Sunday, 29 September 2019

Relearning to Teach - Why I've been quiet on this blog for a while

A few years ago, I was approached to write a book for Routledge based on the musings and reflections from this blog.  Nearly two years later, I've finally got it ready to be released.

The book is a look at how in the early stages of my career, I was led to believe that I was a good teacher.  Not because I was, but because I had created an image that I thought I was.  Armed with a wealth of ideas, I would help colleagues and share resources left, right and centre.  However, there was a problem.  Although it was the perception that I was a good teacher, all of the data suggested that I was distinctly average.  All that I seemed to share, didn't really have much impact.

As a result I decided to immerse myself in research and journals to effectively 'reteach' myself how to teach.  Picking off one T&L aspect at a time, I worked out what I was doing wrong, what I potentially should be doing better, and went about trying to refine my craft.  So in 2013 I began blogging about what I'd learnt about principles such as questioning, feedback, planning, cognitive science and differentiation.

Relearning to Teach is a greater exploration of this period in my career.  It picks off one T&L area at a time, debunks the myths, shares the research, offers practical advice, and shares the views of other teachers from around the world who have had similar journeys as myself.  It's aim is to tackle each T&L area in turn, and offer a few principles that you might want to try if you want to get better at it.  It aims to open up your eyes to research and spark your interest in learning about what might work yourself.  All in all it's an open an honest book, with views from numerous teachers, researchers and journals, about how a few tweaks here and there could have a bigger impact in your classroom.  It's a starting point, not the complete article.  As with all things research, some of it may be debunked a few years down the line.  But what it offers is a genuine starting point for any teacher at any stage in their career on how to reflect and make changes to how they teach.

The book is out on Friday 4th October 2019 from Routledge or other good book sellers.  I hope you find it useful!

Buy it here from Routledge, or here from Amazon.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Help - A teacher (and author) in need!

Earlier this year I was asked to write a book about teaching and learning titled 'Relearning to teach'.  Based around my 'Can I be better?' posts, the book talks about how we can make small changes to fundamental areas such as planning, questioning, feedback, differentiation, use of data and so on.  It is a book that aims to help teachers see that they can make small changes to their practice and has a wealth of information, sources, evidence and stories.

There is a problem though.  Over the past 10 years I used the extremely good staff library at my last school.  The library was built up over time and had numerous T&L books in it.  I was awash with a wealth of books, literature, guides and research.  I was lucky in the fact that I rarely had to buy a book because they were on my door stop every day.

I have now moved to a new school and have hit a sticking point.  I need to track down a number of teaching and learning books that I have used over the last few years.  I clearly can't purchase them all in one go so am looking at calling in a few favours.  I am in need of the following books.  Using the powerful network of teachers on social media, I actually need to borrow these books for a few months.  I know this is a big ask and a cheeky one at that, but, I need to go back and revisit some of the things that shaped my thinking and made the chunk of my blog posts over the years.

If you can help, here is the list of books that I am trying to borrow from kind individuals.  If it helps, I am in London on the 15th August and am willing to travel around to collect these.  I can't offer money but I might be able to squeeze a slab of chocolate upon the books return (which I promise I will do!!).  So, if you have the following, and are local to Southampton, in London on the 15th or are just kind enough to post a book to me, I would really appreciate your help.

'Practice Perfect' by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi
INSIDE THE BLACK BOX: Raising Standards Through Classroom (Dylan WIliam)
Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck (Chip and Dan Heath)
'Teach like a Champion' by Doug Lemov (any edition)
What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong? (by David Didau)
'Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential':  Carol S. Dweck
'Bounce' by Matthew Syed
Lean Lesson Planning: A practical approach to doing less and achieving more in the classroom (High Impact Teaching) (Peps Mcrea)
'An ethic of excellence' by Ron Berger
Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn (Hattie and Yates)
'Full On Learning: Involve Me and I'll Understand'.  Zoe Elder
'Visible Learning for Teachers' - John Hattie
'Understanding by Design' -  Mctighe and Wiggins
'Embedded Formative Assessment' - Dylan Wiliam
'Why students don't like school' by Daniel Willingham
'Hidden Lives of Learners' by Graham Nuthall
'How to Teach' by Phil Beadle

Believe it or not, I do have a shelf full of books!  If you have any of these though and can help in anyway, please get in contact via Twitter.  I can be found at @davidfawcett27

Here's hoping!


Friday, 19 February 2016

Can I be that little bit better at......using simple strategies to make content stick?

Courtesy of Coffeeforcollege

I've been quiet on Twitter and my personal blog for a few months.  This has mainly come down to taking on a new job mid way through an academic year.  With all of the new systems, syllabus, schemes of work, policies and specifications to get your head round, picking up new classes (who have already had a previous teacher a few weeks earlier) has to be the most difficult bit.

One of these classes is a Year 11 GCSE PE theory class who will be sitting their final exam in a few months time.  Take out mocks, the Easter holidays, INSET days and study leave, there isn't as much time as I would like to implement strategies to move students grades an enormous amount.  With sections of coursework to finish up before moving onto revision, I needed to develop a programme that could pool together strategies that make that time as effective as possible when it begins.

With the group already studying the course since Year 9, and available data not shedding much light on students gaps in knowledge, it becomes difficult to plan interventions until another test, assessment or mock exam takes place.  Only at that stage can I begin to gauge in a more detailed way what my students do or do not know.

Making every second count

If you're not careful, in this situation you can lose (or even waste) time.  You can become so hooked up on trying to ascertain what students have done, what they have learnt, what areas of technique need work, what their use of language is like, that you actually let time slip away.  Ideally you would have taught the group for longer, had all assessments available, had a chance to chat to every student, see their books and scrutinise them all in an effort to help build up a bigger picture.  Unfortunately, mid term with a few months to go, you might need to build this into the process.

Lessons therefore need to maximise all available time.  They need to help me check understanding, identify weakness and allow them to close the gaps in knowledge.  They need to allow me an opportunity to work on technique and develop language use and structure.  They need to provide opportunities to hammer home the key messages about effective revision and the various methods.  In this short time I therefore need to get that little bit better at using simple strategies to make what I cover in the next few months actually stick.

Retrieval practice and 'Do now' tasks

Cumulative bell work and 'Do now tasks'

With time so precious, every lesson immediately begins with a cumulative task in the format of 'Bell work' or if you've read TLaC a 'Do now' task.  Students are expected to silently and individually undertake a low stakes retrieval activity which last a maximum of five minutes.  The answers are then reviewed in two minutes with answers displayed on the board for all to check.  The process may look time heavy, but there is an urgent need to identify misconceptions and weaknesses in students' knowledge.  There is also the importance of using retrieval practice to improve memory and learning.  The task itself becomes both diagnostic and a revision process in itself.

Retrieval practice

Every lesson builds in a form of retrieval practice.  The importance of the testing effect and the subsequent improvement of retrieval and storage strength is without question.  The retrieval practice allows students to forcibly retrieve knowledge and promote thinking.  I've written about the benefits of it here.  Now the key here is to use low stakes tests.  With many schools having numerous mocks, exams, end of unit assessments, it's important to demonstrate that testing can actually be beneficial to the students and extremely effective.  With the pressures of these high stakes tests, there is the worry that more of the same only adds to the stress levels of students.  One of the most effective ways that I have implemented low stakes tests is through the use of multiple choice questions.

Well designed multiple choice questions

Every other lesson, students complete a 10 question cumulative multiple choice paper.  They do this individually so that I can use the results to identify areas of weakness.  There has been a change of opinion recently over the effectiveness of multiple choice questions.  The work of Robert Bjork and colleagues has highlighted that well designed multiple choice questions not only provides a good diagnostic tool, but actually helps improve memory and retrieval.  The key though is to ensure that the potential options for the answers are rigorous, plausible and in close proximity to the correct one.  Making them to easy has low cognitive effect and loses any benefit of the method.  Having too few potential answers can make it a 50/50 guessing game rather than an exploration of what the correct answer might be through the process of elimination (and using what you know to do that).  To take this a step further, including an 'I don't know' option at the end of each one can eliminate those that hazard a guess and get it correct which can lead to misconceptions being un-diagnosed.

Designing high quality multiple choice questions can be extremely difficult but resources such as AQA's Exampro, Pearson's Exam Wizard or other diagnostic questioning tools can help achieve rigor whilst saving teachers time.

Elaboration in multiple choice questions

Elaborative interrogation

Prompting students to ask 'why' questions is beneficial to memory retention.  As this guide from Dunlosky et al (2013) points out, the process of getting students to explain (or ask) why can actually help facilitate learning.  Combined with multiple choice quizzes, in the time allocated, students not only have to select the correct answers, but they are also expected to provide a supporting statement explaining why it is the right answer (or maybe why the others are incorrect).  This subtle change to how students answer these types of quizzes helps students retrieve the correct answer, strengthen its storage in memory, make it more accessible in future and help demonstrate whether they know the topic or not.  It's such a simple tweak that has really benefited the individuals in the class.

Criteria for note taking from J. Fenlon

Closing the gaps through effective notes

Lessons are not just about testing, quizzing or retrieving.  It's important that once a misconception or area of weakness has been identified, we collaboratively work on closing that gap in knowledge.  In lessons we have rolled out a gateway method of how to take notes when making revision resources.  As teachers we demonstrate this to students in the hope that they mirror some of these actions and form them into habits.

In the past I have been very skeptical about how students make notes.  Many simply copy out of books.  Many write texts word for word.  Some bullet point, highlight, short hand, annotate.....the list goes on.  My worry though is that students therefore re-read these notes and mistake this for effective revision.  As we know, whilst re-reading provides familiarity and a false sense that they remember information, it's ability to be retained over time is low and forgetting quickly occurs.  Cramming notes the night before is therefore unhelpful.

We now need to take the view that if students are making notes, they need to be able to do something with them.  Preferably, this something involves using the notes to test or quiz themselves.  We now use the above criteria from John Fenlon to ensure that notes incorporate chunking, thinking and allow them to be easily used for retrieval practice.  Simple ideas such as splitting topics into chunks and then numbering them allows the working memory to not be overloaded.  It also helps us say "What were the 6 points about somatotypes and physique that I need to know".  Numbering allows us to check off points and work out what were, for instance, the three things I didn't remember (before testing myself on them again).  The messages that we try to instill through this method can then be transferred into other revision resources and become effective habits.

Will it work?

The theory behind the execution draws upon sound research.  The signs should be there that this will (in the short term) help until a better grip on what students do or do not know becomes apparent.  As always, the delivery and implementation in lessons can be the stumbling block.  Am I transferring these principles into practice correctly?  Am I using them as intended?  Only a final mock, unit test and final exam can actually say if it did or not.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Can I be that little bit better at.....understanding that how they say it, is as important as what they say?

c/o Wonderlane
Over the years I have been in many colleagues classrooms.  As is part of the observation process, you focus on a number of things, ponder on what you see and generate discussion afterwards.  Everything you do is focused on moving the teacher forward in order to have better outcomes for the students they teach.  Most of the time I am asked in to focus on specific elements of teaching which colleagues wish to improve.  Feedback, planning, ways to differentiate and developing student writing are just a few.  One area in particular, questioning, has made me rethink what I thought I knew.

I wrote a couple of posts last year about the complexities of good questioning and what might actually make this fundamental component of a teachers repertoire effective.  Although I'd never say I am anywhere near an expert of good questioning, I would say I have a pretty good grasp of it in my lessons.  However, a curious thought popped into my head whilst chatting to a member of our focus group a few terms back about what we observe when watching teachers pose questions.  I had been wooed under the illusion that a teacher who can skillfully pose questions that unpick, dissect, delve or expand on an element of knowledge must be a master craftsman.  The well worded question that simultaneously causes a student's head to hurt whilst still providing scope for an answer to be found is a thing to behold.  All hail thee, who when being observed, both stretch and challenge students through well designed questions.  And that there maybe the problem.

A lot of the time, the skill of questioning focuses on developing what or how the teacher poses the question.  We work with teachers to craft better questions.  We look at how we word a well designed question.  We use a variety of techniques to increase student response or even deploy techniques like 'wait time' to ensure an answer can be provided.  But what about the quality of the answer?

Having done a lot of work on our school's feedback policy, we focus a lot on the quality of written work that students produced.  And why wouldn't we?  It's easy to look through a book, read an answer and be able to analyse the quality of it and even suggest improvements.  Here's a question though.  When looking through an exercise book, what would you think if a student provided this written answer to the following question?:

Instantly many of you might be focusing on the overuse of the word 'like', the vagueness of the content, or even the weak example.  When written down it is easy to analyse, correct or challenge.  As a teacher I can mark their books and provide feedback to improve the depth of their answer.  As an observer I can check books and question students to see if this happens over the year.  We spend a lot of our time and focus on what students write that maybe we've forgotten about what they say?  For instance, if the same answer was given verbally, would we scrutinise it so intently and in as much depth?  Or, might it go something like this?

Teacher: So, we've been looking at the various aspects and methods of training, can anyone explain, using an example, what altitude training is?

Teacher: [Deploys wait time and uses a no hands up technique for selecting]

Teacher: Josh, what do you think?

Josh: Well, it's sort of like, when a runner like goes running up high, you know, like a mountain, to get their body systems and their blood cells better.

Teacher: Nearly Josh. You've got the basic idea.  What Josh is saying is an athlete might train.....

Or how about this?:

Teacher: So, we've been looking at the various aspects and methods of training, can anyone explain, using an example, what altitude training is?  Emma, what do you think?

Emma: Umm, I'm not sure?

Teacher: Ok, anyone else? Josh?

Josh: Well, it's sort of like, when a runner like goes running up high, you know, like a mountain, to get their body systems and their blood cells better.

Teacher: Sort of.  Can you add to it?

Josh: Umm, well, don't they have to train at altitude for a few weeks or months and then come back to their normal home and compete?

Teacher: Yes Josh. It's to do with the fact they go away at altitude for training and then.....

Both versions might seem either very common or a million miles away from what you do in your classrooms.  The problem with these is that it's the kind of avenue I would take after an answer was given.  I know it's not technically correct, but I focus on the content technicalities rather than the quality of the language used.  The first example results in me producing the better answer for the student myself.  I've ultimately done the improvement for them.  The second results in me trying to develop it but instead I take an answer which is a new question.  Have I therefore tackled the inaccuracies of language use?  Have I made the answer more academic?  No.

So, back to my earlier ramblings, here is that curious thought that popped into my head when chatting to a colleague in a focus group and it all stemmed from him saying:

"If students can't give high quality verbal answers, will they be able to give high quality written ones?"

I'm not sure.  When observing others I know I focus on teacher questions but I'm not sure I've specifically focused on the quality of student answers and that direct link.  Have I missed an important component?  I do know that in my own teaching I don't tackle low quality verbal answers anywhere as near as I do with  low quality written ones.  And that's what needed to change.  In the frantic hustle and bustle of a lesson, do we have the time, the confidence and the environment to challenge answers like this?  Or do we do what I highlighted before and do this for them and correct it ourselves?

So what could we do?

Be aware of it

There can be no simpler piece of advice than simply be aware of it.  Be reflective as you teach and identify times when you pose questions.  What was the quality of the answer?  What exactly did the student say?  What was the language use like?  How was the strength of their communication skills?  Where they able to eloquently explain their thoughts?  Did they use high vocabulary or specific terminology?  These are just some things to be reflective of and clearly not exhaustive.  Once you know when these moments happen and you pay more attention to the response, then you can begin to change the habits of both yourself and your students.

Identify a link?

Are those students who provide poorly constructed verbal answers the same ones who produce poorly worded written ones?  It's something of interest that I'll be looking at.

Create that culture that we will improve it

Changing students written work can be a very private and safe process.  A student makes an error or misconception and you can provide feedback in their books.  If a student doesn't use language of a high standard as you might want, you can make a note of it or write down some suggestions.  In a book these are read by the student without the focus of peers and other observers.

Apply the same process in an open class discussion and all of a sudden pressure, unease and anxiety may overcome a student.  The fear of being openly critiqued on the quality of their spoken answer can be a daunting one for many.  It's therefore important that you build the culture of your group that highlights that this public dissection is not an attack on them but is instead a process to help improve the quality of their communication.  Highlight why you're doing it and the benefits of doing it.  Choose confident individuals to begin using the process.  Build it up using a random selection process for getting answers.  Model the improvement.  Explain why suggested changes will create a better and more academic answer.  Involve the class and make it as supportive, and challenging, as possible.  Ensure that the class realise that with support, the intial answer has been developed into something much better.  Culture takes time to build but once it is there, challenge the quality of answers continuously.

Have the confidence to actually improve it

From a teachers perspective, it can be a daunting task actually developing students answers.  There is the worry that suggestions you pose may be taken as a blow to their self-esteem.  The challenge of trying to improve an answer from a student who displays little interest or effort.  The worry of how peers may react.  The confidence to actually challenge and set high expectations.  It can be daunting but we need to remember that we don't do it to display our power or ridicule.  Instead we do it to help students develop their ability to communicate in a high quality way.

Focus on how they say it, not just what they say

Being subject specialists it is easy to be drawn to the content element of an answer.  Are they talking about the correct definition when we ask them?  Is that a strong enough example to support their thinking?  Have they pulled out a relevant quotation or piece of evidence?  As well as doing that, focus on how they say it, exactly as we would in a written version.  Have they got a powerful opening to their argument?  Have they used quality connectives that pull together parts of a statement?  Do they use an unnecessary amount of redundant words that we can ask them to remove?  Highlight what they have said.  Point out areas of improvement.  Get peer support of alternative words.  Question them about how they should make improvements.

Use questioning techniques

If a student is unaware of how to construct a good verbal answer then they aren't going to produce one repeatedly.  Speaking at a high level requires time, practice, guidance and thought,  Techniques as simple as wait time allow individuals to construct better answers before they share them.  Using ABC questioning allows you to build an answer as a class.  Modelling what a good answer looks like provides examples of excellence.  Snowballing allows students to build up the quality of their answer with a group of peers.  If high quality verbal answers are going to be the norm, then scaffolding the process is going to be required.

Now this post may be making a bigger deal out of student answers than needs to be?  It may actually resonate with a lot of people and be something more common that first thought.  The idea though that settling for poorly constructed answers does bother me in my own practice.  If I want individuals to communicate in an academic way, whether in written or verbal format, I need to ensure that I help them achieve that.

Further reading:
Questioning my questioning
Asking better questions

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Can I be that little bit better at......wrestling with the intervention lesson monster?

As the nights drew in over the winter term, a number of lights came on in classrooms after the school day had finished.  Across the country in numerous secondary schools, teachers began to run Year 11 'intervention' sessions in the build up to final exams.  Many of these included revision lessons, coursework catch up sessions, additional reteach sessions or specific intervention groups.  The vast majority of them are invaluable additions to the schools curriculum and offer opportunities for various students who need that extra support.  In fact some of these are vital in helping a specific few leave school with an education that will set them up for life.  Teachers work tirelessly with individuals and some may say that massive gains are made.  There are however some worries that have begun to crop up.

I'm in a very fortunate position to be able to network and even work with numerous teachers and departments across the country.  One thing that has come up quite often of late is the following scenario.

A teacher plans a very well designed lesson which asks students to learn new content and then add this new knowledge to a piece of coursework/extended writing.  The task is set and students begin to get down to work.  As the teacher moves around the class, she notices that a few of the individuals have completed very little work.  As is expected, the teacher challenges this position and is met by the answer:

"It's OK Miss, I'll do it in catch up class after school on Thursday"

On the face of this there are two main problems.  The first is obvious in the fact that a student is producing minimal work within a lesson.  That can be common within the classroom and can be easily responded to.  The second is the fact that a student is choosing to do minimal work in timetabled lessons, simply to do this work in additional support sessions.  Is this right?  Has the balance of what timetabled lessons are for suddenly shifted?

The point I am therefore pondering (and am yet undecided upon) is whether intervention and catch up sessions have become a problem?  Are the provisions, all with the right intentions, actually causing some students to do less work in class and rely more heavily on time outside the lesson?  Is a culture cropping up that were not aware of?

Are we replacing what helps with other stuff?

Revision sessions and support groups for specific students are an extremely helpful option.  But have other 'catch up' sessions crept into this category?  Are sessions now being put on and teachers time being used to help those who have chosen not to do the work previously in lessons?  And if so, is this rewarding them?

The safety net

Does the fact that schools run sessions after school give students that additional safety net?  Does the presence of them give the message to students that even if you produce minimal work in lessons then there is still time for you to catch up later on?  My biggest worry is that it might.  If students believe that there is an additional opportunity that they can take, then will they choose at times to take their foot off of the gas?

The decision maker

I chatted to a well grounded student today and posed this exact question about additional catch up sessions.  They came up with a number of reasons in a balanced way justifying their place, and even their removal, from school.  One of the biggest things he said was that the presence of them might be giving students who"can't be bothered" a reason to choose not to do any work.  The knowledge that they could catch up at a later date might allow them to pick and choose when they wanted to do anything in actual lesson time.  

The school within a school

With the creation of additional sessions after school, are we inadvertently creating two schools.  With the school day ending does another one begin?

Are the pressures of teaching being passed onto students?

With the increased levels of accountability and pressure for results, do teachers feel that they are required to run these sessions to fulfill target grades?  Is this additional pressure being passed onto students and in turn increasing their stress levels?

The enjoyment of learning

With this in mind, is the expectation and requirement of students to attend these sessions actually removing the love of learning?  Is the memory of staying most nights after school for most of Year 11 a memory that we want students to leave with?

A change in balance

Are additional sessions shifting the responsibility for students grades from the student and onto the teacher?  Does it feel like we have to work harder to get students through their GCSE's?

Teachers workload and stress levels

The additional laying out of these types of sessions will ultimately lead to an increased workload.  With workload itself being a national talking point, are we laying more pressure on teachers to not only teach their timetabled lessons, but to also teach additional lessons outside of curriculum time?

Is it actually counterproductive?

And this is my final thought I'm wrestling with.  Because we want the best for our students, and we want to ensure we have the best results possible for our own professional progress, do we feel that we should be doing these sessions?  Is that part of the problem though?  If they weren't rolled out in schools would students work harder?  And that was a point made by a student.  If they weren't there they'd have to work more in class.  They knew that they would have to knuckle down, learn what was there to be learnt, complete work to the best of their ability and shift the responsibility back to themselves.  Because they weren't on offer, they would have to ensure they used curriculum time really well.  Without the safety net they felt it would push them to work more in class.  So can we be that little bit better at using catch up classes?  Maybe so, and here's a few ideas how.

1. Ensuring catch up sessions aren't just an opportunity to recover what was taught in lessons

Because this may convey the message that if they don't listen first time in class, they can listen to it again in our time after school.

2. Stretch, challenge and enrichment

Instead of catch up classes, can sessions after school actually go beyond the syllabus?  Can we network with local Universities to run master classes to inspire the next graduates?  Can we link with specialist providers in our field to show how our subjects are used in industry?  Can we bring in experts to share their knowledge and push learning beyond its existing level?

3. Setting a criteria for these sessions

There are students who genuinely need this additional support and I don't know any teachers who would want to not provide this.  But do we ensure that those who need it get it rather than those who can't be bothered getting a second chance?  Could an effort grade or indicator be one option.  Students who we know have tried hard, even if they have picked up misconceptions, could be allowed to attend, with those who simply chose to do nothing being asked not to?

4. Removing the need for them?

Could the way we design lessons, curriculum's and schemes be reviewed?  Could we analyse our teaching and learning?  Asking the question why additional sessions are actually needed could lead to some real improvements to the department.  Why do we not have the time to deliver the course in lessons?  Why isn't the content sticking?  Is the delivery of content and the quality of teaching an area best focused on?  What tweaks could we implement now so that we manage workload and expectations?

And so.....

The truth of the matter is I am still undecided.  I probably will be for a very long time.  It feels as though they have become a part of a schools culture and removing them may be too much of a shock to the system.  And why would you remove them if hardworking students are seeking to improve their grades further?  But then again, would removing them and addressing why we might need them solve the problem itself?  Might that be the change in culture that our teachers and students actually need?