Ensuring Questioning Impacts Students’ Learning

Just before Christmas I ran a short CPD session with staff on questioning techniques. Now the difficulty with such an area is that there is no secret ingredient or coverall fail safe approach (like with starters for example, you try an activity and it either works or does not.) However when it comes to questioning, this is not an activity it is a skill, so the first step is recognising what you are currently doing and asking if it is working or not. This is often best supported with an observation, another set of eyes that can listen to the questions asked and the responses given but this is not always the desired approach nor very helpful when running a training session. So instead I turned to my new set of books (and Google of course).

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I started the session by asking staff the reasons why we ask questions. Now I know this is not a very creative start however it was necessary to emphasise that we know as teachers why we question (e.g. to interest, engage and challenge students, to check on prior knowledge and understanding, to focus students’ thinking on key concepts and issues etc) but what the research points out is that whilst we know why we question, very few questions are asked that promote reasoning, problem solving and evaluation or to promote students’ thinking about the way they have learned.

This got me thinking back to my PGCE days and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Now I am not a big fan of teaching fads, however Bloom’s to me is different. Back in the 1950’s Dr Benjamin Bloom, educational psychologist and his team, designed a framework that focused upon Knowledge (cognitive), Skills (psychomotor) and Attitudes (affective). This developed into his Taxonomy, a six stage developmental programme of learning. So within my session I give teachers a blank triangle separated into 6 sections and they had to order the subheadings from least to highest order skill:Annotation 2020-01-16 152849

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The Science of Learning – What you need to know.

This morning Bradley Busch ran a CPD session at my college. Usually with CPD events it falls under one of these categories: loads of ideas that never actually become reality, some ideas that you have already been doing for years, fads or an opportunity to write your to-do lists whilst you wait for it to finish! Today was very different.

For me, Bradley Busch is the best speaker I have come across since Dylan William. Maybe the reason for this is that he is not a teacher by trade but a psychologist. Maybe it is because he worked with athletes for years rather than teachers. Maybe it is because he focuses upon educational research rather than teaching ideas. At the end of the day it is the research that helps us formulate new ideas, since we are all professionals in our fields after all. So here are the highlights:

Busch started the morning by presenting the question: “why do some students learn20191002_091200.jpg faster and more effectively than others?” Is it ability, motivation, resilience, hard work or is it the way they are storing their learning? He represented the research using a grid that questions: Am I aware of it (the learning)? and Do I really know it? Students who don’t know and are not aware are just ‘clueless’. Students who know the answer but not how they know it are working from ‘gut feeling’. Students that are aware and are confident with their answers sometimes leads to ‘blind spots'(over familiarity). We need students to fall into the final box = Deep Knowledge. Testing the confidence leading to ‘blind spots’, rocking the boat of familiarity and moving the learning into deep knowledge.

So how do we do this? The answers lie in the memory and what works…

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Teaching and Learning Reflections 2018-2019

It is that time of year when you start to look back and reflect upon what has worked well (and what hasn’t gone quite to plan). We all start the year with lots of new ideas, plans and reignited enthusiasm for teaching…unfortunately I am lucky if I see new ideas through until Christmas! With this in mind, I have learnt over the years that having a select few gems to focus my attention on throughout the year, often means I see them through more successfully. This year’s new focus was the HW booklets (see Homework – who is it really ‘work’ for?.) I am so pleased to report that they have been a huge success:

  • Only two students, out of about 70 students that I taught this year, lost them.
  • Students got into a routine quickly of completing the different sections, mostly on time.
  • The standard of work in a lot of cases was outstanding because students could maintain consistency of work throughout.
  • Students now have a record of extended activities, wider reading and exam practice all in one place.
  • It was easy for me to remember where we were up to with HW, I didn’t have to worry about setting it and constantly reminding them.
  • The designed activities were relevant and purposeful for development of understanding – rather than a last minute thought of ‘just finish off …’.
  • Above all else…they were so EASY to mark! The students were doing more work than me (which is very unusual when it comes to marking and work load), I could write feedback relevant to the task and all of the feedback is in one place.

I have to admit that I wasn’t as regimented as I had hoped and struggled to keep to the every Friday was HW set and collect but the booklets did mean that if I had five minutes here or there during lessons, I could grab a couple of booklets and mark them.Students comments on the HW booklets included: Continue reading “Teaching and Learning Reflections 2018-2019”

Revision Must-Do: Blank Sheet Summary

Last week when attending a conference fea38478898-stock-vector-light-bulb-character-in-moment-of-insight-turing a talk on short and long term memory, I had a lightbulb moment. I realised that the revision I am doing with my students focuses upon developing impressive revision resources such as posters, cards and notes with coveralls and motivating my students to read and memorise the material but then I started to ask ‘how do students actually check that this information is being registered in their memories?’

So for the past few lessons I have trialled a very simple way to test memory recall – the blank sheet summary. After stude59707158_2378210682460170_830716807567376384_nnts completed a ppt or coverall sheet, I gave them 5 minutes to read through, highlight, make notes (whatever it is that students do when revising) and then on a blank sheet of A4 paper they had 5 minutes to write everything they could remember from that topic – no structure necessary just a summary of brain on paper. Once finished, the students then shared with a partner what they had remembered and added in any missing information in a different colour.60258585_2378210719126833_1699873284671143936_n

The students found it extremely useful as a method to consolidate what they could and could not remember. The A4 sheets were filled with information within minutes, demonstrating short term memory was on point. In two days we will do the same test again to see if the information revised is embedded in longer term memory…

This strategy is by no means ground breaking but sometimes the simplest changes can have the biggest impact. An extra ten minutes per topic to consolidate learning and enhance memory recall might make all the difference in the exam. Fingers crossed!

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If you would like your own copy of the Consolidation Packs for first and second years, just click on the image below to add it to your shopping cart.

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Update (October 2019): The Consolidation Packs and Lessons are off to a flying start:

GROW and Staff Wellbeing

For the past five years I have led a small team of teachers dedicated to supporting and developing staff in all areas of their professional needs, including teaching and learning. This year, as a team of 5, it was time to revamp our image and really makeGROW an impact. Over the years we have evolved away from the lesson observations and subsequent negative image of  ‘coaching’ towards the GROW model (Goal, Reality, Options and Will.) So what does this include…

We provide support for:

  • NQT’s and RQT’s which involves one to one meetings, observations and pedagogical support.
  • Mentoring for new staff coming to college
  • All staff towards meeting PDR targets or CPD needs

We develop and enhance staff practice through:

  • CPD sessions: these are half an hour lunch time sessions split over the year, that staff can sign up for, based on developmental and professional needs. So far we have run sessions on Managing Workload and Differentiated tasks for Stretch and Challenge (see When ‘Stretch’ becomes too ‘Challenging’ for ppt, tasks and discussion pointers). We have also organised an external speaker to come in to talk about Autism and help staff in developing strategies to enhance an inclusive classroom (see Autism Awareness: How aware are you? for the highlights of the session).
  • Open Doors: my college no longer has graded observations or department audits (three days of door watching and writing excessively long lesson plans) to an Open Door system run by the GROW team. Each member of the team is allocated a quota of staff to contact to arrange a ‘drop in’ where they come for 10-15 minutes and complete a Praise Postcard of all the positive practice seen during that time. This is to focus on disseminating good/ best practice rather than focusing on passing judgements.
  • FB private group: We have set up FB group (Busy Brains Community) where staff can share articles, new ideas, issues, local events and pictures of what is going on in college.

We promote staff wellbeing through organising:

  • Staff events in college such as Pilates and Yoga classes, a Mindfulness workshop, a Christmas ‘Mince Pie and Mingle’, ‘Feel good Friday’ and charity fundraisers such as the Macmillan coffee morning (lots of excuses to eat homemade cake!).
  • Social events outside of college including a ‘Welcome Back’ meal in September and Mecca Bingo (because everyone loves Bingo…)
  • Local discounts for our staff including a massage package and restaurant savings.
  • Celebrate our Staff section on the GROW staffroom notice board, where staff highlight amazing achievements gained outside of college.

Finally at the start of this school year I took it upon myself (with the help of our Estates team of course) to redecorate the ‘spare’ room into a Grow and Staff Wellbeing space.

Before (the renovation was in full flow here):

After:

I would love to hear what your school/ college does as far as Teaching and Learning, Staff Wellbeing and Professional Development… so please do get in touch!

When ‘Stretch’ becomes too ‘Challenging’

As part of my role within the GROW Team (a team of teachers who support staff with their professional development) we facilitate in-house themed CPD sessions. My session focused upon developing differentiated strategies to promote stretch and challenge. My aim was to discuss a variety of strategies that could be used with different students/ subjects, which meant that stretching all students in a lesson was less challenging on the teacher.

I started the session with a mix and match worksheet where staff had to link the key words to the online definitions:

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This opened up a lot of initial discussions over the terms and their meanings. What I found surprising when researching for this session, was that most of the definitions on a general Google search for Stretch and Challenge, focused upon the students stretching and challenging themselves not the teacher. This flipped how I saw stretch and challenge in my mind: it is not the teacher driving it but the students recognising what they want to achieve, taking ownership over their success by stretching themselves.

I then moved on to a short ppt which highlighted three main problems with differentiated tasks for stretch and challenge with possible solutions:

After discussing each one, what we would like to try/ have already tried etc. we finished  with a plan of action sheet – basically a check list of what are you going to do:

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