How to engage disaffected learners in Modern Foreign Languages

An Action Research Project by Jo Whalley (MFL)

Context

In September 2015, I began as Head of MFL. I inherited a number of classes who had had a disjointed experience in the previous academic year and therefore had a very negative view of language learning. Engagement in lessons was poor from the outset and behaviour was not good in a number of classes. Many of the learners lacked confidence. As such, language learning can pose some barriers for many students.

Strategy

I had previously attended some training by Martine Pillette about the New Secondary Curriculum and it taught me how with less restrictions on the content covered at KS3 and a greater focus on the skills of language learning, I could find authentic, appealing resources to engage learners in languages. I was interested in her approaches so I did some further reading namely, ‘Motivating reluctant learners at 14-16’ and also ‘Independent reading – how to make it work’.

This helped me develop my strategy in firstly building confidence in comprehension skills.

  • First of all, to build student confidence by fostering effective strategies to develop comprehension skills.
  • Use of authentic materials to genuinely appeal to teenagers (music, film, magazines and books)
  • To use whatever resources we could to engage students on an intellectual level not just language learning for language learning’s sake. I wanted to appeal to their curiosity to WANT to understand the language.

Actions

I set about researching animated films which students already knew to exploit language from. For example, I used clips/images to support personal descriptions and the description of animals in Year 7 French lessons and for describing food and using the past tense in Year 8.

 I developed skills for reading for gist with a four point plan of how to tackle longer pieces of reading and unknown language:

  1. Read and highlight cognates (words that look and sound similar in the target language and have a shared meaning e.g. la television)
  2. Look for familiar words in the target language
  3. Make connections and try to work out what might make sense
  4. If a particular word is still a barrier to your understanding use a dictionary

I used video clips/images and songs from these films to develop listening skills, predominantly using “listening bingo” (Fig. 1) as a technique to stop students worrying about the words they don’t know an instead to focus on picking out familiar language.

JWH - bingo

Figure 1 – an example of a ‘listening bingo’ slide from Year 8

Secondly, I developed three week mini projects to enrich the existing schemes of work. I devised a mini unit of work based around the French classic “Le Petit Prince” which had recently been released as an animated film. This enabled me to produce an abridged version of the book for students to read, again developing their reading techniques. In addition, I produced a short module on endangered species and Virunga National Park in Congo. I hoped that these projects would be sufficiently different from other areas of study that the pupils would be genuinely keen to work on these topics.

With Year 9 French, I developed a module of lessons about French music. I started firstly with Daft Punk, David Guetta and Madeon as they would hopefully be artists they had heard of. We developed reading skills of biographies of the artists and listening skills by studying the lyrics of some of the songs. Some of these lessons led to other interesting spin offs such as the artist Stromae whose name is made using the Parisian underground language “verlan” which inverts words (Fig.2). Students found this very interesting and enjoyed trying to decode the “verlan”, students resilience was noticeably improved when reading something which appealed to them (Fig. 3).

In Parisian suburbs an underground language is used amongst young people. They take the two halves of the word and invert them.

maestro

(a distinguished musician, especially a conductor of classical music)

becomes

Stro mae

Figure 2 – What is Verlan?

JWH - verlan

Figure 3: Verlan activity slide from a Year 9 lesson

Finally, I have been trying to engage boys in particular by developing more SMARTBOARD resources. Powerpoint can be rather static and the drag and drop, reorder and match up tasks that can be produced on SMART are far more engaging for them. I have developed some resources of this nature for Year 8 Spanish and Year 7 & 8 French.

Impact

The main focus for these strategies has been with Years 7 & 8 French, though some strategies have been used with Year 9. The current year 7 average National Curriculum Level is higher than it was this time last year with the current year 8. The current year 7 & 8 French classes show greater resilience and independence when working on longer reading tasks and faced with listening to language spoken at normal speed. Student feedback on these approaches has been overwhelmingly positive. They especially feel that they can read with greater success.

Next steps

Overhaul all units of work to reflect the approaches identified above

Develop the resources needed for the Year 8 and 9 Schemes of Work

Continue to build on the pupils’ listening skills as this is still seen as intimidating by some, especially the less able.

Sources/References

‘Motivating reluctant learners at 14-16’ – by Martine Pillette, published by Collins Educational 1997

‘Independent reading – how to make it work’ – by Martine Pillette, published by Collins Educational 1997

Featured image: Citroen 2CV (original image) by PIRO4D at Pixabay, licensed under CC 0 Public Domain

Developing strategies to promote the progress of boys with lower level literacy

An Action Research project by Kate Rolfe (Geography)

Objective

To attempt to develop a range of strategies that can be utilised in lessons to help promote the progress of boys with lower level literacy.

Background

The English Baccalaureate is a school performance measure introduced in 2010 that grades schools on the basis of how many pupils get a grade C or above in the core academic subjects at KS4 (Maths, English, Science, MFL and History or Geography). Option choices at Key Stage 4 have always been flexible in the sense that pupils are offered a variety of pathways and Ebacc subjects have always been promoted at the school.  However, the introduction of the Progress 8 Measure now means that all pupils must opt for at least one of the remaining core subjects outside of the compulsory English, Maths and Science (DfE, 2014). As such, the number of pupils opting for these subjects has increased which has impacted upon the profile of the pupils with a greater range of abilities choosing them at GCSE level. With the government’s commitment to making GCSE testing more rigorous it is important that such academic subjects are accessible to all. This is particularly true for Humanities and MFL subjects where the DfE (2016) have announced the intention that all pupils will take Ebacc subjects by 2020. For the Humanities faculty, this will mean that every pupil in the school will need to opt for either History or Geography and so a key area of focus over the coming years is to make these subjects accessible for pupils of all abilities. The key barriers to success in these subjects (as perceived by the faculty) are the retention of information in two content heavy subjects and proficiency in reading and writing. It is the latter which underpins the aims and objectives of this piece of action research.

Context

The focus of this action research is to attempt to overcome the barriers to learning for pupils posed by lower level literacy skills in academic subjects such as Geography. The group I will be focusing on is my Year 10 Geography group, in particular two pupils who are listed as SEN for low level literacy. These pupils are both entitled to a reader, scribe and extra time for their examinations and have both admitted that they would not have picked any of the Ebacc subjects outside of English, Maths and Science if they had an open choice due to the fact that “they are subjects with loads of writing”. Anecdotally, this could account for the fact that these pupils are the first I have taught in Geography who require this level of support in literacy as in the past, before the changes described above, it has been possible for pupils to avoid opting for subjects which involve ‘loads of writing’.  As discussed above, the avoidance of more academic subjects is no longer an option for these pupils and as this is the first year I will be teaching pupils who require extra support in the exams, I will need to reconsider my teaching methods to account for this.

Background Reading

Nationally and internationally there is a significant difference between the achievement of boys and girls attaining their expected reading age, where girls outperform boys at all levels and this gap increases with age. This difference is not due to genetic differences between the genders but rather social and cultural norms surrounding reading at home, role models, gender identity etc. (National Literacy Trust, 2012). With no national strategy for literacy, intervention takes place at a school based level and at times, especially in secondary schools, the responsibility for literacy tends to fall to the English faculty. However, the ability to read, write and express opinion is important in all subjects and a vital skill for pupil’s once they leave school. As such, the responsibility to develop literacy falls to all teachers in all subjects. Despite the fact that in their final exams the two pupils on which this study is based will have the questions read to them and their answers written for them, the importance of these skills should not be overlooked in a subject that can provide real world examples of the use of these skills. In addition, as a classroom teacher, it is impossible for me to provide the same level of support the boys will receive in the exam during lessons. As such, in order for the boys to become more independent in their learning and the assessment of this, the development of their literacy skills is vital even if they will not be tested in the same way as other pupils during exams.

While carrying out research for this project, it became apparent that much of the UK literature surrounding literacy focuses upon the development of literacy skills for early years children and for pupils for which English is an additional language. As such, the key document used as a basis for this action research was produced by the Canadian government called “Me read? No Way! A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills” (2004). This guide provided a review of literature which highlighted key trends in boys reading and writing skills as well as suggestions as to how this could be approached in lessons. Although this was primarily related to English and literacy lessons, key findings I found applicable were:

  • There are misconceptions that boys do not like to read when in fact it is more likely that boys do not like the reading what is being presented.
  • Boys do not cope with vague instructions and long explanations so work needs to be highly structured.
  • Boys need a structure to help them gather information from what they are reading.
  • Boys prefer writing frames which can be as simple as asking pupils to note down the points that they need to include.
  • Giving pupils time to talk through their thoughts and answers to consolidate their ideas before they commit them to paper.
  • Boys prefer to complete tasks where the work seems relevant to them and has a purpose that they can understand
  • Boys prefer work that includes an element of competition and/or involves short term goals.
  • Many boys are frustrated by non-specific terms such as “discuss”, “account for” and “explain” and so will need to be taught what they mean and have them broken down for them.
  • Work by Steve Biddulph also suggests that boys learn through teachers and not subjects whereas girls are able to connect directly with subjects. This suggests that boys can only connect with a subject via a teacher. This places emphasis on the relationships between teachers and the boys in their class as the need for boys in their puberty years to believe that a teacher cares for them as a person is paramount before they will allow their teacher to impart knowledge or skills to them (Pickup, 2001)

The latter point regarding relationships in relation to a boy’s learning is reinforced by Maslow’s hierarchy of school needs where every stage above physiological is the responsibility of the teacher within the classroom in order for the pupil to reach the stage where they are available to learn.

Actions

Over time, the following strategies were trialled, adapted and utilised in order to attempt to meet the objectives set out in this project:

1. Grasping pupils’ needs

Prior to starting any intervention with targeted students I felt it important to gauge pupils’ understanding of Geography and their individual needs. Too often differentiation for lower ability pupils involves generic writing frames or text which is reduced to such a level that higher order thinking skills are lost altogether. Although this is the appropriate step for some pupils I do not want to assume it is the case for those on whom I am focusing. As such I took advantage of the presence of a PGCE student taking my lessons from October to December and used this time to work 1:1 with pupils to better understand their needs.

2. Primary School Visit

As the literacy levels of the pupils in question have a greater correlation with the skills being developed in primary schools, I used INSET time to visit a Year 6 class at a local primary school.

3. Improve use of key vocabulary

A key barrier to learning for pupils with low level literacy in Geography is the sheer volume of key words which to pupils, often have an abstract meaning. Population pyramids (which are not always triangular in shape), the Demographic Transition Model and erosional processes such as hydraulic action are not always accessible to our most able readers, let alone those who struggle. In the past I have perhaps been guilty of simplifying these key words too much with pupils with lower level literacy and consequently pupils struggle when faced with them in exam questions or during independent revision. As such, I have focused on using the words with pupils in lessons through the development of glossaries, using dictionaries and knowledge tests based on key word definitions.

4. Use of discussion and opinion

Use of discussion, especially with boys has been highlighted in the literature as a strategy to help them engage with writing. This was achieved through planning lessons with deliberate discussion time with a clear focus. A clear focus is vital in order to ensure discussions are purposeful and aid learning. Examples of this include asking pupils their opinion as a way into a topic, planning answers as a group and talking through an answer with the teacher before committing pen to paper.

5. Competition

A second strategy recommended in a variety of literature is the element of competition appealing to boys. This was implemented in lessons through the use of card sorts, games and debates.

6. Building relationships

As discussed previously, boys tend to learn through their teachers rather than content and as such developing relationships with pupils is vital. These strategies are arguably the most difficult as they need to be flexible and adaptable to a variety of moods, situations and individuals. In order to approach this I tried to consider situations from an objective point of view and attempt to discover the root cause of some of the behaviours that could undermine a positive relationship. One of the boys for example would constantly shout out the correct answer to questions posed to the class. At the start of the year this may have led to consequences and sanctions which could be a barrier to developing a positive relationship. By looking at the situation from an objective point of view I came to realise that the misbehaviour was not an attempt to ruin the lesson but rather that class discussion was the part of the lesson that the pupil felt able to participate in most and as such “hogged” the questions. This was overcome through a discussion with the pupil that resulted in me giving him a pad of post it notes whereby he would write down a reminder word or sentence for the ideas in his head. I would then make a conscious effort to discuss these with the pupil after the class discussion.

Impact of each action

Grasping pupils’ needs:  The opportunity to work with pupils 1:1 was deemed invaluable in beginning this project and gauging need. It was found that one pupil is extremely demotivated and does not want to study the subject. His literacy skills are weak and he can find it difficult to grasp abstract concepts. However, the other pupil upon which this research is based was found to be very articulate in Geography and could grasp and begin to analyse higher level concepts. As such, it was found that despite both pupils’ needs being identified as lower level literacy the intervention strategies used for them need to differ in some cases.

Primary School Visit:  Observing the strategies used with Year 6’s was an eye-opening experience especially when considering the expectations that we have of Year 7s upon arrival at secondary school. The greatest disparity between primary and secondary school in relation to literacy is the amount of time dedicated to a task. Throughout the morning I observed pupils drafting and redrafting a piece of work which was later written up in best during the afternoon. Even pupils who were deemed of lower academic ability produced grammatically accurate pieces of writing to demonstrate their knowledge. The key challenge here is that a large proportion of curriculum time in primary schools is dedicated to literacy and so a ‘practice makes perfect’ approach is more easily adopted. At secondary school, and especially at GCSE this development of literacy skills is not as easily adaptable where content takes priority over skills. This is an area I will need to consider in more depth in the future.

Improve use of key vocabulary: This approach yielded mixed responses depending on the complexity of the topic. When pupils felt confident in the key words being tested it acted as a morale booster. However, if pupils could not remember the words then this could act as a reason to disengage in the lesson. However, this strategy was liked by the class as a whole and I am hoping that the repetition of key words will have longer term benefits.

Use of discussion and opinion: The use of planned discussion in lessons was anecdotally one of the most successful in engaging the boys in learning. The option of giving an opinion gave the boys the perception that there was no right or wrong answer but the justifications they used to support their points were high level in terms of geographical knowledge. Discussing answers first allowed pupils to begin structuring their answers and this was further developed whereby pupils would write all initial ideas onto post it notes which could then be re-arranged in order to plan an answer. Although these strategies did not always transpire into extended writing, it has enabled the pupils to begin to verbalise their ideas which is a skill that will need to develop further as they are both entitled to a scribe in their final exams.

Competition: Overall, the use of competition in lessons received mixed responses and was susceptible to the mood of the pupils. At times they would really engage and actively compete with one another to reach the answer first but in other instances it was perceived as a gimmick. The subject content of the competition also played a large role in the engagement of the activity.

Building relationships: The impact of actively seeking to build positive relationships with pupils in my class has had a positive impact on my relationship with the pupils in this project and across all of my groups. I would like to think that one of my strengths is having a positive relationship with most of the pupils whom I teach and these naturally develop over time. However, actively considering the reasons for potential misbehaviours in my lessons has allowed me to have conversations with pupils that may not have arisen naturally in order to implement strategies to cope with this.

Conclusions

Arguably, the overwhelming conclusion of this project is that there is no solid conclusion when it comes to strategies to engage and promote the progress of low literacy boys. To an extent I had pre-empted this outcome with the inclusion of the words “to attempt to” develop strategies in my original objective. Within my classroom I have witnessed giant leaps forward with the progress of the boys in my class as well as huge steps backwards and this has varied on a term by term, week by week, day by day basis. This can at times be annoying, tiring and extremely frustrating when a strategy that works in one lesson appears to fail the next. The key thing I have learnt is not to give up. Some of the systems I have adopted throughout this project started to show benefit very late on in the term and some have not shown any benefit at all. However, the one thing that is true is that the boys have most definitely noticed the effort that goes into helping them make progress and ultimately that building of relationships is the most important thing.

Next Steps

Despite the progress made with my boys with lower level literacy this year it must be acknowledged that there is still a long way to go if they are to reach their full potential. This will largely focus on attempting to build self-esteem and confidence within the pupils to want to succeed for themselves. The key areas to focus on next year will be:

  • Instilling confidence to write independently
  • Encouraging pupils to attempt tasks even if it results in failure
  • Making better use of readers and scribes in preparation for exams
  • Fostering resilience in order to overcome the fight or flight response to exams

Featured image: ‘Letters’ by geralt on Pixabay. Original image licensed by CC0 Public Domain

Three models of revision: which was most effective?

An Action Research Project by James Barr (History)

Due to one of those timetabling anomalies at the start of the year, I was given a group of seven students who were part of a larger GCSE History group but unlike the rest of the group, were not studying Triple Science. Consequently, they had been given one additional history lesson per-fortnight while the rest of the history group was in a science lesson.  As their normal history teacher was unable to take this extra lesson, it had been given to me.

I was briefed from the outset that the students would be expected to manage their own time and use the lesson to consolidate and revise their learning accordingly. I booked ICT rooms for the session and let the students work independently on SAM learning. From the outset I wanted to monitor their revision and adjust it accordingly to find the best fit for the class. The data I analysed was from SAM learning logs, student books and knowledge tests undertaken throughout the year. The students also had access to revision guides and resources given to them by their main teacher to support their learning and revision.

Model 1: ICT based revision using SAM Learning

From the start there were huge differences in the level of engagement of the students. Those who were more dedicated and self-motivated revelled in the freedom and enjoyed being able to work at their own pace. Whereas, half the group struggled to remain focused on the task at hand. I regularly had to give out sanctions for misuse of ICT and move students as they struggled with the independence that had been granted to them. This was backed up by my initial findings from the data generated on the SAM learning website.

Student Subject Year Time Home School  * M/F
Pupil 1 GCSE 11 2:45 61% 42% 77% M
Pupil 2 GCSE 11 2:55     87% M
Pupil 3 GCSE 11 2:30 90% 50% 68% M
Pupil 4 GCSE 11 14:35 28% 37% 79% M
Pupil 5 GCSE 11 41:10 37% 25% 86% M
Pupil 6 GCSE 11 70:45 47% 30% 82% M
Pupil 7 GCSE 11 1:55   13% 72% M

Fig. 1 Students’ overall usage of SAM learning across all subjects

Figure 1 shows the overall usage of SAM learning by the class across all subjects. This showed me that the students were capable of using SAM learning and most of the class used it at home but there was a huge divide between the students who used SAM learning effectively and those who didn’t.

Student Subject Year Time Home School  * M/F
Pupil 1 HISTORY 11 0:50     83% M
Pupil 2 HISTORY 11         M
Pupil 3 HISTORY 11         M
Pupil 4 HISTORY 11 3:40 16%   70% M
Pupil 5 HISTORY 11 12:05 37%   83% M
Pupil 6 HISTORY 11 8:15 36%   77% M
Pupil 7 HISTORY 11 0:30     63% M

Fig 2 Students’ overall usage of SAM Learning in History

Figure 2 demonstrates the usage of SAM Learning by the students for History. This illustrated the lack of engagement of some learners with SAM learning in History. Pupil 2 and Pupil 3 did not even log in to the SAM learning History section at all during our sessions. They either worked while not being logged in or completed work in different subject areas.

On seeing these statistics I immediately changed tack and moved to a more classroom based approach to these lessons.

Model 2: Classroom Based Independent Revision

We then moved on to classroom based revision lessons. As previously stated the revision sessions were meant to be independent and student led, so the students were given workbooks, the relevant textbook and revision guides to help them revise different areas of the course. At the end of each session the students would take a short knowledge based quiz to check their learning for that session. I logged the scores of the tests at the end of each session.

Student Average Score
Pupil 1 60%
Pupil 2 15%
Pupil 3 45%
Pupil 4 80%
Pupil 5 98%
Pupil 6 88%
Pupil 7 40%

Fig. 3 Students’ average score in knowledge based quizzes following independent revision

Figure 3 demonstrates that there was an improvement in performance and that more effective revision was actually being completed. However, on analysis of the actual work completed a number of the students copied the textbook verbatim, not really changing the information in any way or trying to engage with their learning. This had an impact on the results obtained by those students.  Looking at this information I decided that a different approach was needed again!

Model 3: Teacher led revision

At this stage, after observing a colleague’s revision sessions, I decided to adopt a more didactic approach. Telling the students the information that they needed to use with regard to each topic and then giving them time to record and learn it before testing their knowledge at the end. The topics were arranged on A3 learning mats with 9 key subtopics on each page, with boxes where the student could add notes/information. This was then tested at the end of the session and the results were again logged.

Student Average Score
Pupil 1 80%
Pupil 2 55%
Pupil 3 75%
Pupil 4 90%
Pupil 5 98%
Pupil 6 92%
Pupil 7 74%

Fig. 4 Students’ average score in knowledge based quizzes following teacher led revision

Figure 4 demonstrates to me an overall improvement in the class. The nature of the teacher led lessons and the completion of the learning mats, meant that the students had to focus on the tasks at hand, which lead to the information being easier to remember for the test at the end. Although, I felt that those students who had been working well all year in each of the three models had lost a degree of independence by the very rigid structure in the teacher led lessons, their marks did not suffer. Though possibly, they would have been better served by being allowed to work independently.

Conclusions

Overall, I felt that the most successful structure for revision was the more didactic, teacher led method of delivery, coupled with the use of learning mats for the whole unit. SAM learning and independent revision led to a wide range in student knowledge and attainment, whereas the more didactic method closed this gap, although, as stated previously, this did have drawbacks.

Moving forward, I would recommend that students should be allowed to revise individually if you have confidence in their ability to learn/revise independently but also to have targeted groups in the class that the teacher can teach directly to ensure that they effectively gained key ideas from the course to advance their revision. This would then be structured by using course based learning mats to give the students a clear framework to use in order to structure and record their revision.

Featured image: ‘Man Reading’ original image licensed under Creative Commons Zero – CC0 from Max Pixel

‘Developing Pupil Resilience’

An Action Research Project by Jackie Garrett (Science)

Objective

To develop a range of practical strategies to enable learners in my classes to develop their resilience, learn from their mistakes, take risks and adopt an ‘I can’ approach to learning.

Background

Schools have a responsibility not just to prepare pupils for passing examinations but also to develop their ability to manage challenges by making them more resilient.

My interest in this area was centred on the question: ‘Can you teach resilience?’ Many pupils believe that if something feels difficult the first time you try it then you can’t/won’t be able to do it at all.  At these times it can be easy to give up and stop trying, but, is it possible to teach them to be more persistent?

We often tell pupils to try again or make improvements but how often do we consciously use strategies to help them understand that mistakes are an intrinsic part of new learning and that the only way to fail is to give up?

My aim, therefore, was to research and apply a range of strategies within the following areas:

  • Establishing a safe learning environment where pupils can take risks.
  • Developing feedback to pupils to ensure that hard work, persistence, taking on challenges and other positive learning behaviours are given high value.
  • Taking opportunities to talk to pupils about failure (both mine and theirs) so that they gain the competence and understanding to persevere and make progress through their mistakes.

Context

The focus for my action research project has been my Year 10 Physics GCSE group. (Ability range E+ – C+)

My initial impressions of them as a group were that they were very engaged and hardworking, but a large number of them lacked confidence, gave up easily and found failure difficult to manage.

Many were fairly passive learners who would listen intently to teacher led instruction but found independent learning or more active, challenging tasks difficult. A number would seek teacher intervention almost immediately on being given a task – without ‘having a go’ first or using other strategies to get unstuck.  Many students in the group were very ‘teacher reliant’

Background reading and research

As a new teacher at the school, my research began with conversations with colleagues about the learning characteristics of the pupils in my class. Many of their other teachers were experiencing similar behaviours in their subject areas too and a group of us were keen to work together to develop and share strategies and good practice.

Throughout the time of the Action Research my group shared experiences, successes, failures and ideas and this provided a significant source of research.

As a start point I simply googled ‘developing resilience’.

I focused in on an article published in the Guardian newspaper, teacher network, by Neurologist and Teacher Judy Willis.

(The science of resilience: how to teach students to persevere | Teacher Network | The Guardian) Tuesday 12 January 2016 07.00 GMT.

In her article Ms Willis identifies 3 main areas to focus on:

A child’s competence

“It is not uncommon for students to come to your class with past experiences that have left them feeling like they can’t move forward when a task is overwhelming.  You can help them overcome that mindset by building their confidence through experiences that develop their competence.  One activity involves showing students that some things, which seem impossible or too confusing at first, can be broken down into easy-to-understand parts.”

Their tolerance to mistakes

“When you incorporate opportunities for students to experience mistakes as an expected part of learning, you build their resilience to setbacks. Through class discussions, your own mistakes, and building pupils’ knowledge of their brain’s programming, your students will gain the competence, optimism and understanding to persevere – and even make progress – through failure.”

Their ability to set goals

“Students will engage more if they have to use the facts or procedures as tools for participating in personally relevant tasks. For example, invite students to select a recipe from a cookbook that uses standard and not metric measurements. They will want to know how to convert metric and standard measurements to make what they have chosen. The personally desirable goal of making delicious cookies or play dough will motivate them to do their sums.”

Focusing on these three areas seemed to be a sensible start point, the next phase in my research involved seeking out practical ideas and resources which might help me deliver successfully in each of my three goal areas.

The teacher toolkit website was a useful resource when it came to sourcing ideas and materials I could actually ‘use’ in my classroom:

http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2015/12/03/resilience/

In particular I was able to source 10 resilience phrases designed to teach children resilience courtesy of Michael Grose at kidspot:

http://www.kidspot.com.au/10-phrases-you-hear-in-resilient-families-are-you-using-them/

10 phrases to teach resilience

  1. “Come on, laugh it off!”
  2. “Don’t let this spoil everything.”
  3. “Let’s take a break!”
  4. “Who have you spoken to about this?”
  5. “I know it looks bad now but you will get through this.”
  6. “What can you learn from this so it doesn’t happen next time?”
  7. “Don’t worry – relax and see what happens!”
  8. “This isn’t the end of the world.”
  9. “You could be right. But have you thought about … ”
  10. “What can we do about this?”

Another very useful resource was an image called ‘the iceberg illusion’ by @sylviaduckworth (twitter)

Iceberg illusion

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviaduckworth/

This resource enabled pupils to visualise success as an iceberg with success being the 10% that people see, whilst persistence, sacrifice, hard work, good habits etc make up the 90% of success that is not seen. It seemed a useful start point to promote conversations with pupils about how to be successful learners.

Actions

  1. Referring to the iceberg (displayed on wall).
  2. Consciously using the language from the ten best resilience phrases.
  3. Describing and being open about my own mistakes.
  4. Using rewards for attitude and good learning traits not just outcomes.
  5. Chunking tasks.
  6. Fast words
  7. Assembly
  8. Report comments.
  9. Feedback.

1. Referring to the iceberg

I took any opportunity that presented itself to talk to the pupils about ‘The Iceberg Illusion’ in my classes and about the hidden traits that are behind all successful learners e.g. when a pupil had not reached their target grade on a test we would look at the iceberg and discuss how they could turn that disappointment into motivation to keep trying rather than becoming disheartened.

Additionally, I used the iceberg to promote the understanding that failure is in fact a part of the road to success and not to be feared.

2. Consciously using the language from the ten best resilience phrases.

When pupils in my classes became ‘stuck’ on a task or made mistakes, I would aim to discuss with them how to get ‘unstuck’ using the phrases outlined on the chart. I have an A3 laminated copy stuck to my desk to remind me to do this whenever the opportunity arose.

3. Describing and being open about my mistakes.

When opportunities presented themselves I would describe to pupils mistakes and disappointments that I had experienced as a learner and how I felt at the time.

Additionally I planned lessons which highlighted common errors made by previous pupils and used them to model that the strongest understandings we have do not come from what we’ve memorised but from what we’ve learnt through failure.

4. Using rewards for attitude and good learning traits.

I considered my use of the whole school reward systems as well as our faculty rewards to identify ways to ensure I was praising the process of learning and good learning traits as frequently as possible. I wanted to convey the understanding amongst the pupils that good habits, persistence and hard work were valued in my classroom just as highly as ‘A*’ outcomes.  I rewarded pupils for asking questions; sticking at a task they found difficult, taking risks and sharing their mistakes.

5. Chunking tasks.

In her article on ‘teaching resilience’ Judy Willis comments on the importance of teaching pupils how to break a large, challenging task into smaller more achievable steps in order to make better progress. At the start of the year I modelled this idea to pupils whenever the opportunity arose and took chances to plan lessons where the task could be chunked. As the year progressed I began to ask the pupils to ‘chunk’ tasks themselves when they got stuck. Phrases like “What could you do first?”, “How could you make this easier?” or “What did you do the last time this happened?” were particularly useful.

6. Fast words.

Fast Words is a technique where learners have to think quickly and put down their ideas/knowledge with very little time to think or overthink the question. It is particularly useful for teaching the meanings of key words and assessing pupil’s knowledge and understanding of subject specific language at the start of a topic.

Many pupils find it very challenging to begin with, but with practice it can get them into the habit of putting something down and having a go and can often let them see how much knowledge they have about a topic.

The rules are:

1 minute to write definition.

Use all the time

Write anything you know.

Move on when told to, even if you haven’t finished.

Key word Definition at start Definition at end Progress?

7. Assembly

I delivered an assembly on ‘Failure’ to all year groups to raise awareness of resilience in the wider school and reinforce the message that hard work persistence and picking yourself up after a failure are highly valued traits and lead to ultimate success. All of the Learning Focus Group felt that the language of resilience needs to be embedded across the entire school and continuously reinforced by all.

I found the materials I used in the assembly on Prezi, by Chris Hildrew on 2 May 2016. It was an assembly he had developed for use at Chew Valley School and exactly met my requirements.

 https://prezi.com/jc-xl1d7zvq3/failure-assembly/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

 8. Report Comments

To reinforce the value of resilience and persistence I wanted to provide targets based on developing resilience as part of our formal target setting structures in the pupils’ yearly reports to parents.

As well as a curriculum target for each pupil, I wrote a range of targets intended to provide feedback on how each pupil could develop their resilience. Despite much searching I was not able to find anything that exactly suited my aim on the internet so I set about writing my own selection of targets.

Once written, I shared these targets with my faculty team and we agreed that all science staff would include a resilience based target in the reports for their year 10 classes as a trial exercise.

The targets used were:

  • Be open and receptive to new learning and experiences. Think positively and have a go.
  • When you have a setback in a lesson, don’t give up. Think about what you could do to improve the next time you try.
  • Try to keep going when you find the learning difficult. Stick at hard tasks and keep your focus.
  • When you are unsure about whether you have understood make sure you speak up and ask for help.
  • Learning is sometimes hard and it is not always possible to get everything right the first time. Use the feedback you get from others, and the yellow stickers in your book, to help improve your work.

9. Feedback

Throughout the year, I made a conscious effort to ensure both verbal and written feedback to pupils reinforced the language of resilience and that pupils received feedback on their learning traits and characteristics as well as their knowledge and understanding of the topic being studied.

Impact

Since the impact of my actions is often reflected in a change to pupils confidence, ability to break tasks into achievable chunks, persistence and the development of good learning habits, the impact of my actions is based on my anecdotal perceptions of the class as learners and their progress in this area from the start of the year to the end of the year.

Year 10 Physics group Start of the year: Sept 2015 End of the Year: July 2016
Perception of group ·         Hard working.

·         Want to do well/please.

·         Listen brilliantly.

·         Respond well to praise.

·         Many give up easily.

·         Most find it difficult to get unstuck.

·         Sometimes struggle to get started.

·         Very teacher reliant.

·         More confident.

·         Less reliant on me.

·         Will have a go…..

·         Recognise what is ‘valued’

·         Higher tier entry for some.

% showing good resilience 11% 37%
% showing some resilience 42% 47%
% showing very little/no resilience 47% 16%

The resilience work created interest in the school as a whole. As a result of our research the iceberg is now referred to across the school and staff are regularly using this idea to embed the language of resilience.

As part of an INSET day during the academic year 2016-2017 the resilience Learning Focus Group will facilitate a workshop on resilience to be delivered to the entire teaching staff.

Conclusions

When embarking on this Action research, I wanted to answer the question ‘Can you teach resilience?’

 It is very difficult to find strong evidence that it is possible to teach character in schools but, my conclusion is that it is possible to teach students a range of strategies that will build their confidence as learners, develop their ability to step up to challenges, see failures as part of the learning process and find ways through difficult tasks.

When teachers find time to talk to their pupils about how they learn, and how to become a more successful learner, my experience has been that pupils respond very positively.

Our challenge, in a system that is heavily driven by outcomes and exam success is to find the time to talk to pupils about the process of learning and to define successful learning in terms of that process, not just a final outcome.

The language that we use with our classes needs to constantly reinforce that good habits, hard work, persistence and disappointment are all an integral part of new learning and that new learning is difficult.

Our role is to enable pupils to recognise that moving from your comfort zone into the stretch zone can feel uncomfortable, but that the classroom is a safe and supportive environment in which to take that risk and then benefit from the learning rewards that will follow.

Additionally, feedback to pupils, rewards and reports need to convey the message that resilience in learning is highly valued. Targets for improvement should include consideration of how pupils can improve their resilience as well as providing information on how to improve academically.

As a group, we were all of the opinion that to have real impact, the language of resilience needs to be embedded across a whole school with all staff reinforcing the message and using the strategies whenever possible.

Finally, I would like to end on a quote from the article that first got me started on this Action Research:

“By building students’ resilience……you can help them realise that when they engage confidently with a challenge, anything is possible and failure is not something to fear. This is vitally important. After all, it’s not what students know, but what they can do with what they know, that is the goal of education.”  Judy Willis

Next Steps

Continue to use the strategies and ideas considered in this research with all my classes.

Consider extending the research for the next academic year to include links between this research and Carol Dweck’s research on ‘mind-sets’ and the latest studies on teaching mindfulness.

Additionally, continue to share resources and expertise with the wider staff, including facilitating whole staff INSET.

Sources/ Links/ References

Research was undertaken online using Google to source educational articles, websites and individual blogs, which in turn led to further links. Twitter was a valuable means by which I identified further articles and resources.

The science of resilience: how to teach students to persevere by Judy Willis: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2016/jan/12/science-resilience-how-to-teach-students-persevere

http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2015/12/03/resilience/

http://www.kidspot.com.au/10-phrases-you-hear-in-resilient-families-are-you-using-them/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviaduckworth/

https://prezi.com/jc-xl1d7zvq3/failure-assembly/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Featured image: ‘Don’t Give up’ by Brett Jordan (original image) at Flickr.com licensed under CC by 4.0

The benefits and challenges inherent in ‘low stakes quizzes’

Tonight’s 15 Minute Forum was led by English teacher, Tod Brennan and focussed on the concept of low stakes quizzes. There were two aspects of Tod’s presentation; the value of low stakes quizzes for memory recall but also the importance of managing the stress levels of our students. Memory can be defined as ‘learning that […]

via Is it really a low stakes quiz? — Class Teaching

Differentiation for Mixed Ability Teaching

An Action Research Project by Helen Reed (Science)

“The problem with mixed ability classes is that there are students with different needs but not always differentiated teaching”

“Differentiated instruction and assessment is a framework or philosophy for effective teaching that involves providing different students with different avenues to learning”

“Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products or the learning environment, the use of on-going assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.”

Why I chose differentiation for my Action Research Project

I decided to research differentiation in mixed ability classes as a direct result of the great diversity in some of my classes. Last year, I had a year seven class which had a boy with significant learning needs who was just managing to attain a level 2. The same class also had students with the potential to achieve level 7. I struggled to find ideas that would engage, motivate and stretch the whole class at the same time that didn’t take all night to plan!

Through my research I also came to realise the need for differentiation in all of my classes, even my elite triple Science students – despite the majority of them being able to achieve a grade A. Differentiation in this top set of extremely able students was still necessary – to cater for the particular needs of all. Although all of the students were able to access the challenging work I set, as a class they needed different teaching/learning approaches to cater for all of their learning preferences and so maximise their potential.

To summarise the reasons for my choice, I wanted to learn quick and effective ways to differentiate in my Year 7 mixed ability class. However, this quickly extended to the need to differentiate in all of my classes.

What I learnt…

In a large class, differences between students may seem too numerous to count but differentiation works on 3 key areas….

  1. readiness to learn
  2. learning needs
  3. engaging interest

A variety of techniques are needed to cover all three aspects of differentiation…

On-going formative assessment: to continually assess and identify students’ strengths and areas of need.

Recognition of the diversity of learners: The students we teach have diverse levels of expertise with reading, writing, thinking, problem solving etc… On-going assessments allow us to develop differentiated lessons to meet every student’s needs.

Group Work: Students collaborate in pairs and small groups which enables them to engage in meaningful discussions and to observe and learn from each other.

Task: Teachers can offer a choice in the tasks they complete. This is one of the core methods of differentiation, setting different tasks for students of different abilities. An obvious way to do this is to produce different sets of worksheets or exercises depending on ability. However, this makes things difficult for the teacher in terms of delivering the material – how do you distribute the different worksheets without it being painfully obvious to the whole class who gets which sheet? Aside from these social difficulties there is the sheer time it takes to organise and produce such material. So, an alternative method is to produce a single worksheet comprised of tasks which get progressively harder. The more advanced students quickly progress to the later questions whilst the less able concentrate on grasping the essentials.

Choice: Whilst it is a good idea to produce one single differentiated sheet to avoid social difficulties, the sheets still need to be made. When there are perfectly good separate resources already available on hand in the department it seems an awful waste of time to reproduce the same material. So the alternative here is to give the students a choice of resource to work from. In my experience students like to challenge themselves and rarely, if ever choose the lower ability option out of ease.

Outcome: Differentiation by outcome is a technique whereby all students undertake the same task but a variety of results is expected. Instead of all working to one ‘right’ answer the student arrives at a personal outcome depending on their level of ability.

Differentiation in practice

Based on my findings I decided to try out a few new ideas….

Group work/Student choice

My Year 9 class, with levels ranging from level 4-7, were working on a topic about renewable energy resources. After they had learnt about the different resources (through internet research and class discussion) I put them into groups of 3. Each group were given a basic map of an Island with key features such as mountains, coastal regions, exposed open land etc….. As a team they had to decide which type of renewable energy resource would be best to supply the island with electricity. They had to do 3 things…

Draw a map detailing what type of energy resources they would use

Write an account of how the renewable energy resource would produce electricity

Verbally justify their decision

It was up to the group to decide who did which job.

The students were very engaged throughout this whole activity – it led to a whole class debate when the students tried to justify their decisions!

Differentiation by task (i)

By far the quickest and easiest method I frequently adopt is differentiation by task – but with the students choosing their task. The Science department has levelled assessment tasks at levels 4-6 or 6-8. I make both available to students and let them choose. I would say that 95% of the class make the choice that I would have chosen for them. Where a student has opted for the lower ability task as they aren’t very confident I will ask them to try both if they don’t suggest this themselves – which they usually do.

Differentiation by task (ii)

Another favourite approach of mine is to have levelled work set out ready for the students. After learning about a particular topic they will level themselves and then go and choose a level appropriate task. This means they are starting work at a level that is challenging for them – they can then move on and progress to the next level as and when they are ready.

Variety of Teaching/Learning Activities

Whilst teaching about the heart to a year 11 class where the students were working within a narrower range (grade C-A), I chose to experiment with differentiation by teaching/learning activity. Previously, I would have stood at the board and drawn a diagram explaining as I went. This time I did the same thing but then proceeded to go into the lab and show them the parts I had been discussing before challenging the students to dissect and investigate themselves. On returning to the classroom I asked the students to verbally describe what they had seen before labelling a diagram and finally answering exam questions on the heart using a text book. So the students experienced a range of auditory, verbal and kinaesthetic learning.

Conclusions

As an experienced teacher, nothing I read was completely new to me. However, It opened my eyes to the absolute necessity of versatility in the classroom for ALL classes. Differentiation isn’t about making lots of worksheets for all of my classes it’s about alternative teaching and learning styles that include every student. It’s about using the students and the strengths that they have to help each other. It’s about really knowing your students and providing challenging work whether it be by questioning, task, outcome etc.. It really doesn’t matter how you do it because there are so many options but it needs to be done for every child to achieve – although it doesn’t need to keep you up until midnight!

Featured image: Original image ’15 Rule of Great Teaching’ by Sylvia Duckworth, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

15 Rules of Great Teaching

 

Effective Marking/Feedback

Some excellent ideas to help make assessment more effective and manageable.

Class Teaching

Picture1.png

Tonight’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Kelly Heane (English RQT). Kelly discussed some of the strategies that she has used in her lessons to provide effective marking/feedback. Kelly began by being honest about how marking had initially been a frustrating experience as an NQT. Although at Durrington, we have a flexible feedback policy which allows departments the autonomy to create their own policies, there are still expectations regarding feedback. However, Kelly had found that marking was still time consuming; so she adopted some techniques which allowed her to reduce her workload but provide effective and sustainable feedback.

Kelly wanted to emphasise the importance of feedback for both students and teachers and approached the 15 minute forum in two halves, based upon the feedback loop diagram below.

Picture2The first part of the session focussed on the teacher-student side of the feedback loop. Kelly stressed that this needs to be regular and…

View original post 631 more words

Mastery in Mathematics (6): Research and lesson adaption to fit the new GCSE curriculum

An Action Research project by Rory McMahon (Mathematics)

Aims of the Project

The aim of this project was to research ‘Mastery in Mathematics’ and the implications its’ introduction would have on our Faculty in terms of:

  • The new AQA Curriculum
  • Adjustments to the Scheme of Work
  • Alterations to lessons to promote ‘Mastery’

Background and context

This project started in response to the recent changes to the Maths curriculum which take effect from the 2017 GCSE’s. As a Faculty we looked to change our practice in light of the recent changes. The curriculum changes are as follows:

  • There is more content to teach with harder topics being introduced.
  • There is a greater emphasis on problem-solving and mathematical reasoning, with more marks in the GCSE exams being allocated to these higher-order skills.
  • The total examination time is increasing with all exams taken at the end of the course.
  • Students will also have to memorise formulae.
  • There is a new grade structure from 9 to 1, with fewer marks at the lower grades and more marks at the higher grades.

Actions taken

Peer observations to gauge the level of Mastery evident in lessons in September/October

As a Faculty all teachers took part in peer observations during Term 1 in an attempt to see good practice in action as well as gauge the level of ‘Mastery’ evident in existing lessons. Positive and constructive feedback was given and a discussion on how ‘Mastery’ could become more visible in lessons was held during Faculty meetings.

Scheme of Work changed from Kangaroo to AQA

The decision was made in January to make the switch from the Kangaroo scheme of work to the new AQA scheme to attempt to get pupils used to the new format in time for the start of the 2016-2017 academic year. Although it was thought to be a better move in the long run, there were some challenges to this approach. Firstly, a comparison of the schemes had to be made and topics which were covered already had to be crossed off.  However with the level of many topics increased, we needed to pick out sections of topics which students had not been previously been exposed to and teach those separately. Secondly, the increased difficulty of concepts and the change in focus to ‘Mastery’ proved to be difficult for students to adjust to. We were hoping they would adapt quickly to the problem solving nature of lessons as this was a style which they had not been previously used to.

Adaption of End of unit tests to support Mastery

End of Unit Tests now include Mastery style questions to build up resilience and retests are available and encouraged, so that students now have the key skills needed to succeed at this form of questioning. This is a work in progress which has been embraced by the pupils as they can see progression from the first sitting of the test to the second. It also gives them more opportunity to sample the type of examination questions they will be expected to answer in the coming years.

Further peer observations planned to see how Mastery is developing and lesson adjustments

Again in Term 3/4 the Maths Faculty undertook peer observations to observe the increase in focus towards ‘Mastery’ in lessons as standard practice. The Faculty was unanimous in the conclusion that Mastery questions were most easily integrated into the bell-work phase of the lesson or alternatively and possibly most effectively, during the Plenary phase. Personally, I found giving the students a ‘Mastery’ question as their plenary always challenged the pupils to think about the skills they had learnt in that lesson in a different way. Once the students spotted this they began to widen their horizons in terms of spotting links between different concepts learned. Some examples of Lesson alterations can be seen below.

Example 1

Our pupils in this case would have spent the majority of the lesson learning about the sum of the interior angles of polygons. In this question, they have to apply that knowledge but also represent their answers as fractions in their simplest form.

interior angles

Example 2

Factorising 1

A standard lesson on Factorising Expressions would concentrate on embedding the relevant skills needed as above. However, the Plenary to this lesson looks like the following slide below.

Factorising

The students are encouraged to use a skill learned in the lesson to solve a different style of problem, thus establishing links between different concepts.

 Adoption of Eastern Asian styles of teaching (learning information)

 It is widely recognised that the countries of Eastern Asia out-perform their UK counterparts in relation to attainment of Mathematics in primary and secondary schools. International tests show that in these countries the percentage of 15-year-olds who are functionally innumerate – unable to perform basic calculations – was more than 10 percentage points lower than in England. As recently as 12/07/2016, news broke of a £41m support for 8,000 primary schools in England to adopt the approach which is used by the leading performers in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The Eastern Asian method has the following features:

  • Emphasis on problem solving and comprehension, allowing students to relate what they learn and to connect knowledge
  • Careful scaffolding of core competencies of :
    • visualisation, as a platform for comprehension
    • mental strategies, to develop decision making abilities
    • pattern recognition, to support the ability to make connections and generalise
  • Emphasis on the foundations for learning and not on the content itself so students learn to think mathematically as opposed to merely reciting formulas or procedures.

As a Faculty we have tried to integrate the techniques of embedding skills in the minds of our students and then getting them to apply these skills to problems. Previous lessons would consist of teaching skills and then getting pupils to practice these skills for the remainder of the lesson. Now, our attention has changed to using and applying these skills to problem solving for real-life situations. 

On-going adaption of the Scheme of Work to include NRICH activities to further develop Mastery 

Before the focus on ‘Mastery’, the Maths Faculty always felt that problem solving was a crucial attribute for students to develop. This was enhanced by our used of ‘The Nrich Project’ from the University of Cambridge.

“NRICH is a team of qualified teachers who are also practitioners in RICH mathematical thinking. This unique blend means that NRICH is ideally placed to offer advice and support to both learners and teachers of mathematics.”

NRICH aims to:

  • Enrich the experience of the mathematics curriculum for all learners
  • Offer challenging and engaging activities
  • Develop mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Show rich mathematics in meaningful contexts
  • Work in partnership with teachers, schools and other educational settings

For teachers of mathematics, NRICH:

  • Offer free enrichment material (Problems, Articles and Games) for all ages that really can help to inspire and engage learners and embed RICH tasks into everyday practice.
  • Help to promote RICH thinking in classrooms by offering on-line and face-to-face support at Primary and Secondary level.
  • Deliver professional development courses and workshops in rich mathematics.
  • Help teachers to think strategically about ‘next steps’ and progression in problem solving.

In 2014-2015 ‘NRICH lessons’ were held once per term to help enhance the problem solving skills of students. In 2015-2016 it was felt that the Faculty should conduct NRICH lessons once per fortnight as the shift in focus was becoming apparent at that stage. Moving forward, the Maths Faculty has created a bank of NRICH lessons to be used in conjunction with the new Scheme of Work for the academic year 2016-2017. Some snapshots of how these were integrated can be seen below.

sow-1.png

sow-2.png

Impact

As a Faculty, we have discussed the possible impact of our endeavours to adjust our teaching and learning to the new and challenging ‘Mastery’ curriculum. As this style of teaching and type of examination questions have been rolled out, students have become more familiar with the concept. Therefore, we can say there has been definite progress in the students’ familiarity with the style of future exam questions.

Secondly, we can state that the confidence of our pupils has increased with regard to structuring an answer for these questions. At the beginning of the year, receiving answers from students for bellwork and plenary ‘Mastery’ questions was a difficult ordeal! Gradually through practice and knowing they should be able to use some of the content they had covered in lessons, many were then able to attempt a reasonable answer. This developed over time so now we not only have our highest attaining students putting answers together but our bottom sets are also successful.

Finally, the AQA practice papers were an invaluable resource. As with the previous strategies, students found the change in structure and expectations very difficult to deal with. Therefore, we gave students the practice paper to attempt and gave them a grade. Once the papers were handed back, students could then go through the mark scheme with green pens to see where they could have picked up more marks. Also, answers that had four, five or even six steps were often broken down by the teachers for the class. Students then had the opportunity to re-sit the examination as a confidence building exercise. Slowly but surely the results for the first sitting of the tests began to improve but as a Faculty we realise this is a work in progress.

 Conclusions

  • The new AQA Curriculum has been rolled out and used for six months this academic year (2015-16) allowing teachers the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the format and tests.
  • The new Scheme of Work has been adjusted to accommodate ‘NRICH’ lessons which we see as crucial to embedding a culture of problem solving across the department.
  • New lessons have been created and existing lessons have been amended to include ‘Mastery’ questions in the bellwork or plenary phases.
  • There is a confidence in the Faculty that we are ready to begin the 2016/2017 secure in our knowledge of the new requirements to ensure the continued progress of pupils in the Mathematics Faculty.

References

Department for Education (DfE). (2013a). National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, J. Swafford, J. & Findell, B.(eds.)(2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Mathematics Learning Study Committee: National Research Council.

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/45776 [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/40529 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2015). National Curriculum Assessment Materials. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/46689 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

Ofsted  (2015) Better Mathematics Conference Keynote Spring 2015. Paper presented at the Better Mathematics Conference, Norwich, Norfolk.

Featured image: original image ‘Map of Mathematics Poster’ by Dominic Wallman, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/95869671@N08/32264483720

 

 

Using E-Learning as an intervention tool for GCSE Science with Year 11 Students

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)

Objective

The objective of this project is to research and implement e-learning strategies as a means of improving the progress and outcomes of key marginal students in GCSE (Core) Science.

Background

As a school, we operate a key stage four model in which historically, the majority of students complete the GCSE Science course in year ten and GCSE Additional Science in year eleven. We also have a group of students completing the Separate Sciences course. Using this model, the majority of students are entered for all GCSE units and accreditation at the end of year ten. The exception to this is students who we do not feel to be ready to sit their exams at this point. Each year we also have a number of students who sit their GCSE examinations at the end of year ten but who are re-entered for these exams in year eleven. Almost always this is either at the school’s request because a student’s overall GCSE Science grade is below that expected, or because students or parents request a re-sit in order to improve their overall grade, in order to access college courses.

In the academic year 2014-15 the school entered 122 students for their GCSE Science exams at the end of year ten. Having consulted with teachers, parents and teachers, the decision was made to withdraw 18 students from these exams with a view to entering them at the end of year eleven. Although overall, the GCSE Science results for this cohort were pleasing the further decision was made to re-enter 29 students to re-sit their GCSE Science exams at the end of year eleven.

This presented the Science faculty with a particular set of challenges. 47 students were due to sit their GCSE Science exams alongside their GCSE Additional Science exams in the summer of 2016. This would place significant extra demands on these students, in terms of the number of science exams they would sit and especially in terms of the bulk of knowledge they would need to retain in order to achieve successful grades. By definition this group of students overwhelmingly consisted of students who either had not achieved, or were not on track to achieve their targeted grade at the end of year ten. This was for a variety of reasons but often underpinned by a failure to successfully access the curriculum and support offered to them in year ten, or by difficulties in retaining and applying the bulk of knowledge required. In other words, this group consisted largely of the very students least likely to be able to successfully overcome the challenges facing them.

As a faculty we were not in a position financially or logistically to offer significant additional in class support to these students so needed to think creatively about out of class solutions which would help these students to access and retain the knowledge required to succeed in their exams. Online E-learning packages such as SAM learning (to which the school subscribes), seemed to offer an avenue through which support could be provided and monitored effectively.

Context

SAM learning is an online package consisting of student activities and online tests. Many of these are self-marking and can provide immediate feedback to both students and teachers. Activities can be set by teachers but can also be accessed independently by students. The school has subscribed to SAM learning for several years prior to the period of this investigation, and although it has been used by staff and students, for example for homework tasks and independent revision, it was yet to be used systematically by the Science faculty.

The functionality and accessibility of SAM learning seemed to provide a means through which interventions could be put in place for our targeted group of Y11 students. In addition to this, I was aware anecdotally of examples of SAM learning being used effectively to support revision and exam preparation at KS4, both in other departments in our school and in other local institutions. Although there appeared to have been little research done specifically in to the use of SAM learning as an intervention tool, there did seem to be robust evidence to support the view that consistent and regular use of SAM learning could lead to an improvement in student outcomes overall.

One of the most comprehensive studies into this area was conducted by the Fisher Family Trust (FFT). They investigated the effect of SAM learning on the progress and outcomes of 258 599 UK students between 2009 and 2011. The findings of this study seemed to suggest a strong link between the use of SAM learning and an improvement in student outcomes. For example the study found that on average 10 plus hours use of SAM learning led to students achieving 12.3 capped points scores higher than expected and that, although less significant, as little as between 2 and 10 hours study on SAM learning could lead to a measurable improvement in student outcomes as shown in figure one.

Fig 1

Figure 1. The actual and estimated attainment of students, with regards to their usage of E-learning.

This study also suggested that the group of students whose outcomes were improved most significantly by the use of SAM learning were those with the lowest achievement at KS2. This is summarised in figure 2. This was particularly interesting as many of the students in our intervention group were relatively low achievers at KS2.

Fig 2

 Figure 2. Value added performance with usage of E-learning in relation to prior attainment.

Most interestingly the results of the FFT study seemed to indicate that as little as two ten minute sessions per week could have a measureable impact on outcomes in Science and that more than ten hours spent on SAM learning would on average, improve outcomes by a third of a grade. These findings are summarised in figure 3.

Fig 3

Figure 3. Value added performance in core subjects with usage of E-learning.

Other research appeared to support the view that SAM learning could act as a valuable intervention tool, especially for students with a back ground of lower or under-achievement. For example an American study (Jorgensen, 2010), stressed the potential effectiveness of SAM learning in providing accessible interactive and scaffolded learning. She also stressed the program’s potentially positive impact on disengaged learners in academic and content-rich subjects such as Science.

The research seemed to suggest that SAM learning was worth exploring for use as an intervention tool with our targeted group of students in Y11.

Actions

Having made the decision to use SAM Learning as an intervention tool, it was essential to devise a programme through which it could be effectively introduced and delivered to students and monitored by members of staff. I also felt that the interventions were likely to be most effective if they integrated a range of resources and activities, drawing on existing best practice, rather than using SAM learning as a stand-alone intervention. As such, the faculty and I decided on the following actions;

  • Each student in the intervention group would be allocated a member of teaching staff as a mentor. This member of staff would ensure that the student had access to appropriate resources and would monitor and support their use. They would also be the first point of contact with home.
  • Each student would be provided with a paper revision guide and GCSE Science workbook. The staff mentor would discuss this with students and monitor their use.
  • Each student was provided with a content specific, personalised learning checklist (PLC). This had been modified so that once students had identified specific areas of need, they could reference the appropriate activities both in the revision guide/workbook and in SAM learning. Figure 4 provides an example of such a PLC

Fig 4b

Figure 4. PLC, showing specific links to revision guide and SAM learning activities

These PLCs were designed to make students’ use of SAM learning (and other revision resources), more effective by allowing them to target their efforts on the areas of greatest need.

  • It proved relatively easy to set up a group in SAM learning which contained all of the students in the intervention group. This enabled me to set the relevant tasks for the students concerned. I made the decision to set all of the Core Science tasks up front, giving students the opportunity to complete them at their own pace. I felt that this would allow them to use their PLCs to identify and then work on key areas of the subject content.
  • The interventions were tracked at the faculty level though mentors regularly updating a central spreadsheet indicating when actions had taken place. Figure 5 shows an excerpt from this tracking grid.

Fig 4a

Figure 5. An excerpt from the faculty interventions tracking grid.

  • Mentors regularly met with the intervention students in order to discuss their exam preparation and their use of resources. Having set the SAM learning tasks, I was able to monitor their usage online.

Impact

Initial analysis of the GCSE Science headline figures in 2016 suggested that the results were pleasing. Overall, students had exceeded national expectations in terms of outcomes and progress. This is summarised in figure 6.

Fig 8

Figure 6. Summary of achievement in GCSE Science 2016.

These results also suggested a modest, but significant improvement in results from those achieved and/or predicted by/for these students in the summer of 2015. Taking into account the predicted grades of the students who were not entered for GCSE Science in Y10, the percentage of students achieving A* to C grades had increased from 52% to 57% and the percentage of students making at least three levels of progress has increased from 51% to 57%. Both of these gains were particularly significant as they pushed faculty outcomes above national expectations.

It was clear that students had made limited, yet significant gains. It also appeared that the interventions we had put in place had had some impact. Of the 47 students in the intervention group, 16 (34%) had improved by one or more grade from year ten to year eleven in GCSE Science. Interestingly, of the 18 students that we did not enter for GCSE examination in Y10, only 4 (22%), improved their grade, whereas 12 of the 29 students (41%), who did take GCSE Science in Y10, but re-sat in Y11, improved their grade.

It also appeared that the use of SAM learning had had some impact on student outcomes, both for the targeted intervention group of students and perhaps unexpectedly, across the whole year group. SAM learning usage reports in June 2016 suggested that use of SAM learning across the year group in Science had increased by over 200% on the previous year, and that students in our school were on average marking greater use of SAM learning than the national average. Although it is impossible to link this usage with outcomes across the faculty, the research suggests that it is likely that it did have a positive impact. It seems likely that the raised profile of SAM learning and the distribution of resources such as the amended PLCs to students outside the target group led to increased use of SAM learning across the year group.

Specific analysis of the outcomes of students in the targeted intervention group also proved to be very interesting, especially when compared to usage of SAM learning. This is summarised in Figure 7.

Fig 6

* Based on national transition matrices.

Figure 7. SAM Learning usage and change in GCSE Science grade from year ten to year eleven.

Indicates where a student did not sit GCSE Science in Y10. The grade shown here is the teacher assessed grade.

Although there does not appear to be a direct correlation between use of SAM learning and an improvement in outcomes (and detailed statistical analysis would be needed to show this), there do appear to be some patterns.

  • 14 of the 16 students who had improved their grades had spent at least some time on SAM learning.
  • Of the 24 students who had spent at least 30 minutes on SAM learning 12 (50%), had made an improvement in their grade.
  • Of the 23 students who had spent less than half an hour, or no time on SAM learning 4 (17%), had made an improvement in their grade.
  • 2 of the 3 students with the highest usage of SAM learning made no improvement to their grade.
  • It appears that girls were more likely than boys to use SAM learning, with girls accessing SAM learning for an average of 2.40 hours and boys for an average of 1.45 hours. Twelve boys did not access SAM learning at all compared to 7 girls who did not. Interestingly this difference seemed to correspond with a slight but not significant difference in improvement of outcomes with 7 out of 24 boys (29%) and 9 out of 23 (39%) girls improving their grades.

Conclusions

It does appear that the interventions used with this cohort of students had a limited, yet significant (in terms of improved outcomes for the faculty), effect on students’ grades between year ten and year eleven. This view is supported by analysis showing that 34% of students in the intervention group improved by at least one grade. This improvement was more marked in girls (39%), than it was in boys (29%). It was also notable that more students improved their grade having first taken the exams in year ten (39%), then re-sat in year eleven, than those who were withdrawn in year ten and sat for the first time in year eleven (22%).

It is impossible to demonstrate a causal relationship between these improvements in grades and the use of SAM learning. No attempt was made to control other variables which may have had an impact on student outcomes. All students had access to a range of intervention resources, for example revision guides and work books as well as SAM learning. In many cases students who had high usage of SAM learning also regularly accessed and used other resources. Indeed, those students who were most willing to access and use SAM learning were usually those who were best motivated in general and most willing to seek support from their mentors and indeed to access other resources. However, there does seem to be a tentative relationship between use of SAM learning and an improvement in grades. Fourteen of the sixteen students who made an improvement in their grades had spent some time working on SAM learning with 50% of students who accessed SAM learning for more than half an hour seeing an improvement in their grades. A gender difference in SAM learning was also apparent, with girls being much more likely to use SAM learning and likely to spend longer using it in total, than boys.

It seems at least possible, although it is by no means proved by this piece of research, that the use of SAM learning has had a positive impact on outcomes for students retaking GCSE Science in our school. However, further more detailed research, with an attempt to control other potentially contributing variables, would be needed to demonstrate a positive correlation, let alone a causal relationship.

Next steps

This piece of action research has provided me with the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons in to how to provide effective interventions. I will be able to apply this learning and improve the package we offer to the current year eleven. It has also raised some interesting questions that could form the basis for further research.

Learning, to be applied to the current year eleven:

  • SAM learning is a valuable intervention tool. It allows students to access and assess learning independently. We will be using it again with the current year eleven
  • SAM learning is especially effective when combined with a self-diagnosis system, such as the PLCs as this allows students to direct their effort to the areas where it is most needed. Again, we will make sure that these are available for use with the current year eleven.
  • This research supports the view that SAM learning has a positive impact on student outcomes, although it by no means proves it. We will make sure that current students are aware of this and of the potential gains to be made by the regular use of SAM learning.
  • Girls appear to be more likely to access SAM learning than boys. In the current Y11, boys will need more monitoring and support than girls.
  • Out mentoring was not always effective in leading students (especially boys), to consistently use SAM learning. We will need to consider more effective ways in which mentoring and support can be offered.

Possible areas for further research:

  • Is there a causal relationship between the use of SAM learning and improved outcomes in GCSE Science, especially for previously underachieving students?
  • What is the relative effectiveness of SAM learning as an intervention tool compared with more traditional paper based resources, for example revision guides and work books?
  • Are girls more likely to access SAM learning than boys? Why might this be?

References and further reading

Fisher Family Trust (2012), Impact of E.Learning.

Jorgensen M. (2010), An intervention that works – SAM Learning.

Featured image: By GNOME icon artists (HTTP / FTP) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or LGPL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/lgpl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Nurturing student talent in Art at Key Stage 3 in preparation for the challenges of GCSE

An Action Research Project by Tanya Owen (Art & Design)

As Van Gogh once wrote, “…one must never let the fire go out in one’s soul, but keep it burning.”

I began this research project as a direct response to teaching 4 out of 5 Art and Design groups in year 8. This particular year group has an extremely wide ability spectrum, a number of pupils with behavioural issues and one lesson a week to teach them Art in. I felt as a teacher I was not spending enough time with the higher achieving pupils. Even though I would differentiate the work, by the time the rest of the pupils were focused I would only have a limited amount of time to support pupils in developing more technical and refined skills.

I understand implicitly how to teach a pupil at GCSE level to achieve an A*. A lot of one to one work and time inside and sometimes outside of normal lessons is needed; discussing ideas; teaching technical skills and instilling the confidence to experiment with materials and make mistakes. This year, my A and A* students spent a lot of extra time after school or at lunchtimes working though these criteria and stretching their ambitions and creativity in a relaxed and supportive environment.  A trusting and positive relationship was developed with these individuals, which helped them to feel safe and to succeed.

As a response to this, I decided to begin a Year 8 Art Club for pupils who aspired to be talented artists so that they too could have a relaxed space in which to be creative and where I could teach them to a higher level, spark their creativity and tap into their imagination.

What does a talented Artist look like?

  1. They think and express themselves in creative and original ways

Pupils want to follow a different plan to other pupils and have strong personal ideas. They often challenge the tasks given and can extend the work in a fantastic direction.

  1. Have a strong desire to create in a visual form

They are driven by their imagination, flights of fancy, humanitarian concerns or personal issues/subject matter. They persevere with resolving visual problems and complete tasks successfully.

  1. Push the boundaries of a normal process

They test ideas and problem solve. They explore ways in which to depict ideas, feelings, emotions and meanings. They are excited by new ideas and ways of looking at their work and are not frightened by it.

  1. Show a passionate interest in the world of art and design

They are often interested in a particular art form, contemporary culture or youth culture.

  1. Use materials, tools and techniques skilfully and learn new approaches

They are keen to extend and explore their technical ability and can sometimes become frustrated when their skills do not allow them to do what they would like to do initially but they persevere.

  1. Initiate ideas and define problems

They can explore ideas, problems and sources on their own and collaboratively with a sense of purpose and meaning.

  1. Critically evaluate visual work and other information

They make unusual connections and links with the work of other artists. They can apply the ideas/techniques to their own work in a non-linear and innovative way.

  1. Exploit the characteristics of materials and processes

They use and understand materials well and even invent new ways of using them.

  1. Understand the ideas and meanings in their own and others’ work

Their work has meaning and a narrative which they can talk to you about on a very personal level.

As a visual person, I find definitions in words quite difficult and find the use of concrete examples much clearer, such as in the following examples of a current GCSE pupils’ work:

Fig 1

Fig 2Fig 3

Leading ultimately, to the completed project.

Fig 4

So, having clearly defined what a talented Artist’s work looks like I decided to take a very small part of this to tackle with the year 8 group. For me, it was important to inspire and excite the students about the subject. I began by running workshops for the pupils outside of lessons. Although the pupils seemed to be quite happy with this, there were not many participants and they lacked enthusiasm. So I decided to let the pupils take the lead…

Although one or two found this freedom a little difficult, we talked individually about what they wanted to do and came up with some themes and concepts. Most pupils, however, brought in their sketchbooks from home; drawings they had already done and artists’ work they particularly liked and were very excited to show me what they really enjoyed. This brought a whole new energy to the group and many more joined. Many of the pupils were very motivated by Manga Images. Pupils need to have a certain technical aptitude to draw these figures and faces accurately and many were doing this very skilfully. They are nevertheless, quite flat drawings and could be made a lot more exciting by adding various techniques and contexts to them. I did not want the pupils to just continue with creating pastiches of the artists’ work.

The Manga drawings are quite flat and cartoon like….

Fig 5

Other pupils within the group focused on various things from cake prints to make Birthday cards as well as continuing to explore classwork, to which they were be able to add some of the new techniques explored.

Fig 6

I did two weeks of each workshop demonstrating techniques and trying to get the pupils excited about applying more exciting patterns and textures into their drawings and artwork.

Fig 7

The pupils did enjoy this but seemed to do it a bit reluctantly, as most wanted to carry on with and develop their own pieces of work.

I then began to look at evidence about creativity.

Fig 8

‘The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself.’ (from an article in the Guardian)

First, creativity, like learning in general, is a highly personal process. We all have different talents and aptitudes and different ways of getting to understand things. Raising achievement in schools means leaving room for these differences and not prescribing a standard ‘steeplechase’ for everyone to complete, at the same time and in the same way.

Second, creativity is not a linear process, in which you have to learn all the necessary skills before you get started. It is true that creative work in any field involves a growing mastery of skills and concepts. It is not true that they have to be mastered before the creative work can begin. Focusing on skills in isolation can kill interest in any discipline. The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself. When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done. Their mastery of them grows as their creative ambitions expand.

Third, facilitating this process takes connoisseurship, judgment – and, yes, creativity, on the part of teachers. For creativity to flourish, schools have to feel free to innovate without the constant fear of being penalised for not keeping with the programme.

So, although teaching pupils new skills is effective, it would be more effective to get the pupils to answer technical  questions about their work through a desire to create a piece in a certain way.  As a teacher the challenge then is to facilitate this vision…to answer and give options to creative questions.

How do I give this creature an eerie texture?

Fig 9

How do I make this hair look more lively?

Fig 10

How do I make the paint more dribbly and random on my flowers?

Fig 11

This process has had a powerful effect on the relationship I have with those pupils. There is a greater trust that they will be able to succeed with me as their teacher, which for me is very important, as I feel it has been this group of students in particular who can be marginalised in lessons. They also have a greater confidence in the art classroom as they have a greater ownership of it. Independence and confidence has risen. I am trying to use the club as an opportunity to talk about classwork in a non-formal way so that I am able to have a bigger input into stretching their abilities and ambitions inside and outside the formal setting.

Ultimately, I want pupils to have more ‘attitude’. When I consider what is different between my most able pupils at GCSE and this group in year 8; it is that the GCSE candidates are argumentative, protective and almost stubborn about their ideas. This ‘attitude’ gives them resilience in resolving their own creative dilemmas.

As a consequence of this research I intend to proceed as follows:

My Action Plan

  • Encourage pupils to integrate new techniques into their own ideas/work to make it visually richer and craft a creative final piece.
  • Try to give them the confidence to deal with mistakes. It could lead to a new idea and the pupils may have the courage to go down a creative journey in which they do not know the outcome.
  • Add links on our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to various pencil and paint techniques so pupils can access them and learn how to do these at home;
    • Watercolour – salt technique, texture and cling film, blurring and wash on wash
    • Creating texture and collage – using tissue paper, glue gun, pva, pulp, newspaper, magazines
    • Pencil techniques – realistic drawing, creating texture using a pencil, portrait drawing
  • Plan an art trip for year 9 next year to raise aspirations further and run another art club based on this.

Featued image: Wallpaper Geometric Art Abstract Waves Background  Creative Commons Zero – CC0