My day typically begins at 7am, I like to be in school early to be prepared for the day. I find this time is usually the best to beat the photocopying rush and gives me the opportunity to reflect on what I’m teaching for the day ahead. I don’t write ‘lesson plans’ but I have a notebook with a brief outline of my intentions for the knowledge I want students to gain. It’s then time to support colleagues by checking in for the day and ensuring they are prepared.
- Meet and greet
I am a firm believer that the beginning of a lesson is crucial in setting the standards and building relationships with students. It gives you the opportunity to gauge each student’s emotional state before they enter the room, as well as welcoming them into the lesson. This is my territory and I expect students to meet the high standards that I set every lesson. I greet students every lesson, giving a warm welcome and checking their uniform, whilst at the same time providing a presence on the corridor to ensure a smooth transition between lessons and support for other teachers in the department. This has led to a calm and purposeful beginning to lessons with fewer incidences of off-task behaviour. A study was conducted by Allday and Pakurar in 2007 to measure the effects of teacher greetings on students’ on-task behaviour. The study involved teachers greeting students at the door with their name and a brief positive interaction. The results of the study found that teacher greetings increased on-task behaviour during the first 10 minutes of the lesson.
The first ten minutes of the lesson for me is crucial and is dedicated to time for students to reflect on their learning from previous lessons, or for me to assess their understanding of the core concepts and processes we will be exploring in the lesson. I want to know their starting point and any prior knowledge they already have, or misconceptions. This is where retrieval practice is a powerful teaching tool to support knowledge recall, which I blogged about with some of the strategies I use here. I insist that the retrieval of knowledge is done independently and silently. I have explicitly explained to students the reasons why this part of the lesson is important and the power of retrieval in building their schema. I firmly believe we must share the science of learning with students so that they appreciate how these strategies will support them in achieving or exceeding their potential. As a department, we have asked students about the beginning of the lesson and this has been received positively as expressed by one of our year 10 students, ‘I believe that having a quiz at the start of a lesson allows me to recap knowledge. They allow me to challenge my memory from past lessons and boost my overall knowledge of key information and facts. Without these short quizzes, I don’t think I would remember as many facts.’ The research around knowledge retrieval provides strong evidence to support the effectiveness of this strategy in enhancing learning. When students are asked to engage in the process of retrieval it produces direct effects on learning because every time, we retrieve knowledge, that knowledge is altered, and the ability to reconstruct that knowledge again in the future is enhanced. The study by (Roediger and Karpicke 2006) illustrated by the graph below, produced results to support the use of retrieval. Where the participants merely repeatedly studied items, it produced no effect on retention, compared to the other participants who used repeated retrieval. In the study conducted, the repeated retrieval produced a 150% improvement in long term retention. This is further supported by Barek Rosenhine’s Principles of Instruction, where the use of daily review to improve fluency in knowledge recall was used by the most effective teachers.
- Knowledge Input
After spending some time on recapping, the next step is to share the learning intentions with students. I certainly don’t get them to write these down, this is white noise and a waste of time. I usually start with something like the following,
“Do you remember the last lesson when we…?”
“Well, today we are going to build on that knowledge to…”
“By gaining an understanding of… we will be able to…”
I want students to be immersed in their learning journey and know how the different threads of their curriculum tapestry are weaved together. With that in mind, I don’t differentiate learning objectives, every student, every lesson is aiming towards the same outstanding outcome. Too often, teachers are encouraged to differentiate learning objectives, with learning ladders on opening PPT slides paraded as good practice. Geoff Petty defines differentiation as follows: ‘the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning’. I believe if teachers set the high challenge and allow students to enter the ‘struggle zone’, then with appropriate support, we see students thrive. This was excellently explained by Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison in Make Every Lesson Count.
It’s now time to provide the input, the knowledge that I want students to know. For many years, educationalists advocated that teachers became facilitators of learning, which meant less teacher talk and more discovery learning. All too often this led to knowledge gaps developing and misconceptions. Fast forward to today in G007, I spend more time talking and explicitly explaining concepts and processes. I have an ‘explanation spot’, which is my whiteboard and I use this space to present new knowledge. I present this new knowledge in small chunks, expecting all students to actively listen with all eyes on me and no distractions. I blogged before about my belief on the four cogs to expert explanation, which summarised here:
Cog 1 – Passion
It occurred to me a few years ago, when watching Hans Rosling deliver his presentations on our ever-evolving world, there was something about his delivery that left me waiting on his every word, his passion for the subject. He would suddenly change the pitch and speed of his voice, emphasising certain words, as he would build the anticipation of the explanation before revealing the answer. This delivery kept me captivated and wanting to know more, which I believe is important when instilling rich knowledge to students. In the classroom, this comes through our ability as teachers to tell stories and use concrete examples to allow students to relate to difficult concepts and processes.
Cog 2 – Precision
When we are delivering an expert explanation to our students, we need to know the mechanics of our subject, we need to be the experts. Therefore, the delivery of knowledge to the students in front of us should be done with precision, reducing the extraneous load by removing unnecessary information and ‘sticking to the point’.
Cog 3 – Rehearse
I believe it is important that we plan and craft out the delivery of our explanation. After all, if we can deliver an explanation with passion and precision, we have a greater chance of captivating our students. I remember a few years ago sitting through a workshop with Chris Moyse @ChrisMoyse and he said something that has remained with me ever since, ‘do the same thing, but better’. I often use a blank piece of paper when planning my explanation and use CPD time with the department to practise the delivery of our explanations, especially with concepts that students struggle to understand. The more we rehearse our explanations the more captivating they will be.
Cog 4 – Delivery
This for me is the most fundamental cog in expert explanation, the delivery, which is why rehearsing is crucial. The research on our working memory is important to consider when delivering an explanation because even with a passionate and precision pitch, we can quickly cause cognitive overload. This is where Barak Rosenshine’s Principle of Instructions is key to smooth delivery. Rosenshine’s study outlines the importance of delivering explanations step by step, each one building on the next, ‘the most successful teachers did not overwhelm their students by presenting too much new material at one time, and they taught in such a way that each point was mastered before the next point was introduced.’ Therefore, our explanations should be chapters of knowledge that are presented overtime to ensure that students are guided through difficult concepts and processes.
After explaining new concepts and processes, I model what excellence looks like and ask lots of questions to check for understanding before students begin to independently practice. I often use the I, we, you modelling approach to support this practice to ensure students are ready to embark on applying the knowledge acquired. This element of a lesson is important and as outlined in Rosenshine’s paper, without this guided practice, students will struggle when asked to independently apply the knowledge discussed.
‘Teachers who spent more time in guided practice and had higher success rates also had students who were more engaged during individual work at their desks. This finding suggests that, when teachers provided sufficient instruction during guided practice, the students were better prepared for independent practice, but when the guided practice was too short, the students were not prepared for the seatwork and made more errors during independent practice.’
Once students are independently practising, I will expect this to be done silently to ensure they are focused. I will then circulate the room the provide further guidance by asking and answering questions and giving live feedback.
To finish the lesson, I will reflect on the knowledge we have covered and encourage students to share their answers to the application tasks. It’s then about joining the dots and reinforcing where the thread of knowledge fits in their curriculum tapestry.
The final part is an orderly dismissal from my classroom once students are standing behind their desks in silence.