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

Encouraging pupil motivation in MFL through email and project exchanges with schools in Spain

An Action Research project by Iranzu Esparza (MFL)

Focus

To encourage pupils’ motivation, progress and interest in MFL through an email and project exchange with a Spanish speaking school

Background and context

It is important to bring language to life through engaging teaching and learning materials and through direct contact with native speakers. Although some of our students have the opportunity to travel to Spanish speaking countries with their families, not all do, and those who go on holidays tend to stay in English and international resorts where the need to speak in Spanish to communicate is minimal. Therefore, I decided to set up an email and project exchange with a school in a Spain to provide the students with the opportunity to communicate with native students of their age with the a view to encouraging their motivation and enhancing their progress.  Also, two of my GCSE students had approached me and asked about conversation lessons with native speakers to further develop their speaking skills. I thought ‘ePals’ could help them.

Actions

The first exchange with a school in Málaga

I registered with ePals (a safe, on-line platform for project exchanges between schools all around the world) and was contacted by a school in Málaga.

We paired the students from both countries with individuals of similar abilities and interests. It was agreed that each student would write a presentation about themselves in the language they were studying and would add a final paragraph in their mother tongue.

On a practical level a number of problems arose during the process:

1) The teacher with whom the link was made was not the teacher of the Spanish group involved, but the coordinator for extracurricular activities. Any decision or plan had to go through her to the class teacher, who did not have the same motivation or time for the project as she did.

2) The Spanish school was very small and had limited ICT facilities, which made any direct Skype exchange between students on pre-prepared questions and answers impossible. They could not take a whole class to an ICT room at a time either therefore Spanish students could not complete their presentations and email them from school. As a result, some of my pupils were getting messages and others who had less motivated Spanish ePals, were not.

3) Problems with the ePals site for a period of time meant that the students lost the spontaneity to exchange messages with their Spanish ePals directly, since all exchanges had to go via their teacher email, who had to forward them to the teacher in the other country. This generated a considerable workload for the teachers too.

Conclusions from this first exchange

For future exchanges to work effectively:

1) The partner school needs to be interested exclusively in an exchange of work between students.

2) The school needs to have sufficient ICT facilities.

3) The teacher involved in the partner school needs to be the teacher of the students to avoid delays and also to agree on the topics, dates and activities.

4) An alternative platform to ePals had to be found to enable students to exchange emails directly with their e-partners safely. This system also had to enable teachers to monitor the messages in the interests of e-safety.

Impact of the first exchange

Although the overall result of this first exchange was not as successful as hoped, my students produced some lovely compositions about themselves in Spanish for their ePals. They enjoyed getting their ePals’ messages and finding out about them. They also exchanged Christmas Cards and swapped parcels with typical Christmas foods from both countries.

Some students in the class were highly motivated writing or skyping in Spanish and gaining confidence at communicating with native speakers of their own age.

The second exchange with a school in Lleida

I discussed with our Network Manager possible alternatives to ePals and we decided new school Google accounts and passwords could be created for my students. These could be safely monitored by the school. Then I set out to find a new partner school. I established contact with a school in Lleida, Catalonia. The Spanish teacher was the Head of MFL and an expert who had been running educational projects and exchanges for many years. She was very motivated and committed and so we decided to embark in a new, challenging but exciting, Prezi exchange project.

My year 10 students and their Spanish counterparts would be working in groups of 3 or 4 with their classmates producing Prezi presentations for their partner group. The Spanish teacher would guide me through a process she was familiar with. We would produce two presentations on topics that would fit in with the requirements of the GCSE syllabus of my year 10 group. The topics were: Myself and personal interests/ My school.

The Prezi programme is free for schools enabling them to create group presentations where each member of the group can upload contents individually. By clicking on the different images and texts you navigate through the group page. Thanks to our Network Manager’s technical support, each student uploaded a text presentation about themselves in the target language and also in their native language. They added their voice recording to the texts in languages, pictures and some even video clips of themselves showing what our school is like. The Spanish teacher sent me models of previous Prezis her students had made. Our network manager also created Google accounts for each of the groups to send me their presentations to be checked. The idea was that they would also be able to use these accounts to communicate with their Spanish partner group.

The final outcome and presentations were highly impressive. This is a sample of what my students produced:

https://prezi.com/ieu9b6t8pdx4/panda-freaks/#

https://prezi.com/hroc_hpqctja/group-los-guapos/

Unfortunately the process to produce them was less enjoyable than the outcome and we met a good number of problems along the way.

The Spanish school students were familiar with the Prezi format and met outside lesson time or worked independently from home uploading their work. I took my group to an induction to Prezi programme session in our ICT room. They grouped themselves although I chose who would be the leader in each group. Our network manager led the training and by the end of the session they had all created the Prezi group main page and understood the basics of the programme.

The computer room was only available once in a fortnight in the timeslots I taught the group. That meant the students had to finish the presentations independently as homework. They were using the same texts they had emailed their previous pen pals in Málaga, therefore initially it seemed a straight forward task. There were problems in trying to record and upload sound files and the network manager had to record most of the students in lesson time.

Since the students were preparing a presentation without having met their pen-pal group and without having had any contact with them, it felt just like working on a group project. By the time the groups had swapped presentations many of my year 10 group had lost motivation: they were also facing exam pressures. The whole process became demanding and was taking away focus and energy from GCSE preparation.

Conclusions from the second exchange

1) Email and projects exchanges have to be carried out with year groups when they do not have exam pressure to avoid interference with assessments and preparation. A year 9 would have been ideal. Alternatively a year 8 group would have also been suitable.

2) Prezi is a fantastic programme for MFL enabling students to add texts, voice and video in the target language and in their own language for the partner school to listen to. However it would have been better to start with an email exchange between groups and then proceed to the Prezi exchange. Had the students been in contact with their ePals before embarking on a demanding task, their motivation would have been higher to impress and communicate with them.

3) To produce Prezis it is necessary to have access to the computer room for a number of consecutive lessons to ensure they are completed. It is also necessary to have ICT support unless you are familiar with the program. These projects require and encourage independence in the students. The students love working cooperatively in groups, each individual doing research composing a paragraph on a different aspect of the topic and then assembling them all together in a final presentation.

4) It is preferable to plan the number and type of exchanges (video/email/Prezis) beforehand and when it is suitable to carry them out making them fit within the scheme of work. For example, in future exchanges I would start in September with a simple email exchange where students introduce and write about themselves in the target language. Then the students could send written tasks composed in the ICT room at the end of the Autumn and Spring terms on a topic already covered in lessons, for example a PowerPoint or Word presentation about my home town, my hobbies etc. Then, at the end of the year, in July, there would be time to embark on a more demanding project like a Prezi exchange or making a video.

5) For these exchanges to work out, the contents of the messages and projects need to be what has been covered in lessons. This also enhances motivation to learn, since the students know their ePals will be the recipients of what they have been producing throughout the term.  This simpler approach would make them a more realistic activity for busy teachers.

5) Again, like with the first exchange, it is important to emphasize to the partner school what type of projects you are interested in to ensure a match.

Impact

In a survey of pupils, when asked how motivating they had found the exchange projects as part of learning Spanish, 7% said ‘highly motivating’, 57% ‘motivating’, 29% ‘of little motivation’ and 7% ‘not motivating at all’.

Pupils also felt that, school trips, feeling they were making good progress and interesting and fun lessons, were the three most motivating factors in learning Spanish.

Email exchange projects, better career opportunities and the possibility of using the target language on holidays, were valued factors for a good number of students although a minority of pupils did not consider these to be as motivating.

In a questionnaire about their experience of the exchange projects the feedback was as follows:

64% of students only communicated with their ePals when the teacher gave a task related to the project, 14% communicated on a regular, almost daily basis and 29% communicated with their ePals weekly. The majority had only contacted their epal via the email provided by the school, but the most used media after that was instagram with one student using Skype on a regular basis. Two students had also exchanged MSN messages and used Whatsapp.*(see note about e-safety)

Regarding the choice of language, the majority of our students wrote in Spanish and their epal replied in English, followed by a good number that wrote in English and received replies in English too. This second choice is not so conducive to learning Spanish! A minority wrote in English and received replies in Spanish or even wrote in Spanish and were answered in Spanish. However, most students used 2 of these 4 alternatives instead of only 1 consistently.

Most conversations revolved around the topics of friendship, interests, hobbies and school, with only 2 students asking their ePals for support with their Spanish homework.

The majority of the students felt it helped them improve because “I made the effort to understand them”, “I had actual conversations”, “I could talk to them about my daily life”, “It was fun”.

The three students who felt unmotivated explained that they were writing in English and their ePals replied in English, therefore there was no learning or excitement about the exchanges.

Regarding what could have been done differently these were cited; “better suited ePal partners”, “more chances to talk to them during lessons and on Skype” activities taking place in class and not as part of homework”.

The majority of the students enjoyed the exchange with Malaga more because it was more personal and they communicated more often. They also valued the exchange of typical Christmas foods. Two of the students preferred the exchange with Lleida because they enjoyed working with their friends in groups making the Prezis and they felt it was more structured.

Therefore, it is clear that an exchange where students can communicate independently via a safe platform that can be monitored is clearly preferable to more complicated group presentations using Prezi. Also, students value more one to one exchanges because they are more personal to group work exchanges.

Although both projects ran their course and finished, they have been an invaluable source of information about our students’ preferences and how to successfully carry out email or ICT based exchanges taking into account the demands of the curriculum and the demands they make on teachers’ time.

*E-Safety

Maintaining e-safety throughout the exchange was a priority, with information and consent forms shared with parents, expectations clearly laid out with students and platforms used which allowed interactions to be monitored. However pupils’ knowledge and use of social media meant that a number of students did use other media, such as Whatsapp and Instagram to communicate with their partners.

Sources/ Links/References

– What research says about using ICT in Modern Foreign languages:

http://mirandanet.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/wtrs_23_mfla.pdf

-Key Motivational Factors and How Teachers Can Encourage Motivation in their Students Aja Dailey, University of Birmingham,

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-artslaw/cels/essays/secondlanguage/DailySLAKeyMotivationalFactorsandHowTeachers.pdf

-To find partner schools:

The British council website: https://www.britishcouncil.org/

The ePals website: https://www.ePals.com/#/connections

http://www.etwinning.net/en/pub/index.htm

To get started with the Prezi programme

https://prezi.com/login/

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (4 )

(Feature image: ‘You can and will be successful here’ by Enokson.  Attribution: PhotosForClass.com licensed by CC BY 2.0)

An Action Research Project by Richard Noibi

Introduction

‘Mastery is the process by which Maths is taught incisively depicting route(s) to finding solution(s) to a problem. This process is complete when the pupil(s) discovers other routes leading to the Solution’, Richard Noibi, September 2016.

Mastery is also the ability to apply knowledge gained from various areas of Mathematics, i.e. Algebra, Geometry, Probability and other topics in solving Mathematical problems.

With the new mastery curriculum in Mathematics and its demands on application rather than  teaching a systematic approach to solving problems, it is imperative that teachers like me adopt new strategies and approaches to teaching Mathematics to students.  

Gone are the days when teachers can predict exam questions.   Now, we have to teach ‘the why’ more than just ‘how’ to solve questions. Our students must now be able to think outside the box rather than just follow a systematic route to answers.

Aims of the Project

This project seeks to answer the following questions:

  • How can I incorporate Mastery into my teaching to facilitate the development of my students to meet the demands of the new curriculum?
  • What can I learn from other Schools and colleagues to facilitate Mastery in my lessons?
  • What method(s) can I adopt so that my students can remember formulas they need for answering new GCSE questions?
  • How can I encourage Innovation in lessons?

Focus Group

My focus group was a Year 9 class, which had 31 students with various abilities ranging from level 5a to 7b. I chose this class because:

It has students who usually struggle with resilience – a quality needed for mastering Mathematics.

Some of the high achievers were still working below their challenge grades.

Most of the students also found applying Mathematical know-how to real life situations a struggle. This skill is needed to excel with the new strategy.

The Route to Mastery

 Good foundations

For my students to have Mastery skills in Mathematics up to the level required, they must have the solid background knowledge of the Subject. This is the foundation of the plan and the stage at which misconceptions are corrected.

Thinking outside the box

Students can no longer be one way learners but need to be dynamic in their approach to solving Mathematical challenges.

Creating a Culture of Mathematics

‘Consistency and Practice makes perfect’. This was developed through thorough Maths ‘skills drills’.

Mastery in other Schools

As a tutor to students from another school (School ‘A’), I noticed that the teaching styles have changed recently. The past focused on 3 part teaching (Starter, main, plenary) is now divided four parts (revision activity based on quick recap of the most challenging part of the last lesson; then a starter activity, which is usually a modelled question targeted as yardstick for success criteria; main teaching and class work; a plenary based on checking how many of the model questions could be answered at the end of lesson).

In another school I am familiar with (School ‘B’) they use 3 part teaching but there is a modelled test at the start of a new topic. Then after three lessons the students are given a test with the same questions but by this time they have had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the test. The outcome of the test is used to gauge the understanding of the students. This method embraces consistent practice and developing a culture of Mathematics amongst their students.

Both schools use homework to consolidate learning. Sometimes homework is used for correcting errors students make in the lessons not undertaking new work.

Both strategies endorse the above listed route to Mastery. Thus I adopted aspects of both in my lessons with my Year 9 focus group.

Adopting the strategies

To create a culture of Mathematics with Year 9, I combined the method of teaching in School ‘A’ with the assessment programme of School ‘B’.   I made sure I informed parents of the outcome of the end of Topic tests I give pupils once a fortnight. This improved enthusiasm and effort from my students.

Also, I adopted a method I learned from my country (Nigeria) which helps promote independent thinking and application of Maths to real world situation. I started giving the class a Mastery question as a starter once a week.  I say to the class I am not interested in the final answer but how to start solving the question. What is the first step to take before solving this question? What if the question is changed to ………? How would you start? This helps many who struggle to know where to start a question during exams or tests. As we all know, marks are not only awarded for the final answer but the steps taken to reach it.

The results

Seventy per-cent of my Year 9 class achieved a grade higher than their challenge grades, with three making exceptional progress.