Tips for A level students. Lesson ramblings for teachers (helpful ideas too!)
Author: Aimee Horsley
I am an A Level Philosophy, Ethics and Religious Studies teacher. I have taught between 80 - 150 R.S students for the past eight years. I also manage a small team of Coaches dedicated to enhancing Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Two years ago I completed a MEd (Masters in Education) focusing on Dialogic Learning. After huge success on SlideShare, with my power points being viewed over a quarter of million times, I started to think that I have so much more to share that may be of interest to other students and teachers outside my college. So this Blog will document my on-going findings, reflections and tips for both teachers and students.
Teaching Criminology has introduced me to a different exam board, assessment strategies and content. For the first time ever I also have a lesson a week in a computer room! Yes, that special room that only a few subjects get to experience, that is always booked out and unavailable, I now have every week. So never one to just do the ‘sit down and research’ task, I decided to pilot a new teaching strategy in my first computer room lesson. Padlet. Padlet is an online resource where students can create interactive notice boards of information. What better for socially distanced group work?
After 20 minutes of chaos trying to set up the padlets and send the links to the relevant groups of students, we finally settled into a research routine. The results were fantastic! Every group (there were five in total) were able to work together to create an interactive board with links, photos, videos, write ups, articles, research all that represented the topic area assigned to them such as Hate Crime or Domestic Abuse. The boards are immediately updated so everyone in the group can see what is being added in real time. The finished boards were then exported into PDF and shared with the classes to keep in their folders.
So how do you use it? First of all sign up for Padlet or access through Microsoft (if you use Teams through your school/college you will get immediate access). To set the boards up, go to ‘make’ and then ‘wall’, from here you can go to the top right hand corner with the settings symbol and alter the background and enable name visibility, authorising comments, allowing students to comment on each other’s posts etc. Then share the link with the students and they can start adding materials to it by pressing the plus sign in the pink circle in the bottom right hand corner. Once completed export the documents into PDF and save them. The bonus of using Padlet is that all the hyperlinks to articles etc. that were on the original board, still work on the PDF worksheet. So it really becomes an invaluable resource for future work and revision.
I highly recommend it! It would also work really well remotely, so could be a group activity that students complete from home.
Who would ever have expected last year to turn out the way it did! As we commence into the unknown of teaching amidst Covid precautions, I reflect on what went well, changes made and the lessons learnt.
Last year I aimed to try three new things: Consolidation Packs, half termly quizzes and folders. Two out of three of these were a success – well for the first half of the year they were.
Firstly the Consolidation Packs, a booklet organised with a Blank Sheet Summary and Essay Question for each topic. Each week my students routinely had a Consolidation lesson on the previous week’s topic, allowing them to forget and then re-learn the topic. Every consolidation lesson followed the same structure: revise for ten minutes, from memory write down everything can remember on a blank sheet, using notes fill in any gaps, test then essay writing. This routine emphasized more testing over revising, key to memory training (see The Science of Learning for more information on memory and recall).
I asked my students what they thought and there were mixed responses, mainly positive but a few, as expected, were not as keen. Some comments included: “I thought they were really helpful, gave time to ask questions and clarify any missing areas from the topics” and “The KKT’s and blank sheet summaries were very useful because they forced me to revise the topics as we completed them” and “The exam questions with a guide for structure were extremely helpful.” For more information on the Consolidation Packs see: Revision Must-Do: Blank Sheet Summary
Secondly the half termly quizzes, whilst only doing three, seemed to work really well. The aim was to test the students on their key words. So after October half term I created a table of all the key philosophical words encountered thus far e.g. A Priori and the students had to write the definition for each word. After Christmas they got the same list of words with new ones added. After February they got the previous two tests with all the further new words added. This is a retrieval strategy, once again designed to train their memory, moving the words from short to long term recall.
Lastly the folders never happened due to budgeting, however generally my students maintain very organised folders to support their revision.
Last year also had a few firsts for me. These included:
The charity event which exploded beyond all my expectations. The Philosophy Ambassadors and I collected donations to fill the local Yorkshire Coast Sight Support charity shop. Well my classroom was flooded with generous offerings. After one week of collecting, we have over 30 bin liners and multiple boxes which in two cars and many trips, delivered the collection to the charity shop.
Using the examiner’s mark scheme within assessments. I created a table which broke down the different exam criteria and students highlighted which sections applied to their work. Afterwards they awarded their essay a mark and grade, just like an examiner. This got them thinking about what the examiners were expecting and whether their writing portrayed this.
I ran a Teacher Toolkit Enrichment supporting students who wished to go into Primary or Secondary teaching. Every week I worked through a different educational theme from behaviour management to SEN and how to be successful in an interview.
Then lockdown happened… this led to a whole new world of teaching! From live lessons on YouTube to one to one virtual feedback sessions using OBS Studio to setting and marking work remotely. I also signed up for a short online course in Educational Studies which I enjoyed completing from my sunny garden.
So what does the future hold? Well I am going to continue using the Consolidation Packs and half termly quizzes to try re-establish some routine and structure. I am also teaching a new subject this year: Criminology, which I absolutely cannot wait! I have taught General Studies and Extended Project on and off over the years but never another full qualification. I am one week in and I am loving how similar it is to Philosophy in that we can explore and discuss interesting ethical topics such as honour killings, genocide and homelessness without the intense pressure of keeping up with the tight timeframe. Teaching wise I am going to start using my Surface Go during lessons to help make assessment lessons more interesting. Finally I have also started to teach myself Sign Language which I am thoroughly enjoying. I wanted to do something to develop my own skills beyond teaching and it seemed like an invaluable skill that could overlap with my job as well.
As many of you will be able to tell from my previous videos, I am quite an expressive person and use my hands a lot…I never realised quite how much until I actually started filming myself (I looked like I was trying to fly in one of the videos!). So just over a week ago I signed up to a Sign Language course through British Sign Language online. This valuable skill is something that I have always wanted to learn and as I am always looking for that next challenge I thought I would give it a go. My aim is to include a little within my teaching, so students not only learn the subject but better and clearer ways to communicate. I would also love to be able to have the option of using some sign language if ever needed to for a hard of hearing student.
The BSL course so far is excellent. Sign up is quick and simple and is currently asking for donations of what you can afford rather than a set price. The sign up gives you access for a year and you can pop in and out of the website at your leisure. The sections are broken down into manageable chunks such as numbers or colours and there are short activities integrated to test your understanding. Each section has a test at the end, most often videos with a signed word or phrase that you then have to enter the answer. You can re-take the test as many times as needed but each section must be passed in order to pass the entire course.
I will keep you posted on my progress but here is a little snippet of what I have learnt so far (as you can tell I am very excited by my new skill!)