Diary of a Lazy NQT Music Teacher

An Action Research Post by Catherine Mainwaring (Music)

Reading time: 4 minutes

Focus

Using the ‘Lazy Teacher’s Handbook’ to develop strategies to ease teacher workload.

Objective

To develop a range of practical strategies to lighten the workload of a single-teacher department so that curriculum planning and teaching is more efficient.

Background and Context

When deciding upon my research project for my NQT year I was drawn towards a book that I was first introduced to during my Initial Teacher Training Year. The supposedly lazy strategies to ease the life of teachers intrigued my curiosity about the possibility of doing less but achieving more when delivering a full teaching timetable – something that as a graduate teacher, was extremely daunting! What I soon discovered with the Lazy Teacher’s Handbook was that though some ideas could be adapted for everyday classrooms, with advances in technology a number felt out-of-date or misleadingly hard work. That being said there were some strategies that I was able to integrate within my teaching practice such as

  • Lazy lessons with the TA
  • Toolkit – giving pupils the tools to succeed and stepping back
  • No Photocopying

Let’s get lazy!

Actions and Impact

Lazy lessons with the TA

Having the addition of another adult in your classroom is simultaneously exceedingly helpful and terrifying! Especially in the initial stages of term 1 having a teaching assistant in the room was perhaps more of a comfort or safety blanket for myself rather than an additional support mechanism for certain pupils. The handbook identified a few ideas for using the TA ‘lazily’,  though when reflected upon, it became clear that in order to reach a ‘happy-medium’ of being a lazy teacher, some preparation and planning was needed which then had to be embedded. The handbook identified the following strategies:

  • Talk to your TA – introduce yourselves.
  • Give them a copy of the schemes of work
  • Get to know the TA – hobbies, interests, name
  • Engage the TA in the curriculum planning process

While some of these suggestions may seem quite obvious, it was still reassuring to have some guidance. Using the above strategies I found that my lessons with those classes who had the Teaching Assistant slowly started to become more manageable especially when faced with difficult behaviour in lessons or lessons where due to the practical nature of the class where pupils were in different rooms, having an extra pair of eyes proved very useful. Whilst giving them a copy of the scheme of work would be useful it contradicted another lazy activity of no photocopy (more of that later!). Among the trepidations I had about this particular avenue was that there was no guarantee that the TA would be available for every Music lesson or whether it would not be less strenuous to have a short conversation about the individual lesson they were in. One of the more useful suggestions was to engage the musical interests of the TA into my lessons. Being able to provide a united front and use example analogies to the pupils that the TA could also reiterate in the lesson proved useful whenever further clarification was needed.

Toolkit – giving pupils the tools to succeed and stepping back

I quite liked the idea for a toolkit especially when teaching the new GCSE course which now consists of a higher level of analytical detail than previously. Though having a toolkit for pupils to access in lessons seemed like a good idea at the time, it proved quite costly when resources needed to either be replaced, because students lost them or took them for their files or as more set works were discussed, more revision resources were produced. Towards the end of the academic year, I started to think of alternative ways of presenting a toolkit to my pupils, not only in Key Stage 4 but to Key Stage 3 as well, especially with regard to assessment and verbal feedback. As it stands, more time and planning is needed to fully explore the possibilities of a student toolkit.

No Photocopying

This particular strategy is one that I wasn’t sure I could fully commit to. While I loath printing out reams of scores and starter activities, such as tarsias/ rhythm bingo and exit passes, they have proved the activities that students both enjoyed the most and the ones which were able to be used multiple times during a lesson.  Motivating students by highlighting the amount of progress made within one lesson is crucial, especially for GCSE students as they approach the examination. Although I wanted to reduce the amount of printing, there are some things which need photocopying such as musical scores, especially for those pupils who do not have access to IT and online facilities at home.

Conclusions

To conclude, the Lazy Teacher’s Handbook is indeed a good foundation stone for a teacher in the initial stages of their career and as a starter for any teacher wanting to do less to allow their students to do more. One of the strengths in the literature is the ability to adapt each strategy to different teaching environments. One of the disadvantages however, is that some of the the strtaegies seem to be starting to become outdated given the vast range of developments that have been made with ICT in Education over the last few years (though I believe a new updated edition of the book has been published since my copy was printed).

Next Steps

I have found a variety of strategies in the text that I have used in different contexts within my teaching and have found with each one, a happy medium to build upon as I venture further into the teaching profession.  I have started researching the development of an online student toolkit which will be accessible to all pupils for feedback and revision. I have also built up professional relationships with Teaching Assistants and the extended Learning Hub (our pupil support team) to further develop my teaching style, to accommodate the specific learning needs of my Key Stage 4 pupils.

References

The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook – How your students learn more when you teach less  (The Independent Thinking Series – Crown House Publishing Ltd.)  Jim Smith – Author, Ian Gilbert – Editor

Featured image: ‘Teacher’ by dutchpirates on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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Making revision more effective

A sharing best practice post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Among the many challenges inherent in the new GCSE courses is the greater volume of knowledge and understanding that pupils are required to learn, recall and master in the exam hall.  This puts even greater importance on them undertaking effective revision.

In recent years staff have worked hard to develop a broad range of revision resources, whether they be revision booklets, guides, summary sheets, past paper booklets, revision tests and so on.  On top of the that, with the potential for using computer and online resources, teachers have collated or produced youtube films, channels, links and guides, not to mention making paper based resources accessible via VLEs, Google Drive and the School website.

However, despite this plethora of resources offering pupils a multitude of ways in which to revise, there are those  who still fail to make effective use of them.  In some cases these are pupils who have collected or accessed resources, have told the teacher, ‘Yes, I have my revision resources’ and ‘Yes, I know what I need to revise’, but still fail to revise effectively.

For some the problem lies not in knowing how to revise, because teachers have modelled and rehearsed that.  Nor in knowing what to revise, because teachers have provided them with revision lists and planning tools.  The problem for some seems to lie in marrying the two together.

For some pupils, breaking revision down and being specific in telling them which activities to undertake with which resources is far more likely to be productive, even for those who think they know what they are doing.

Being prescriptive in the way pupils are expected to revise can take the mystery, or in some cases the awe that some seem to feel, out of starting and completing an effective revision session.

As a tutor of a Year 11  group I have discussed with my pupils what help they want from teachers.  The answer that came back loud and clear was, “We need their help to tell us exactly how to revise individual topics.”

When I thought about this I came to the following conclusions:

  • The more structured the revision task the better, especially for the less able and many of the boys (as well as those students who are inclined to panic) so that they know exactly how and where to start revising
  • Frequent consolidation, not just of the learning but of the ‘how to’ strategies for revision, is needed to keep pupils focused

So, as a Maths teacher with a Year 11 class this is approach I am incorporating into my revision this year by using the following process:

  • Complete one mock paper per fortnight in class

Then, in the following fortnight pupils complete two homeworks:

  • Week 1 – a written homework that can be self-assessed in class
  • Week 2 – a clearly defined revision task based on the outcome of the mock, which I talk through with the class before they complete it

JJ - HW task

Figure 1  An example of a revision homework

Put simply my advice is:

  • Show the pupils how to revise by modelling the strategies
  • Set revision tasks on a regular basis, guiding the pupils specifically as to what they need to revise and how they are to do it.

Featured image: ‘Brain’ by ElisaRiva on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

Investigating the impact of Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies on pupils’ learning

An Action Research Project by Daniel James (Business Studies)

Reading time: 9 minutes

This is an investigation into the practical implications of using Kagan Cooperative Learning and its impact on pupils’ learning.

1.1 Introduction:

In the traditional taught classroom the teacher may provide some instructions or a knowledge based element followed by some activity and a question and response section to track progress. The teacher may also ask questions and expect responses from students; this is sometimes delivered in a differentiated manner where the questions are posed at differing levels depending on their ability level.

As outlined by Kagan (2009)[1] “Traditional learning is either whole-class, with the teacher leading the class, or independent practice work”, as such this can lead to an environment that is not as conducive to learning as we might think.  The traditional classroom creates a more intimidating learning environment where students are picked for their answers, where the teacher is in charge of learning and as such often lacks engagement.

Kagan offers a different approach to this where interaction is an expected part of the learning environment. This need not be at odds with the traditional classroom, as outlined Kagan (2009)[2] “Cooperative learning compliments rather than replaces direct instruction; it is used to cement learning that occurs via direct instruction”.

“[T]eachers believe Kagan Structures are instructional strategies designed to promote cooperation and communication in the classroom, boost students’ confidence and retain their interest in classroom interaction.”[3]

The whole idea behind Cooperative Learning is the act of allowing students to directly interact with their own learning. In this action research project I will explore some of the learning structures outlined by Kagan and report on their impact on attainment, knowledge development, enjoyment and confidence in the classroom.

1.2 The Structures

In Kagan (2009) they introduce the idea of the replacement cycle which suggests that with each academic cycle there is a new teaching and learning approach that replaces its predecessor.  The phrase “It is all cyclical” rings true here.  Kagan (2009)[4] says that because of this replacement cycle, experienced teachers get jaded and “give little or no effort… It is tragic for teachers who get turned off to the whole process of educational innovation”.

The ‘Cooperative Learning Structures’ approach has been designed to break this replacement cycle, getting rid of the need to plan one off cooperative learning lessons and instead implement structures that can be used as part of any lesson. “Don’t do cooperative learning lessons; make cooperative learning part of every lesson”. (Kagan 2009)[5]

2.1 My Approach

Throughout the last academic year I have used my year 9 Business classes as a focus for developing and researching the use and impact of Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies on the progress and engagement of students. The two classes have 31 students each, are roughly 50:50 in gender split and have a range of behavioral and learning needs, they are broadly mixed ability.

Throughout the year I have used a range of Kagan structures as outlined in the book “Cooperative Learning”. These structures were used multiple times across both classes, at points they were adapted to fit the subject specific content, and were evaluated as to their effectiveness.

2.1.1 How the structures were evaluated

The structures were evaluated on a three point scale these were:

  1. How time effective the structure was (Time needed to setup Vs. overall impact)
  2. Impact on student subject understanding
  3. Impact on student engagement

When evaluating against these three areas I used a 5 point scale with 1 being not effective, 5 being extremely effective. The judgements were based on students’ responses to in-class questioning, assessment of tests and exercise books and through observation.

Example judgement:

Fig 1

3.1 Findings

3.1.1 Fan-N-Pick

Each team of four has a set of question cards.  Pupil #1 holds a set of cards with questions on them, pupil #2 selects a question to ask, player #3 answers the question, player #4 checks whether the answer is right or wrong and praises or tutors, or in the case of opinion based questions,  paraphrases the thinking that went into the answer.  Roles rotate on each round.

Fan-N-Pick was used when teaching the topic of business structures. This was used as there were complex areas of ownership and control that the students need to grasp. The setup of this task was time intensive but once set up did highlight student understanding and areas where further consolidation was needed. This structure also enabled all students to take an active role in the peer assessment and challenge of one another and so improved engagement in the lesson. Overall, this structure was effective and once set up should provide a range of assessment opportunities for the teacher.

Fig 2

3.1.2 Find Someone Who

In this activity the teacher prepares a sheet/list of questions.  Pupils circulate around the class forming different pairs on each round.  Each person in the pair then take it in turns to ask and then answer a question for the other person.  Pupils record the answer on their sheet and their partner initials the answer they have given.  The activity continues with pupils moving to form a pairing with a new person.

This structure was used in a recap lesson on stakeholders, their objectives and the impact they can have on business. The idea behind this activity is that each student is given a sheet with a series of questions relating to the topic and they move around the room trying to find people who had the answer (hence ‘find someone who’). I liked the principle idea behind this and  it encouraged the students to move around the room, however with a class of 31 this proved to be a challenge with students shouting to find the answer and all too often the more able students were swamped with questions. The other issue with this is that although answers were recorded and they were correct, this did not lead to increased understanding because the responses were taken at face value and not examined in greater detail.

I further used this strategy following a series of lessons covering e-commerce. This time students were only allowed to ask a partner student one question and as such had to be strategic with which questions they asked which students. The other adaption was that the students had to stick to their side of the room and thus limiting access to only 14/15 other students. Overall, this structure needs time to embedded and strict expectations need to be applied so that no student gets a “freeride”.

Fig 3

3.2.3 Round Table

In Round Table pupils in a group take it in turns to add an answer, idea or contribution to a project the whole group is working on.  The use of a single task sheet/pen or pencil emphasizes the cooperative nature of the task.

This strategy was very effective when used to examine extended questions relating to how a business could improve its cash flow. This activity was simple to set up and the students were provided with an exam based questions where there were multiple answers, each of which were valid. The students took it in turns to add to the previous answer put down by their table and by the end of the time each row (table) had an answer that was backed up and justified. Most of the rows found this engaging and understanding of the topic was shown to have greatly increased among these students, however where rows did not engage this was due to no student in that row wanting to “take a chance” and put an answer forward. When I went to these rows and questioned their understanding they all had appropriate ideas but were initially unwilling to share with their table.

Overall an effective strategy, that if used regularly with student’s who have built up their resilience, will impact positively on engagement and understanding.

Fig 4

3.2.4 Timed Pair Share

In Timed Pair Share pupil A talks to pupil B on a topic given by the teacher for a set period of time.  Pupil B responds with a positive comment – these might be set up in the form of sentence starters, “One thing I have learned from listening to you is…’, ‘Your most interesting idea was…’, and so on.  Roles are then reversed and a new topic given by the teacher.

This structure like the previous one was very time efficient to set up and I found made for effective teacher assessment as part of a mini or full plenary activity. I was able to move around the room as students explained all they knew about the topic to their partner. Students were encouraged not to repeat what their partner had said but they could develop it if they felt some detail was lacking. Overall, this was effective and the only issue was when students did not correct their partners’ mistakes for fear of upsetting them. This is an area that could be worked on by teaching students how to give and receive constructive criticism.

Fig 5

Notes:

[1] Kagan, S. Kagan Structures: A Miracle of Active Engagement. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Fall/Winter 2009. www.KaganOnline.com

[2] Kagan, S. Kagan, K Kagan Cooperative Learning Pages 1.4. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. 2009.

[3] Kagan, S. Kagan Structures: A Miracle of Active Engagement. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Fall/Winter 2009. www.KaganOnline.com

[4] Kagan, S. Kagan, K Kagan Cooperative Learning. Page 6.5 . San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. 2009

[5] Kagan, S. Kagan, K Kagan Cooperative Learning. Page 6.6 . San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. 2009

Featured image: ‘Classroom’ by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

Kagan Cooperative Learning: Finding its place in a knowledge based curriculum

An Action Research Project by Kate Gilbert (Geography)

Reading time: 8 minutes

Background

I have been teaching for 6 years now and throughout all stages of my career so far, Kagan strategies are often shared as good practice, or referenced on Twitter or highlighted as strengths during lesson observations. As such, I have used Kagan strategies tokenistically in my lessons throughout my career but have never looked into whether the idea of cooperative learning could be fully embedded across Schemes of Work and adopted as an entire educational philosophy.  As such, I have used Professional Development time this year to investigate the full breadth of cooperative learning as opposed to stand alone strategies to see how easily it can be used within a classroom where pedagogical approaches seem to be moving away from the notion of cooperative learning to an increase in the focus on the acquisition of knowledge.

Kagan Cooperative Learning

In order for cooperative learning to be embedded, Kagan identifies seven keys: Structures, Teams, Management, Classbuilding, Teambuilding, Social Skills and Key Principles. Each will briefly be outlined below with a summary of how effective each element was when implemented within my classroom.

Key 1: Structures

In short, structures are the relationship between the teacher, the students and the content of a lesson and how these are delivered, received and processed. The structures used are content free and so can be applied to a wide range of topics and embedded over time. On reading Kagan Cooperative Learning (by Dr S Kagan and M Kagan, published by Kagan Publishing)  I realised that this is where many of the key strategies I already utilised in my lessons could be found. This I assume is because the rationales behind them make good sense in terms of general classroom practice (Carousel feedback, Find the Fiction, Think Pair Share). However, using the book to understand their place in the overall context of cooperative learning has been a beneficial one, especially in relation to the links between the other 6 keys identified by Kagan. Therefore, a starting point for this project was to identify the structures that I already use and aim to adopt more into my lesson planning. Although this was a good place to start, my previous experiences of Kagan (staff briefings, twitter etc.) had given me the misconception that the structures utilised in lessons were the main feature of cooperative learning when in fact in order to fully establish the principles, all seven keys need to be used together. As such, the project I intended to undertake – a review of the utility of different Kagan structures – became much broader by attempting to incorporate more of the keys, rather than just structures into my lessons.

Key 2: Teams

The key idea Kagan is developing here is that rather than pupils working in groups, they work in teams. The key difference here being that teams have a strong identity, ideally consist of 4 members and endure over time, with a recommendation of teams working together for 6 weeks. The idea of cooperative learning is one that I wholeheartedly support. In my first year of teaching, I changed the layout of my classroom each term ranging from rows, pairs and tables of various sizes. Whilst I also found that tables of 4 worked the best, logistically my classroom isn’t big enough to accommodate this. As such, I have four tables of 6 and two of 4 which are heterogeneous as recommended by Kagan. However, along with logistical challenges, building teams can also be difficult with constant changes to seating plans (i.e. when new information is received about a pupil, or friendship issues that arise at various points during the year) and the time needed to dedicate to building said teams. In an educational environment where the acquisition of knowledge is now more important than ever, time taken away from this to build a team identity can seem to be a waste when teams may constantly change and I only see pupils for a maximum of 5 hours a fortnight. As such, the key idea has been taken forward, but the activities that come along with this have not as discussed in relation to Key 5 below.

Key 3: Management

This aspect is the general management of the class and classroom to promote cooperative learning, for example managing noise levels and setting up the classroom in groups. Due to the layout of my classroom and the pedagogical choices I make in relation to group work tasks, this is an aspect I have already had to consider for my classroom such as giving clear time warnings and using hand claps instead of my voice to gain attention during group tasks. As such, this element of embedding cooperative learning did not require any changes to my normal classroom routine.

Key 4: Classbuilding

Classbuilding is about building a culture in the classroom with a sense of safety and belonging. There are many structures suggested for building this and the book makes a strong argument as to why developing this is important. However, I cannot help but feel that many of the structures suggested would be most suited to a primary school setting or developed and fostered within tutor time as opposed to lesson time due to their lack of application to content. The notion of pupils feeling safe enough within the classroom to take risks and feeling like they belong is not limited to Kagan but is a wider requirement for effective teaching. At secondary school level, this is largely developed through building relationships with pupils, asking about interests and having the time to praise them when they get it right. As such, I feel that any time spent using the Kagan strategies for class building during subject lessons could be better utilised with the strategies above.

Key 5: Teambuilding

Teambuilding is similar to classbuilding but on a smaller scale within teams. Despite being sceptical to begin with I found that short activities such as devising team names, identifying favourite hobbies etc. acted as ice breakers for unfamiliar groups and in some cases identified common factors that brought groups together. As such I have learnt that building pupil-pupil relationships within the classroom is just as important as building pupil-teacher relationships, especially in a cooperative classroom where the focus is moving away from teacher-pupil dialogue. This is something I will consider moving forward. However, some suggestions such as a birthday calendar were deemed to be more suited to primary school age children and so strategies need to be selected on appropriateness.

Key 6: Social Skills

Social skills encompass all aspects of interactions within our classrooms and are vital life skills that pupils need to develop. Kagan strategies aim to develop these skills by talking answers through, allocating team roles, providing structures for conversations and feedback and modelling good examples of social skills. Pages 11.6-11.7 highlight various social skills and match them to the structures discussed previously. Kagan also identifies a dozen learning roles for pupils to assume during group work. Whilst these were trialled with younger years, it was deemed that the name and nature of the roles are more suited in a primary school setting. “Quiet Captain” and “Materials Monitor” in a secondary school classroom were deemed as patronising to the pupils and some roles were seen as being higher status than others. Instead, a social skills checklist was utilised. Expectations were given of each team and every member of the team was expected to ensure that the expectations were followed. For example, the “Praiser” role was instead listed within the checklist as “show appreciation for teammates ideas and contributions”. As the teacher, I would then circulate and listen out for examples of this being demonstrated to fill in the social skills observation sheet. This resulted in a similar outcome to that envisaged by Kagan but was more adapted to the pupils I teach.

The chapter also identifies various characters who can appear during group work and the ways to overcome their dominance/shyness etc. Whilst the strategies were helpful and gave me some ideas as to how to manage different scenarios, a difficulty arises here where all pupils in the class can fit into one category or another. As such, a variety of skills are covered in different topics to ensure that all aspects are addressed.

Key 7: Basic Principles (PIES)

The acronym PIES stands for Positive interdependence, Individual accountability, Equal participation and Simultaneous interaction, where if all are in place, then pupils will be actively engaged in the learning process and as such increase their rate of academic achievement.

Positive interdependence – pupils need to work together in order to achieve. They are dependent on one another.

Individual accountability – each pupil is accountable and must bring something to the table or is randomly selected to share/give idea so no free riders

Equal participation – everyone is expected to have a voice. A partner share with your B partner sharing as much as partner A

Simultaneous Interaction – Pupils are talking at the same time so more time is dedicated to active participation

As such, tasks need to be set in order to take account of this. This lead to a re-think as to how I structure group work tasks in the future so that all pupils have ownership over a particular area. In addition, cooperative learning moves away from the emphasis on teacher-pupil dialogue. As such, pupils themselves become more active in their learning and allows more time to be dedicated to this. This aspect of Kagan has lead to a restructuring of group work where pupils take more responsibility and I act as an observer to their learning process and give feedback based on this rather than content.

Conclusion

Overall, taking more time to explore Kagan strategies has been a beneficial one. Initially I thought that I could dip in and out of particular sections of the book as I held the misconception that Kagan was largely about the structures used in lessons. Although this was a misconception, arguably I feel that it is the structures themselves that are perhaps most useful in a secondary setting and the main ideas that I will be developing further. I think that whilst it is unfortunate that our education system now seems to favour content heavy courses with the key way to test pupils being how much they can remember, I think we as teachers need to remember that the rationale behind Kagan and cooperative learning is a strong one and has a plethora of research to support its impact on raising achievement. As such, whilst I may not be fully embedding all of the 7 keys discussed above, cooperative learning can most definitely complement direct instruction from the teacher by giving pupils the chance to practice skills.

Ultimately, we as teachers could cover the curriculum through didactic teaching but it removes the element of consolidation and enjoyment that pupils need to experience. As such, I have found that Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies most definitely still have a place in a knowledge based curriculum but may not be deployed in the immersive way that the author may have intended.

Featured image: ‘Silhouettes’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

The same homework for 3 years – how and why

missdcoxblog

We have a 3 year key stage 4. Students that opt for GCSE Religious Studies have 3 different homeworks that carry through every year. I have blogged previously about some of these (see links in headers) but not as our key stage 4 homework programme as a whole.

  1. Learning keywords

Students are given mini booklets of keywords that they need to know to understand the key beliefs and teachings of the religions studied. They are given these before they have studied their context. The idea is that they learn these ‘off by heart’ and then when we cover them in lesson their meaning and application to the religion becomes clear.

All keyword sheets are available in our classrooms and are always attached on ShowMyHomework when set.

We also have made Quizlet quizzes on all the words here. We also give students index cards to create their own testing set.

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The…

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Using Social Media to Help Pupils’ Prepare for an Exam

An Action Research project by Nicola Osman (English)

Reading time: 8 minutes

Choosing a focus

Teenagers spend an awful lot of time on social media and we wanted to see if we could harness some of this time and energy into encouraging them to revise. It seemed important to me to ensure that I used the sorts of social media that my students were using on a day-to-day basis and tried to respond to their ideas about what would work.

To begin with, I spoke to students in my class about the sort of thing they thought would help them. They gave me a number of ideas. They were keen to have a group on Facebook as they said it would be easier to ‘find’ the stuff, rather than having to scroll through all their feeds. A number of them felt that the Faculty youtube (StBernsEnglish) channel would be a great resource as they could follow links from there to any available information.

Initial actions

With the consent of my Head of Learning/Line Manager I set up a school-based Facebook page with my surname as a first name and my subject as the surname (No other personal information was shared or accessible to pupils).

The first thing that I wanted to help my students to do was to revise Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I was also rereading the book and revising myself. Every evening, I would read a chapter of the book. Then I would put a post on facebook, reminding them of the content of the chapter and making a link to the ebook version of the chapter, a youtube video of someone reading the chapter and a youtube video of someone’s analysis of the chapter. As time went on, I began to make the summary of the chapter that I posted more detailed as I realised that pupils were more likely to read what I had written than to follow the links. Pupils told me that they did not find this particularly helpful – I think there was too much for one evening’s revision for one subject.

Having tried these initial revision strategies, I felt that I had a sense of what the pupils would find useful: they wanted bullet pointed information and not too much to read. Pupils in our school were given a revision schedule for their English Literature exam. There was a key question each week from one of the key texts that they needed to revise as well as one or two poems. Using this schedule, I set out a plan for the posts over the final weeks of revision. Each week, I tried to post ideas that would help the pupils to answer the question posed for their revision or, if they were revising a poem, some of the key revision points from the poem.

The first post of the week was always a reminder of what exactly they were supposed to be revising.

Fig 1

Figure 1: Weekly reminder

I would then try to bullet point a plan for the question in a second post.

Fig 2

Figure 2: Weekly bullet points

In subsequent posts, I would go into more detail about each bullet point, explaining the relevance and including supporting quotations.

Fig 3

Figure 3: Individual bullet points

Fig 4

Figure 4: Quotations example

I tried very hard to bullet point the information and keep posts as succinct as possible, although this was challenging given the scope of the exam questions students can expect.

Fig 5

Figure 5: Theme with bullet points

Other Strategies

In reviewing the facebook page, I found evidence of other strategies I’d tried. Megan Poore in her book ‘Social Media in the Classroom’ said, ‘The trick is to design teaching and learning tasks that demand deep, considered engagement with a topic, as opposed to surface occupation with a technology or tool.’ In order to ensure that pupils were engaged with the posts, I created a closed group intended to provide a safe space for students to comment and engage in the learning.  Access to this was limited to members of my class who had to request membership of the group to join, so that I could ensure that no other person had access to any of the group’s messages or details.   In doing this, I ensured that the e-safety lead in my school had access to this group as well so that, whilst it was a closed group, I was making the conversations available to another member of staff so that there were no ‘private’ conversations between my students and me. Then I posed questions or asked for supporting quotations. The idea being, that pupils would respond and actively contribute to the learning online.

Fig 6

Figure 6: Examples of questions posed for pupils

The difficulty was that students were not prepared to comment, even in a closed group. In the example above, four or five students had read the post (admittedly not many) but none of them replied. My speculation was that they did not want anyone else to see them being the ‘keener’ who replied to the teacher’s post. Another explanation would be that they wanted to be passive users of facebook, to have a look at what I had to say but not wanting to be actively engaged themselves. Retrospectively, I would like to have included some feedback on this particular issue in the closing survey. This dramatically altered the way in which I used the facebook page, however, as there were no opportunities to assess, respond to ideas, share different perspectives or give other constructive feedback – or other good things that happen in a classroom. The model, therefore, became very information or lecture-based.

Analysis of feedback data

In total, I wrote over 200 posts, which amounted to a significant amount of time and effort. My concern was that the amount of time I was spending would not match the impact on pupils.

I surveyed the pupils in an anonymous questionnaire in which I asked them to be honest in their responses.

Year 11 were asked how often they used the page. The majority said they had used it sometimes. Of those who had never accessed the information, one did not have facebook and the other said that they did not know what to search for.

Fig 7

Figure 7: Year 11 Social Media Use

Year 10 were asked how often they used the page. There were a greater number who had only used it once or twice. However, the year 10 group was set up later than the Year 11 group so that might account for this response as pupils were asked to consider their usage across the year. More pupils in this group had never accessed the content – responses showed that they did not use or have access to facebook.

Fig 8

Figure 8: Year 10 Social Media Use

Those Year 11 who had used the page responded strongly to the idea that it helped them to remember details. There were six negative responses – half of these said that it didn’t help them with what to write in the exam.

Fig 9

Figure 9: Year 11 views on the content of the posts

Those Year 10 who had used the page responded strongly to the idea that it helped them with their weekly revision. They also responded strongly to the idea that they got something out of reading the posts. There were no negative responses from this group.

Fig 10

Figure 10: Year 10 views on the content of the posts

Pupils in Year 10 and Year 11 responded strongly to the statements that suggested they had accessed the post – in some way – but had mostly used other resources.

Fig 11

Figure 11: Year 11 Social Media Use of Revision Resources

Other findings

  • Around half of the pupils said that they had followed links shared
  • Around half answered ‘maybe’ to accessing the posts in another format, such as a blog

Further Actions

My second initiative was to summarise the content of the Year 10 lessons as I taught them to help Year 11 revise. Feedback from students was that this was better but when the mock exams came along, this was shelved as students requested more input on An Inspector Calls.

 

Again, I took up the challenge – trying to help them revise an entire text in a fortnight. I divided the text into sections and, using the revision book, began analysing the text. This meant writing four or five posts sometimes as I desperately tried to ‘reteach’ them the entire text. The result was that, whilst I had revised the text very well, the students said that there was too much information for facebook. I had also included links to youtube videos that would help them to revise the poems that they needed to learn. They said that there needed to be less content and suggested that I bullet-point the information and did only one post a day. This has led me to consider using Facebook to give the pupils some simple reminders that will pop up on their phones and have more detailed notes on another platform (i.e. blog).

One advantage of following these processes was that I now have very detailed revision notes on several of the texts, which I can now reuse for Year 10, although I am going to have to think very carefully about how I do this.

See the orignial blogs  at @englishrevisiononsocialmedia

Featured image: ‘Mobile phone’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0