Developing a coordinated approach to revision for GCSE Science

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)

Reading time: 9 minutes

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

Background:

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

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

Context:

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

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

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

Actions:

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

  • Interventions to support students retaking GCSE Science.

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

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

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

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

TN - revision hw

Figure 1: Example of a science revision homework task

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

  • A consistent approach to revision in class.

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

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

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

TN - PLC

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

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

TN - powerpoint slide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impact:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions:

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

Next steps:

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

 

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

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Nurturing a Growth Mindset with Year 11 Boys

An Action Research post by Kevin Magner

Reading time: 8 minutes

Context

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

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

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

Growth Mindset

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

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

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

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

Putting the theory into practice

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

Targeting effort

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

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

yellow sticker

Example of a feedback sticker acknowledging effort

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

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

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

Effort stickers

Pupil’s book with effort stickers

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

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

Building self-confidence

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

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

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

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

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

GM slideMichael Jordan

Example of  bell work slides to prompt discussion 

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography/Further resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scaffolding and Differentiation

An Action Research project by Teresa Howe

My action research project was born out of a realisation that as a primary trained teacher I would naturally scaffold and differentiate for the pupils in my class. I could quickly establish their needs, and therefore adapt my teaching style and resources (often overnight). Transferring to teach in a secondary setting, teaching Year 8 and 9 English as well as SEND pupils in a nurture class, highlighted that scaffolding and differentiation were paramount in lesson planning. I felt that my skills in Scaffolding and Differentiation needed refreshing. I was also aware that there were many approaches that I still had to learn and try.

Rebecca Alber in her blog post ‘Scaffolding lessons- six strategies’ on Edutopia.org explains both the difference and connection between the two clearly. Scaffolding is ‘breaking up’ the learning into chunks and then modelling or explaining the tool to help. For example, when scaffolding for reading you may do one or many different things prior to work on the text. You may discuss the nature of the text and key vocabulary. Alternatively, you may chunk the text and read and discuss each part as you go. Differentiation might involve you giving a different piece of text to a pupil, or you may give a shortened or altered version. You may also modify the writing task associated with the text.

In my opinion, there are many approaches used in primary teaching that are useful tools in secondary teaching. The most important approach, I feel is flexibility. It is having the confidence to adapt and change set lesson plans to best suit an immediate pupil need.

I heard a fabulous example of this given by a PGCE tutor, who observed a student using a block of post it notes. During a task, the student would assess the progress of pupils and jot a note of help/advice/challenge to pupils and pop it on the desk next to them.

The student explained this as ‘instant differentiation’.

One of the classroom management tools I find very effective, no matter what level a pupil is working at, or whether they have a particular learning need, is a visual lesson plan displayed to the class giving a brief LIST of the steps or activities to be completed in the lesson. This helps pupils (and you) to focus on what to expect and acts as a reminder as to how far the lesson has progressed. I have used this with all my classes, small groups and when teaching individuals. It has  worked especially well with challenging groups of boys who have a reading intervention with me.

I’ve also found this useful when needing to ‘change’ the lesson content / order / recording method to suit the needs of the group (flexibility). The pupils appear to appreciate that their needs have been taken into account when you are crossing through your ideas and writing the new ‘agreed’ task.

Scaffolds and differentiated tasks, including visual aids, benefit all pupils. I’ve found that when pupils become familiar with the variety and range of activities that form part of your everyday lessons, they are not seen as ‘the easier option’ but rather, a different way of working. A good way to introduce this is by using a ‘tick-tack-toe’ or ‘noughts and crosses’ grid. This gives the pupils a choice of 9 activities (on a 3X3 grid). They have to choose 1 activity from each row but they make the choice. (You select tasks that you know give all pupils in your class the ability to access the lesson and use prior learning). Other consolidating or starter activities could be loop games, matching activities or sequencing tasks.

Since starting my action research, I have become more interested and stimulated by the needs of Dyslexic Pupils, primarily, when I began working with a statemented pupil and others who showed strong dyslexic tendencies, particularly with regards to literacy. As a result, I adapted my activities (scaffolding and differentiation) for intervention with these pupils and assessed their impact. The area that is crucial for such pupils before expecting them to complete tasks is to ensure that they are organised in preparation for both their learning and then recording. The lesson plan plays an important role, as does giving them model answers and creating opportunities for shared writing. Mostly for me, this would be teacher/pupil shared writing which proved very successful with groups of boys. Shared writing is not cheating but a way in which a group can learn from and teach each other.

One important fact became evident from my initial work with groups.  I was not always ‘chunking’ information into small enough steps, I assumed too much as far as the skills a secondary aged pupil would have. I found myself revising initial tasks set, chunking information into smaller steps. I ensured step by step instructions with model sentence starters. Diagrams and mind maps proved to be essential in allowing the pupil to both access and complete the task. Another crucial discovery was that the time needed to complete an extended task was at least doubled. I became more realistic about the quantity of work output as well as the amount of practise time needed before independent work would follow. Consolidation exercises, such as loop games, were essential in raising the self-esteem of dyslexic and other SEND pupils.  All of these scaffolds and differentiated tasks contributed to the groups progress.

Conclusions

The most ‘obvious’ point I learned when trying new approaches in my teaching is to not expect the pupils to ‘know’ what or how they want to do something – without first giving them choices and ideas. With a few hints and scaffolded activities they develop the confidence to ‘have a go’ and follow their own instincts. They know that, using my lesson plan, I will keep them focused if they go ‘off piste’.

The resounding success was the lesson plan/structure.

Next Steps

During my research, particularly of the US websites, I regularly heard the phrase ‘having a growth mindset’. I liked this quote which made its meaning clearer for me.

Carissa Romero’s Tch blog post:

“People with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is innate. This belief can make school a threatening place. It becomes a place to go to learn how smart you are — or how smart you’re not. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe intelligence can be developed. For these students, school can be an exciting place, as it provides them with an opportunity to learn and develop their intelligence.”

This will be the focus for my on-going research, with the hope that my teaching provides children with positive support and I contribute to school being an exciting place.

HELPFUL WEBSITES

http://www.mentoringminds.com/blog/how-to-pair-scaffolding-and-differentiation/

http://edglossary.org/scaffolding/

http://www.edutopia.org/topic/learning-styles

https://www.teachingchannel.org/growth-mindset/?utm_source=newsletter20160903/

Featured image: ‘Scaffolding’ by 3112014 on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain

Learning Maps

An Action Research project by Matthew Yandell (P.E.)

Focus

My action research focus, ‘The use and impact of Learning Maps’, was chosen following a visit to a local secondary school.

I was inspired by the school’s use of Learning Maps as a way to promote consistency and engagement within the school community.

I felt their approach to learning and innovative teaching methods were a model for St Bernadette’s to take inspiration from and add to the work already being undertaken at to develop ‘consistent’ and ‘excellent’ practice across the school.

Learning Maps

‘Effective planning and lesson design is the starting point for quality first teaching and learning. In schools that excel in this, it is viewed as a series of decisions which build a planned series of learning episodes. The choice of appropriate learning objectives is supported using the Primary or Secondary Frameworks or subject specifications.’

 Personalised Learning – A Practical Guide (Department for Children, Schools and Families).

A Learning Map focuses on key aspects of a unit of work (normally a termly focus area). This is then broken down into termly maps for each year group, in each faculty. Each map has the same key areas on it which helps teachers, pupils and parents understand learning objectives and ensures consistency in teaching and learning across faculties.

The key areas of each learning Map are:

– 3/4 Driving Questions (which are used to challenge pupils’ understanding)

– 6/7 Blocks of learning (which would be the key foci for the topic)

– 6 Essential areas of understanding (6 things that you would like pupils to know by the end of the topic)

– 10 key words for the topic

The main driver behind the introduction ‘Learning Maps’ was to establish consistency of practice and expectations within each faculty.

I saw an opportunity for us to introduce this approach in order to promote our consistency and engagement between teachers, faculties, pupils and parents. Our school typicality has improved greatly over the past few years and the quality of lessons has improved with it. I feel this is partly down to consistent practices and expectations of both staff and pupils.

Within the PE department we have a clear and consistent introduction /starter to our lessons and all pupils understand that regardless of which teacher is teaching them, the lesson starter will always follow the same format. This consistent practice contributed significantly towards the PE faculty being graded as ‘Outstanding’ in our most recent review. By implementing Learning Maps in addition to our current practices, we will I believe, provide pupils with a consistent resource to use at the beginning of each lesson to enhance their learning.

Another benefit of using subject specific Learning Maps is the way in which it can engage parents. The easy to follow information helps parents to understand each individual subject’s curriculum aims for each term. This can then be used to enhance the learning experience at home as parents have the opportunity to become involved in understanding and supporting their child’s learning.

Learning maps have the potential to further strengthen bell work/starter activities and develop independent learning further.

Teaching and learning is most effective where teachers are enthusiastic and knowledgeable and have the confidence to stand back and encourage pupils to become independent learners”

The Children’s Plan.

Staff trial

I discussed this idea at one of our ‘Raising Achievement’ meetings with the Second in Learning from each faculty.  They felt the idea and concept was good, and that the consistent approach would benefit our learners. They also felt that with the changes to the curriculum and levelling in school, this new approach could benefit learners understanding of the courses they are studying.

There were questions raised about how to accurately plot a learning map for a whole term’s learning episodes. It was felt that a tailored format to create uniformity across the school would be beneficial.

Staff from the Raising Achievement Team plotted examples for their individual subject areas. They found the process simple and easy to do.

This idea was also shared during a staff inset day. Feedback from staff was incredibly positive. In particular, from learning support staff, who felt that it would add a consistent approach to their small group interventions and would be a great way of keeping parents informed of focus areas.

Here are some examples of the Learning Maps produced:

Hums learning map

Figure 1. Humanities Learning Map

Maths learning map

Figure 2. Mathematics Learning Map

 PE learning map

Figure 3. Physical Education Learning Map 

Pupil trial

I trialed this with pupils in PE lessons in Term 4. As it was a practical lesson I used the maps in the form of a handout. The response from pupils was good, in particular, when they used the Learning Maps to highlight areas of progress with other pupils and to reinforce peer to peer questioning. It also provided a common baseline of key topic specific vocabulary, thus improving pupils’ literacy and subject knowledge. Pupils in PE already use assessment ladders routinely and are aware of how to use them. The Learning Maps build on this experience.  The learning maps targeting curriculum objectives and ideas really helped pupils to see progression in the subject area.

Conclusion

I feel that Learning Maps are an opportunity to further develop consistent practice across the school. They could also be used as a valuable tool to further engage parents.

Recommendations for implementing Learning Maps

  • Introduce Learning Maps on a rolling basis with Year 7 being developed in the first year, followed by Year 8 in the second and so on.
  • Form a working party. A member of each faculty would take responsibility for developing the Learning Maps on a termly basis. The key information could then be added to a template, so they can be produced by reprographics.
  • The school would need to ensure that Learning Maps are accessible to pupils and parents outside of school.
  • An introductory campaign to help promote this tool with pupils, staff and parents.
  • Linking the Learning Maps to established typicality measures and other whole school initiatives such as our Excellence initiative.  

References

Personalised Learning – A Practical Guide (Department for Children, Schools and Families). http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications

‘The Children’s Plan’ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-childrens-plan

Featured image: ‘Technology, classroom’ by LTDimages on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

Learning Outside of the Classroom

An Action Research Prjoect by Sarah Fox (Art, Design & Technology)

Focus

The main focus for this project was to improve uptake and engagement in my subject area (Design Technology, Food Technology and Catering).

Learning inside a classroom is a tried and tested method of organising schooling.  However, teachers and learners have always valued the further opportunities for learning that can take place outside the classroom, including:

  • activities within a school’s or college’s own buildings, grounds or immediate area
  • participation in dramatic productions, concerts and other special events
  • involvement in clubs, musical groups and sporting activities held during break-times and before or after the end of the school day
  • educational visits organised within the school day
  • Residential visits that take place during the school week, a weekend or holiday.

Background

The Ofsted paper, ‘Learning outside the classroom- How far should you go?’ evaluates the impact of learning outside the classroom in 12 primary schools, 10 secondary schools, one special school, one pupil referral unit and three colleges across England where previous inspections had shown that curricular provision, in particular outside the classroom, was good, outstanding or improving rapidly. Inspectors also visited or contacted 13 specialist organisations, including providers of learning outside the classroom, and held discussions with representatives from five local authorities.

All of the schools and colleges surveyed provided exciting, direct and relevant learning activities outside the classroom. Such hands-on activities led to improved outcomes for pupils and students, including better achievement, standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour. The survey also found examples of the positive effects of learning outside the classroom on young people who were hard to motivate.

When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.

Learning outside the classroom was most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities.

The schools in the survey relied very heavily on contributions from parents and carers to meet the costs of residential and other visits and had given very little thought to alternative ways of financing them. Of the schools and colleges visited, only three had evaluated the impact of learning outside the classroom on improving achievement, or monitored the take-up of activities by groups of pupils and students. The vast majority in the sample were not able to assess the effectiveness, inclusiveness or value for money of such activities.

The schools and colleges had worked hard and successfully to overcome some of the barriers to learning outside the classroom, including those relating to health and safety, pupils’ behaviour and teachers’ workload.

Diss High School (Norfolk) 21 March 2014

  • The pupil premium funding is used to provide one-to-one support in classrooms, small-group support and learning resources for eligible students, as well as the opportunity for them to take part in educational visits. They are able to take part in local and foreign trips, for example to Iceland, Sri Lanka, Flanders and Dorset. The school has links with schools in Sri Lanka and Rwanda. The school provides a wide range of activities for students to take responsibility, for example, through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme. There is a wide range of opportunities for students to take part in enrichment activities such as residential trips, music and drama activities.

Elm C of E Primary School (Cambridgeshire) 28 April 2014

  • The curriculum offers pupils a wide range of experiences to support their learning, including trips and visitors. During the inspection, pupils in Year 3 experienced a Victorian day to support their history topic. Pupils love these experiences, and in most classes they are used well to develop pupils’ extended writing skills.”
  • Additional sports funding is used to employ specialist physical education teachers to lead one lesson each week. These lessons are observed by class teachers, who subsequently lead a follow-up session. Pupils report that they now love their physical education lessons and enjoy more opportunities to be involved in competitive sport.”

Actions

I went about planning a series of educational visits and visitors to visit the school during the academic year. Examples of these were:

  • London Food Tour
  • Afternoon Tea Trip
  • Royal Marines Visit to School
  • Vegetarian Society Visit to School
  • Royal Navy Visit to School
  • Harry Potter Trip
  • Zoo Trip

Outcomes

  • Undertaking and organising educational trips and visits can be a very stressful and time consuming task. However, the rewards are huge in term of engagement and pupil progress.
  • As a case study, one boy in Year 10 who had not previously taken food tech, has already made 3 levels of progress in a year.
  • Due to my work of building contacts and having the experience of organising these extra-curricular activities, both in school and out, this has and will be beneficial and less time consuming to organise in the coming years, especially with the introduction of a new GCSE.

Impact

  • When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards & improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.
  • Learning outside the classroom was most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities.
  • According to research, the success of learning outside the classroom depends very much on the leadership and support of the schools and colleges.

Conclusions

  • The clear message from Ofsted is that inspectors want schools to shout about their LOtC activities, not do them as an extra or ‘add-on’ that is shelved when the call from Ofsted comes. If you believe in what you’re doing, demonstrate that to the inspectors. Speaking at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom national conference in 2011, senior Ofsted HMI, Robin Hammerton, declared that he wanted to see ‘inspection outside the classroom’ and challenged schools to “make sure inspectors get out there and see the innovative practice where it’s happening”.

Next Steps

  • Further research into professionals who would be willing to visit the school.
  • Using social media to keep in touch with other schools and professional organisations.
  • Developing what has been organised this year into new schemes of work for the GCSE.

Sources/References

Feature image: ‘Carrot Kale Walnut’ by dbreen on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

Researching the effects of SAM learning on class work and exam preparation in English at Key Stage 4

An Action Research project by Katie Sutherland (English)

Objective

To research the effects of SAM learning to monitor whether setting these tasks for homework can have a positive effect on class work and exam preparation at KS4.

From their promotional information comes the following statement:

“With more activities across more subjects and a wider range of exam boards than any other online service, SAM Learning is the most effective online homework and exam-preparation service for secondary schools in the UK today.”

This action research project was used to challenge prior assumptions with a specific focus on Year 10 pupils.

The prior assumptions based upon 16 years in secondary education were:

  • Year 10 pupils would engage more with e-learning homework tasks than generic reading and writing tasks
  • Boys completion of e-learning homework would be at least equivalent to girls, if not greater
  • There would be clear evidence in mock exam results that pupils had benefitted from e-learning homework

In order to broaden the breadth of study, reading was undertaken of previous research on the effectiveness of using online learning resources to improve progress. A convincing statistic was found and supported the objective of this action research project: ‘The impact of on-line revision on GCSE results’ by Karen Osborne, SAM Learning blog, Capita.co.uk 2005. The reference to boosting a ‘school’s GCSE results by over 30 per cent’ was an incentive to trial and monitor this method of setting homework and specifically the statement that, ‘improvements were more significant for boys’ as this remains a keen area of interest within my own practice as an English teacher.

online learning boosts school’s GCSE results by over 30 per cent. Improvements were more significant for boys, suggesting that online learning is an effective tool to help engage adolescent boys with their learning.’ (capita.co.uk; 2005)

Actions

The process for this action research project included:

  1. Set specific exam related tasks from Sam Learning for Year 10 pupils
  2. Monitor and analyse the data provided in response to these tasks
  3. Evaluate any impact on class work and mock exam results
  4. Pupil voice survey on the use of Sam Learning as a homework tool
  5. Conclusions
  6. Next steps

1.  Set specific exam related tasks from Sam Learning for Year 10 pupils.

28 Year 10 pupils of mixed ability were set 48 tasks over a 6 week period all related to English Paper 1.

35% of tasks were cloze activities therefore allowing the least able pupils to achieve success by placing the correct words/ phrases into responses

35% of tasks required a more developed response and would challenge all pupils to type a response of between 30 and 50 words

30% of tasks required a developed response were pupils would have to write in more depth and write about 100-150 words

2. Monitor and analyse the data provided in response to the homework tasks set.

% of tasks completed by pupils 0-14% 15-29% 30-49% 50-69% 70-89% 90-100%
Number of pupils 5 6 6 4 0 3

Figure 1. Completion rate of all homework tasks set on SAM learning

The rationale of this division of tasks was to encourage pupils of all ability to complete the maximum amount of homework tasks to consolidate learning. Sam Learning offers tasks that are multiple choice, clozed activities that can help with progress of less able pupils. However, it also has tasks that require a more developed response and then the more challenging tasks that require a detailed response that demonstrate a breadth of understanding by pupils and would consolidate learning in preparation for exam responses.

K Sutherland - fig 2

Figure 2. Breakdown of the relative completion rate of tasks by gender in relation to the overall completion rate of tasks set (see figure 1)

Evidence suggests:

  • Girls have completed significantly more homework than boys
  • A proportion of girls were willing to complete all tasks set
  • The maximum that a boy completed was 45% of tasks set

This evidence contradicted initial pre-conceptions that boys would complete more homework using technology and online learning tasks than girls. However, disappointingly, the maximum amount of homework tasks that a boy completed was 45% even though boys had equivalent target grades to their female peers. This did not fit with the expected results and made me reflect on whether or not the claims that completing online learning tasks ‘boosted grades by up to 30 percent’ were either gender specific or possibly even subject specific and perhaps English was not a subject that had benefitted from these results.

3. Evaluate any impact on class work and mock exam results

All of the learning tasks set were focused on AQA English Paper 1 and it was hoped that the completion of online learning tasks would support progress and be evidenced in mock examination results.

Pupil Time spent

(hours)

Position in class mock exam Base level
Pupil 1 43.5 1 5a
Pupil 2 19.5 2 5c
Pupil 3 30.52 3 5b
Pupil 4 (EAL) 43.35 4 4c
Pupil 5 11.05 5 5c
Pupil 6 7.00 6 5a
Pupil 7 8.35 7 5b
Pupil 8 4.3 8 4a
Pupil 9 (EAL) 10.35 9 4c
Pupil 10 23.33 10 4a
Pupil 11 5.55 11 5b
Pupil 12 1.10 12 5c
Pupil 13 16.3 13 4c
Pupil 14 8.00 14 4b
Pupil 15 35.2 15 4b
Pupil 16 14.3 16 4b
Pupil 17 3.25 17 3a
Pupil 18 (SEND) 3.5 18 3b
Pupil 19 (EAL) 35.2 19 3a
Pupil 20 (EAL) 17.45 20 4c
Pupil 21 2.45 21 4a
Pupil 22 .25 22 4a
Pupil 23 (SEND) .2 23 4c
Pupil 24 (SEND) 17.5 24 2c

Figure 3. A comparison of time spent on SAM learning task in relation to ranked position in a mock exam and student base level data.

Notable observations:

Pupil 4 has spent a significant amount of time completing homework and achieved 4th position in class.

Yet, pupil 19 has also completed a significant amount of homework and achieved 19th place.

Their base level was just one sub-level difference.

Pupil 10 has spent a significant amount of time completing homework and achieved 10th position in class.

Whereas Pupil 11 has a higher base level but has not completed nearly as much homework and is in 11th position.

4. Pupil Voice Survey

Pupil voice Survey        
Questions Girls Yes Boys Yes Girls No Boys No
Do you prefer homework tasks set on the computer? 10 11 3 0
Do you complete more homework if you can use the computer? 8 9 5 2
Are you satisfied with the amount of homework tasks that you have completed? 6 5 5 7
Would it help you to complete more tasks if you had a set amount to complete per week? 7 7 4 5
Do you think that SAM Learning has had a positive impact on your class work or mock? 8 5 3 7
Would you have completed more tasks if you could do this in an after school revision session? 4 10 7 3
Were your parents/ carers aware of your e-learning tasks? 5 2 6 9

5. Conclusions

  • Few pupils completed all e-learning homework tasks
  • The majority of girls completed more homework tasks than boys
  • One of the most able pupils from baseline data completed the most homework and achieved first position in the mock exam
  • Some of the least able pupils completed the least e-learning homework tasks
  • Boys were not as engaged when completing the extended responses
  • Most boys were honest in their response that they would probably complete more e-learning tasks if given time in school to revise.

Surprisingly, the data collected thus far has not supported the claims that ‘improvements were more significant for boys’. I can understand that if you are starting at a point of 0% completion of homework then there may be more significant improvements but my experience had been that it was difficult to gender stereotype as it really depended on the pupils who completed the work, rather than their gender. I was disappointed with the lack of extended responses from all pupils and with the boys in particular but I will consider their responses from the pupil voice survey when setting future homework.

6. Next steps

  • Set short manageable tasks on a fortnightly basis for pupils
  • Differentiate tasks for learners
  • Monitor pupils completion of tasks every fortnight
  • Offer lunch time / after school revision sessions (particularly for boys)
  • Group call parents with homework information
  • Reward all pupils who complete 75% or more of tasks

Further research would be beneficial whilst adapting my practice to include the ‘next steps’. I would hope that more manageable tasks, rewards and opportunities during the school day to complete learning will boost the quality and quantity of homework completed. Also, parental support via group call will be effective in ensuring completion of homework.

Featured image: ‘boy computer’ by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay. Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

Supporting pupils with low-level literacy in Computing lessons

An Action Research project by Stephen Spurrell (Computing)

For my Action Research Project, I wanted to find various ways that allowed my Computing class in Year 7, which includes a number of pupils with low-level literacy and/or numeracy, to fully access the subject. Essentially, to differentiate for them and then use this research to modify future lessons.

I decided to write up my findings in a blog as I went along, and here are the posts from that blog in the period of this research project.

The blog can be seen at http://computingliteracy.blogspot.com/ and I do intend to continue writing in it.

Computing and Low Level Literacy:An Introduction

Hello! Thank you very much for taking the time to read my blog. This is something I am doing as part of my CPD at a secondary school in Bristol in the UK. One of the classes that I teach has a number of pupils with low levels in Literacy and Numeracy. Whilst that isn’t particularly unusual, all schools have pupils that struggle more than others, I have found it a particular challenge to teach this class Computing at the start of the year. Computing, like many subjects, is a subject where precision and accuracy are paramount. How, then, do you get pupils who struggle to read and write to compose a working programme where they will need to write accurately, spell correctly and work out where the errors are? How do you enable pupils who struggle to count to ten to experience the success of seeing something they have created work on the screen in front of them? I did a quick Google search for tips, advice, schemes of work even for Computing with low level and low ability pupils (note that it isn’t just SEND pupils although they do make up part of the group if they have low levels too). I had a look on sites such as the TES to see if there were any materials there. I came back pretty blank and still left scratching my head. So I thought that I would try out some ideas, see which things work, which things don’t. If they work, I’ll use that idea again. If they don’t, I won’t. With the support of the rest of the Learning Focus Group (the small group of colleagues who are working on similar issues with their classes as part of our CPD) I’m hoping that this will be a successful year. Expect to find blogs about things that fell flat on their face. Expect to find blogs of something that worked really well! I hope that you find it useful and are able to help me reflect on my practise and ultimately improve the pace and depth of my pupils’ learning.

Computing and Low Level Literacy: Using Worksheets

The first module that is covered in the Year 7 Computing Scheme of Work is Online Safety. Not just spreading the message that children shouldn’t talk to strangers, but looking at how they keep their information safe, how to avoid plagiarism and the importance of reporting things when they go wrong. One lesson looks at scam emails and how we can identify them easily. A really useful skill that the pupils will then have to avoid giving their personal information away and to ensure they are not a victim of identity theft. There is a really good worksheet that goes along side this lesson which is provided by Common Sense Media. The worksheet lists the features of phishing emails such as being too good to be true, spelling errors (as phishing emails are often written by people who don’t speak very good English) or asking the user to confirm their password. It then gives three examples of a phishing email so that the pupil can highlight the feature and tell me what it is. Now, I knew that there would be people in the class who would struggle if I just put the worksheet in front of them like I did for my other class. They would struggle because perhaps they can’t read or because perhaps they struggle to understand concepts. So to make things easier for everyone, I read the instructions of the worksheet word for word, slowly and clearly, making sure I paused every few sentences to ensure they all understood what was expected of them. I had also created an ‘alternative’ worksheet for some of the pupils where I had already highlighted the feature or features in each email, they would just need to tell me what that feature was. After giving the pupils an opportunity to complete the worksheet and going around the room and helping them, being honest it is hard to see how this activity was in any way a success. The pupils who can’t read fluently (a surprisingly high number) still couldn’t tell me which feature had been highlighted because of course they couldn’t read it. Those pupils who can read still struggled because they can’t understand concepts so couldn’t make the link between a statement such as, “You have won £10,000,000 in the latest raffle” and it being too good to be true because they hadn’t entered the raffle. They would just guess which feature was which. Of the 15 pupils in the class, I would say only 3 or 4 made any real progress with understanding what to look out for in a phishing email. Interestingly that wasn’t through a lack of trying on the part of the rest of the class, they just couldn’t do it. Although I did notice their heads drop when I pulled out the worksheets at the start of the lesson, an interesting reaction, almost as if they knew this was going be like pulling teeth. As soon as I realised this task was not going to work, I had a swift mooch round Google to see if I could find a video that would explain this for me. I found one and put it on for the last 10 minutes of the lesson. Back to the drawing board then! Worksheets appear to be a big no-no for this class. I am aware though that I do not want to have too many videos. They need to do some written work, and need to be able to understand what is on the screen in front of them when they are at home. Otherwise they won’t be prepared for the real world.

Demonstrations

The class I am working with who have low levels in Maths and some with Maths and Literacy are moving on to a topic of work that requires them to research, to write and to design an interactive quiz aimed at other people their age. Although on the surface a topic that might seem easy, for a child with low literacy/Maths and probably low confidence, this probably seems quite daunting. There is a lot of logic needed (which button goes to which location etc.) as well as having the confidence to use their imagination. The topic requires them to use specific knowledge – to know the answers to questions such as “How do I…?” Leading them to these answers, or giving them the opportunity to discover these answers involves demonstrations from the class teacher. So, how best to go about this? Recall is something that isn’t the best for pupils with low level literacy and low levels in Maths. So it is likely that they will be able to do something in one lesson, but then forget how to do it in another. I have decided to trial making videos available to them so that they can replay a demonstration over and over if they need it, or pause it when they need to think about an instruction.

It is also important that they are able to see a demonstration clearly, so I make use of Impero to broadcast my computer screen onto theirs so that they don’t have to strain or don’t end up too far away to see a detail. This appears to be working well although the proof of the pudding will be in the eating!

Helping Pupils with Writing

One of the many things I have noticed with teaching this low ability set is that they gain a lot of confidence from having things written down in front of them. This could be a word, a sentence, an instruction, information they need to copy or log in information. One of the pupils who has an LSA assigned uses a small whiteboard when he can’t spell a word they are researching, or when they need to remember an instruction for later. I tried this out with another pupil, and said to him to write down anything he didn’t know the meaning of whilst he was reading, or anything he wanted to ask me. Conversely, I wrote down things he needed to know or anything I wanted him to copy out. This massively boosts their confidence because they know that their exercise book will then only contain the right spelling, or the correct information and so be something that they are proud of. Perhaps this is because this is something they only associate the more able children with? It also helps them to plan a little bit more, as in think further ahead about something that they want to put into their work. As a consequence, I will be giving these boards to a couple of other pupils in the class. It will become a standard piece of kit for their lesson.

Coding with Low Level Pupils

One of the topics we have been looking at lately is coding. We use a fantastic website called code.org which is full of resources, challenges and different types of coding to help teach this module of work. The great thing about code.org is that you can easily differentiate the work pupils do because you can set them different courses depending on their ability. So the higher set that I teach will have a different course given to them than this low level set. The way code.org works is to give some instructions either via a video or written text. These instructions then need to be carried out over a series of 15 small tasks which get increasingly complex as they go along. Once they have completed these 15 tasks, they then move on to the next level and the next series of instructions. This website was very popular with the class. It allowed them to work at their own pace, it allowed them to correct their mistakes instantly (as the website told them whether they had built the code correctly or not) and allowed them to make games which they had seen previously (such as Angry Birds).  By marking their work instantly, the website also allowed the pupils to see what level they were at as I put the success criteria on the board each lesson. They were then able to know whether they were working below, at or above target and what they needed to do to keep progressing. It was also a really good tool for me too as it allowed me to look at what they would be encountering in that hour and help them to succeed by giving them a little bit of knowledge before they started (e.g. keywords or examples of this bit of code being used already). All in all a really successful topic because:

  • Pupils worked at their own pace
  • They were given instructions broken down into small chunks
  • Instant feedback
  • Constant context of their level 

Importance of Routine

It has become apparent over the past few weeks and months that routine is incredibly important to a class who have low levels and as a consequence probably low levels of confidence too. They need to know where they stand.  To establish routine, I always structure the lessons in the same way so that there are never any surprises or something that unsettles the class. Essentially the structure looks like this: – Come into the class and stand behind their chairs – Sit down and log in – Whilst logging in, think about a question on the board (I would have read this question out) and write the date, title and objective in their book. – Go through keywords for that lesson (usually a matching exercise using the internet to help) – Introduce the main task, often with a demonstration – Complete the task – Plenary activity This routine has helped the pupils to settle quickly, to not worry if they can’t log in quickly (they know that the others are busy and not waiting for them) and help to make the room a ‘safe’ place.

Short Instructions

When completing the module on Scratch (a coding program that allows the user to create games or puzzles), there were lots of instructions that needed to be remembered such as which block of code to drag in or which object to add code to. Giving too many instructions confused the group – they needed to have a short series of instructions (two or three things) written down or explained carefully. Once they had completed these instructions, they were given some more. This meant that they did not have to worry about what was coming but just concentrate on that small particular section. When it came to the end of the module and they needed to build a game to be assessed, we used videos from the scratch.mit.edu website to help the pupils. This would have an impact on the level they could achieve (maximum level 5) but by pausing the video every 15 seconds or so, allowed the pupils to experience success by building a working game well above their target level. This method made me realise that all tasks needed to be broken down into small chunks that were easily remembered.

Featured image: ‘learn school usb’ by geralt at Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

RESILIENCE

An Action Research Project by Victoria Ryan (MFL)

Resilience in learning, as in life, is about being able to persevere through setbacks, take on challenges and risk making mistakes to reach a goal.

Resilience is often referred to as a quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and to come back stronger. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, these people find a way to rise up from a troubled time.

Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary and that it is not a trait that people either have or do not have. Rather, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed by anyone.

Objective

The vision…How do we want our pupils to show resilience?

Having researched the meaning of resilience it was important to consider which behaviours were necessary to develop in our pupils in order for them to become more independent learners.

Behaviours key to pupils being able to demonstrate resilience:

  • To be able to concentrate for long/longer periods of time (and not give up).
  • To be able to control their thoughts and emotions.
  • To enjoy challenge and problem solving.
  • To see failures/mistakes as part of the learning process and be prepared to have a go.
  • To show initiative when ‘stuck’

Background

Research highlighted that life for our pupils isn’t exactly stress-free. What helps children in navigating the challenges they face is resilience. It has shown that resilient children are problem solvers who can face unfamiliar or tough situations and strive to find positive solutions.

“When they step into a situation, [resilient kids] have a sense they can figure out what they need to do and can handle what is thrown at them with a sense of confidence.” (Lynn Lyons, Psychotherapist)

This doesn’t mean that children have to do everything on their own. Rather, they need to know how to ask for help and are able to problem-solve their next steps.

As a Modern Foreign Language Teacher I often found pupils would say they couldn’t complete a task because they couldn’t speak the language. They would ask me for a translation rather than looking back through their work or looking in a dictionary or textbook for a solution, despite this being an obvious solution to me.

It became clear that my pupils needed to know how to be resilient and that I would have to teach them the behaviours and skills needed in order to do this.

Context

I decided to focus my resilience research on a lower achieving Year 9 Spanish class who were particularly demotivated, needy and really just didn’t see the point in languages, despite my enthusiasm and passion for the subject. I had taught them as a group since Year 8 and they would not use the resources available to them to answer questions, rather they would ask me for answers. For a teacher with thirty pupils in the class constantly asking these questions, I was beginning to find the lessons draining. Something had to be done.

Whilst being a lower achieving set, it was a very mixed-ability group with pupils ranging from a Level 2 – 5 and a number of pupils having special educational needs and others having emotional and behavioural needs.

My initial thoughts on the group and how resilient they were that 12/30 showed no resilience at all, 14/30 occasionally showed initiative to seek solutions or use resources other than me for help and 4/30 did show an ability to problem solve themselves and attempt tasks before asking for assistance.

This was my subjective view based on classwork, homework, test results and general attitude in lessons in Year 8. There is no specific test to demonstrate how resilient a person is; rather I based this judgment on how I as the class teacher had seen the pupils handle work and situations that I had placed them in. Not a very resilient class then with only four pupils able to demonstrate resilience at the start of the year.  Something had to be done!

Actions

The first step was making “resilience” the language of the classroom. This was achieved by displaying the ‘Iceberg Illusion’ poster, explaining this to pupils by using examples of my own failures and then referring to this during lessons.

Iceberg illusion

The Iceberg Illusion by Sylvia Duckworth original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviaduckworth (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

see also https://sylviaduckworth.com/sketchnotes/

It was also necessary to remember techniques as a teacher to instil resilience in pupils, so after research, I made a poster into a desk mat which I had in front of me each lesson.

The poster was based on:  ‘10 best phrases to teach resilience to your kids’ by Michael Grose at http://www.kidspot.com.au/10-phrases-you-hear-in-resilient-families-are-you-using-them/

This allowed me to change the language I used and to remind me of how I should act in order to promote resilience.

I then came up with a Resilience Plan of ten points that I would aim to do each lesson.

  1. Don’t accommodate every need.
  2. Avoid eliminating all risk.
  3. Teach them to problem-solve.
  4. Teach your pupils concrete skills.
  5. Avoid “why” questions.
  6. Don’t provide all the answers.
  7. Avoid talking in catastrophic terms.
  8. Let your pupils make mistakes.
  9. Help them to manage their emotions.
  10. Model resiliency.

Impact

Using these actions I noticed that barriers to learning/relationships were improved by the following means:

    • Awareness of the language used in the classroom – Both myself and the pupils began to talk the language of resilience often using humour to see ourselves through difficult tasks.
    • Different approaches to the four skills/exercises – Pupils took on board the advice and techniques that were taught for each language skill (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and were therefore better equipped to problem solve questions/tasks.
    • More confidence – Pupils were much more confident in their own abilities and were much less reliant on me.
    • A more positive classroom environment – Pupils would ‘have a go’ at the work rather than saying that they could not do it and just giving up. They recognised that I valued their effort more than getting the correct answer each time.

By the end of the year, in my opinion, 24/30 showed an a readiness to problem solve for themselves and attempt tasks before asking for assistance and 6/30 showed some capacity to show initiative to seek solutions or use resources other than asking me for help.

Whilst subjective, this data was again based on classwork, homework, test results and general attitude in lessons but in my opinion, all the pupils vastly improved and became much more resilient within lessons.

Conclusions

It is worth noting that the majority of pupils in my target class were not going on to study languages at GCSE level and that for the first time in three years, the inevitable question of “Why do I still have to study this?” or “What is the point in languages?” was not posed. This in itself was a major breakthrough and a sign that pupils not only had come to enjoy the lessons, being much more motivated as they knew the skills to problem solve, but they had also started to take pride in the work they completed feeling a sense of accomplishment when they could complete a task. Even if they got an answer wrong, they had come to realise that this was a stepping stone and part of the inevitable learning process.

Therefore in conclusion, the evidence shows that the work completed on resilience had a big impact, not just on my targeted group but also on other classes that I taught due to my language within lessons changing to a more resilience based approach.

My group and I believe that our strategies have made a difference, as this approach supports stretch and challenge allowing you to have higher expectations and avoid ‘helicopter’ teaching. It supports pupil independence and there is much less teacher dependence, however, it would be far more powerful if the language of resilience was consistent across the school. Something has to be done!

Next Steps

In order to promote resilience further this needs to become a whole school approach. Strategies that I intend to use in the next academic year include:

  • Remembering it works! Being patient with new classes whilst teaching the language of resilience.
  • Making resilience language part of school life – Success Iceberg posters in classrooms and assemblies on resilience with colleagues who have also worked on developing resilience.
  • Effort and reiteration – Spending time at the start of each lesson reinforcing the language of resilience and making expectations clear to students.
  • List of key ideas to focus on – I will choose three to four key ideas from my ten point plan to focus on with individual classes, thus better tailoring them to each classes’ needs to make them more resilient.
  • Resilience list for pupils – I will give each student the following table for their book:

Be Resilient

INSTEAD OF… TRY THINKING …
I’m not good at this What am I missing?
I give up I’ll use a different strategy
It’s not good enough Is this really my best work?
I can’t make this any better I can always improve
This is too hard This may take some time
I made a mistake Mistakes help me learn
I’ll never be that smart I will learn how to do this

 

  • Resilience level/mark at the end of each term – Rewarding attitude and effort is crucial in sending the right messages about what we value.

Afterthought:

When will we also teach them what they are?”

We should say to each of them:

Do you know what you are?

You are a marvel. You are unique.

In all the years that have passed,

there has never been another child like you.

Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers,

the way you move.

You may become a Shakespeare,

a Michelangelo, a Beethoven.

You have the capacity for anything.

Yes, you are a marvel.

And when you grow up, can you then harm

another who is, like you, a marvel?

You must work; we must all work,

to make the world worthy of its children.

By Pablo Casals

Sources/References

Featured image: ‘Success’ by animatedheaven on Pixabay.  Original image licensed under CC0 Public Domain

STRATEGIES TO ENGAGE BOYS WITH LOWER LEVEL LITERACY IN LEARNING

An action research project by Kevin Magner (R.E.)

Objective

To develop a range of strategies to engage a group of Year 10 boys with lower level literacy in learning; to help build confidence in their own ability; a willingness to engage in written work and to help them achieve their target grades.

Background

Examination of GCSE Religious Studies is based on the completion of two written exam papers. Pupils need to be able to express their learning in the appropriate written format for the exam.

Literacy is a skill for life and the ability to communicate effectively in both the written and spoken word is a basic skill for daily life and for employability.

Context

The focus for this action research project has been my Year 10 GCSE RE group. The group is made up 13 boys, many of whom have lower level literacy skills.  The boys are taught together as part of a faculty initiative to teach pupils in single-sex groups.  The boys have a wide range of learning needs including six who are Pupil Premium, six have SEND needs (two being statemented), seven have dyslexic tendencies, two have ADHD and there are a mixture of emotional and behavioural issues also present in the group.

A significant proportion of the boys have relatively low self-esteem which manifests itself in many cases as a reluctance to participate in academic work. Behavioural and emotional needs mean they often find it difficult to work cooperatively.

The target grades for this group range from minimum target grades of C-F and challenge target grades of C-E.

During the course of the year it has been confirmed that eight of the boys will receive additional support in their final exams, including seven who will have the support of a scribe and reader. While these pupils will not have to physically write in their exam they will still have to know and explain verbally how they want their answers to be written.

Background Reading and Research

Background Reading

Historically, boys in general have been less academically successful than girls in Religious Education as they have been in most literacy based subjects.

“The one area of the curriculum where boys do tend to underachieve is English” (pg ii3)

Initially, in my research I looked for evidence of practical strategies to engage boys in learning. The document, ‘Me Read, No Way’ – A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills, produced by the Ontario Ministry for Education (2004)1 and which draws on findings from OFSTED, provided some very helpful strategies based around the structure and delivery of lessons:

Boys respond best when:

  • work is assigned in bite-sized, digestible pieces and is time-limited;
  • lessons are broken down into a variety of activities that include more research, or the use of information technology; “active” learning opportunities, such as drama, investigation,
  • the work seems relevant to them – that is, when it has a purpose they can understand;
  • lessons are delivered in a brisk, well-paced format, with an obvious direction, so that they can tell that progress is occurring;
  • the work includes an element of competition and/or involves short-term goals;
  • time is allowed for review and reflection following the lesson or assignment;
  • an analysis of the “concrete” aspects of a text precedes an analysis of one’s emotional response to it;
  • they receive regular, positive feedback.

(Wilson, 2003, p. 123) (pg161)

Other guidance focused on specific teaching strategies with reference to the development of written literacy:

“Some strategies for establishing the link between reading and writing:

  • Explicitly discuss models of good writing in detail, pointing out elements such as sentence structure, paragraphing, and vocabulary, so that students become aware of the choices that the writer has made.
  • Maintain a balance between the development of skills such as spelling and grammar and the exploration of content, meaning, and effect” (pg 141)

“Graphic organizers and other visual tools can be a useful means of demonstrating the relationships between things, both spatially and conceptually. They can be used in literacy activities in ways that may help “let boys in on the secret”.” (pg201)

Seeing a teacher model the use of writing frames or templates and using writing frames themselves helped students understand narrative structure.

  • Breaking text down to its skeletal outline helped students understand how writers develop a story
  • Writing frames were most useful to students of average ability, but they also helped lower-achieving students, especially when those students used the frames in groups, with a teacher’s guidance.
  • Writing frames built structure into the narrative writing task, improving boys’ writing performance.” (pg211)

However, it quickly became evident as the year progressed with the class that issues of self-esteem, motivation and social interaction were as much of a barrier to engaging the boys in my class as their practical skills. Low self-esteem can often become embedded in academic behaviours which can then be reinforced by gender stereotypes.

As the DFCS (Department for Children, Schools and Family) document, ‘Gender issues in school: What works to improve achievement of boys and girls’ (2004)2 states:

“The peer group is of central importance in reinforcing gender stereotypes. For instance, given the choice, pupils usually sit in same gender groups and both primary and secondary pupils ‘police’ the gendered behaviour of their peers, and punish failure to conform to traditional gender norms.”(pgiii2)

It soon became apparent to me that in my all male class a number of negative stereotypes were well established amongst the boys concerning their attitude to learning in general and to R.E. in particular. Working hard, or being seen to work hard, was not ‘cool’ and R.E. was not perceived to be of relevance to their current or future lives.

This exacerbates the social challenges the pupils have to overcome in terms of literacy development.

Boys designated “poor readers” are more likely to react against their perceived low

status in class than girls working in the same group. In an effort to bolster their standing with their peers this group of boys may avoid spending much time on a task they find difficult (pgvii2)

This effect is multiplied, even in a single gender class, given the ‘practice’ the boys have had in trying to avoid work they find difficult throughout their education.

There are therefore academic, personal and social factors that all combine to act as hurdles in the race to develop the literacy skills necessary to enable the boys to successfully reach the finishing line of their GCSE exams. This acutely highlights the tension for any teacher, between the desire to develop literacy skills for life against the all too real deadline of an exam date.

Visit to a primary school

Discussion with a colleague from a primary teaching background highlighted the idea that many of the boys may have struggled or indeed missed key steps in the development of their literacy skills while in primary education. As a result they have struggled to build more advanced skills over these gaps.  Similarly, a loss of confidence and a consequent lack of self-esteem may have resulted in their being reluctant to undertake, or even trying to avoid written tasks which expose their limitations – this being most obvious when it comes to public examinations!

I undertook a visit to a primary school which had undertaken a school-wide writing project to explore strategies, particularly those relating to boys who are struggling to develop their literacy, which I hoped would help me to find strategies which might be effective with my class.

Among the strategies used by the primary school were the following, which fall into three broad categories:

  1.  Practical support
  • Teachers model the writing process using pupils’ ideas. This is then used to model the ‘Review, Edit, Improve’ process
  • The ‘Think, Say, Write’ process is used to allow pupils to express their ideas using verbal skills in which most pupils are stronger, before the more challenging task of capturing them in writing
  • Pupils are supported in the drafting and editing of written answers through the use of mini-whiteboards so that work is improved before it is written in ‘best’
  • Laminated ‘placemats’ which include key words, vocabulary, grammatical forms and success criteria are used to provide individual pupils with immediate support and guidance on specific tasks/activities
  • Keyboards and voice recorders are used to support pupils who find the motor skills involved in writing difficult thus providing them with the chance to produce ‘written’ work they can be proud of
  • Written work is ‘reverse engineered’ by starting with a finished piece of writing and then working backwards to explore and understand how that answer was produced thus modelling the process that build towards successful written work in small steps

2. Social strategies to build self-esteem

  • Talk to small groups of pupils directly about the difficulties they are facing in their literacy and ask them what support or help they want, thus showing that they are not alone and that the teacher intends to support them
  • Share pupils’ best work with an appropriate audience (another teacher, the Head teacher, the rest of the class, display, a younger class, a visitor, sent home to parents) to celebrate success and foster self-esteem
  • Use practical/engaging activities (build…, make…, do…) as a stimulus for consequent written work
  • Use laminated speech bubbles with pupils’ names and board markers during lessons to capture and display good ideas from pupils, thus providing recognition and a sense of immediate success with aspects of a written task to build self-esteem and retain good ideas for later use

3. Whole-school principles and strategies to support literacy

  • Develop a culture which recognises the need for ‘practice, practice, practice’ in written work
  • Establish the expectation that every pupil will be writing
  • Ensure that all pupils learn and practise the ‘review, edit, improve’ cycle in their written work
  • Provide support at ‘the point of learning’ (placing an emphasis on helping pupils to succeed rather than waiting for failure and then providing remedial support)
  • Have clear expectations regarding legibility and spelling to ensure pupils do not try to mask their needs through poor handwriting
  • Have a regular (termly, weekly, module) focus on an aspect of literacy (spelling, handwriting, punctuation)

Actions

Strategies to engage interest

This was the first approach I tried at the beginning of the year as I sought to make lessons both stimulating and engaging for the boys. As far as possible I broke the lessons into small chunks and sought to use a wider variety of activities than those that were already built into the faculty scheme of work.  I did this to shift the emphasis of the lessons away from written activities and to encourage greater participation.  Increasing the emphasis on visual resources (including picture based activities and the use of short film clips) did stimulate interest and as the year has progressed, become a springboard for discussion which the boys enter into more freely than written tasks.

The use of IT based resources which I thought would appeal to boys has been of mixed benefit. The use of ‘Plickers’ (a discussion/quiz based activity) based on the principle of immediate feedback using QR coded cards proved ineffective for this group as the practicality of using the technology (the ability of an I-pad to read a set of QR codes held up by pupils in a single camera shot) led to frustration amongst the pupils.  The use of ‘Kahoot’ quizzes using mobile phones was more successful in engaging interest but was soon found to be open to abuse as some of the boys used the ‘give yourself a name’ function to use words which provoked a negative response from other pupils.  A creative use of the resource I had not foreseen – intelligence but employed in the wrong direction!

Other successful strategies have included an increased focus on vocabulary based activities which reinforce the learning of the specific terms required for the exam. This has included the development of both paper and Power point resources which link vocabulary to images and involve pairing, matching and odd-one-out type activities.  These have served both to introduce and to revise key words, with repetition of the vocabulary through a variety of activities – a fundamental principle underpinning lessons.  This has also resulted in the production of resources which the Teaching Assistant linked to the class can use when working one-to-one with key pupils.  These vocabulary games have been extended to include:

‘Chopped Words’ (take a set of key words – chop up and mix the words like the pieces of a jigsaw – pupils have to recreate the key words e.g.   IST   IAN  CHR  ITY  becomes CHRISTIANITY)

‘Scrabble’ (provide scrabble tiles of the letters of a key word. Pupils have to find as many words as they can from the tiles with a bonus for the key word using all tiles)

‘20 Questions’ / ‘Guess the password’ (pupils are given the opportunity to ask questions which can only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to ask their fellow pupils, to help them identify a key word which has been shared with the rest of the class)

‘Hangman’ (the traditional game using key vocabulary) – the boys particularly enjoyed this game, especially when it was played by them against the teacher!

‘Here’s the answer, what’s the question?’ (pupils have to identify the key word from its definition or a series of statements about it)

These, along with other activities have promoted familiarity with key words and an opportunity to practise the correct spelling at the same time.

An increased emphasis on discussion rather than Q&A tasks or note-taking has also helped increase engagement in lessons. Any discussion that includes personal anecdote or experience from teacher or pupils stimulates interest further.  This has been a particularly useful way of engaging the boys’ natural curiosity when discussing ‘big issues’ such as the existence of God, the morality of abortion and euthanasia or the existence of the paranormal – but is a greater challenge when discussing ‘drier’ areas of the curriculum.  When used together with skilled questioning techniques this has provided an effective way to explore an issue without reliance on a written text.

Developing good behaviour and promoting self-esteem

By far the biggest obstacle to engagement was the behaviour of pupils, much of which I believe is an expression of their low self-esteem. Many boys came to the class bringing a reputation or set of behaviours which they sought to maintain in the presence of their peers.  Some had a history of not getting along together which coloured all of their interactions.  Some are easily wound up and can be provoked at the slightest instance.

The consequence of this was that class management was a priority from the start of the year. It also meant that a number of cooperative learning strategies were not practical.  In consequence I focused on trying to remain positive in outlook, to be consistent with the class and to be optimistic in my expectations of the boys.

To move class management onto a positive footing I introduced two reward initiatives; reward stickers and a good behaviour report for the class.

The reward stickers are simply small praise stickers which are stuck on the cover of a pupil’s book in recognition of a positive effort, answer, contribution or achievement either in the lesson or in their written work. It is easy to use these either for a specific focus as required or for general recognition.  No specific attention is drawn to their use but pupils do take an interest in the number of stickers they have collected and consequently these are counted and the total transferred as they move into a new exercise book.  A number of the boys do take pride in the growing number of stickers and they do promote a sense of achievement and self-esteem.

To address common concerns regarding behaviour I introduced a Good Behaviour Report for the class. At the end of each lesson boys could gain a point in any, or all of five categories of behaviour I identified as those that would most benefit the overall performance of the class i.e. settling to work quickly, completing tasks, asking/answering questions, behaving well.  The foci were always positive and reward gained for achieving each foci rather than a negative consequence for failing to meet it.  Points were tallied and shared with the class across a two week timetable cycle and then rewards given in line with the school’s rewards system.  I ran this over two terms until I felt it had served its purpose of establishing expectations.

One strategy that was a chance discovery was the use of personal behaviour reports. Initially used to focus one of the boys with ADHD who is very easily distracted but who values positive feedback given to his mother.   This was a simplified paper version of the class behaviour report and was based on the idea that I would give his mum a phone call to acknowledge good behaviour if he had a series of successful lessons.  This report was then requested by another boy to help him to focus.  I continued to use these reports for the remainder of the year for those pupils.

Overall, I have found that the boys respond best to initiatives that are positive in nature, immediate in their feedback and tangible in their reward. A sticker given today with praise and either a call home or a positive referral, is more likely to have an impact than the promise of a greater reward in two weeks’ time.

Perhaps the most important approach I have tried to adopt has been to try and build positive relationships with the boys together with conveying an unfailing optimism in their ability to achieve academic success. This is undoubtedly a long-term strategy but a number of conversations with individual boys show that many need an awful lot of reassurance that their efforts are worthwhile and when they do succeed, they hold onto the successes they have achieved, however small or far apart they might be.

Developing writing skills

The principal reason for engaging the boys in learning was to develop their literacy skills to enable them to achieve a GCSE exam grade. With this in mind it has been important to maintain a clear focus on working towards the exam in every lesson.

Underlying this is what is referred to as ‘The Plan’ – a simple formula for framing exam answers to ensure that pupils access all of the marks available in each part of a question. A copy of this is glued into the back of each exercise book and folds out to provide an instant guide for pupils in lessons.  This is supported by the systematic way in which the format of lessons works its way around the four elements of a full GCSE question.   In almost every lesson we use our learning to address one of these four elements, giving their learning real significance.

Writing frames are used to help pupils to collect and record relevant learning as we work through each topic. These can be differentiated to support the needs of different learners, especially those with the greatest literacy needs.  Writing frames also help to ensure that as the course progresses pupils develop an orderly set of work in their books to support later revision.

Blank writing frames are also available for each part of an exam question. These are based on the same format as the exam paper they will sit at the end of the year and provide practise in applying ‘The Plan’ to the exam paper.  With minor differentiation in the form of sentence starters, they help establish the correct vocabulary for the exam and the principle of paragraphing longer answers – a skill many of the boys have yet to master.

Following my visit to a Primary School, I have increasingly used ‘Teacher Writing’ to model the writing process for the whole class using individual pupil’s ideas. This has allowed me to demonstrate how answers might be worded and edited to ensure that they meet the requirements of the exam.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how good the pupils often were in this exercise, especially in terms of correcting spelling and punctuation as well as in the need to explain points fully for the examiner.  However, while most of the boys could record such answers from the board there remains a reluctance to complete extended answers independently.

‘Teacher Writing’ also supports the process of ‘Think, say, write’, encouraging pupils to verbalise and rehearse an answer, with teacher input, before committing it to writing.

Impact

Overall, I feel that we have made some progress as a class. The pupils do understand the structure of exam answers and what is required to answer them.  They have become familiar with a wide range of key vocabulary though they are not always confident in its use.  The boys can engage in discussion and express opinions verbally and they have demonstrated the ability to frame exam answers when supported by ‘Teacher Writing’.

Behaviour continues to vary from lesson to lesson but we have had more productive lessons as the year has progressed. A clear format for lessons has been established and pupils understand the routines that shape lessons.

In the mock exams at the end of Year 10 results were still below target; however it was encouraging to hear from scribes that pupils did understand the structure of exam answers and tried to frame their answers accordingly. The ‘Teacher Writing’ activities had also helped pupils with the weakest written skills to make best use of their scribes by enabling them to try and put answers into the format that had been practised in lessons.

Conclusions

This is a challenging class to teach on many levels but with the challenge comes reward that is often measured in the small steps the boys have taken in their academic work or sometimes in those precious moments when ‘a penny drops’ or a pupil wants to stay a few moments beyond the lesson to make a point or ask a question. However, it has also been a rewarding process professionally if only in making me review, refine and re-think every lesson that I teach them.

On a broader level I have learnt a number of important lessons as a teacher:

  • Allow time to embed practice, even when it doesn’t seem to be working at first. Pupils like routine and clear expectations. If you have core behaviours or skills to teach you must stick with them even if you need to vary the way in which they are delivered.
  • Develop teaching strategies to meet the individual needs of your pupils. It is important to start from where the pupils are at academically and not simply expect them to fit the mould set for the majority of pupils. This requires patience, reflection and differentiation. Such differentiation can often be subtle and simple in practice.
  • It is important to build self-esteem at every turn. Pupils with low self-esteem take an awful lot of building up and their confidence can be very easily knocked. This takes a conscious and planned effort to maximise the opportunities to celebrate success and consistently reinforce, in the pupils’ eyes, your belief in their potential, where they may lack it themselves.
  • Identify your priorities for the course/class and stick to them. Even when you are not successful, you must be prepared re-iterate and re-define your priorities until they are achieved.
  • Develop routines and build expectations of how pupils will behave or learn. In time pupils come to accept and often rely on these routines, and will then hopefully, rise to these expectations.
  • Keep it simple. In developing new teaching strategies look for simple activities that vary and enhance your repertoire but are not overly complicated or onerous in terms of their planning and preparation. They must also be clearly focused on clear teaching points. Once you have found a strategy that works stick with it but be creative in the way you present and use it.
  • Time invested in resources or strategies that can be re-used is time better spent than investing hours in elaborate activities that have limited use.
  • Be persistent. Teaching a group of Year 10 boys with such a broad range of needs has been challenging. I have often left lessons frustrated, angry or doubted my own ability to teach but with patience and persistence I have learnt more about myself as a teacher and come to recognise the even greater challenges some of these pupils face both academically and in their future lives.

Next Steps

  • Continue to maintain or raise expectations the boys have of themselves academically and socially
  • Continue to work on using and developing the strategies that have proved effective so far
  • Work to develop greater resilience in pupils when faced by challenge or failure
  • Remain optimistic about the benefits to pupils of making small steps in their learning
  • Seek to establish a culture in which pupils are willing to write full exam format answers independently

Footnotes/Sources/Links/References

  1. ‘Me Read, No Way’ – A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills.

Ontario Ministry of Education (2004)

https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/brochure/meread/meread.pdf

  1. ‘Gender issues in school: What works to improve achievement of boys and girls’

Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009)

http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/9094/1/00601-2009BKT-EN.pdf

3. ‘Using the National Healthy School Standard to raise boys’ achievement’, Gary Wilson  Department for Education and Skills, UK. (2003)

Further reading:

Improving Boys’ Literacy

http://www.learningobservatory.com/resource/improving-boys-literacy-a-survey-of-effective-practice-in-secondary-schools/

Improving literacy in secondary schools: a shared responsibility – OFSTED

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413182/Improving_literacy_in_secondary_schools.pdf

Featured image: Texting boy by Fangirl on Pixabay (original image) licensed by CC0 Public Domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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