Typicality in G007

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Reflection

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.

Retrieval

  1. 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.

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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.

 

 

  1. Practice

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.

The art of retrieval

I’m now in my 11th year of teaching and I regularly reflect on my ‘pedagogy toolkit’ during the early stages of my career where it was all about discovery-based learning. I remember on several occasions being observed as a ‘facilitator’ in the room, with students working together to understand the processes that occurred at the different tectonic plate margins. You know what’s coming next, it was judged to be an outstanding lesson! For a few years, this approach to teaching and learning would continue and I was often confused when I’d set up this whiz-bang lesson, judged as outstanding, weeks later it was as if the lesson hadn’t taken place. I had provided the means for them to acquire knowledge, but they hadn’t retained the knowledge or even understood it, therefore they hadn’t learnt it.

The workaround cognitive load theory explains the reasons why teachers were struggling to understand why students were often forgetting what they had been taught the previous week:

‘Learning is defined as an alteration in long-term memory. If nothing has been altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.’ – Pass & Sweller (2014), Cognitive Load Theory.

Fast forward to today, my ‘pedagogy toolkit’ is very different from research-based evidence significantly influencing the way I approach lessons. Retrieval practice is one strategy that has transformed my approach to teaching. In the past, teaching was all about giving students knowledge in the hope that it would ‘stick’. The research on the forgetting curve, indicates the limitations of this approach, with the findings highlighting that if knowledge isn’t revisited, it can be completely lost from memory within a week. The art of retrieving previous knowledge regularly supports long term retention, aiding easier recall:

‘The critical mechanism for promoting retention of information is the successful retrieval of that information.’ – Andrew C Butler & Henry L Roediger (2008), Memory & Recognition.

The studies conducted by Karpicke and Roediger on studying and retrieving knowledge, which you can read here –  Karpicke & Roediger Study, demonstrated the power of retrieval in promoting meaningful learning.

Over the past few years, I have embedded retrieval practice in my teaching, and sharing the importance of this with my students, so that they understand the benefit and reduce their anxiety around ‘knowing stuff’. So, what does retrieval practice look like in my classroom? Here are four strategies that I have embedded, which are having a positive impact on improving student learning and long-term retention.

 

  1. Low-stake quizzing

At the start of the lesson, students are provided with six low-stake questions where they are actively recalling information from memory, without any aid from previous notes. The questions are spaced based on knowledge over time. I provide instant feedback following the short quiz and use the evidence to inform my planning in the coming weeks, or explicitly re-teach a concept or process at that point before moving on.

I asked several students their thoughts of retrieving knowledge from memory using this type of quiz.

‘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.’ – Emily, a Year 10 student.

‘In my opinion, having an opportunity to recall knowledge leads you to memorise and understand subjects/ topics a lot more because you are constantly recapping your knowledge. For example, at the beginning of year 7 I got confused by the different processes of erosion. I can now remember what they are and what they mean. I believe that they are very effective.’ Eva, a Year 9 student.

 

  1. Memory dump

This is an opportunity for students to recall knowledge about a concept or process using a blank sheet of A4 paper. For example, giving students 5 minutes to recall the physical and human causes of river flooding. This is again done from memory without any notes. Once the time is up, instant feedback is provided through a peer discussion around what they have managed to recall. Then using a knowledge organiser, they can identify the gaps in knowledge, and this becomes a focus for their homework during that week, or again if there is a concept or process that needs explicitly re-teaching, I do this before moving on.

 

  1. Memory draw

There are numerous studies that provide evidence for the benefits of drawing to aid learning. I regularly get students to recall a previously studied concept or process by drawing it from memory. For example, when looking at the processes of erosion, students draw the process before writing their understanding of it.

 

  1. Image recall

The use of images in Geography is a powerful strategy in supporting knowledge recall and retention, which can be done in several ways to support learning. For example, using images of river and coastal landforms to recall the sequence of formation from memory. Providing students with the diagram and asking them to annotate the diagram to recall the sequence.

Coaching teachers: FOCUS on getting ‘granular’

How many times as a teacher have you received feedback like the following?

“You need to have more clarity in how you explain ideas to students.”

“You need to work on improving your presence in the classroom.”

“You need to question students more.”

Do you remember how frustrating it was to receive such feedback after you thought the lesson had gone well, leaving you wondering: what does ‘more clarity’ actually mean when explaining? What does ‘having more presence’ look like in the classroom? Why do I need to question students more? How do I question students more? This type of feedback can leave you feeling disheartened and not ‘good enough’ by not providing specific support in what to do next.

All too often the feedback and advice given to teachers lack precise meaning that cannot be actioned, leading to limited improvement in teacher practice and ultimately student outcomes. In a recent poll, I asked the value of observations to the Twitter community. The view was clear: observations in many schools are providing limited support towards improving teachers’ professional development.

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This is where instructional coaching has provided evidence for school leaders to move away from traditional observations and use coaching to contribute to improving teacher’s professional development. In 2018, Sam Sim went as far as saying instructional coaching is currently the best-evidenced form of CPD. Sim defines instructional coaching as follows:

‘Instructional coaching involves an expert teacher working with a novice in an individualised, classroom-based, observation-feedback-practice cycle.’

One of the examples of several pieces of evidence that supports his claim is a randomised controlled trial from the My Teaching Partner (MTP) intervention, which demonstrated improved secondary school results in the state of Virginia by an effect size of 0.22, where students were taught by teachers who had made the greatest amount of progress from their coaching sessions. This was further supported by a replicated experiment in 2015 where similar positive results were recorded. Sim goes on to provide further evidence of research that supports the positive effect of using coaching to support teacher professional development and the impact this has on student outcomes. The article can be read here – https://samsims.education/research/.

In Get Better Faster, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo outlines a 6-step instructional coaching model (shown below) that focuses on getting ‘granular’ by breaking down the feedback teachers receive into one clear highest leverage action step. Just like a football coach might focus on practising one technique, like short passes, in this model the teaching coach focuses on working with that teacher on one skill at a time. For example, it might be that the coach identifies the overall aim for the teacher observed is to develop the culture of learning in their classroom. Firstly, the coach would break this down into smaller bite-sized action steps so that the teacher can master one skill at a time. In order to master this skill, the coach would provide time for the teacher to practise this skill before delivering it to students in a lesson. After all, teaching is a performance and like any West End actor, practice is crucial. At this stage, the coach may use video of the teacher to help support development. The Centre for Education Policy Research at Harvard University provides a fantastic video observation toolkit to support its use in schools. The toolkit can be found here – Video Observation Toolkit. The coach would then follow up on the implementation of the bite-sized action step with the teacher. In this scenario, the coach may spend several weeks or a half term with the teacher supporting them in mastering each skill that ultimately aims to improve the culture of learning in the classroom.

 

Whilst the evidence for instructional coaching is positive, the implementation of it by school leaders is crucial to ensure it helps teachers to grow. This is outlined by Lucy Steiner and Julie Kowal from the Centre for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. For an instructional coaching program to be effective, school leaders need to play an active role in selecting trained coaches, developing a targeted coaching strategy, and evaluating whether coaches are having the desired impact on teaching and learning.”

 

Consequently, there needs to be a clear vision for a school’s instructional coaching program, with skilful coaches who work with individual teachers over a period of time, and their impact on teacher professional development monitored. When this is done successfully, it removes the lack of clarity in feedback given to teachers and provides greater collaboration amongst colleagues that ultimately will bring out improvements in teacher practice and student outcomes.

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The Mechanics of Expert Explanation

During my early teaching career, the PowerPoint presentation was a security blanket for delivering lessons. It got to a point that if I didn’t have a PowerPoint presentation ready, then I hadn’t planned my lesson and therefore I wouldn’t be able to deliver the intended outcome. Silly right? Fast forward to the here and now as I write this blog, I would say to every new and established teacher, PowerPoint presentations can become an unnecessary distraction that can remove a cog from the mechanics of your intended expert explanation. When I think back to my geography lessons, I don’t picture an expertly executed presentation, I picture quite the opposite, that of Mr Byrne sharing his expert knowledge of the world with passion and precision. This to me is the first cog in the mechanics of expert explanation, that all teachers possess, passion for their subject.

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

The dreaded MOT test, an annual uncertainty as to whether we have successfully ensured our vehicle is roadworthy. We want to know the answer to the ultimate question, has it passed? If not, we expect that the mechanic will be able to diagnose the problem and sort it, using their expertise. 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

n the early stages of my career lesson planning involved lengthy 2-3 pages of a step by step script of what would happen in the lesson. I remember the more experienced teachers looking in bemusement, referring to the more orthodox phrase of ‘fag packet planning’. It was of no surprise after several years that I realised a 2-3-page lesson plan was not a productive use of my time and the outcomes I was expecting from students ended up being very much the opposite. I’m not saying that teachers shouldn’t be planning lessons, instead 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 seen as chapters of knowledge that should be presented over time to ensure that students are guided through difficult concepts and processes.

What if we told students NOT to revise?

Picture this scenario up and down the country in many classrooms with Year 11 students at this time of the academic year:

Teacher – “Okay Year 11, who’s started revising for their exam?”

Student A – “Not yet, I’m starting mine in a few weeks.”

Student B – “I don’t know how to revise.”

Student C – “I don’t need to revise.”

It’s that time of year again when teachers are encouraging their Year 11 to revise for their examinations in the summer. Students are being given advice from various avenues on how to revise, how to create revision timetables, and the importance of being prepared, but what if we told students NOT to revise?

The word revision in relation to study is defined as, ‘study of work you have done, in order to prepare for an exam’. For many years, the word revision tends to be linked to preparation for exams and is a strategy that seems to be more likely promoted by schools in the run-up to the end of GCSEs and A-levels. Let’s take a pause here.

For learning to take place we know that there needs to be a change in long term memory.

This change in long term memory requires us to make deliberate efforts to move information from our short-term memory into our long-term memory through storage. There are a variety of techniques we can use to organise information based on meaning and store that information into long-term memory for later retrieval, including:

  • Repetition – the act of practising recalling information. This can be achieved through low-stake quizzes by creating flashcards.

  • Elaboration – the process of connecting new information with prior information and looking for relationships between information. We can elaborate by thinking of examples of concepts, practising explaining a concept to someone, or creating a summary based on notes.

  • Organising Schemas – our brains find it easier to remember information if we can make associations and connections between ideas. By doing this, we can create a structure of knowledge of information, making it easier for us to remember facts.

I believe secondary schools should create a culture where students are encouraged to review their learning each week from the beginning of Year 7. For the past few years, our department has focused on encouraging students to continually condense and reflect on their learning to commit knowledge to long term memory, therefore, we no longer do revision lessons or ask students to ’revise’.

Every week students are:

1) Condensing their learning through ’geog your memory’, creating flashcards and low-stake quizzes, providing opportunities for repetition and elaboration.

2) Reflecting on their learning through retrieval quizzes at the start of a lesson, writing a summary at the end of a lesson using the Cornell notes layout and Seneca learning.

7 year curriculum design

The importance of a school’s curriculum is now at the forefront of education reform following Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, highlighting the outcomes from recent research into curriculum in schools. She argues that, “accumulated wealth of human knowledge, and what we choose to pass on to the next generation through teaching in our schools (the curriculum), must be at the heart of education”.

The research into curriculum provision indicated unique curriculum designs, with the schools involved falling under one of three categories: knowledge-led, knowledge-engaged, and a skills-led approach.

In the knowledge-led curriculums, the report highlights the following evidence, “The leaders saw the curriculum as the mastery of a body of subject-specific knowledge defined by the school. Skills were generally considered to be the outcome of the curriculum, not its purpose.”

In the knowledge-engaged approach the report indicated the following, “These schools were less reliant on curriculum theory than knowledge-led schools. However, knowledge was not absent; it remained a focus, albeit to varying degrees. For these leaders, the curriculum was about how they could ensure that pupils can achieve both knowledge and skills.”

Finally, in the third approach, the skills-led curriculum, the research demonstrated, “In these schools, the curriculum was designed around skills, learning behaviours and ‘general knowledge’. Leaders placed an emphasis on developing the skills pupils would need for future learning, often referring to resilience, a growth mind-set and perseverance.”

Across all 3 curriculum approaches, the report indicated there were strengths and weaknesses in the different designs but that in both the knowledge-led and knowledge-engaged approaches the importance of the subject and its associated key vocabulary were stressed to students. This points towards the importance of seeing knowledge and skills as intrinsically linked, i.e. you demonstrate your knowledge through the skills you have mastered.

For curriculum design to be effective it should have the following aims:

1) Provide students with a rich breadth of knowledge that enables them to deepen their understanding of the subject;

2) Create a curriculum that interleaves between overarching concepts and processes that underpin the subject allowing for deliberate retrieval and spaced practice;

3) Make students explicitly aware of the inter-weaving skills that will enable them to demonstrate knowledge.

In considering our curriculum last year, this led to the creation of a 7 year curriculum plan with the main vision being to remove the three buckets of the Key Stages and look at our curriculum holistically. There are 7 key themes that underpin the curriculum: explanation writing, discursive writing, players, synoptic moments, geographical skills, statistical skills, and geographical enquiry. There has been an emphasis on promoting the importance of these skills, not just in geography, but also as part of the students wider curriculum through cross-curricular links with other subjects like English, Maths and Science.

In doing this, our department time has been focused on an element of geography, for example coastal landscapes, and looking at how we could provide a rich breadth of knowledge that deepens student understanding as they move through the school years. Below is the beginning of this webbed approach to a SOW that covers how we intend to explicitly link knowledge and skills for coastal landscapes across the 7 years. The overarching key processes that students need to understand is erosion, weathering and mass movement. These are at the top and linked to the other aspects of coasts that require understanding of these processes, enabling teachers to focus on pedagogy, so that students deliberately practice these processes until they are embedded.

Meaningful, manageable and motivational homework

For many years I have trialled many different approaches to homework to create meaningful opportunities outside of the classroom. In many cases, it involved students completing an unfinished task, or applying their knowledge to exam-style questions. It soon became a cycle of chasing students for incomplete homework and an unmanageable workload for marking, and more importantly, providing feedback. Something had to change! This change was a shift in the focus of our homework to students condensing and reflecting on the learning from the week. In my recent Twitter poll, this seems to be how others are approaching homework too, so here is the reasons how and why we have made homework meaningful, manageable and motivational.

The move towards our focus of condense and reflection puts the ownership on students. As a department, we have devoted CPD time to using our homework to embed Roseshine’s Principles of Instruction and shared the importance of retrieval and spaced practice on improving students’ long term memory. This involved sharing the research with students and spending time showing them how to condense and reflect, modelling excellence.

So, how does it look on a weekly basis? At Key Stage 3, all students work on condensing and reflecting through ‘Geog your memory’ sheets, originally created by @jennnnnx, and creating flash cards on a fortnightly cycle.

At Key Stage 4, students create revision clocks that enable them to deliberately practice retrieval practice on a weekly basis.

At Key Stage 5, students work on creating knowledge sketches that allow them to consider the synoptic elements of geography.

Across all three Key Stages, students are immersed in the process of knowledge recall and creating memorable notes that they can use for retrieval. For teachers, the role is to check them for factual accuracy and completion during the week. This has significantly reduced our workload and put the ownership on students.

Feedback: Holding The Grade

In my very first blog I talked about a new assessment approach we have introduced in our department – CRAFT (Condense, Reflect, Assess, Feedback and Target-driven improvement). There have been several debates on Twitter in recent weeks about giving students marks or grades when providing feedback. In our department, we provide no marks or grades for any feedback in note books, interim-formative assessments (IFAs) or summative diagnostic assessments (SDAs). Instead, students are provided with positive and specific targets that focus on closing their knowledge gap. After all, the aim of feedback is to provide students with insight that helps to improve their performance.

Feedback

When students first received their IFAs and SDAs they inevitably wanted to know how many marks they had achieved out of 40 and what grade this equated to. You could see their disappointment/ frustration when I told them that the focus was on ‘what they had done well’ and ‘how could their work be improved’. However, by embedding the strategy of ‘holding the grade’ and providing positive and specific targets, students have responded well and are taking ownership of making more meaningful improvements. In the past, when providing students with a mark or grade, this ends up being the focal point and the actual suggestions for improvement end up being white noise.

We have focused on four key principles to provide effective feedback to students:

1) Affirming what they did well

2) Correcting and directing

3) Pointing out the process

4) Coaching students to independently make improvements.

Assessment Feedback

After each of our IFAs and SDAs, students are provided with DIRT time (Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time) to allow them to make bespoke improvements that will help to close the knowledge gap. In a recent article from SecEd on effective feedback practices, John Dabell outlines the importance of giving students time: ‘if we don’t give students the time to reflect on their feedback then they can’t respond effectively and constructively and implement our suggestions’. Our IFAs are out of 20 marks and SDAs are out of 40 marks, therefore in the following lesson we give students 30 minutes for IFAs and 50 minutes for SDAs to reflect and make improvements. As John Dabell explains, students can’t close the knowledge gap if we don’t give them the time and space to breathe. In these DIRT learning episodes, students are conducting focused editing using the specific targets set by the teacher, therefore we insist on silence. To reduce the amount of written feedback teachers are giving students following these assessments, we have used checklists with specific improvement tasks aligned to the questions set. This new way of assessing students is still in its infancy, but we are seeing improvements in student outcomes (teachers are internally recording marks out of 20 and 40), with students requiring less time to work on their focused editing.

Live feedback

In lessons, we have been using several strategies to provide live feedback to students. One of these strategies has been the use of ‘pink pen feedback’ where all staff are armed with a pink pen as they monitor the learning. Then at appropriate times using post-it notes, questioning and wristbands to ‘correct and direct’ any misconceptions. This has resulted in a reduction in our marking, with all marking of class note books completed in lessons, whilst IFAs and SDAs are marked outside of lessons.

Ultimately, feedback should be more work for students than teachers and ensure it provides opportunities to feed forward learning.

Modelling – writing like a geographer

In my recent blog on differentiation, I spoke about modelling as a key strategy for guiding and supporting students to reach the ‘brilliant outcome’. In Roseshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’, evidence-based research has demonstrated that when teachers provide students with models and worked examples, it has effectively supported them in solving problems faster. So, why would teachers not model excellence?

In our department, we have used CPD time to ensure all teachers have a clear understanding of what excellence looks like in geography – a key component to establish – before modelling can be embedded into our everyday teaching practice. This has led to a writing structure known as PDL: Point, Develop, Link, which allows all students to apply their understanding to exam-style questions to maximise their marks:

  • Make a point – for example: One-way global inequality can be reduced is through remittances.
  • Develop the point – for example: This is when migrants send money back to family living in their country of origin.
  • Link your point back to the question – for example: This reduces global inequality because the family members can use this money to pay for key living essentials.

We have this structure resonating throughout the learning materials we provide, as well as on the desks:

Write like a geographer

Alongside teachers knowing what excellence looks like, the use of modelling in the classroom requires teachers firstly to establish a conducive learning environment thereby ensuring strategies such as live modelling can be used. Ben Newmark’s ‘10 principles for great explicit teaching’ provides the foundations for setting up a learning environment that allows modelling strategies to flourish. One of the strategies Newmark talks about is the need for teachers to teach students to listen; you need all 24 (sometimes less, sometimes more!) pairs of eyes focused on your every move as you demonstrate excellence. This is now my second academic year as Head of Department at my new school, and we have trained students to ‘actively listen’ by having nothing in their hands when we are talking. Initially, this took time to embed and required endless persistence and patience. However, now I can see the benefits, with fewer students saying, “Sir, what do we need to do?” at the end of the demonstration. In a recent lesson with Year 7, the department used visualisers to demonstrate how to draw river cross-section profiles – an inherently difficult skill for GCSE students. Through the insistence for listening during the demonstration, students set about plotting their own profiles with greater success.

The effectiveness of modelling as outlined by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby in ‘Make Every Lesson Count’ requires the use of strong questioning, timely feedback and understanding of what excellence looks like to enable students to develop independence:

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In many of our lessons we have developed the following modelling strategies to guide students towards independence:

  • Live modelling using the classroom whiteboard with students coming up to the board to indicate where the Point, Develop and Link sentences are within the answer, as well as finishing off sentences where the Point and Develop sentences are already done;
  • Completed answers (Blue Peter style) with students highlighting where the PDL sentences are and then using this model to support the writing of their own answer;
  • A poor example for students to spot the mistakes and make the necessary improvements to make it the ‘perfect answer’;
  • A gallery of excellence in each classroom to show what excellence looks like for the different style of exam questions;
  • ‘Capturing excellence’ during the lesson by spotting student answers and displaying them on the visualiser to showcase to the rest of the class.

Differentiation

Over the past few months I have seen many teachers tweeting about the concept of differentiation and the expectations placed on them to demonstrate they are differentiating for their students. One comment has stuck with me: “A HAP book should look different to that of a MAP or LAP book”. This whole idea concerns me when we have moved to non-tiered, undifferentiated GCSEs for the large proportion of the curriculum, since September 2016.

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’.

So, it is a process by which teachers ‘accommodate’ different types of learners to ensure they can ALL access the learning. Having read the excellent Make Every Lesson Count by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby, I agree that differentiation isn’t about the historical notion of providing students with different worksheets, but about providing suitable challenge, and being responsive to support them in achieving the learning goals. In the past, many low ability students have fallen in to the ‘comfort zone’ where there has been low challenge and a self-fulfilling prophecy of underachievement. I believe if teachers set high challenge and allow students to enter the ‘struggle zone’, then with appropriate support, we see students thrive.

If we take one element of a GCSE specification relating to river landscapes:

How river landscapes contrast between the upper courses, mid courses and lower courses of rivers and why channel shape (width, depth), valley profile, gradient, discharge, velocity and sediment size and shape change along the course of a named UK river.

This key idea from the specification is ‘undifferentiated’; it is essential that ALL students studying geography at GCSE can understand the reasons why river landscapes contrast between their upper, middle and lower courses. It is therefore the role of the teacher to set up the learning for ALL students to reach this outcome but provide scaffolding and be responsive for those students that might require more support to do so. The illustration from Make Every Lesson Count demonstrates this:

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This is how we have approached differentiation in our department. Firstly, we don’t have graded success criteria (using the terms ALL, MOST, SOME; bronze, silver, gold; or any other 3-tiered system of outcomes). Instead we have just one outstanding outcome, using the phrase, ‘an outstanding geographer will be able to…’ to set the bar high and challenge all students right from the outset. This means that our expectations of the students are high, and we inspire all to work towards the highest learning goal.

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To provide appropriate support for students when they are working on the knowledge quiz, we have a structured sheet. Overtime, this scaffolded support is reduced to 4 supported questions, then 3, until the student no longer needs the additional support. This has meant the lower ability students don’t hit the ‘panic zone’ at the start of the lesson.

KQ

 

We then have several strategies that we use, as and when appropriate, depending on the subject content and the students, which includes:

  • Structure strips
  • Modelling
  • Questioning
  • Highlighting
  • Question stems
  • Writing frames

The effective use of these strategies relies on the expertise of the teacher, which has been a departmental focus to ensure all teachers know what excellence looks like in geography.