Making revision more effective

A sharing best practice post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

Reading time: 2 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Complete one mock paper per fortnight in class

Then, in the following fortnight pupils complete two homeworks:

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

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Figure 1  An example of a revision homework

Put simply my advice is:

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

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

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

An Action Research Project by Kate Gilbert (Geography)

Reading time: 8 minutes

Background

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

Kagan Cooperative Learning

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

Key 1: Structures

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

Key 2: Teams

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

Key 3: Management

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

Key 4: Classbuilding

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

Key 5: Teambuilding

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

Key 6: Social Skills

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

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

Key 7: Basic Principles (PIES)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Using Social Media to Help Pupils’ Prepare for an Exam

An Action Research project by Nicola Osman (English)

Reading time: 8 minutes

Choosing a focus

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

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

Initial actions

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

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

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

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

Fig 1

Figure 1: Weekly reminder

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

Fig 2

Figure 2: Weekly bullet points

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

Fig 3

Figure 3: Individual bullet points

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Figure 4: Quotations example

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

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Figure 5: Theme with bullet points

Other Strategies

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

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Figure 6: Examples of questions posed for pupils

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

Analysis of feedback data

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

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

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

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Figure 7: Year 11 Social Media Use

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

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Figure 8: Year 10 Social Media Use

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 11

Figure 11: Year 11 Social Media Use of Revision Resources

Other findings

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

Further Actions

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

 

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

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

See the orignial blogs  at @englishrevisiononsocialmedia

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

Developing independence and resilience in MFL Lessons

An Action Research Project by Joanne Whalley (MFL)

Reading time: 12 minutes

Context  –  Autumn 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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Figure 1: Grade criteria for MFL

Development – December 2016

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

Action

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

Research before the lesson

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

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

Risk taking lesson 1

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

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Planning

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

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

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

The plan for the 2 hour lesson:

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

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

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

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

Challenge 5 > Application in a translation task.

Lesson reflection

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

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

Conclusions and next steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

Featured images:

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

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

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

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

An Action Research project by Rory McMahon (Mathematics)

Aims of the Project

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

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

Background and context

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

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

Actions taken

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

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

Scheme of Work changed from Kangaroo to AQA

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

Adaption of End of unit tests to support Mastery

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

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

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

Example 1

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

interior angles

Example 2

Factorising 1

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

Factorising

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

 Adoption of Eastern Asian styles of teaching (learning information)

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

The Eastern Asian method has the following features:

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

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

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

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

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

NRICH aims to:

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

For teachers of mathematics, NRICH:

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

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

sow-1.png

sow-2.png

Impact

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

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

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

 Conclusions

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)

Objective

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

Background

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

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

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

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

Context

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

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

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

Fig 1

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

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

Fig 2

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

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

Fig 3

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

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

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

Actions

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

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

Fig 4b

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

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

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

Fig 4a

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

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

Impact

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

Fig 8

Figure 6. Summary of achievement in GCSE Science 2016.

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

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

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

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

Fig 6

* Based on national transition matrices.

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

Next steps

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

Learning, to be applied to the current year eleven:

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

Possible areas for further research:

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

References and further reading

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

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

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

The effective deployment of Teaching Assistants in the classroom to maximise the progress of pupils with identified SEND

An Action Research Project by Aleisha Woodley

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers.

As line manager of the SEND team and in conjunction with the SENCO the need to research this topic was two-fold. After teaching staff Teaching Assistants (TAs) are the second biggest staffing cost in most schools, so deploying them in line with the latest research to maximise their impact on and in supporting pupil progress is vital in gaining value for money.  Secondly, after establishing how they should be deployed the best practice from teachers in engaging, supporting and directing this valuable resource is essential. The research phase was undertaken as a combination of a literature review of current research on models of deployment and impact studies on pupil progress as a result.  This led to a clear model in the context of St Bernadette’s for deployment of our TAs after observation of the current model and impact.  With the following aims:

  1. Teachers should be more aware of their responsibilities towards low attaining and SEND pupils
  2. Increase quality of TA interactions with pupils
  3. Create quality teacher and TA liaison time
  4. TAs have a clearer understanding of lesson plans, objectives and how to support pupils in meeting them
  5. Increase TAs self-esteem, value and confidence with a more clearly defined role.

This work was written up in full by the SENCO and implemented at the beginning of 2016-17 academic year. The quality of dialogue and parallel research meant that on-going discussions in learning focus time (CPD time allocated to staff across the school year) and line management time was clearly understood and developed a joint understanding of what was needed to improve deployment of TAs in class and for interventions.  The SENCOs project then focussed on developing the understanding for teachers and how they can best direct, support and deploy the TAs with the most advantage in their classroom to improve the progress of pupils.

My consideration for my own classroom practice then focussed on the targets in green (see exemplars below) and on classroom implications for those pupils that work well below the levels/grades of the rest of the class. In the academic year 2015-16 I taught a number of pupils operating well below the rest of the class academically who had a variety of learning difficulties preventing them from fully accessing and operating at the expected level of their peers. I interviewed pupils about their difficulties and how best to assess their understanding rather than their ability to record their understanding.  This produced key questions that would assess pupils’ learning and bridging the gap between their understanding and that of their peers as a key assessment tool in class.   The pupils’ preferences and recommendations were taken into consideration when developing and implementing these ideas.

Background & Literature Review of TA deployment

The school context:

The school is an 11-16 mainstream Catholic Comprehensive that has 750 pupils on roll with a wide ability range from pupils on P levels to working beyond A* at GCSE. 84 pupils were on the SEND register in the academic year 2015-16. This is 10.76% of the school population which is slightly below the national average. 8 pupils were covered by a statement of Special Educational Needs or an Educational Health Care Plan.

The primary need of each pupil is stated and shared with all teaching staff along with suggested strategies for meeting these needs in class. Specific strategies and external agency advice is sought and shared for those with complex needs or those pupils whose progress is very slow.  These external agencies range from ASDOT who are the Autistic Spectrum Disorder Outreach Team; BIS Behaviour Improvement Service: Speech and Language Team; Hearing Impairment Service etc.  The use of these additional agencies is identified according to the need of the pupil and their barriers to learning.

The SEN D code of practice states “Special educational provision is underpinned by high quality teaching and is compromised by anything less.” The school has for a number of years required teachers to publish ‘pen portraits’ for each class that highlights the needs of pupils in the class it highlights pupils on the SEND register; Pupil Premium or Disadvantaged; high ability; English as an additional language EAL. Teachers’ highlight the needs of pupils in each category as well as strategies they will employ in meeting those needs in the classroom.  This has sharpened the focus on meeting the needs of different groups of pupils and has proven successful in helping to reduce gaps.

Teaching Assistant deployment in class

The 1981 Education Act was the first legislation that outlined the responsibilities of Local Authorities (LAs) and schools in meeting the needs of pupils with Special Educational Needs. (SEN) The right of parents to request a mainstream primary or secondary school educate their child rather than a special school with a population of all SEN children was enshrined in law. Hence the birth of inclusion of pupils with significant additional needs in mainstream schools often referred to as inclusion. Statutory statements were also introduced that set out for pupils with significant or complex needs what help and support should be provided for them. Other SEN pupils without statements were also recognised and the need for teachers to ensure that they make adequate progress made clear. This inclusion of SEN pupils into mainstream schools led to an increased workload for teachers and for former volunteers or helpers to be paid to support SEN pupils in the classroom.  These early TAs were often unqualified and many of them were mothers, as school hours fitted around child care.  Although the first survey of the impact of TAs was not undertaken until 2009 with the DISS project. (Deployment and Impact of Support Staff) It demonstrated that TAs often worked with the lowest attaining pupils to support and help them access their work.  This conversely also meant that teachers spent the smallest amount of time with these pupils.  TAs with the least specialist training were working closely with those that arguably, needed the most help.  DISS also found that TA interaction with the teacher relieved the teacher’s stress, as they were able to complete administrative tasks and support but did not aid the progress of the pupils in their care as their training was not sufficient to develop their interaction with these pupils adequately.  The (MAST) Making a Statement Project found that TAs often had “more responsibility for planning and teaching statemented pupils that teachers.” Pg2.  TAs were expected to plan and differentiate on the spot once a lesson had started with little or no guidance from the teacher, (Webster and Blatchford 2013) concluded that one of the reasons was that teachers had/ have limited knowledge on how to meet the growing needs of the pupils in their classrooms, claiming that little or no additional training in their initial teacher training (ITT) courses (EEF 2015)

EEF 2015 showed that the more support an SEN pupil had from a TA the more likely that they would not make as much progress as someone similar with little or no support (Webster and Blatchford 2012) This was not the fault of the TA but how they were deployed and what additional training they had (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016). The DISS project had highlighted the lack of TA preparedness, they turned up to a lesson with no idea of what was being taught and how. The TA often had to respond as quickly as the pupils and support the SEN pupil to complete and record tasks often having to modify content as they worked. Using TAs in this way has been highlighted as poor Quality First Teaching in the Code of Practice 2014, which highlighted that the skills of the teacher are needed to focus on the SEN pupil. Blatchford 2012 highlighted the TAs lack of training hindering open questioning and not promoting higher order thinking skills. He went as far as to say that if this was not addressed then it would continue to hold back the progress of learning for those with SEN. Other studies have found that where TAs are trained and do know the content required then they can have a positive impact on progress and confidence of pupils with SEN.  Education for Everybody 2015 found that TAs inspire confidence in children, encouraging them to take part and helping them feel safe to participate.  Having an additional adult in the classroom also allows teachers to be risk takers, improvising creative ways and practical tasks rather than traditional seated work. (Alborz et al 2009)

Webster 2013 stated “TAs can only be as effective as teachers enable them to be. TAs need to ask what skills or knowledge the pupil they support should be developing and what learning teachers want them to achieve by the end of the lesson.”

The COP 2014 goes further by stating that “teachers are to be wholly responsible and accountable for SEN students in their classroom. Providing high quality teaching and differentiation for those requiring additional support in class; even with support staff in the classroom, and understanding the needs they have.”  It is from this point that I considered how best to meet the needs of pupils in my classes and their individual preferences in types and timing of support in lessons.

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers:

After completing the literature review and analysis of effective deployment of TAs, as well as the role of the teacher in Quality First Teaching I began to consider the effectiveness of my own practice in differentiating for and effectively assessing those pupils at Key Stage 3 and 4 that were operating at levels 1 to 3 in Key stage 3 and pre GCSE grades equivalent to levels 2 or 3 at Key stage 3 or grades G and F at GCSE. The Code of Practice for SEN states:

A pupil has a learning difficulty if:

  • They have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of other pupils of the same age or;
  • Have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010. Schools must not discriminate and they must make reasonable adjustments for disabled young persons.
  • The definition of disability in the Equality Act includes children with long term health conditions such as; asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and cancer. These children may not have Special Educational Needs, but there is a significant overlap between disabled children and young people with SEN.

It also states the school must:

  • Be able to identify the young persons with Special Education Needs and assess their needs
  • Adapt the curriculum, teaching and learning environment and access to ancillary aids and assistive technology
  • Assess and review the young person’s progress towards outcomes
  • Support the young person in moving towards phases of educations
  • Enable the young person to prepare for adulthood.
  • Secure expertise among teachers to support the young person with Special Educational Needs – This should include expertise at three levels; awareness, enhanced and specialist
  • Assess and evaluate the effectiveness of the provision for the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Enable the young person with Special Educational Needs to access extra-curricular activities
  • Supporting emotional and social development of the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Ensure the young person with Special Educational Needs takes part in actives with children who do not have Special Educational Needs as far as possible

Obviously some of these criteria have direct application in the classroom and must inform planning, teacher development and training to instil these skills and attributes in every classroom and teachers’ day to day practice.

The COP also spells out the direct responsibilities of the teacher in relation to pupils with SEN.

  • Teachers are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of the pupils in their class, even if they have support staff or a Teaching Assistant present.
  • Where a pupil is not making adequate progress teachers, SENCO and parents should collaborate.
  • High quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils with Special Educational Needs must be provided.
  • Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for lack of good quality teaching.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review the quality of teaching for teaching for pupils at risk of under-achievement.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review teachers’ understanding of strategies to support vulnerable pupils and their knowledge of Special Educational Needs most frequently encountered.
  • The quality of teaching for pupils with Special Educational Needs and the progress made by pupils should be a core part of Performance Management / Appraisal. Special Educational Needs should not be regarded as sufficient explanation for low achievement.

The COP goes on to spell out what adequate progress is for pupils on the SEN register especially if they have low starting points:

  • Similar to that of peers with similar starting points or baselines
  • Matches or betters the child’s previous rate of progress
  • Closes the attainment gap between the child and their peers
  • Prevents the attainment gap growing wider

The school system at St Bernadette’s for setting target levels or grades ensures that each pupil is intended or targeted to make at least expected progress even those with low starting points. The challenge for me in my teaching in a mixed ability class is accurately assessing and developing their progress to the next level or grade when the majority of peers are working at a higher level.  Targeted oral questioning is one way it has been addressed as well as assessing written tasks of all pupils against success criteria.  The use of TAs in some cases to support pupils has also traditionally been used to gauge pupil progress.  TA support is not always possible and is often targeted at those pupils with a statement or EHCP as their support is statutory.  Concerns in many of the studies have also been raised including this one.  “The most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils receive less educational input from teachers than other pupils” (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016 P18). To maximise the time spent and the impact with these pupils and to accurately assess their lesson by lesson progress was a real priority.  In order to establish current practice and the actions to be undertaken I interviewed the pupils I taught in 2015-16 who were operating below the average range of their peers.  All of the pupils I taught were also on the SEN register that were in this category.  All of them were receiving additional literacy support outside of the classroom.

Actions

To focus on the pupil perceptions of their progress and strategies that supported them to do well. I have summarised the most useful comments below each question.

“What do you like that teachers’ do in class to help you?”

  • Come and check if I have understood the instructions
  • Always have the same routine in class at the beginning and end of lessons
  • Come and sit with me
  • Give me time to think of an answer
  • Read through worksheets or information together
  • Point to where you are on the screen
  • Make reading simple.
  • Help me with presentation

“What don’t you like that teachers’ do to try and help you?”

  • Give me different work
  • Ask me a question I cannot answer
  • Tell me off if I’m asking someone for help because I’m stuck
  • Tell me in front of everyone just do this bit
  • Give me different worksheets
  • Never ask me questions in class on my opinion
  • Move on too quickly if I don’t know

“What do you find the most difficult in class to do or try?”

  • Lots of writing
  • Answer questions in front of everyone I am not prepared for
  • Read out loud without help
  • Read on my own
  • Write simplified information without help
  • Complete lots of written questions.
  • Answer yellow stickers
  • Read teacher’s handwriting on the board or in our book

“What makes you feel successful or happy in your work?”

  • Teacher praise
  • If I’m asked for my opinion
  • Leading something I’m good at
  • Completing a task well
  • The teacher checking on me and saying good stuff

As a result of the unscientific but helpful discussion with 6 of my pupils I decided to focus on the beginning and end of my lessons. All 6 pupils were working below the average range of the their peers for age related expectations, were all on the SEN register for mild learning difficulties and had received or were in receipt of literacy intervention outside of the classroom.  Pupils were all really clear they never wanted to be given a different worksheet or work to do.  They were quite happy to start on easy questions that got harder and try to do the more difficult ones if they could.  They also did not want to do lots and lots of writing every lesson.  Three boys in Year 8 all stated that thinking about writing as well as the question slowed them down.  The school expectation is that a lesson objective is shared with pupils for every lesson as well as success criteria and these are used a benchmarks of success at the end of the lesson.

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Figure 1. This is the type of slide used at the start of every lesson that highlights the objective as well as the success criteria. These are referenced to new GCSE measures.

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Figure 2.  These pre-planned or targeted questions have become part of my routine planning to assess the pupils in my class that would normally be operating below the age related expectations. Although I now have a TA for this class I sit with the pupils and assess their knowledge and am able to push their understanding further if they have grasped the basic concepts.  I then note progress towards the success criteria.  Pupils said they found writing plenaries quite difficult.

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Figure 3.  This is in addition to above in the application of the required knowledge. Again, verbal questioning and recording by me as the teacher ensures an accurate picture of the pupil’s assessment level in that lesson.  It is described and written in this manner so a TA would be familiar with it and could use it if necessary.  This planning takes little time, max 10 minutes per lesson and when it has been done it can be used again for different classes.  This has become their routine and allows me time to correct really fundamental flaws but also to celebrate their successes.

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Figure 4. Success criteria used with the whole class. This is still used with SEN pupils and they can tick where they have succeeded i.e. identifying bulbs or battery in a circuit is possible for them.

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Figure 5.  These key questions and exemplars break down for the TA or remind the teacher what can the pupil do and what does this mean in relation to the success criteria. It also helps the TA during the lesson to ask relevant questions to help the pupil access the learning.

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Figure 6. These three plenary slides have also been used for summative capture at the end of the module etc. The pupils reported fatigue by the end of a lesson so they want to use simple but effective strategies to summarise their learning.

figure-7

Impact & conclusion

The strategies for questioning at the correct level, developing TAs expertise in questioning and the plenary approaches are all simple tools that have been effective. Some of the pupils I am teaching for the second year will select their own plenary tool or ask for more direct help than they used to if it is not public.  A barrier to recording their understanding does not mean they do not understand and their verbal responses can demonstrate their higher understanding.  Spending more time with these pupils during the lesson means they become less frustrated and will engage more as evidenced with one pupil that I have taught for two years.  He has not received any negative referrals as his level of engagement have risen using these techniques.  I have a full record for all of these pupils of how they have performed in each lesson via verbal questioning as well as written assessments produced independently which measure their ability to capture this information.

I routinely use this planning and plenary tasks and this certainty helps the pupils to demonstrate their learning more effectively. Previously, I would have relied on the few verbal questions they do answer in class and their written work.

Sources/ References

Alborz, A, Farrell. P, Howes, A., Pearson. D, (2009) The impact of adult support staff on pupils and mainstream schools. London HMSO

Black. P and Williams. D (1998) Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. London GL Assessment Ltd

Bland. K and Sleightholme. S (2012) Researching the pupil voice: what makes a good teaching assistant? British Journal of Learning Support Nasen

Blatchford P., Russell A., Webster R.(2012) Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants. How research challenges practice and policy. Routeledge

DFE: (January 2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years – Statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities

(Featured image: GotCredit, Education key keyboard, CC BY 2.0)

The Awkward Mole

A sharing best practice post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

This activity sharpens up pupils’ ability to precisely follow a particular process to complete a specific task.  These examples come from Maths but they could apply equally well to any process in any subject.  For instance, ‘constructing a perpendicular bisector on a line’, ‘bisecting an angle’, ‘drawing an equilateral triangle’ etc., etc.

awkard-mole

Step 1: Pupils A and B sit back to back with Pupil A facing the teacher/board with an incomplete worksheet (see above)

Step 2: The teacher silently demonstrates the process to complete a task on the board.  Pupil A copies the teacher’s demonstration onto their worksheet.

Step 3:  Without changing position Pupil A now explains to Pupil B how to complete the process on their worksheet by giving clear verbal instructions (they are not allowed to look at what Pupil B is doing)

Step 4: Pupil A and B look at the results and discuss the instructions given (were they specific?, were they clear?, how could they be more precise? how could they be improved), in order to refine and perfect them.

Step 5: (Here is where the ‘awkward mole’ comes in!)  You now invite a ‘random’ pupil to come up to the front and follow the instructions they are given by another member of the class to demonstrate how to complete the process in front of the class.  Unknown to the rest of the class you have primed the ‘random pupil’ to be your ‘awkward mole’ and instructed them to be as awkward as possible when following the other pupil’s instructions – to take instructions literally, to deliberately ‘misunderstand’ ambiguous instructions and so on.  The onus is then on the pupil giving the instructions to refine their thinking and instructions until they succeed in getting the mole to ‘get it right’!

In one case a pupil instructed the mole to ‘draw an arc’, so that’s what he did with Noah and the animals too!

You can prime more than one pupil to be your mole in the lesson and don’t forget to reverse the roles for pupils A and B so they both get a turn.

Featured image: Mick E. Talbot, Mr Mole, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Establishing a Framework to Support Independent Revision

An Action Research Project by Darragh McMullan (Humanities)

Focus

The focus for this will be year 10 students going into year 11. From previous experience and with the increasing demands on students to undertake exam revision, I feel students need to be clear what areas of a course they are weaker in and what areas they need to focus on more specifically for revision. This is not taking away from the fact that students still need to revisit the whole course but it can enable them to attend specific revision sessions and target certain areas in the run up to exams.

Actions

I set out to use PIXL to track students’ knowledge of topics in year 10. This was achieved by creating simple 10 question knowledge tests on the key points for that unit. Based on what students achieved they would receive a Green, Amber, Red rating. This was recorded in their books for their reference and also on an Excel spread sheet. This would enable targeting of students at revision time.

dm1

Students can then prioritise attendance at revision sessions for areas of weakness. In these sessions I do not want them to be a similar lesson to the one taught the previous year. I feel the best way for students to revise independently is using learning mats (see below). This includes all the key questions students need to know for particular units. Students can find and discuss these questions in revision sessions with the teacher becoming a facilitator, helping students, answering questions and stretching students.

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Next Steps

Taking this further I have begun to look at exam questions and how this can be tracked to enable students to see what questions they need to concentrate on. I have also started to develop revision packs that include these questions as HW.

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This will enable HW to be set as a revision task with students looking at the different types of exam questions to enable them to practise these throughout the year. These questions will include mark schemes and suggested sentence starters so students are clearer about what is required for that particular question. This can again be recorded and students can be guided to practise certain questions that they are weaker on.

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The aim will be to ensure that at the end of the course students are clear what knowledge they need to revise, what questions they need to practice and will have the revision materials (learning mat, revision guides) to complete independent revision.

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Featured image:   Adams Monumental Illustrated Panorama of History (1878) By Creator:Sebastian C. Adams [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Silent Conversations

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

“Shhh! We’re going to have a silent conversation…”

An unusual instruction to a class but one that can help to focus thinking and forge collaboration amongst pupils.  How?  Well listen in…

Working in pairs, the class are given a series of questions of varying levels of difficulty.  Their challenge is to answer the questions in silence.  Partners can ‘ask’ each other as many questions as they like, as long as they do so in writing.  At the end of the activity pairs can then demonstrate to their peers or to the class, how they would solve the problem…in silence just like they will have to do in an exam!

By taking it in turns to solve each step of the problem everybody is engaged and by being allowed to ‘ask’ questions they can help each other get ‘unstuck’ when necessary.  The focus on the written demonstration of the solution helps cement the process needed to reach the solution.

Here’s an example of some worked solutions shared (in silence) by pupils with the rest of the class:

silent-conversations

Featured image:  ‘Silence’ (original image) by Alberto Ortiz on http://www.Flickr.com (license CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)