Developing a coordinated approach to revision for GCSE Science

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)

Reading time: 9 minutes

Objective: To develop and implement a coordinated faculty approach to exam preparation for GCSE Additional Science and students retaking GCSE Science.

Background:

Our school is a relative small secondary comprehensive school in the south of Bristol, with approximately 150 students per year group. Of these approximately 30 students will take separate GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics exams with the remainder taking GCSE Science and GCSE Additional Science.  Of these, most students will take GCSE Science in year 10, with the opportunity to retake in year 11 if necessary, and GCSE Additional Science in year 11.

In August 2016, we received the GCSE Science results for the 92 students we had entered in year 10. The results were disappointing.  Of these students fewer than 50% had achieved a grade of C or above and fewer than 40% had made expected progress. Although there is evidence nationally that students do less well in year ten, and there is an argument that students are not ready to achieve the grades of which they are capable in year 10, we had not previously found this to be the case. In fact, in previous year’s students had often achieved better grades in year 10 than they had in their GCSE Additional grades in year 11. Clearly there was an issue with the way in which this cohort of students had been prepared for these exams. As a faculty we needed to take a long hard look at ourselves and consider both the reasons for this underachievement and strategies we could implement to ensure that these students not only achieved more positive grades in their Additional Science exams, but also that those retaking achieved higher grades in GCSE Science.

Context:

At the start of term one we met as a faculty and had a frank discussion about the year 10 results and what we felt might be some of the barriers for our students. We also discussed the potential issues with some of our students.  Having done so, the consensus was that the issues for many students in year 11 fell into two broad categories, problems with retaining knowledge and difficulties with exam technique and applying their knowledge in exam conditions. It was clear that we needed a more systematic, faculty-wide approach to addressing these concerns. We strongly felt that we needed to develop a suite of resources which students and teachers could use both in class and at home, which would help to develop these skills. We also felt that it was important to ensure that these were consistently used across the faculty so that all students accessed the support in the same way.

We had many potentially useful revision resources at our disposal already and had been using these for a number of years to support student revision, but most had been used in a fairly ad hoc way. Part of the task would be to collate and format these in a way which would be accessible to students and to make them available in a consistent manner. I was also aware, through my links with other local Heads of Science, that other schools were in the process of developing similar resources. We were happy to share the resources that we were developing and were hopeful that other school would feel the same.

As part of the Action Research process in our school each member of staff was allocated Inset time, which they could use to visit other institutions.  As such, I used this time to visit another local school who I was aware, had successfully implemented a revision programme which had helped to raise the achievement of their pupils in science in the previous year. Having spoken to the member of staff responsible it was clear that they had used a programme of independent revision activities to help support their students’ revision and that this had had a really positive effect. I was keen that we adopt a similar system, but also that we had a consistent approach to in-class revision.

Actions:

As a Faculty, our actions fell in to three categories.

  • Interventions to support students retaking GCSE Science.

We decided as a faculty that it would be necessary to support students retaking GCSE Science or taking it for the first time, by using some of our curriculum time. As such I devised a schedule of intervention lessons for these students which I would run. To support this I wrote a revision booklet for each of their assessed units (Biology, Chemistry and Physics). This booklet consisted of a PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist), with links to the relevant pages in the revision guide, some brief revision notes, a mind map to support their revision and an exam question. Over the course of the year student received twelve one hour long revision sessions, and were set work from the booklets to complete for homework.

  • A consistent approach to supporting students in their revision at home.

As mentioned previously, it had become apparent that many students found it challenging to retain information and to recall and apply this when answering exam questions. We decided that we needed a consistent, faculty wide approach to addressing this. Key to this would be supporting students in their revision at home in a consistent was across the Faculty.

As such we decided that during terms 3 and 4, all students would receive weekly revision homework activities, one for Biology, one for Chemistry and one for Physics. These would be set centrally by me using Show My Homework and checked weekly by class teachers. An example of such an activity is shown below. When these were set, students were also made aware of the pages in the revision guides where they could find the relevant content.

TN - revision hw

Figure 1: Example of a science revision homework task

To help incentivise student take up, we ran a reward system where every time a student completed a revision activity, their class teacher would issue them with a raffle ticket. At the end of the process a draw took place and the winner received a free Prom ticket.

  • A consistent approach to revision in class.

As a Faculty we also felt that it was important to have a co-ordinated and consistent approach to in-class revision. We wanted to ensure that students had had the opportunity to cover all the course content, practice exam questions and to have the security of doing this in a consistent way across the Faculty.  As such, I wrote a programme of five Biology, five Chemistry, and five Physics revision lessons. These were delivered to all year 11 Additional Science students during term 5. These lessons all followed a similar format.

Firstly, students completed a PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist), to remind themselves of the subject content and to highlight the priority areas for revision. An example of this is shown below. Note that the PLC contains revision guide page references to help students access the correct information for their revision at home.

“Use the PLC below to help you to identify the content that you already understand and do not understand in this revision lesson. You will come back to this at the end.  At the end of the lesson the areas still highlighted amber or red need to be your priorities for revision at home.”

TN - PLC

Figure 2: Example of Personalised Learning Checklist used during revision lessons

Having completed the PLC, the class teacher would then use a Power-point presentation, to talk through and summarise the content covered by the PLC. An example slide is shown below.

TN - powerpoint slide

Figure 3: Example of a slide used to summarise learning in a typical revision lesson

The third activity in the lesson would then consist of students using the revision guides and the information they had just been given by their teachers to complete summary, knowledge based questions relating to the subject content. An example of these is shown below.

 Use your revision guide (F- p3-6, H- p3-7), your learning from the teacher’s presentation and your revision guide to help you to answer the questions below.

  1. Label these diagrams of cells: (plant cell/animal cell)
  2. Complete this table to give the function of the following organelles:
Organelle Function
Cell Membrane
Cell Wall
Chloroplast
Mitochondria
Vacuole

Figure 4: Example of a revision activity linked to a revision guide

Finally, students were asked to apply the subject content they had reviewed in the lesson and to answer an exam question.

Each student received a paper booklet for each lesson, which they collected in a folder. At the end of the term they took these home to assist with their final at-home revision.  All resources and activities were shared with students and parents on Show My Homework. Resources were shared between staff in our Faculty on our internal shared network.

Impact:

The table below summarises the overall outcomes in GCSE and Additional Science for the cohort of students involved in this project.

Subject %C+ Nat. % C+ %A/A* Nat. %A/A* Average  grade Target Average grade
Additional Science 57 58 4 9 C- C
Science 54 48 2 4.5 D+ C

Figure 5: table of GCSE results for cohort involved in this project

Pupils had achieved threshold outcomes (C+), which were above or extremely close to national averages. Although the overall average target grades were below the internally school set targets (based on FFTD), they are likely to represent progress which is at average or above national expectations. The percentage of students achieving A/A* was below national expectations, however we only have a small number of students targeted A or A* taking GCSE and GCSE Additional Science as most of these students were taking the Separate Sciences. It is interesting to note that Additional Science results were better than GCSE Science. These results are for almost exactly the same students, all took both GCSE and Additional Science. Although there are clearly many variables in play, not least the year in which the exams were taken for the majority of students, this does suggest that the Additional Science homework and in class revision programme did have some positive impact.

Twelve students, who were retaking GCSE Science in year eleven, out of a total of 45 (27%), achieved an improved grade in year eleven. This suggests that the revision programme for these students had some impact, although it did not lead to an improvement in grades for the majority of students.

Anecdotally, the vast majority of students questioned said that they valued the revision programme and found it useful; many were extremely enthusiastic about it. It was also interesting to note that those students who were most enthusiastic and who bought into the programme most fully, also seemed to achieve the best results. Obviously it is impossible to infer cause and effect here. However, detailed analysis of the results indicated that many of our targeted borderline students (especially on the D to C borderline), who had made their target grade had also engaged fully with the revision programme. It was also noticeable that these students were disproportionally female. Our results were significantly better for girls than boys, especially for middle ability students. It did appear that a gender difference in buy-in to our revision programme might at least partially account for this.

Conclusions:

  • Our revision programme ensured that all students had access to the same high quality revision resources and interventions.
  • This was well received and appreciated by the vast majority of students and parents.
  • There is some evidence that the programme lead to improved outcomes in Additional Science.
  • There is some, limited, evidence that the retake revision programme lead to improved outcomes for those students retaking GCSE Science.
  • Broadly, our revision programme seemed to benefit girls more than boys leading to on average better outcomes for female than male students. This seemed to be the case especially for middle ability students.

Next steps:

  • Update and revise the revision programme for the current year 11, for the new 1-9 GCSE.
  • Investigate the apparent gender difference in impact. How can we adapt the programme so that it is more impactful for male students?

 

Feature image: ‘Chemistry, Erlenmeyer Flask’ by GDJ on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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Nurturing a Growth Mindset with Year 11 Boys

An Action Research post by Kevin Magner

Reading time: 8 minutes

Context

A class of 13 Year 11 boys with a variety of different needs to be prepared for a GCSE exam in Religious Studies – what is the biggest challenge?

At the start of the year I decided that the challenge lay in getting the boys to believe in themselves and that, despite anything that had gone before in their educational experience, they still had the opportunity to reach or exceed their target grades.   For many of the boys  a history of low achievement and a variety of other social and learning needs made it that much harder for them to succeed.  As GCSE exams loomed on the horizon it was time to try and help them to raise their game.

There were two things I hoped to achieve.  First, to help them to do their best in readiness for their exams.  Second, to learn some lessons for life about self-belief and self-confidence.  With these ideas in mind I was inspired by the work of a number of colleagues who had been investigating the application of Growth Mindset thinking to their teaching, and decided to look further into this aspect of education.

Growth Mindset

‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed is a book I would encourage everyone to read.  Taken together with the work of Carol Dweck on ‘Mindset’, they  present an argument for the idea that our potential as learners is not predetermined but open to development given the right environment, resources and above all, a ‘growth mindset’.   That is,  being open to the belief that ‘purposeful effort’ is what brings you success in learning.  As teachers, it is our job to cultivate this attitude in our pupils and provide the learning resources, experiences and environment that allow pupils to discover their potential.  This then would be my focus.

The ‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook’ by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon provided a useful tool for reflecting upon Carol Dweck’s research in a school context and identifying strategies that might be used in the classroom.  Looking at a variety of other resources (see ‘Further resources’ below), including the work of a number schools which have introduced Growth Mindset thinking to staff and pupils, I decided to adopt two approaches to work on with my class.

Firstly,  to focus on ‘targeted effort’ (Hymer and Gershon, pages 43-58).  My intention was to try and shift pupils’ interest away from focusing on the grades or marks they were (or were not) achieving and instead focus attention on the effort they were making in their work.

Secondly, to focus on trying to develop a greater self-confidence in the boys and the belief that, they were the ‘Masters of their fate’ (from ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley) and by believing in themselves they could have the confidence to face the challenges that lay ahead – in their GCSE course and in life – and succeed even in the face of adversity.

Putting the theory into practice

Focusing on the importance of effort and trying to cultivate a greater sense of self-confidence and self-belief were two mutually supportive aims which I sought to put into practice in the classroom.

Targeting effort

Typically, if you mark a piece of work with a grade or score and a comment, pupils will look to the grade, feel a sense of joy or deflation and read no further.  My aim therefore was to shift the focus away from marking and feedback which concentrated on attainment because this, according to the literature can serve to reinforce fixed mindsets, such as,  ‘I did not succeed therefore I am no good at this subject!’.

So, with the exception of end of module assessments/mock exams, I set out to ensure that all of my formative assessments focused on the pupils’ effort rather than their attainment.  To ensure this was meaningful, it still needed to embrace best practice by being specific in identifying where in their work I could recognize and acknowledge effort; and where additional effort would help them to make genuine improvements to their learning when completing DIRT (Directed Improvement and Response Time) work.

yellow sticker

Example of a feedback sticker acknowledging effort

The boys adapted more quickly than I expected to this new approach to marking and quickly stopped asking, ‘What mark did I get?’ or, ‘What grade would I get for this?’.  The greatest challenge for me as a teacher, was in learning to phrase my comments in a way that focused the pupils’ attention on effort, and their ability to improve their work, rather than on comments that were either too vague and general to be of value, or comments which tended to imply an innate ability and therefore fell into the very trap or reinforcing the mindset that,  ‘I have a fixed level of ability which cannot be changed’.

In time, as I developed my vocabulary and ability to articulate my feedback more precisely, the process became more effective.   This applied to both written feedback and to verbal feedback given during the course of lessons.

To reinforce the message that it was their effort that was most worthy of recognition,  I adopted a series of reward stickers to acknowledge a particularly positive or note-worthy effort on the part of each boy.  The stickers were tiny ‘button’ stickers of a child like style  with pictures of footballs and butterflies, trophies and flowers, along with a ‘great effort’ or ‘well done’  type statement.  Initial laughter soon passed and many of the boys became quietly keen to see whether they had earned a new sticker when their books were handed back to them.

Effort stickers

Pupil’s book with effort stickers

We started counting the stickers earned and every time a boy gained five stickers I sent a praise postcard home acknowledging ‘sustained effort’ over a period of time.  This reinforced the message that it was effort that deserved praise and recognition.   For many of the boys this brought them praise and recognition in a way that attainment alone was unlikely to bring and the boys (and parents) were proud of this recognition.  While not admitting openly to liking the effort stickers, it was after one boy asked what would happen to his stickers once he started a new exercise book that I decided to add a count of the stickers already earned to the cover of a new exercise book where new stickers would add to the total earned across the year.  In such small ways self-esteem is boosted.

In going forward, I do believe that it is important for me as a teacher to continue to cultivate and practice the use of a vocabulary with pupils that emphasizes the importance of effort and the virtue of recognizing that, it is only with effort that we can truly improve ourselves as learners.

Building self-confidence

In a groups of boys, many of whom did not have high self-esteem and who had experienced knocks and disappointments when their progress was measured against target grades, I felt it was important to try and build a ‘can-do’ attitude which promoted the virtues of effort, resilience, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, coping with disappointment and believing that everybody can achieve more in life if they make a focused and sustained effort to do so.

I felt it was important to focus this work not exclusively as a rallying cry to, ‘work hard academically so you will pass your exam’ (though this was obviously one motivation for this work), but as an attitude to carry beyond school into all areas of life.

On a practical level I chose to focus on this explicitly in every lesson through our ‘bell-work’ activities (an activity that was waiting for the pupils, ready to engage them from the moment they entered the classroom).

I researched a broad range of motivational or thought-provoking pictures, images, quotations, YouTube clips and posters that were a prompt for a brief discussion and to set the tone at the start of every lesson.

I sought out ideas that I felt would appeal to boys.  Ideas associated with sport, celebrity role models, humour and a variety of activities/pastimes.   As I built a bank of resources for the bell-work activities it became clear that there was a great deal of overlap when focusing on effort, ambition, perseverance and resilience.  I therefore grouped my resources into what became ‘fortnightly themes’ , where we would approach one idea from five different angles, over each timetable cycle.  The effect of this was to reinforce the key message and a pattern emerged where we would begin the fortnight with a film-clip to establish that fortnight’s theme and then develop it in consequent lessons.  This meant investing more time in the first lesson of each fortnightly cycle but I felt that the investment in terms of the cultivation of self-confidence was a worthwhile one.

GM slideMichael Jordan

Example of  bell work slides to prompt discussion 

By the end of the year I developed the resources for 76 lessons which saw us right through to their exams.  By beginning every lesson in the same way the boys became used to the routine and could soon use the vocabulary of, ‘effort, perseverance and resilience’ and explain what it meant.  My hope was that by drip-feeding these messages to them in every lesson, alongside a focus in my feedback and conversations in class on promoting, praising and encouraging the virtue of effort over attainment, that some of the messages would begin to ‘stick’ and influence their approach to work and exam preparation.

Conclusions

In terms of measuring the impact of each initiative it is hard to give a scientific analysis of outcomes.  However, at the end of the course I gave the boys a questionnaire and interviewed them about their experience.

On the whole, at the end of the year a majority of the boys surveyed identified more strongly with statements that suggested a ‘growth-mindset’ attitude.

When asked to recall which messages they could remember from the Bell Work at the start of each lesson they recalled:  “Don’t give up until you succeed”, “Stick at it!”, “Take on the Challenge”, “Persevere!”, “Make the effort”, “If you fail, keep on trying”.

Among the bell work activities that they found most memorable they cited, ‘The Michael Jordan messages not to give up when you experience failure’; and ‘The squirrel one’ (based on a You-tube film of a squirrel successfully overcoming an obstacle course which was accompanied by the story that it had taken the squirrel 6 months to learn to overcome the obstacles that it could eventually tackle in 30 seconds), and the reason –  ‘because it was funny’!

I also asked the boys whether they felt their attitude towards and effort in R.E. had improved across the year and all those asked said, ‘Yes’.  When I probed further to ask which factors had contributed to this improvement they all said that ‘teacher encouragement’ and ‘seeing my work improve during the year’ had been a part of their motivation alongside ‘parental encouragement’ and a desire to ‘get the grades necessary to get onto a course in September’.

Ultimately, the exam results the boys achieved showed a mixed picture of attainment.   Promoting growth-mindset is not a magic bullet and does not turn a ship around in a year!  However, hearing the boys being able to talk about ‘perseverance’, ‘resilience’ and ‘effort’ as the year progressed and seeing a number of them genuinely make their best effort – at least some of the time – in the run up to the exams, encourages me to believe that the effort invested in cultivating a growth-mindset culture in the classroom is worthwhile.

Above all, regardless of exam results, I hope that each of the boys has taken into adult life something of the belief that their potential is not limited and that with perseverance and resilience their efforts to develop their potential in any area of life is both worthwhile and achievable.

Bibliography/Further resources

‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed, published by Fourth Estate (Harper Collins)

‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck, published by Random House Publishing Group

‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook’ by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon, published by Teachers’ Pocketbooks

https://slooowdown.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/summary-of-summarised-by-paul-arnold-trainer-facilitator-paul_arnoldme-com/ – a summary of ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed

http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_Dweck.html – Summary of Carol Dweck’s Theory of Motivation by Geoff Petty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkE1lC4CpIE – A You Tube summary of Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset’

https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve Carol Dweck – TED talks

https://johntomsett.com/2013/10/20/this-much-i-know-about-developing-a-dweck-inspired-growth-mindset-culture/ – John Tomsett, Headteacher Huntington School on introducing a Growth Mindset to his school

https://chrishildrew.wordpress.com/growth-mindset/ – Chris Hildrew, Chew Valley School on introducing Growth Mindset to his school

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElVUqv0v1EE – You Tube film explaining Growth mindset in simple terms for young people

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUWn_TJTrnU – ‘Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset’ -A You Tube animation explaining the implications of different mindsets through the behaviour of two young people

‘Developing a Growth Mndset in your child’, Great Torrington School parents’ page: http://www.gts.devon.sch.uk/learning/mindset.html

http://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2017/02/the-growth-mindset-collection/ – The Growth Mindset Collection – a collection of articles about Growth Mindset compiled by Alex Quigley

Featured image: ‘Bicycling, bicycle, uphill’ by Perlinator on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Creative Commons

 

‘The dog ate my homework!” – strategies to improve the setting and completion of homework

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Nicola Osman (English)

“The dog ate my homework!”  How inventive are your pupils when it comes to giving you a reason why they are not handing in or did not complete their homework?

The story goes that John Steinbeck went for a walk after he had finished writing the draft of his book ‘Of Mice and Men’.  When he returned he found that his dog had indeed chewed the hand-written manuscript to pieces and the story had to be written out again!

The challenge of setting meaningful homework that pupils are going to complete and which, if we are honest as teachers, we have remembered to set and resource on the correct day, according to our homework timetable, is one that many teachers face.  Also, if we can take the sting out of the need to chase and discipline children when it comes to late or uncompleted homework we are doing ourselves a service too.

It was time to revisit our approach to homework.

With these ideas in mind, our English faculty have set about addressing this problem for every teacher in the team and for every pupil, in every class.

The four principles that guided our plan were:

  1. To set a meaningful homework for every pupil, every week
  2. To use our online homework setting resource ‘Show My Homework’, effectively
  3. To ensure that homework had a genuine impact on pupils’ learning
  4. To set work which helps to prepare pupils for the demands of the new GCSE English syllabus

To do this we are adopting a two step strategy.

Step One: Adopt a Faculty Approach to Homework

We have adopted a common programme of homework for all pupils in each year group (Which can then be differentiated as necessary for particular pupils/groups)

Spelling HW

Figure 1: A Year 7 Spelling homework

As Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) have been given a much greater profile in GCSE English it was decided to set homework in a cycle that directly addressed these areas across Years 7-9.  The cycle runs as follows: Week 1 – Spelling, Week 2 – Punctuation, Week 3 – Grammar.   Systematically building up these skills with pupils will lay the foundation for later GCSE study.

Grammar HW

Figure 2: A Year 8 Grammar homework

Punctuation HW

Figure 3: A Year 8 Grammar test used to assess a learning homework (see figure 2)

In Years and 10 and 11, where greater retention of information and memorising of quotations are demanded by the new GCSE syllabus, a two year programme of planned and structured revision made the most sense as the basis for homework across the GCSE course.

Revision HW

Figure 4: A section of a Year 10/11 Revision homework plan

With a clear structure established, all of the homework tasks  for the coming year could be planned and prepared in advance.  This involved a lot of work but by sharing the load across the faculty team and by setting homework in a common format that could be used across all classes, we reduced the scale of the job.  So, guided by our four principles above, each member of the team has prepared a share of the homework materials for the faculty.

By working in this way we also achieved a consistency of format and style in the tasks which meant greater consistency for pupils.  This work demanded an investment of time and energy, which was taken from lessons gained after exam classes had left in the summer term but the benefit for us all is that next year’s homework has been fully planned and resourced across the faculty and this will save planning time next year.

Step Two: Streamline Communication

Having planned a year’s homework in advance, ensuring that the pupils get and complete the homework becomes the next priority and a clear ‘no excuses’ communication system is the key.  No more,  ‘I didn’t get the homework!, or more embarrassingly, ‘I forget to set the homework!’.

One teacher in the Faculty now takes responsibility for setting all of the homework for the Faculty for a term.

All of the homework for a term can be set in advance and scheduled using the Show My Homework system.  You can either make all the homework available to pupils in advance for the weeks ahead or it can be scheduled to be automatically released to pupils on a weekly basis.  Show My Homework also allows you to attach the resource sheet electronically so there is no need to photocopy multiple sheets which could then get ‘lost’.  Show My Homework also ensures that parents as well as pupils know what homework has been set and when it is due in.

This is backed up by our second line of communication, the English faculty homework board.  The board in the corridor of the English faculty is a ‘one-stop-shop’, where the teacher responsible for setting homework in a particular term, posts the five homework tasks, one per week for each year group.  Pupils can then physically check their homework in school and are encouraged to take a picture of it on their phones if that is helpful to them.  With the same location and routine for ‘publishing’ each homework pupils have no excuse for not being able to check their own homework.

HW noticeboard

Figure 5: The English faculty homework board

With many of the tasks being  self and peer-assessed, initially through tests or checks in class, this allows each teacher to focus their marking time towards the piece(s) of work that is of the highest priority for more detailed assessment.

Non-completion becomes apparent through poor test scores and by setting a pass mark and consequent re-test for those who have not made the effort, the incentive to ‘get it right first time’ is established.

Some final thoughts…

  • The scheme requires an investment of time and effort at the beginning but once established should save teacher time
  • All teachers  have an equal responsibility to contribute thus ensuring fairness within the team
  • Communication of homework and expectations regarding homework are simplified for teachers, pupils and parents
  • This scheme highlights the importance of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar to pupils

Going forward…

  • We intend to extend the options for differentiation within the tasks

So, come the start of the new school year the dog may need to find something else to chew on!

Featured image: ‘Learn, school, help’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Mini-interventions

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Richard Noibi (Mathematics)

Reading time: 2 minutes

When we speak of interventions in education, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy, we typically think of large scale initiatives.  Schemes that might run across a whole school.  Interventions that have been meticulously planned with supporting documentation, layers of responsibility and financial accountability.  These are important but for many  pupils, it can often be the small-scale interventions teachers make, that can have the greatest impact in overcoming a barrier to learning in a particular lesson.

One example I use is the ‘mini-intervention’.  This is a way of supporting a pupil who has missed a lesson or not understood a key step in their learning.

Here’s how it works in my maths lessons.

Step 1

At the start of each lesson I give my class a bell-work/starter activity to get their mathematical brains warmed up.  This might reinforce the learning from recent lessons, give them a chance to demonstrate their mastery of an aspects of maths, or get them engaged with a new area of study.

Starter

Figure 1. An example of a starter activity

Step 2

While the majority of the class are working on the starter I will sit down with a pupil who was absent for the last lesson and go over the work we have covered in a 1:1 ‘mini- intervention’ and using a block of post-it notes to provide a brief explanation and  summary of the key learning points they have missed.

Fig 1

Figure 2. An example of some ‘mini-intervention’ post-it notes on trigonometric ratios given while the rest of the class work on their starter problem

Step 3

The pupil now has a greater chance of succeeding with the lesson ahead.  They can still seek support but they have enough information to make a start on the work set for them and often this is enough to let them catch up with the rest of the class.

Fig 2

Figure 3. Work on  multi-step trigonometric ratio problems completed by the pupil who received a ‘mini-intervention’ in figure 2. who has caught up with the rest of the class

By providing a pupil with a  post-it intervention they have a reference point to help them tackle the work, rather than having to repeatedly seek help once the main part of the lesson has started.  This helps them to be more independent in catching up with the rest of the class and allows me to focus my attention on the needs of other pupils in the class.

Fig 3

Figure 4. An example of a ‘mini-intervention’ post-it on the transformation of functions

Fig 4

Figure 5. The work completed independently by the pupil in figure 4 following their min-intervention

Why not try some mini-interventions yourself?

Featured image: ‘post its/ideas’ by B-G on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Take-Away Revision

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘I’m looking forward to revising for my exams!’, said no student ever.

Revision is a fact of life for students preparing for exams and for many it may seem like an insurmountable obstacle.  Building revision time into your scheme of work, teaching students effective and efficient revision strategies and lots and lots of exam practice will all help but the fact remains – revision is about hard work.

Once students have faced the fact that revision is a necessity if they wish to achieve their best results, then offering them support, encouragement and resources is the teacher’s next job.

One of the ways in which you can do this is to provide them with a ‘Take-Away Revision Bag’.

Goody bag 2

In the bags go…

  • ‘What is the examiner looking for from each question?’ guides
  • ‘How to answer different types of exam questions’ guides
  • Revision booklets
  • Past papers
  • Worksheets
  • Factsheets
  • Pen and Pencil
  • A highlighter
  • Blank revision cards
  • Post-its
  • Sweets
  • A personal message from me

Goody bag 3

Once students have been given their take-away bag they can add to them, or use them to keep all their revision materials and notes together in one place.

Students then bring elements of the bag to each lesson to use.

The bags also  mean they are able to work through different tasks at their own pace and plan their own revision.

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I am then able to use the time gained from having pre-planned the revision activities to analyse their exam answers to target further revision on required topics or to focus on the needs of individual students.

The students were delighted by their revision ‘gift’ and it gave them a lift when undertaking the hard work that was being demanded of them.

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Why not offer your students a take-away!

Learning with Games

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘To play or not to play?’, that is the question.  Are games a valuable tool in the teacher’s arsenal of learning strategies or are they a distraction and trivialisation of education?

Go fish

Figure 1: Go Fishing: hook yourself a question and provide an answer.  Get it right and keep your catch.  Get it wrong and the fish goes back in the pond

There are those who would argue that we as teachers are ‘educators not entertainers’ and there are indeed times when we need to remind our pupils of that.  However, there are also times when the enthusiasm and engagement engendered by ‘playing’ a game in class can be harnessed to serve the teacher’s purpose, whether it be to acquire knowledge, reinforce learning or to develop critical thinking skills.

Jenga

Figure 2: Jenga.  Take a question from the pile and a block with a points score written on it.  Answer the question and score the points.  Get it wrong and no points are scored and the question goes back in the pile

As teachers our priority is to ensure that the learning behind our choice of teaching strategy remains the key focus of our lessons and games do not become an end in themselves.

Guess who - what's for dinner

Figure 3: Guess What’s for Dinner? Swap the cards in the ‘Guess who?’ boxes for food related words and concepts and then take it turn to question your opponent until you have worked out what the answer is

Games do have many educational virtues to commend them, not least the development of social skills such as cooperation and teamwork  but perhaps above all, it is the sense of engagement they can foster that makes them a useful learning tool.

Labelling game

Figure 4: The Labelling Game  Compete with a friend to produce the most detailed ‘Nutri-Man’ and ‘Healthy Hands’

Taking the principle or format of some of the most popular or simple games that have stood the test of time and adapting them to the classroom can be a very effective teaching strategy.  Simplicity is key to making such games work.  Take a familiar format from a traditional game (snakes and ladders, hangman) or one from the popular culture (Who wants to be a millionaire?, Top Trumps, Guess Who?) and you have a head start as pupils know how to play the game.

A carousel of such games (as shown in the pictures) can make an engaging revision session.

Why not visit your local charity shops and pick up the games people no longer want and re-purpose them in your classroom!

Featured image: ‘Dice, game’ by OpenClip-Art Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Beyond Growth Mindset: Two videos.

Two films to help us all reflect on how we develop ourselves as teachers and our pupils as learners.

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve come across two excellent videos that present ideas that I think are incredibly powerful for helping students and teachers think about learning.  Some times, when people talk about growth mindset, it’s so incredibly nebulous that I can’t quite imagine what’s going to change.  Simply urging students to adopt a new mindset or tinkering with your language or merely embracing a  generalised GM spirit – are unlikely to cut through to the technical issues of effective learning.

Video 1:  Six Strategies for Effective Learning. The Learning Scientists.

This video from the Learning Scientists – working with the Memorize Academy – give students (and teachers) some very clear, practical advice based on the findings of cognitive psychology.  It makes the abstract ideas of interleaving and dual coding come alive.  In my view, if students are taught to adopt these strategies, they will see that effort…

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Improving pupils’ handwriting

A ‘Sharing Best Practice’ post by Sarah Barker (English)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Teachers are expert at deciphering poor handwriting.  Whether it be the last footsteps of a spider who has dragged its eight, ink-stained legs across the page of an exercise book, or the text that has taken leave of the lines  to wander freely about the page in defiance of the laws of gravity.  However, there are times when even the most skilled and experienced of teachers is left stumped by what a pupil has written.

Expressing oneself clearly in writing is a skill for life, not to mention the desire we have to ensure that the examiner will be able to read our pupils’ answers!

Improving handwriting, especially when a pupil is well into their teens is a challenge and requires real effort and concentration once writing habits have been formed.

K Before

Figure 1. A pupil’s handwriting BEFORE handwriting practice

One strategy promoted by the English Faculty to develop ‘automaticity’ in handwriting for pupils in all year groups, is to go back to basics and consciously and deliberately practise some of the basic building blocks of handwriting as an activity in its own right.

Separating out the task of improving handwriting from the challenge of writing a considered evaluation of an extract from Shakespeare, works to the benefit of both endeavours.  Improve the physical skill and then apply it to the intellectual challenge.

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Figure 2. A pupil’s handwriting AFTER handwriting practice

So, you might open an exercise book to see that a 15 year old boy spent the first few minutes of the lesson ‘writing’ lines of ‘mountains’ and ‘valleys’, followed by a line of breaking waves.  Or in a 13 year old girl’s book lines of ‘a’s, ‘c’s and ‘d’s have been carefully scribed as the first part of a homework assignment.   In this way the basics of a legible script are developed and when applied to the written work to follow, handwriting improves, the pupil feels a sense of pride and the teacher breathes a sigh of relief that they  (the examiner, the college admissions tutor and the future employer) will be able to read what has been written.

 

Featured image: ‘Font, lettering’  by Victorian Lady on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Public Domain

 

Word Triangles

A ‘Sharing Best Practice’ post by Caroline Hill (SENCO)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Supporting pupils with learning needs around literacy and dyslexia is a challenge most teachers face.  For some pupils the need to master key words is the issue, for some it is the technical vocabulary required for a particular subject and for others it may be the growing volume of vocabulary demanded by new exam specifications.

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One simple strategy that can support pupils in this is the use of word triangles.  Quite simply these are triangles, subdivided into three sub-sections which contain: 1) The key word to be learnt, 2) the definition of the key word, 3) a visual representation, prompt or reminder of the word.

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Pupils can be engaged in the production of the cards or they could be prepared for them, as their needs require.  Once a series of cards have been produced, challenge can be increased by cutting up the cards and using them like jigsaws, reinforcing the learning of each word and its definition.

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A bank of such cards can then serve as a valuable revision resource or as an activity which can be used by a teaching assistant in lessons to reinforce learning if working with the child in class, or used during one-to-one/small group interventions.

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Featured image: ‘Abstract/Mosaic’ by Vanntile on Pixabay. Licensed under Creative Commons Public Domain CC0