within a mathematics setting.

“How big should spacing gaps be?” answered by Damian Benney, who shares his practice in planning spaced homework, giving reasoning behind his choice of gaps.

Remember we have an entire module on designing practice sets here.

PRACTICALS

“How can I reduce the cognitive load of practical sessions?” answered by Adam Boxer, introducing the idea of the slow practical, a crucial read for new science teachers.

“Isn’t real science like discovery learning?” answered by Bill Wilkinson, drawing on his research experience to explain why ‘real scientists’ aren’t doing discovery as might be assumed.

ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING

“Why aren’t you doing more AfL?” David Didau explains why we should be cautious about AfL given the issues with performance vs. learning.

“How should I be using AfL (assessment for learning) in the classroom” a symposium of ideas from Adam Boxer, Ruth Walker, Niki Kaiser, Deep Ghataura, Ben Rogers, Matt Perks and Dylan Wiliam.

“How can I use multiple choice questions in the classroom?” answered by Blake Harvard, giving a guide to best practice in creating MCQs.

BOOKLETS AND VISUALISERS

“Why would you want to use booklets?” answered by Adam Boxer, giving reasons behind his choice to move to a booklet model that come from cognitive science and the need to reduce teacher workload.

“But really, why would you want to use booklets?” answered by a guest post on Adam Robbins’ blog, with a very useful set of responses to the possible questions from sceptical colleagues.

“How did you write that booklet?” answered by Ruth Walker. It’s best for her to answer it since we’re probably using her ones anyway.

“Why are you using a visualiser? Isn’t that from the 90’s?” answered in a twitter thread by Mark Wilkinson, giving a whole heap of suggestions for how to use a visualiser.

“How can I use a visualiser with a class? What on earth does Show-Call mean?” an example of Courtney Betar from TLAC. The TLAC website has a huge amount of video evidence of great techniques to try in the classroom.

“Why are you using a visualiser and a booklet?” answered by Ben Newmark, bringing together the benefits of booklets and visualisers (in a post that surprisingly doesn’t demonstrate his incredible handwriting).

COMPLETION PROBLEMS, WORKED EXAMPLES, NON-EXAMPLES

“I know they reduce the cognitive load but aren’t completion problems a bit easy?” answered by Ben Rogers, who gives examples of how completion problems can be used as scaffolding to reduce the cognitive load and get students to focus on the subject matter at hand.

“Which is better: problem-solving or worked examples?” answered by Greg Ashman, in a post that attempts to resolve the conflict that exists between desirable difficulties and cognitive load theory.

“What is a non-example?” answered by Ben Rogers.

CALCULATIONS

“Why do you think practice supports the lower attaining students?” answered by Adam Robbins, who explores how he uses SLOP calculation sheets to ensure opportunities for success for all learners.

“How do you teach the use of equations?” answered by Pritesh Raichura, giving a scaffolding method to ensure all students can be successful in performing calculations.

“Why did you design your calculation sheet like that?” answered by Tom Millichamp, going into detail about each of his choices that he makes when creating a resource.

DUAL CODING

“What on earth is dual coding?” explained by Rufus Johnstone.

“How can I use dual coding in science? Isn’t it just pictures?” answered by Pritesh Raichura, who gives simple, implementable examples of what dual coding truly is within the science classroom.

“Can I see more examples of dual coding please?” Gethyn Jones shows how he uses dual coding (and always has done) to teach SUVAT in Physics, as it’s a topic that naturally lends itself to dual coding, rather than it needing to be shoe-horned in.

“How can I change the layout of materials to ease cognitive load?” answered by Ben Rogers, who has excellent posts on the layout of materialson the drawing of diagrams in science, and a post full of examples.

THE TESTING EFFECT

What is the testing effect?” answered by Efrat Furst.

“Doesn’t all this testing just stress students out?” Blake Harvard explains why testing actually reduces test stress.

KNOWLEDGE ORGANISERS

“How can I use knowledge organisers?” answered by the Learning Scientists.

“Can you give an example of using knowledge organisers?” answered by Adam Robbins, who kindly answers the question and gives out his knowledge organisers for science.

“When shouldn’t I use knowledge organisers?” answered by Kris Boulton, writing why they are less applicable to maths (and arguing they often shouldn’t be called knowledge organisers at all).

“What are some of the limitations of knowledge organisers?” answered by Helen Skelton, who uses the idea of schemas to show where knowledge organisers can fit into teaching.

DIFFERENTIATION

“Why aren’t you differentiating?” answered by a guest post on Adam Boxer’s blog that should really make you think about why you’re asked to print off three different coloured worksheets.

“Why aren’t you differentiating by task?” answered by Greg Ashman, who looks at TALIS data which seems to show a negative correlation between differentiation and maths scores.

WRITING AND STORY-TELLING

“Why are they doing so much writing in your classroom?” answered by Pritesh Raichura, Ben Rogers, Ruth Walker, Tarjinder Gill, Jasper Green and Judith Hochman in the Writing in Science Symposium, an amazing collection of works on why writing should play a crucial role in the classroom.

“How can student writing help me to learn more about what they’ve learned?” answered by Tom Millichamp, who uses ideas from The Writing Revolution to delve into student understanding.

“Why would story telling help students retain more information?” answered by Ven Popov, explaining why research scientists are wary of story telling in their writing but why they shouldn’t be.

“How can I introduce stories to the classroom?” answered by Bill Wilkinson with a link to the #sciencestories project to encourage story-telling in the classroom.

COMPETITION AND GAMES

“Why isn’t competition always a good thing?” answered by Adam Boxer, discussing the notion that ‘boys will like it if you make it a competition’.

“Why aren’t you playing more games?” answered by Mark Enser, showing how inequality might be increased in the name of engagement.


OUTSIDE OF A LESSON:

MARKING

“What does a sensible marking policy look like?” answered by Adam Boxer by giving out his department’s marking policy.

“Why are we marking?” answered by Gethyn Jones, clarifying the difference between feedback and marking and which is useful for students.

“What is whole-class feedback?” answered by Andrew Percival.

“How can I make whole-class feedback fit with my school’s marking policy?” answered by Ruth Walker who shows how her marking can tick a lot of the boxes that a school’s typical marking policy would have.

“Why aren’t books a good proxy for learning?” answered by Sarah Barker, who points out the issue with book scrutinies.

DATA AND TARGET GRADES

“What is my data showing me: progress or attainment or something else?” answered by Matthew Benyohai who shows the stupidity behind colourful trackers and why he uses bee-swarm plots instead.

“How should I be using assessment data?” answered in many blogs by Matthew Benyohai.

“What should I be doing with target grades?” answered by Ben Newmark, who explains why they don’t help the learning process.

“I need more convincing on this target grades thing, can you give me anything else to read?” Adam Robbins kindly obliges.

“What should I do after a mock exam?” answered by Adam Boxer, using a bit of assessment theory and knowledge of schema to rethink the post-exam strategy.

HOMEWORK

“Why aren’t you setting more projects?” answered by Adam Boxer, arguing through an example that grand projects only act to highlight inequality.

“Does flipped learning ever work?” answered by Bill Wilkinson, who uses some of the cognitive science basics to make flipped learning work for him and his students.

STUDYING AND REVISION

“How can I explain to students how to study?” answered by an article in Scientific American, explaining the basics behind retrieval, interleaving, spacing and elaboration, as well as what no to do.


MISCELLANEOUS OTHER QUESTIONS

“Why do you have your windows open?” answered by Jess Staufenberg.

Threshold Concepts

Great blog from Class Teaching – Last week I was leading a training session for trainee science teachers, looking at the EEF ‘Improving Secondary Science’ guidance report – this is a great resource for science teachers and one that I would strongly recommend.  There is a section in the report on the importance of ‘threshold concepts’ in science teaching.  A threshold concept is described below:

“A threshold concept can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress. As a consequence of comprehending a threshold concept there may thus be a transformed internal view of subject matter, subject landscape, or even world view. This transformation may be sudden or it may be protracted over a considerable period of time, with the transition to understanding proving troublesome. Such a transformed view or landscape may represent how people ‘think’ in a particular discipline, or how they perceive, apprehend, or experience particular phenomena within that discipline (or more generally).” (Meyer and Land, 2003).

In the guidance report, threshold concepts are described as likely to be:

  • Transformative – they result in a change in perception of a subject and may involve a shift in values or attitudes.
  • Irreversible – the resulting change is unlikely to be forgotten.
  • Integrative – they ‘expose a previously hidden interrelatedness’ between other concepts within the discipline.
  • Potentially troublesome – we may have difficulty coping with then new perspective that is offered.

Once we start thinking about the idea of threshold concepts, it seems likely that this also applies to our understanding of teaching.  From a purely personal point of view, I would say that during the years I have been engaging with research evidence, I have come across some ideas that have irreversibly transformed my view of teaching.  Some of these have been troublesome and they definitely all interrelate.  For example:

“Memory is the residue of thought” from Daniel Willingham

New learning should be tethered to existing knowledge

“Feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor” from Dylan Wiliam

“Learning is a change in long term memory” from Paul Kirschner & John Sweller

Fully guided instruction is more successful than minimal guidance from Clark, Kirschner & Sweller – more here.

These 5 ideas have definitely changed the way I teach and the way I lead teaching and learning.  This made me then ask the good people of twitter about the ‘threshold concepts’ that have transformed how they think about teaching.  This got a great response and I thought I would share some of them here:

Andy Tharby:

  • Understanding is memory in disguise – Daniel Willingham
  • Learning is invisible.
  • Students learn very different things from the same lesson.

David Didau

  • Speech is a powerful lever for cognitive growth.

Ben Newmark:

  • The only curriculum that matters is the curriculum pupils remember – Clare Sealy

Cristina Milos:

  • Performance and learning are not synonymous.

Mark Enser:

  • Learning doesn’t come from activity but from retrieval.

Sarah Donarski:

  • If we want our students to breathe our subjects, we must first do the same.

Tom Boulter:

  • Reasoning, problem solving and creative skills are largely domain specific and enabled by deep knowledge of the field.

Sallie Stanton:

  • Learning is a change in long term memory.
  • Gaps in knowledge make gaining new knowledge really difficult.

Rufus William:

  • Novices and experts think in qualitatively different ways.
  • The curse of knowledge.

Frances Walsh:

  • Learning is not a performance at the end of the lesson.

Dan Hannard:

  • Practice makes permanent.

Julie Stewart:

  • We are prisoners of our working memory.

Amy Pento:

  • Extraneous load – much done to grab students’ attention distracts from what we want them to think about.