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How to engage students in lessons.
Dream team

As a History teacher, or any other subject teacher for that matter, how many times have you thought how you can “jazz” up a topic? There are some topics that just generate teacher and student enthusiasm and some that even an experienced History teacher thinks are dull. So here are a few tips of bringing that “lust for learning” into the classroom.  They are all tried and tested and guaranteed to motivate and enthuse. Why not give them a go?

Tarsia Puzzles

These puzzles are brilliant for motivating and engaging pupils. This is because the students are competing against time and each other. They are really good for independent learning but students do often find it much easier to work in pairs. Students are given a series of questions and answers on a topic and they need to match them up by either using prior knowledge (revision exercise) or by using textbooks, information sheets or the internet. This doesn’t sound too hard I hear you say! However, the activity is to test the higher order thinking skills as the questions and answers need to be placed into a hexagon shape and this requires a lot of logical thinking.

The puzzles are extremely easy for teachers to make. You simply download the programme from the Tarsia website, input your questions and answers and the programme does the rest for you. This is an excellent resource for differentiation – you can use less questions, resulting in a smaller hexagon or even change the shape of the puzzle completely. My students of all abilities love this challenge.

tarsia

 

 

Topic competition 

This is another lesson that is based around competition and students do become a little frantic during the lesson, so be prepared for some noise. This is probably not the best lesson to try when another class nearby are sitting an assessment.

Students need to be placed into groups of three or four. Each group is given their own set of coloured cards but those cards are kept on a desk in the front of the classroom. One student from each group comes to the desk, collects their first card and returns to their group. The card contains a question. Again, this could be used as a revision exercise or the introduction to a new topic. Together the group find the answer to the question and write it down. The answer is brought to the desk by the second person in the group. The answer is checked, if correct the second card is given, if incorrect the student returns to the group and they try again. The first group that completes all the questions correctly are the winners. This is where the noise comes in as the students are frantically running backwards and forwards in the room. However, there is always a “buzz” in the room and it is a fun and different way of learning. This activity also lends itself to differentiation as you can have mixed ability groups, ability groups, a MAT group with more challenging questions. The possibilities are endless. The only downside to this activity (apart from the noise) is the preparation of the cards beforehand. However, as with all resources, once you have made them you can use them over and over again.

 

Motivating students into writing extended answers.

Once upon a time this generally just applied to those students who took History at GCSE. This is no longer the case as with the new curriculum changes there is a greater emphasis on extended writing for everyone as well as spelling, punctuation and grammar. So as a teacher how can you possibly make this task engaging? My exam board love questions that allow students to explain a series of events. For example, Why was Hitler able to gain complete power in governing Germany in the years 1933 – 1934?

This lesson needs to be completed as a series of lessons. Around the classroom I place a lot of topic information that the students need to cover in their answer. Then begins the information hunt. Students are given the opportunity to work alone or in pairs. They circulate the room and complete a headed table by collecting as much information as possible about each topic. Information can be differentiated.

Many of our students have no idea of how to revise for exams, so this is the next part of the lesson.  They are all issued with six small postcards. The idea is to use the information that they have collected to design revision cards. For each topic, the information should be bullet pointed, short and snappy and contain key words and dates. Students are only allowed to use one side of the card for their notes forcing them to choose the information that is the most important.

The following task is the extended writing task. For this, students need large sheets of sugar paper, coloured pens and to work in partners. In pairs, they write the first paragraph to the question – this is their introduction. After five minutes, every pair swaps their paper – this is much easier if you go clockwise around the room.  The new pair of students reads through the work, they correct any factual and SPAG mistakes, then they use their revision cards and information table to write the next paragraph. They will need slightly longer for this so I usually give seven minutes to each paragraph after this. This then continues around the class until the whole answer is completed.

The final part of this activity is for students to produce their own individual answers. All class answers are displayed around the room. Students need to pick and choose which paragraphs they believe will produce the best answer. This is another form of differentiation as it allows lower ability students to see how to write a higher grade answer. They can then use this model to answer similar questions in the future.

Engagement for boys – but not just for boys!

This was originally set as a homework task to encourage students to complete research and explain their reasons for their choices. It became the most popular piece of homework that I have ever given. Enthusiasm went through the roof. I had students stopping me on the yard, coming to my room at break and e-mailing me to tell me their ideas. I have to say that there were a lot of parents involved in this task as well.  The task was simple. Students were asked to create a historical football dream team. They could choose any one from history but every person they chose had to be given a position on the team and this needed to include an explanation of why that person should play in that position – what qualities did they have? Students were given the option of e-mailing their homework to me or simply just writing it down. I was absolutely inundated with ideas. The results were all read and I used my tutor group at the time to help create the final “Dream Team”. This was then developed into a display in the classroom and it always generates a lot of interest.

Dream team

As a teacher, I have to say that developing lessons that create so much enthusiasm gives me great pleasure. Despite the planning and the noise, I get great satisfaction when students leave the room with a smile on their face and say how much they enjoyed History today. However, what gives me the most satisfaction is when they tell me as they are about to leave in Year 11 “Miss, do you remember when we ……..?”

Lead Learners
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I’m the G&T Co-ordinator at a sixth form college and am exploring different strategies to improve provision for our most able students within a classroom setting. I’m working with a wonderful group of teachers to develop new approaches and revisit old ones. After a lunchtime discussion with colleagues, I set up a lesson this week where students acted as teachers and was taken aback at just how successful it was. I selected 4 of the most able students in each AS class – although I also selected a couple who, on paper, are not quite so high achieving, but who have real enthusiasm for the topic we’re doing – and gave them the task with resources and ideas attached. I told them they’d be teaching up to 4 of their classmates and also told them they’d be scored (by their classmates) on how well they explained, answered questions and how much progress was made in the lesson.

 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect, particularly as I’d given the students the instructions on a Friday to be delivered on the following Monday morning. I had also chosen a student who is very able (target grade A) but who makes little effort to concentrate and work in class. I was particularly interested to see how she would tackle the task after she commented “oh great – so I get extra homework?” when I explained what I wanted her to do.

 

Several emailed me resources to be printed off for the lesson over the weekend and I was really impressed with the understanding the resources showed and the effort they had employed in the task. One asked for scissors and glue (that always makes my heart skip as a Geography teacher!) and two more asked for mini whiteboards and pens. I was feeling very optimistic and excited about the lesson and I wasn’t disappointed. Each group started by assessing their level of confidence in the topic on a scale of 1 to 5 (they revisited the scale at the end of the lesson) and then spent the next 40 minutes being taught by their peers.

 

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I was amazed at the quality of explanation and questioning that ensued. For 40 minutes the classroom buzzed with discussion, demonstrations, quizzes, sketching, card ordering and, most impressively, sustained student engagement with the task. I had organised mixed ability groups for each Lead Learner and made sure personalities were balanced as well. One outcome which I had hoped for (and which did actually happen) was that the quieter, less confident students would ask their Lead Learner as many questions as they wanted. What happened was that if they weren’t satisfied with the answer, they asked the question again and again until they understood. This would never have happened in a whole-class setting.

 

The Lead Learners clearly enjoyed the experience and so did the rest of the class. The written feedback the students gave showed significant progress made in the lesson and they all voted to repeat the exercise again with a different topic. After the 40 minute group work, I gave the class a hinge question test with some deliberately misleading options. Each group continued with the same level of discussion and engagement and every student got every question right. They’re now writing an essay on the topic for homework.

 

And which was one of the most lively and productive groups in the room? The one lead by the student who didn’t want extra homework! She blushed when I praised her for the effort she had made and reluctantly admitted that she had enjoyed the experience.

Reflecting on exams – how can I improve?
March 22, 2015
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Addressing the common misconceptions.Addressing the common misconceptions.

Usually the best ideas are born out of necessity, having over 100 students sitting either an A level or GCSE exam in the coming weeks marking was becoming the only task I had time for. Whilst marking numerous pieces of work I realised I was writing the same thing over and over and… over. Surely there must be a more efficent/streamlined way of doing this that still remained personal to the student?

I created a marking grid based on the mark scheme and marked a couple of tests to pilot whether I had included everything necessary. I copied and pasted the blank grid as many times as there were students in the class. The grid took between 15 – 20 minutes to create but streamlined the process massively as I marked each test, this was then printed off and attached to the exam paper of each student. As I went through I created a tally of common mistakes on a piece of paper of WWW (What went wells) and EBIs (even better ifs) that were common for the majority, I then used this to create a reflection poster for us to go through as a class as opposed to just talking through the main errors. It was a combination of addressing the common misconceptions and being given the opportunity to react to the feedback they had been given – a colleague introduced me to the concept of “show me growth” which is incorporated here.

After showing they had purposely reacted to the feedback students were given the time to reflect – why had they lost marks and crucially what are their next steps in order to be successful for their forthcoming exams (post it and footstep boxes respectively)?

I feel there are many advantages to these posters -

  • 1) It has streamlined my marking process immeasurably
  • 2) It requires active participation from the students
  • 3) It is taken away and can be used as a revision tool
  • 4) I have further developed this by creating “Show me growth” worksheets of AFL questions that share similar principles to the ones they had already completed so they can use their feedback and improved answers to enable them to make outstanding progress on future tasks.

There are some drawbacks, however, they are fairly time consuming to make initially, they are class specific – I have two year 10 classes but their targets are very different due to the make up of the class and it also needs to be differentiated by ability (I made a higher and foundation sheet for one of the classes). Overall though I’ve had some very positive feedback from the students and colleagues who have utilised this resource.

Personalised to each student and filled in as each test was marked.

Personalised to each student and filled in as each test was marked.

Addressing the common misconceptions.

Addressing the common misconceptions.

 

Completed by the student.

Completed by the student.

 

Arts learning resources from The Fruitmarket Gallery
Installation view Possibilities of the Object at The Fruitmarket GalleryInstallation view Possibilities of the Object at The Fruitmarket Gallery

The Fruitmarket Gallery is an art gallery funded by the taxpayer displaying exhibitions of work that are not for sale. The Gallery brings the work of some of the world’s most important contemporary artists to Scotland. We recognise that art can change lives and we offer an intimate encounter with art for free. The Gallery welcomes all audiences and makes it easy for everyone to engage with art. Gallery facilities include a bookshop and café. The Gallery is physically accessible and family-friendly.

As part of our learning programme, we produce free resources to help teachers, families and community groups to get the most out of each exhibition. Links to our resources are below.

The Learning Through Exhibitions series helps schools and community groups to explore exhibitions before, during and after a visit to The Fruitmarket Gallery. They can also be used for arts activities at any time alongside our other resources documenting the exhibition. Developed with artists and teachers, the series suggests ways to think with and through art and be inspired to make it. Creative Challenges are open-ended and adaptable to any age group. Covering artists including Louise Bourgeois, Gabriel Orozco, Jim Lambie and our current group exhibition of modern and contemporary Brazilian art Possibilities of the Object, resources cover curriculum areas including Expressive Arts, Literacy, Social Studies, Religious and Moral Education, Health and Wellbeing and Languages. Activities include dance, storytelling, poetry, drawing, sculpture, installation, music, film and photography.

Little Artists are activity sheets for families and primary school groups to explore and respond to the exhibition together. Activities include colour poems, storyboards and designing a display of sculpture.

Possibilities of the Object:

Stan Douglas:

Jim Lambie:

Tania Kovats

 Louise Bourgeois

 Gabriel Orozco

“I am very impressed by the learning resources available which accompany the exhibitions. They are comprehensive and motivating as well as being relevant to the curriculum.” Kathryn Malcolm, Teacher of Art and Design, Inverkeithing High School

Learning by Mistake
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Learning by Mistake

Over the last few months I’ve become enthused by Carol Dweck’s work on the concept of a growth mindset. As a result of this I decided that it was time to make much better use of students’ learning mistakes in my classroom. Typically most students tend to not want to dwell on mistakes they’ve made, as they don’t want to be reminded of what they and others perceive as failure.

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My Best Learning Mistake

My year 8 Geography classes had been working on an assessment about Cheddar Gorge and today was the day they were going to find out how they’d got on. I always allocate a whole lesson dedicated purely to feedback and reflection when I return an assessment but today I added a new activity to our usual repertoire. I asked students to identify their best learning mistake – the one that they’d learnt the most from. This is actually quite an abstract concept, the class I first trialled this with found it tricky. I had another year 8 class after break so did some tinkering and provided a framework to help them structure their answer. I could almost hear both classes’ brains stretching as they completed this activity.

 

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Mistake Marsh
The second activity I created evolved after reading about the concept of a learning pit. I wanted to develop a variation on this theme and add a geographical flavour. Marshes are notoriously difficult to cross, so to is climbing to the summit of a towering mountain – a good analogy I felt for a learning journey. I returned assessments to year 9 and we did our usual review and reflection but added the ‘mistake marsh’ to our menu of activities. This was the final step in our evaluation process. Students were asked to note three mistakes that they’d made in the boxes on the marsh – these represented mistakes they’d made on their learning journey. They then had to decide which mistake was the most important one and write it in the box at the base of ‘Mistake Mountain.’ Once again there was lots of silence and cranking of brains. My hope is that by identifying crucial mistakes they will not make them again.

 

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I know that these strategies are not ‘perfect’ yet and that students will need more practise; I plan to revisit and refine as well as devising new activities to get the most out of mistakes. There always has to be a starting point and being afraid to make a mistake shouldn’t be a reason not to have a go!

I feel a bit like that about this first post – it’s the first blog post I’ve written for years and I know that I’ve made lots of mistakes but one thing I know for sure is that I’ll get better :)

Spaced Revision | Improving Revision with Effective Techniques.
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As we start to approach the exam session again, many students (and teachers) will be entering their favourite purveyor of stationary goods to arm themselves with all thhighlight-in-bookse tools that one could need to prepare for an exam: cue cards, revision books and, of course, highlighters. I have seen many students think that revisiting their notes armed with a handful of multicoloured highlighters is an effective way to get ready for the big day — well at least there is something visible to show for their efforts.

In this post, I will suggest a new evidenced based revision strategy called ‘Spaced Learning’. I provide some resources that I use in class at the bottom of the post to get you started too.

A recent study (Dunlosky, 2013) considered the relative benefits of a variety of revision and learning strategies and reflected on the impact they have on both learning and retention. Some of the findings should not come as a surprise to you (highlighting and rereading are not effective) but there is probably more to be gained by focusing on the top performing techniques that both teachers and students should be using.

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Elements that seem to be key to improving retention are techniques that encourage the learner to think about what they are reviewing and distributing their efforts over time. The full article is quite a read at over 50 pages but it is possible to drop into it and review each of the ten techniques individually or just read the discussion of the article.

The Spaced Revision Technique

From this the idea of ‘Spaced Revision’ has evolved – an evidence based revision strategy that empowers students to use the techniques that work best for them within a set of scaffolding to support them. It has four stages that repeat over the course of a set period of time. This could be a revision period, over the course of a module, or ongoing over the course of the year.

Each spaced learning topic spans two days with two stages on the first day and the second two on the following day. A variety of different techniques are used for each topic you are reviewing (interleaved practice).

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Stage 1: Review a topic – for the first 20 minutes utilise any technique you are comfortable with to review the topic. This could be highlighting, making notes, creating flashcards or using post-its. Often, you might stop after this and think ‘my revision is done!’. But no, this is just the start of an effective learning technique.

Stage 2: Transformation task – this is building on the elaborative learning tasks discussed above. Here you need to transform the notes or highlighting that you have from Stage 1 into something different. This could be a mindmap, a drawing, a song, a poem. By doing this you will have to be thinking ‘how’ am I going to show this content in a different form and ‘why’ does each piece belong. It can be fun too.

That is the end of the first session. When you return to your revision in the next day or two (distributed practice) you complete Stages 3 and 4 on the first topic and then start again with Stages 1 and 2 of a new topic.

Stage 3: Practice testing – with a friend, family member or one of the many websites online that have relevant psychology quizzes – test yourself on the area that you have reviewed.

Stage 4: Exam questions – finally, complete an exam question or questions on the area you have reviewed and mark this yourself using a mark scheme or ask your teacher to mark it (practice testing). Importantly, when you are composing your answer use elaborative interrogation and think ‘why am I writing this?’

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The aim of Spaced Learning to to allow students to use techniques that they enjoy and help them revise while giving them a supportive scaffold to keep them going (or get them started).

Give it a go and let me know how you find the technique by tweeting @jamiedavies.

resources1

  • You need to plan your revision well and make sure that you stick to the plan. If you ever miss a session, you need to double up. It is all too easy to fall behind and then just give up with the process. With that in mind make an achievable plan and stick to it – and here is a sheet to help you do that.
  • Most exam boards put past exam papers that are more than 12 months old online 0r you could use sites like Resourcd to find them too.
“Mission Statement Morning”: Organising a whole-school, off-timetable event.
scott

Developing a true sense of community is a crucial yet challenging task for an international school. The wide mix of cultures, nationalities and religions, combined with a relatively swift turnover of students, makes it difficult yet essential to find a unifying set of values and objectives which helps students feel secure and respected.

Here at the International School of Toulouse, we gave serious thought about the best way to produce a school Mission Statement that the whole community – students, staff and parents alike – could formulate and therefore support. We were also keen to integrate this as far as possible with the IB Learner Profile to ensure that this too became an inspiring driver for school development rather than just a document in a handbook.

Our decision was to take the entire school off-timetable for half a day. During this time we engaged in a series of stimulating activities to get everyone thinking about the sort of school we are and want to be. We also used our Live Twitter Image Feed to share photographs of the work as it evolved. The result was a wealth of ideas and an initial mission statement that has given us an exciting sense of focus and direction for the new school year. The structure of the event is easily adaptable for other schools and we would strongly recommend that other schools try it out for themselves.

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We began the day with a short school assembly that outlined the importance of framing a mission statement and provided an overview of the main steps to be taken. The first of these steps involved tutor groups meeting in their form classrooms for forty minutes with a teacher acting as the chairperson. For fifteen minutes, students brainstormed the question “What are the essential features of an excellent school?”. They did this silently as individuals, and then discussed ideas in small groups, before the teacher started listing ideas on the board. We found it particularly useful to encourage older students especially to think in terms of both objectives and methods by phrasing these ideas in the form “A good school aims to [do X] by [doing Y]”. For a further ten minutes, the class was given the challenging of reducing these ideas down to a ‘wish list’ of just nine points. We helped students do this by asking questions like “Are some of these ideas repeated on the board?” (in which case, we wiped one of them off and rephrased the remaining one as needed) and “can some of these ideas be categorised under a bigger heading?”. Finally, each student was given a copy of a “Diamond 9” template on A4 paper and arranged the nine ideas now agreed upon from the most important (at the top) to the least important (at the bottom).

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The second stage of the event, lasting for one hour, involved turning these ideas into an actual mission statement. Students moved to different classrooms, taking their completed sheet of prioritised ideas with them. Rather than form groups, these new classes consisted of students of different ages that had been decided in advance and announced during the morning assembly. At this stage too, the teachers sat to one side of the rooms and a prefect chaired the discussion. In small groups, students started by comparing their diamond 9 diagrams to identify the most popular ideas that were starting to appear across the school. The prefect then asked each group in turn to contribute what appeared to be a popular idea until a list was built up on the board. This process lasted about fifteen minutes, after which the prefect provided each group with some examples of mission statements from other schools and the IBO Learner Profile. This led to a fresh round of discussion as we considered whether these materials anticipated our own ideas, or whether there were fresh ideas in these that we wanted to include. At this stage too, prefects invited ideas about what fresh elements we should add to the IBO Learner Profile, since this is something encouraged by the IBO itself. Finally, in the remaining twenty minutes each group in the room framed their own mission statement on a piece of A3 paper in jumbo pen based on their ideas, and then stuck these up on the outside of their classroom door to share with the rest of the school.

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The final stage of the event, which took place after break time, enabled the whole school to share their ideas and vote on the most popular mission statement that had been produced. For twenty minutes, each group of students was guided around the school by their prefect and teacher to read the different mission statements and decide upon their favourite. At the end of this allocated time, students worked individually to choose their favourite mission statement and stand next to it. Prefects added up the votes for each statement and handed these to the teachers in charge. We then ended, as we started, with a short school assembly in which the prefects shared some of the suggested additions to our own version of the IB Learner Profile (ideas such as ‘hard-working’ and ‘creative’ were particularly popular). The mission statement from the group that gained the most votes was announced and then read out by one of its younger authors. This was also a chance for the school to give a round of applause to the prefects and teachers for their help in co-ordinating the event.

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The end result of this highly structured but stimulating event was that the first draft of our new mission statement has quite rightly been formulated not by senior managers working in committees, but rather by the students themselves. The next phase of the process, which will provide the focal point for the next 12 months of school development, will see the student council working alongside parents and teachers to develop a final draft of the mission statement and consider how it should be expressed in the everyday life of our school community.

Overall, the “Mission Statement Morning” was straightforward to organize, provided a refreshing change to the normal structure of the school day and produced some excellent ideas and insights. I’d strongly recommend other schools to give it a try and to contact us here at the International School of Toulouse (ist@intst.net) if you need any further guidance.

Links

A picture gallery of the Mission Statement Morning at the IST, June 2014

Handout: Instructions for teachers

Wonderful word towers!
German word towersGerman word towers

With a bottom set Year 9 German class, we had watched the film ‘Lola rennt’ (Run Lola, run) and were using the perfect tense to describe what had happened in the film.  We had spent quite a few lessons on this (it felt like an eternity!) and the class seemed to be getting it, slowly.  They had started to adapt the sentences to say other things too  The only problem was, they were getting really sick of it; any mention of the film title and their groans would fill the room!  As I entered the classroom on this occasion, I had some exercises planned, some whiteboard activities, even a cartoon strip, but I must admit that even I was starting to grow weary.  I spied a couple of bags of big ‘Mega Blox’ style building bricks that I had bought very cheap from Wilkinson at Christmas and on the spot I decided to change my plan and an idea started to grow!  I asked them to write on their bricks with dry wipe marker, using one brick per word and see who could create the longest sentence and therefore, the tallest tower.  They had also just learnt how to use connectives, so their towers had the potential to grow to quite a height!  They were mainly working in pairs (it is only a small class) and I dished out a handful of bricks per pair.  Once they got going, they started to get quite competitive and almost forgot that there were creating quite long and complex German sentences in the past tense; something that causes headaches for quite a few pupils!  They were even going around ‘borrowing’ bricks off each other to make their towers taller!

The atmosphere was, although competitive, quite serene; you could almost hear the quite buzzing of busy brain cells.  At the end of the activity, I took photos.  The pupils were so proud of their towers that they asked me to wait until they had run out of bricks!  On this occasion there was no prize.  They were simply happy to have the glory of creating the tallest tower in the class, and in doing so, creating fantastic, complex past tense sentences.

I learnt that you’ve sometimes just got to go with it; take a risk and wait to see what happens.  Also, I learnt that you should keep your eyes peeled for cheap children’s toys; I’ve got quite a collection now!

Original tweet here

German word towers

German word towers

Using hinge questions for formative assessment
Image by flickr.com/photos/75001512@N00Image by flickr.com/photos/75001512@N00

I’m trying to get better at formative assessment. I work in a sixth form college and so pretty much everything I do in the classroom is about exam results. The students that come to our college arrive from a broad range of feeder schools and have a similarly broad range of skills and knowledge. It’s a constant challenge to make sure they are learning the content on the spec at the same time as developing the skills they need to reach their target grades. In the rush to get through the syllabus I find it’s all too easy to forget to check whether students have actually understood what I’m trying to teach them. I’m guilty of assuming that students have understood the content because they’ve scribbled down the 3 things they’ve learnt that lesson on a post-it note in a rushed plenary bolted on at the end. It’s with this in mind that I’ve turned to Dylan Wiliam’s, Embedded Formative Assessment, and started to implement some of his strategies in my teaching.

One of the first techniques I’ve been trying to master is hinge questions. These are diagnostic multiple choice questions used as a mini-plenary at a turning point in a lesson. It’s a pause in proceedings to check understanding before you move on to the next part. I used it last week with year 12 when we studied several theories about the relationship between population and resources: Malthus, Boserup and the Club of Rome. The students did a jigsaw learning activity to get down the main points and answered a set of questions as a group. I then gave them two hinge questions:

The principle behind Malthus’ theory is…

  1. There is a fundamental mismatch between population growth and resources.
  2. Fundamentally, humans have no way to increase food supply so food shortages will lead to population checks.
  3. People cannot control how many children they have.
  4. Food supply increases geometrically and population increases arithmetically.
  5. Positive checks increase birth rate while preventative checks reduce death rate.

Boserup’s theory states that…

  1. Malthus was wrong: there is enough food in the world.
  2. Population pressure doesn’t lead to food shortages.
  3. As population reaches carrying capacity, societies are forced to make agricultural changes to ensure there is enough food.
  4. Population checks are preventable through the use of technology, as seen in the Green Revolution.
  5. Optimum population can be reached through the inventive use of technology.

Each student wrote and held up their answers on a mini whiteboard for me to see. At a glance I could see whether they’d understood the two main theories or not. One class had, the other hadn’t. Satisfied, I moved the first class onto the second part of the lesson where they completed an evaluation of the two theories, culminating in an exam question. The second class had far more students who got both answers wrong so I explained the answer to each hinge question (and why the 4 other options were wrong) and then set a different task. They mind-mapped the theories using a different text and a set of key words I’d prepared and then answered some different questions as a plenary.

I’ve also used hinge questions as an end-of-unit test for A2 Geography and have also got students to write them themselves as part of team quizzes and revision activities. The trick is to make all 4 (or 5) answers sound plausible. This forces students to look (and think) beyond the obvious and become more precise and subtle in their writing. Hinge questions are hard to write and hard to answer if you’ve done it right but that’s the point.

There are some clever ways in which you can use a Quick Key app on your phone to do diagnostic tests using hinge questions as well. Simon Renshaw discusses this technique in his blog http://srenshaw.wordpress.com/ extensively. I haven’t ventured that far yet, but it’s something I plan to.

Hinge questions are a simple but very effective method of formative assessment which any teacher can use. I’m currently writing them about oxbow lakes and meanders: the true realm of a Geography teacher.

The Earth is Flat and Kissing Makes You Pregnant
November 29, 2014
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Flat Earth

When Hamlet says that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” he isn’t too wide of the mark. We can think ourselves into all sorts of nonsense if we work hard enough. There are still Flat Earthers, people who think global warming is a myth, and that JFK was killed by the CIA (well, actually the jury may be out on that one…). Some people in my profession – teachers and parents – see the internet as a similarly polarising issue.  On the one hand we have the advocates who argue that the internet has democratised access to knowledge and information and has fundamentally revolutionised the role of the teacher. On the other hand we have the opponents who see the internet as an unregulated hotbed of disinformation that undermines the pivotal role of the teacher as guardian of learning. Just to be clear, and in a spirit of full disclosure, I fall into the first of these two positions, and I would like to say why.

Good schools (and good teachers) are in the futures business.

Schools do not produce stuff for the here and now. Our job is to help build the future, one learner at the time. What we do now should be as relevant as we can make it, but the gauge of what is relevant must be defined by what learners will need for the future, not what they used to need in the past.

Good schools (and good teachers) genuinely put learners first.

Today’s young people live in a world that is saturated with technology – and it is developing at an ever-increasing rate. We all have a duty to make sure that today’s learners grow up as adept, skilful, discriminating and ethical in their use of the tools available to us. That means each and every teacher has that self-same duty. It cannot be outsourced to Tech Support. It isn’t somebody else’s job. Simply put, if you do not help young people to develop their use of technology for learning in your classroom then you are not putting their needs ahead of your own. Likewise schools that do not find ways to invest in technology cannot be said to be genuinely meeting the needs of learners in the 21st century.

Good schools (and good teachers) are excited, entrepreneurial learners.

There is not a teacher preparation system in the world that has prepared teachers for the world in which we now live. Back in 1987 when I qualified as a teacher, nobody knew what was coming. Only the occasional wild-eyed futurist could have foreseen the revolution that Web 2.0 would bring. But now it is here and we need to deal with it. The way in which we do this says a lot about our preparedness to be part of the revolution. If we take the path of suspicion, mistrust and denial, deluding ourselves that we are “holding on to traditional best practice” (sic), then our profession has a problem. We each need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset committed to taking personal responsibility for our own learning. We need to embrace our professional duty to be problem-solvers and inquirers. People who wait around to be “upskilled” will not only miss the boat but they will undermine the learning needs of each and every student they share time with

Good schools (and good teachers) identify and hold on to fundamental principles.

In a world where change is a constant it has never been more important to identify and hold on to the fundamental principles upon which we believe schools are based: schools put student learning first; effective teaching is a thoughtful, planned activity; intellectual rigour isn’t a passing fad; and skills and values trump content every single time (but it is a fallacy to think it is one or the other).

Finally, good schools (and good teachers) practice what they preach.

If we want our young people to grow up as creative, knowledgeable, skilful, ethical, technologically adept inquirers then we have to have those self-same expectations of ourselves and each other. And that is a big ask. In education we face probably one of the biggest challenges any profession has ever faced: reinvention.

If you are reading this as a teacher or an administrator in schools, which side of the divide do you fall on? And before you start to prevaricate, there really are only two sides: you can’t be a little bit pregnant. Then again, you can’t get pregnant by kissing either, but is doesn’t stop some people thinking you can, or that the earth is flat, or that global warming is a myth, or that JFK was killed by…