20 ways to widen the ‘gap’ in your classroom!

A great post from Miss Cox – link to her site is below. I hope we don’t do any of these!

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  1. Make homework optional
  2. Create resources for different levels/grades of students
  3. Only teach certain groups of students the tough stuff
  4. Take under achieving students out of one subject to catch up with other subjects
  5. Allow absence without any action
  6. Don’t make students catch up with work when absent
  7. Make judgments/decisions using student data/hearsay, before you’ve met them & seen what they can do
  8. Treat PP/LAC students differently (marking their books first won’t close a gap)
  9. Think that an SEN student cannot learn the same and in the same way as non-SEN (in the majority of cases)
  10. Don’t check students’ work regularly and hold them to account for incomplete/unsatisfactory standard or work/presentation
  11. Use marks/grades/levels on student work
  12. Talk about attainment instead of improvement
  13. Leave a piece of work unimproved by the student
  14. Tell them they’re weak/lesser/in a bottom set
  15. Assume they know how and what to learn
  16. Assume that if you’ve said something once, it’s enough
  17. Have discussions about groups of children instead of individuals
  18. Don’t follow through things you say you will do with students
  19. Don’t follow school systems with a student/s because they’re a ‘special case’
  20. Don’t ever contact home or involve them in the student’s learning.

A Fantastic post from Tom Sherrington – this structure will help all of us, let me know what you think – Tim.

egypt

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.

Teaching for distinction

A really interesting blog from Tom Sherrington about teaching for distinction:

Teaching for Distinction @OldhamCollege

The most exciting job I’ve had since starting out with Teacherhead Consulting has been working with Oldham College.  Principal Alun Francis approached me to explore whether there was scope in applying current thinking around teaching and learning, curriculum planning and my experience of the delivery of CPD in schools to the FE setting.   He was keen to move away from the one-off CPD day where the impact can be marginal.  He was also keen to explore the idea of a ‘powerful knowledge’ curriculum in FE, not least because so many technical and vocational courses are moving to include examined components.

Working with Alun and Rachel Irving, the Head of Teaching and Learning,  I spent a few days in Oldham talking to a range of members of staff – tutors, Heads of Faculty, members of the senior leadership team.  I observed a few lessons and got a feel for the context.  FE is radically different to school in some ways:  there are huge plumbing workshops, rows of painting and decorating booths, hair and beauty salons, design studios.  Oldham even has the front half of an aeroplane parked outside. Some students are engaged on 100% work-based learning programmes where they receive visits from assessors.  The Maths and English departments are dealing with over 1000 students all taking the same GCSE resit course.   As well as the scale, the language is different: it’s all about learners, tutors and ‘quals’.

But, the basic business of teaching students so that they succeed is the same. Students need structure, guidance, support, quality instruction, high expectations, feedback, chances to improve.  The also need to acquire knowledge.  Teaching for Distinction has a clear double meaning. We want students to reach Distinction in their BTECs and other qualifications; we also want tutors to teach with distinction, using evidence-informed wisdom about effective practice to design and deliver a successful curriculum for all learners.

We designed the programme around some core texts – Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, which the college was already using,  and the excellent Didau/Rose Pyschology book, which captures so much of the research evidence in an accessible format.  We’ve also used some firm favourite resources for CPD such as the Austin’s Butterfly video, the Learning Scientists six strategies,  the Rosenshine Principles of Instruction and the Tharby/Allison Making Every Lesson Count flow diagram.

 

 

I will report back on our progress, but here is an outline of what we’re doing:  There are six teaching and learning modules:

Slide1

The programme is designed so that it follows best practice, blending external input from me with regular CPD sessions every fortnight or so in between.  This will allow each faculty to design its own tailored programme so that the common learning is interpreted in the context of the needs of learners in specific technical disciplines.  So far we’ve planned up to the end of February 2018 but it will continue beyond that:

Slide2

Part of the programme has been training for faculty leaders on running effective CPD sessions.  We’ve borrowed the structure from Dylan Wiliam’s ideas about teacher learning communities:

Slide3

Thanks To give you a flavour of the content, here are some of the unit outlines and the headline course overview:

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I’d like to say a huge thank you to Alun, Rachel, Nick, Roger and all the other members of the Oldham College team who have made me feel so welcome. The first sessions for faculty leaders went really well and I’m very excited about returning to deliver the first round of training for staff.

If you work in FE and would like to talk to me about working with you, please get in touch.

Here is the infographic produced for us by Oliver Caviglioli. Modules 1-3 infographic v2

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HoDs – how to improve teaching in your departments…

A useful overview by Improving Teaching:

Improving teaching and learning: ideas for heads of department

There’s a good case to be made that better teaching and learning is best achieved by departments.  Some things can only be solved at a whole-school level, such as behaviour; others, like lesson planning, can perhaps best be addressed by individual teachers.  But it is the department which influences teaching and learning most (Aubrey-Hopkins and James, 2002); it is departments which become the focus for improvement as a school improves (Chapman, 2004).  Teachers of different subjects think and interact in different ways (Grossman, Wineburg and Woolworth, 2001; Spillane, 2005): the shared practice of their discipline makes departments distinct “communities of practice (Harris, 2001; Wenger, 2000, p.229).”  Professional learning communities, collegial bodies improving teaching and learning, are usually found in departments (McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001).  So how can departments go about improving teaching and learning?

How: the department as professional learning community

Collective responses to the fundamental challenges facing teachers – What to teach?  How best to teach it? – are more powerful.  It is in the department where the requisite expertise can be shared (Aubrey-Hopkins and James, 2002):

First, it is assumed that knowledge is situated in the day-to-day lived experiences of teachers and best understood through critical reflection with others who share the same experience (Buysse, Sparkman, & Wesley, 2003). Second, it is assumed that actively engaging teachers in [professional learning communities] will increase their professional knowledge and enhance student learning (Vescio, Ross and Adams, 2007).”

Departments in which students learn more tend to collegiality, relational trust, teacher learning, shared decision making and a culture of collaboration in which practice is ‘deprivatised’ (Bubb and Earley, 2004; Bryk and Schneider, 2002; Vescio, Ross and Adams, 2007).  Perhaps it is unsurprising therefore that:

The use of professional learning communities as a means to improve teaching practice and student achievement is a move that educators support and value, as indicated by teachers’ perceptions of impact (Vescio, Ross and Adams, 2007).”

Harnessing teachers’ collective knowledge and experience should improve student learning in the present and help teachers improve in the longer-term: but what is the focus for this collegiality to be?

Professional learning towards what?

Collegial communities are only useful if we know what we want (Wiliam, 2007).  Departments can work for and against change (Brown et al, 2000; McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001), thus while a head of department may need to develop collegiality (Harris, 2004), they also need to focus on core goals (Spillane, 2005) and maintain coherence (Sergiovanni, 2005).  Dylan Wiliam has argued that:

“Leaders who are serious about improving the outcomes for students in their schools have to develop the use of formative assessment, both retrospectively, as a way of ensuring that students do not fall behind, and also prospectively, as a way of increasing the pedagogical skills of teachers in the school (2016: p.126).”

A review of effective professional learning communities found one feature stood out:

A persistent focus on student learning and achievement by the teachers in the learning communities.  All eight studies documented that the collaborative efforts of teachers were focused on meeting the learning needs of their students (Vescio, Ross and Adams, 2007).”

Conversely:

In the communities where teachers worked together but did not engage in structured work that was highly focused around student learning, similar gains were not evident (Vescio, Ross and Adams, 2007).”

A study of one such professional learning community community found that its power lay in the use of assessment to connect “the instructional choices that teachers make and the learning outcomes of students.”  This “helped teachers reflect on their instructional approaches and gain insight into the levels of understanding of their students”, and led to changes in their teaching – as identified by external observers – and small, but statistically significant, improvements in student learning (Supovitz, 2013).  Another study contrasted teachers meeting to discuss teaching and meeting to discuss student work: teachers discussed teaching at length, but this left little chance for critical discussion or insight; when discussing student work, teachers:

Were constantly monitoring the extent to which there were connections between students’ overarching, long-term learning goals, the materials used to assess these goals, and students’ related performance (Popp and Goldman, 2016).”

Putting this into practice

How best to achieve this depends on a department’s staff, its existing resources (particularly curriculum) and the time available.  Three approaches stand out:

Collaborating over what to teach

Fundamental questions can be addressed more productively by subject teams.  Individual teachers have a range of subject knowledge for teaching and of experiences; the challenge is in creating a structure in which to share this productively.  A department can be asked to create a collective resource for a unit by debating and agreeing:
• The critical knowledge to learn
• Common student misconceptions
• Useful images, sources and representations to convey key points
• Links to be made to other topics (revision and foreshadowing future learning)
• Effective ways to sequence learning
This allows every teacher to share their knowledge and experience, but avoids creating a straitjacket, since teachers can use the resulting resource flexibly, to suit them and their classes.  (For more on these ideas as a basis for unit planning, and for a template, visit this post).

Collaborating over how to improve teaching

The aim is not to force teachers to teach identically, but to catalyse reflection by individual teachers and the sharing of effective approaches.  There are two stages:

  1. Creating a common measure
    Collective reflection requires something in common, which every teacher can reflect upon.  The obvious answer would seem to be exam reviews, but for the reasons advanced by Daisy Christodoulou (2017), this is unlikely to be particularly helpful, because a summative assessment (or mock) tells you very little about where the gaps in students’ knowledge actually lie: a student may struggle with a specific question for a dozen reasons.  Instead I’d suggest exit tickets and multiple-choice questions (more below).
  2. Collective reflection
    With these shared tools we can examine the variation in student responses and try to explain how it has come about:  How did each teacher explain the topic?  How did they allocate time differently?  What metaphors did they use when students became stuck?  By beginning with a question: why did some students answer this question well, others poorly? teachers can “move beyond merely sharing what happened in lessons to critical reflection on the teaching-learning process (Popp and Goldman, 2016).”  Teachers’ ability to contrast their approaches with those of their colleagues should allow them to reflect more carefully and more productively, leaving them open to adopt productive ideas willingly.

Two techniques lend themselves to this in particular:

Collective review of an agreed piece of student work.

Teachers can design half a dozen common exit tickets for a unit, then compare what students learned (or, if not exit tickets, any agreed piece of student work).  Collective analysis of exit tickets should lead to fruitful discussions, focusing on what each teacher did differently the effect this had on student learning.  Question prompts might include:

  • Where did most students struggle?
  • What did most students manage well?
  • How do student answers differ between classes?

This helps teachers  focus upon “the substance represented by the data” and hence “reflect on… instructional approaches and gain insight into the levels of understanding of their students” rather than diverting them “to acquire new analytic skills to make sense of the data (Supovitz, 2013).”

Create, use and analyse multiple-choice questions

Collectively developed multiple-choice questions have a range of functions.  Designing good multiple-choice questions is time-consuming and relies on good knowledge of student misconceptions and how students might interpret the questions. Collectively designing half a dozen multiple-choice questions spreads the work involved and allows teachers to share their knowledge of misconceptions.  These questions can be used as hinge questions within the lesson, or as exit tickets, or at any other stage in the learning process (Millar and Hames, 2003 show how a range of ways teachers have used multiple-choice questions effectively).  Reflection afterwards could lead to similar discussions to those conducted with exit tickets, and could also allow the revision and extension of the questions, creating a growing collection.

Making it work

This approach to improving teaching and learning in departments fulfills many of the requirements proposed by the literature on effective professional development (for example: Cordingley et al., 2015; Desimone, 2009; Timperley, 2008), including active learning, a collegial approach and a focus on subject knowledge.  The remaining proposed requirements include ensuring that the approach is:
• Sustained
• Surfaces existing beliefs
• Has (and keeps) leadership support.

If you’re doing something like this now, I’d be fascinated to read or hear more.

What to read next?

References

Aubrey-Hopkins, Judith and James, Chris (2002) ‘Improving Practice in Subject Departments: the experience of secondary school subject leaders in Wales’, School Leadership & Management, 22: 3, 305 — 320

Brown, Marie , Rutherford, Desmond and Boyle, Bill(2000) ‘Leadership for School Improvement: The Role of the Head of Department in UK Secondary Schools’, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 11: 2, 237 —258

Bryk, A. and Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Bubb, S. and Earley, P. (2004), ‘Why is managing change not easy?’ Managing Teacher Workload: Workload and Wellbeing, London: PCP/Sage

Chapman, Christopher (2004) ‘Leadership for Improvement in Urban and Challenging Contexts’, London Review of Education, 2: 2, 95 — 108

Christodoulou, D. (2017) Making Good Progress: The Future of Assessment for Learning. Oxford, OUP.

Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., Coles-Jordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L., Coe, R. (2015) Developing Great Teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. Teacher Development Trust.

Desimone, L. (2009) Improving Impact Studies of Teachers’ Professional Development: Toward better Conceptualizations and Measures. Education Researcher 38(3) 181-199

Grossman, P., Wineburg, S., & Woolworth, S. (2001). Toward a Theory of Teacher Community. The Teachers College Record, 103, 942-1012.

Harris, Alma (2001) ‘Department Improvement and School Improvement: A missing link?’, British Educational Research Journal, 27: 4, 477 — 486

Harris, Alma (2004) ‘Distributed Leadership and School Improvement : Leading or Misleading?’ Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 32: 11-26

Popp, J. and Goldman, S. (2016). Knowledge building in teacher professional learning communities: Focus of meeting matters. Teaching and Teacher Education, 59, pp.347-359.

McLaughlin, M. and Talbert, J. (2001). Professional communities and the work of high school teaching. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Millar, R., Hames, V. (2003) Using Diagnostic Assessment to Enhance Teaching and Learning: A Study of the Impact of Research-informed Teaching Materials on Science Teachers’ Practices. Evidence-based Practice in Science Education (EPSE) Research Network.

Sergiovanni, Thomas (2003), ‘A Cognitive Approach to Leadership’, in Brent Davies and John West-Burnham (ed.), Handbook of Educational Leadership and Management, Pearson: London, Ch. 2

Spillane, J. P. (2005) Primary school leadership practice: how the subject matters, School Leadership & Management, 25: 4, 383-397

Supovitz, J. (2013) The Linking Study: An Experiment to Strengthen Teachers’ Engagement With Data on Teaching and Learning. CPRE Working Papers.

Timperley, H. (2008). Teacher professional learning and development. Educational Practices (18). International Academy of Education.

Vescio, V., Ross, D., Adams, A. (2007) A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning. Teaching and Teacher Education 24. 80–91.

Wenger, Etienne (2000), ‘Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems’, Organization, 7: 225-247

Wiliam, D. (2007) Content then process: teacher learning communities in the service of formative assessment. In D. B. Reeves (Ed.), Ahead of the curve: the power of assessment to transform teaching and learning (pp. 183-204). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Wiliam, D. (2016) Leadership for Teacher Learning: Creating a Culture Where All Teachers Improve So That All Students Succeed. Learning Sciences International.

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