ACE Questioning

A simple questioning strategy to encourage pupils to extend or justify their thinking.

Mrs Humanities

Looking for a way to differentiate and challenge without any significant need for resources?

Try out ACE questioning. A simple idea which can have big results.

I use it several ways dependent on the class and learners ability range.

Basic concept

A = accept
C = challenge
E = extend

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Approach 1

The teacher asks a student if they would like to accept, challenge or extend the answer of another student. The student decides and does one of the above, ensuring that if they accept they explain why.

Approach 2

The teacher asks selected students certain questions related to A, C or E.

e.g. do you accept what child A said, why/why not?

Approach 3

During peer assessment students state whether they accept the work as it is and explain why, challenge the answers given by asking them a question such as why do you think… or I actually think…

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Developing independence and resilience in MFL Lessons

An Action Research Project by Joanne Whalley (MFL)

Reading time: 12 minutes

Context  –  Autumn 2016

Teaching is good within the department but there could be more focus on developing student resilience and independence as this is a subject which is traditionally quite teacher led and reliant on the teacher as the main resource. Evidence in lessons of students being more resourceful and taking ownership of their own learning would help us to achieve a greater degree of excellence.  In addition, this will bring about a welcome sense of student autonomy which could revolutionize current approaches which can be very teacher-centred (and at times, it could be said that the teacher is working harder than the students!).

With the introduction of new GCSE criteria and the removal of National Curriculum levels a whole school approach to grading has been introduced and the first step in developing student independence was to ensure that they understand what their next steps are. Students self and peer-assess using the grade criteria and grade criteria are shown alongside lesson objectives and assessments. This grade criteria document, which is found at the front of all students’ exercise books acts as a useful “how to” signpost for all students in identifying their next steps and setting goals for the coming term. Thus, students have a growing sense of security in what they can do well and what they need to improve in order to achieve a higher grade.

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See below an example of the assessment criteria sheet for Key Stage Four students. Through a series of self, peer and teacher assessments early in Year 10 prior attainment is plotted on the criteria (marked in red), the end of Key Stage Target is also marked on the grid (marked in green) and steps that need to be completed to demonstrate progress being made towards those target criteria are marked in yellow and dated by the student or teacher. Students or teachers can also identify current priorities or next steps after an assessment, this is done in blue and signed and dated by the teacher when achieved.

This has enabled students to have a very clear picture of what they are able to do, what they aim to ultimately achieve and what their immediate priorities are, which would bring about a step change in results. This strong sense of direction and ownership has enabled students to ensure that when they are completing new pieces of work that they include the necessary components in order to reach a particular grade.

More importantly it has given students a very clear pathway to follow and they have been able to begin to make significant “jumps” by trying techniques which they might not have ordinarily thought of including. In short, students have been more willing to take a risk rather than producing work at a level at which they feel comfortable, very close to their current level of attainment.

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Figure 1: Grade criteria for MFL

Development – December 2016

After having completed a work book scrutiny and a peer observation of a colleague within the English department, I trialed marking with a highlighter to improve student engagement with written feedback and their ability to identify targets for improvement. I have adopted a three colour approach (red, amber, green) and have linked these to the success criteria for a given task. Students in Years 7, 8 and 10 have successfully used the guidance provided to peer and self-assess work, grading it, picking out what they have done well and then identify targets for improvement. This approach is more positive and although it should not be the sole type of marking employed as it does not highlight spelling or grammatical errors, it clearly shows what a student is doing well and then by the absence of the next colour, it shows what a student should work on next. In addition, this technique is quick and simple, as well as very visual and can help when undertaking moderation as you can clearly see which grade is the best fit by the colours shown on a particular piece of work. Samples of these pieces of work have been displayed in classrooms so students can see why a certain piece of work has gained a particular grade, furthermore copies of this have been kept centrally as a reference point for sample work at grades 2 – 6 so far ( and all the sub grades between). A development for the next academic year is to have some laminated versions of these to use as models for students when preparing extended written pieces.

Action

Having laid the foundations of student understanding of how to identify their next steps, I became more confident that students would engage with a more student led approach. Thus, I undertook a series of lessons focusing on student-led learning in January 2017 with Year 10 students.

Research before the lesson

In the first few months of this project, I read a number of short publications and blogs about risk taking and there seemed to be common themes emerging.

  1. As a teacher you should model failure / risk taking – we have a choice to do something simple or slowly forever or to try and improve your performance and risk making a mistake.
  2. If you don’t take a risk you are unlikely to get any better but you need to feel safe to take a risk.
  3. Don’t implement too many changes at once.
  4. You need to provide (decent) opportunities for risk taking, you need to invest time in it.
  5. Give students freedom in the way they approach a task
  6. Do something meaningful with a clear purpose
  7. Take student views on board

Risk taking lesson 1

From these key points I decided upon my approach to my first “risk tasking lesson”. I began the lesson by showing the group, my first ever attempt at skiing on my own without an instructor. It was a perfect example of how I was perfectly in control, very safe but taking no risks whatsoever, avoiding all inclines and I explained, that I would have remained at that level if I hadn’t found the confidence to take a risk. In order to make sure the students felt safe, I planned the lesson so that the tasks were achievable, I was working on the basis of proximal development, students needed to feel that the task was (almost) achievable if they were to be willing to keep going when it became challenging. Group work, provided support and in terms of reassurance that the students were on track to meet the challenge, I gave regular verbal feedback throughout the session. I did not direct the students as to how to tackle the task but put at their disposal some suggested resources. I explained clearly how we would be using the knowledge from the lesson in our later work.

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Planning

Students were divided into mixed ability groups. There were four groups. Three of the four groups had one more able student, due to the composition of the class, the fourth group was made up of three middle ability learners and one less able.

The groups were given an envelope with a series of 6 challenges to complete over a period of a two hour lesson. They were given a set of rules which outlined the resources they were able to access and what they were not allowed to do. Whilst I circulated the class, I would give hints, reassurance and guide the students through questioning, I would not give them answers to the challenges unless they used one of their 5 help cards, (interestingly, by the end of the two hour lesson the maximum number of cards used by any group was 3, which shows how independent they were trying to be).

The challenges were planned according to Blooms Taxonomy (Knowledge > Understanding> Application) and therefore became incrementally more difficult. The task set was to find out when to use the Imperfect tense, how to conjugate it, to apply it to key phrases on the topic of local area and then use this to translate a paragraph.

The plan for the 2 hour lesson:

Challenge 1 > Acquiring knowledge – When do we use the Imperfect tense?

Challenge 2 > Developing knowledge and understanding – How do we form the Imperfect tense?

Challenge 3 > Developing understanding and applying the rule – Are there any verbs which don’t follow the rule? Apply the rule to familiar verbs

Challenge 4 > Application in the context of current topic –  translation of useful phrases for describing where you used to live when you were younger

Challenge 5 > Application in a translation task.

Lesson reflection

It was fascinating to watch the dynamics of each group. Initially, two of the three most able students were afraid to commit ideas to paper and seemed to be worried about making mistakes. The middle ability learners demonstrated much more of a “have a go” attitude and were very motivated by the points awarded to each team for each challenge. The most able learners tended to monopolise their groups initially when the task was straight forward and the other members of the group initially deferred to them, thinking that their input was not as valid as other students who they considered to better at French than them. However, they demonstrated less resilience when the work became more challenging. A student who is a high achiever due to a very positive work ethic, hard work and determination was plagued with self-doubt and floundered much more than the less able students in the class. The final task completed involved translation and one of the most able students is nearly bilingual and at this point he began to take the lead, interestingly his level of accuracy was not good and the less able students in his group who were actively applying the knowledge that they had acquired by following the rules of the tense were able to correct his mistakes as he was relying on “gut feel”. His over confidence and reluctance to accept help from other members of the group resulted in the group not finishing the translation task as much time was wasted through guessing where he was going wrong rather than consistently applying what he had learned.

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The most effective group in terms of speed, accuracy and collaborative skills were the group of middle ability learners, perhaps because there was not a clear leader to defer to, they all felt that they had something to contribute which led to greater efficiency. I was most impressed with the way in which they sought to acquire knowledge, with everyone in  the team playing a part and then they rigorously applied the knowledge and when in doubt referred back to the resources available, showing a great deal of determination and resilience as well as resourcefulness.

Conclusions and next steps

Students were mostly positive about the way that they had been learning, though I would note that collaboration seems to be of most benefit to middle ability students who are keen to succeed and who like to receive affirmation from their peers that they are doing the right thing. The very least able can still tend to be passive but towards the end of the lesson was tentatively seen to make more contributions to the group. Most able students, who are used to being right most of time and who perhaps need this regular verbal affirmation from the teacher throughout the lesson, were the students who struggled with the concept most.

On reflection, this was a good first lesson of this nature. I perhaps could have been stricter, giving less hints and I could have forced students to use their help cards more. I could plan to make the task even more challenging, by giving students less obvious resources to find the information, thus making the investigation more open ended, with more chance of failure but for a first lesson this would have made students less likely to engage with this way of working. In this lesson, the level of challenge was appropriate. In the future, during the mid – plenary reflection I would encourage students not only to reflect upon what they are learning, and how they are learning but also the effectiveness of the way in which the group was working.

During the next lesson, I returned the corrected translations to the groups and asked students to consider the success criteria to identify why I have given those particular scores. (I used highlighter marking to identify key parts of the work). The final step was for individual students to undertake a translation task and a creative writing task so that I am able to gain a good understanding of individual’s grasp of the grammar and give personalised feedback to each member of the class. At this point students were better prepared for this challenge and understood what would make a more successful piece, they tackled the task and all performed well in relation to their ability , independently making use of resources to produce work of good quality.

The students were also given a similar type activity for homework. They were divided into 4 groups by ability and were given a research task appropriate for their ability. They had to research the element of grammar and produce a step by step guide of how to form it. They also had to produce a game or activity to practice this grammar point. They then presented their findings to mixed ability groups so that by the end of the lesson all students had presented their findings on a range of grammatical points concerning the perfect tense.

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In my opinion, this element of the “pilot” was less successful, students worked on this at home and as such two of the vital elements of the risk taking exercise were lacking; peer support and reassurance from the teacher. This meant that students no longer felt safe and therefore displayed less resilience. Several of the less able and less conscientious students, including the only disadvantaged student said they had been confused by the task and had not completed the homework, whereas those who were ordinarily hardworking, determined and well-motivated, tackled whichever task they had been set with a resilient approach. In addition, the homework task was set within the context of the success criteria for Key Stage Four and as such I had felt that the objective for the activity was clear, however, on reflection perhaps students were less comfortable with taking a risk because they could not see a clear enough link, or “the point” of learning in this way. In the classroom, with constant reinforcement and good student > teacher relationships, students are more likely to display a determined approach even when they find the task confusing.

As a result of what I had discovered through my Year 10 experimental lesson, I have drawn out the most successful elements and widened my use of them. Throughout the rest of the academic year I continued to use these strategies with several of my classes:

  • Setting independent research homework based around grammar points
  • Peer teaching of what they have discovered
  • Students producing resources to help each other consolidate knowledge (games mostly)
  • Regular use of these grammar points within classwork and homework, linking closely to assessment criteria
  • Peer assessment / highlighter marking / students showing not only correct use of the grammar but also that they know that by demonstrating use of more complex structures they will achieve higher grades.

These elements have been successful in giving students an increased sense of independence and self-confidence and a clear understanding of the relationship between how learning various grammar points allows them  greater opportunities to climb the grade ladder which we have created. When we have discussed this in class, students have stated that they like to be able to clearly see what ”ingredients” they need for each grade as it sharpens their focus on how to take control of their own progress.

Bibliography

If learning involves risk taking, teaching involves trust building – Marilla Svinicki – University of Texas (The Professional and Organisational Development Network in Higher Education)

Taking risks in your teaching – Maryellen Weimer PHD ( www.facultyfocus.com)

Creating a safe space for students to take academic risks – Kristi Johnson Smith (Learn NC – University of North Canada)

10 risks every teacher should take with their class – A J Juliani ( http://ajjuliani.com)

Creating a risk taking classroom environment – Mr Gilliespies’s Office – http://reedgillespie.blogspot.co.uk

Featured images:

‘Balance, high ropes, about paris’ by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

‘Freerider’ by Up-Free on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

‘African – Asian’ by OpenClipart Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

Using pupil workbooks and interactive PLCs to support learning

A Sharing best practice post by Daniel James (Computing and Business Studies)

Reading time: 2 minutes

The development of a structured approach to learning in GCSE Computing lessons came out of a detailed evaluation of students’ books, notes and revision techniques from the previous academic year. It was clear that there was, in some cases,  a huge difference between the quality of lesson notes and the pupils’ ability to find these notes and use them effectively for revision purposes.

It was from this starting point that we decided to create lesson booklets for all modules in the GCSE Computing course. This provides a structure for students when making notes,  removing the anxiety that some felt when they did not know what note to make in a lesson from all that they were being taught.

Structured Learning 2

Structure Learning

Figure 1 and 2:  Pages from the pupils’ workbooks

The lesson booklets also enabled students to find the notes they needed when revising more quickly and thus focus on undertaking the revision rather than trying to work out which of their notes they needed to revise from.

Along with the lesson booklets we have created end of module revision booklets that have a one page module summary sheet and then exam questions taken from previous exams (or the sample material for new GCSEs).  These support the revision process and ensure students get to the point of applying their learning to exam questions more efficiently, which is after all the ultimate goal in exam preparation!

Revision- notes

Revision- Exam Practice

Figures 3 and 4: Examples of revision notes and exam practice from the End of module revision booklets

This term we are introducing an online interactive PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist) that we have created to allow all students to RAG (Red/Amber/Green) rate their learning across the course.  This allows us as teachers not just to see how all the students in a class are doing but to tailor our revision lessons and final preparation to these needs in the run up to an exam.

PLC

Figure 5: Section of the online interactive PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist)

PLC- Analysis

Figure 6: example of the analysis section of the online PLC

Featured image: ‘Workstation’ by Open-ClipArt Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Common CC0

Developing a coordinated approach to revision for GCSE Science

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)

Reading time: 9 minutes

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

Background:

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

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

Context:

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

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

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

Actions:

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

  • Interventions to support students retaking GCSE Science.

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

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

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

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

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Figure 1: Example of a science revision homework task

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

  • A consistent approach to revision in class.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impact:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions:

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

Next steps:

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

 

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