- The debate is important to help us all develop and provide the best education for our students;
- We all do what we do because we believe it is the best thing for our students.
This is a story about two teachers: Adam and Zack.
Adam believes that students learn best by exploring ideas they are interested in. By linking his lessons to authentic experiences, Adam believes that students will construct their own learning, which will be powerful for them as they are interested in it. Adam motivates his students with challenging real world problems that they want to find solutions to. In Adam's class, students are provided with real choices over their learning, both the content and the skills.
Adam wants his students to leave school with the skills to succeed in the future, and is not concerned with the knowledge they have at the end, as content is just a delivery system for the skills. Critical thinking and creativity are the goals of education in the eyes of Adam, and to develop these he gives his students lots of authentic problems to solve.
Adam would describe himself as a "guide on the side", facilitating the learning of the students. He sees his job as helping students to develop into their own people, and to be there as a guiding force when students get stuck.
Adam's edu-heroes are Rousseau, Piaget, Vygotsky and Sir Ken Robinson.
Zack believes that students learn best when they are given clear instruction. Zack uses lots of examples to explain concepts, and he aims to give all his students access to the powerful knowledge that has been developed by generations of humankind. Zack motivates his students by making them successful in the early stages, giving them lots of practice of simple skills which build upon one another. In Zack's classroom, students learn what he has chosen, and he creates lessons to make this as successful as possible.
Zack wants his students to leave school with a good understanding of the knowledge that has benefited previous generations: the knowledge he believes to be powerful due to its longevity. After lots of practice on the basic skills, Zack will push students to solve complex problems, believing that critical thinking and creativity are based on the knowledge you already have, and are domain specific.
Zack would describe himself as a "sage on the stage", directing students to the content and skills they need to learn. He sees his job as imparting what he knows to his students and ensuring they understand it.
Zack's edu-heroes are Engelmann, Willingham, Rosenhine, Bjork and Wiliam.
Adam and Zack are about as far from each other as they can be in terms of their beliefs and practices within education. But what's truly important is that they both do everything they do because they believe it is what is best for their students.
There is a debate in education as to what the best approach is. And this debate gets very heated. The reason it gets so heated is that we all care deeply about the outcomes of our students. We all want nothing more than to give our students the best start in life, and provide them with an education that will serve them well for the remainder of their lives.
But we disagree on how to do that.
And, perhaps more importantly, we disagree on what the purpose of education is in the first place.
But that's fine. The debate that rages on is what holds us all to account. It is what makes us think about what we do, rather than just ploughing on doing the same as we always have.
I was first made aware of this debate when I joined twitter. Before that I was oblivious to the fact that there were large chunks of the education community who thought differently to me. In fact, I wasn't really aware of what I thought. It was only when I started to engage in the debate (mostly from the sidelines) that I began to think deeply about my own beliefs. I went away and read lots of articles and books. Over time my own views shifted because of the debate.
But most teachers are not on twitter, and are possibly completely unaware that this debate rages on. They do what they do because that is what they have been told is best. Or that is what they have always done. Or that is how they were taught. But we would never accept an argument from a student that blindly follows one source, without contrasting it to others. So why should we expect teachers to follow one path? Engaging in the debate is the only way to come to terms with who you are as a teacher.
Most teachers are not Adams or Zacks, but more like Daves, Tommys or even Michaels. They lie somewhere along the spectrum of the debate. Perhaps they are on one side, but have certain views that align to the other. And this is always shifting. Some people become more extreme in their beliefs. Some sway to the centre. Some completely switch sides. All these changes happen because of interactions within the debate. They happen because teachers are thinking about teaching and education.
When I started teaching I was probably a Dave. After discovering cognitive science, I swung to becoming a William. Now I am more like a Rory. Where will I be in two years time? Probably still on Zack's side of the spectrum, but who knows. I didn't expect to be here when I was a Dave!
My two takeaways from the story of Adam and Zack are these:
Those who try to shut down the debate, or even win the debate, have probably strayed quite close to Adam or Zack. But their voices are important too. They are the ones who, usually by being provocative in their language, make teachers like me think about my position on certain issues.
So next time you find yourself disagreeing with somebody about education, don't dismiss them or try to shout them down. Have a conversation. Try to learn from them. And remember, we all want the best for our students.
If you are interested in an excellent post about the different modes of teaching, and how to mix up the worlds of Adam and Zach, check out this post: https://thinkingaboutteaching.blog/2019/08/03/traditional-or-progressive-how-to-get-the-best-of-both-worlds/
I have just finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Just Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I read it as an introvert myself, trying to gain a greater understanding of some of my own limitations and find some of my strengths. But what I came away with most, was how being aware of the introverts in my class is so vitally important. Ironically, as an introverted child myself, I had never really considered this before.
Starting with an exploration of how extroversion became the ideal and the norm in the Western world, Cain looks to remind the world that both those on the extroverted side and the introverted side have strengths to offer. There are several reviews online that summarise the main points, and indeed Cain has a TED talk on the book too.
Before diving into the actual implications on teaching, a very important point must be made. Being an introvert is not something that needs to be "fixed". There is nothing wrong with introverted kids (or indeed adults). It is simply that they process information in a different way to extroverts. Much of society has developed to praise extroversion, but, as Cain goes to great lengths to explain, introverts have their own strengths.
It is estimated that between a third and half of all people lie on the introverted side of the spectrum. That means that in a class of 30 kids, we would expect between 10 and 15 of them to be introverted. This may surprise you, as many introverted people have developed ways to appear to be more extroverted. But in doing this, they are not being themselves, but rather living up to what they think is expected of them by society.
And now to the impact on education…
First, introverts tend to be more sensitive to stimuli. That includes loud noises, lots of displays, and even caffeine. Their brain processes these stimuli in a different way to extroverts. Where extroverts are naturally "under-stimulated", introverts are naturally "over-stimulated". Let's consider classroom talk as one example. For an extrovert, the noise and buzz around the room is exactly what they need. This stimulates them to actually be thinking more. But for an introvert, this noise is a severe distraction. It over stimulates them, leaving them both exhausted and unable to think clearly.
I can relate to that. When having a conversation with somebody, I enjoy getting into the details of whatever we are talking about. But when our conversation is in a loud space (such as the staffroom), I find it really difficult to focus on the conversation I am having. I often find myself flipping between the various conversations going on around me, and so I usually sit back, unable to actively participate in any of them properly. Now I understand this is because I am simply being over-stimulated by all that is going on around me.
What is the implication for teaching? Most teaching spaces are populated with lots of displays. These, especially if bright and large, can over stimulate the introverted students in our classes. And when students are working, if they are allowed to talk to each other, the introverted kids may be more likely to be unable to focus on the task on hand. Most introverts are able to deal with these in small doses, but being consistently bombarded by stimuli is a very draining experience for introverts. So when thinking about our classrooms and the activities we plan, try to use a range of activities that will suit both the extroverted kids and the introverted ones. And think about what time of day it is. If an introverted student has been made to work in high stimulus environments all day by the time they get to you, they may be utterly exhausted. And they may be in no fit state to do homework or anything else after school.
Secondly, Cain argues the importance of quiet sustained work, referencing the idea of flow from the work of Csikszentmihalyi and Deliberate Practice from Ericsson, and this is useful for both introverts and extroverts. Both these ideas require sustained time of silent work to think deeply about the current work, and they suggest that this individual deep work is where the most profound advances are made.
This is the natural state for most introverts. They are most comfortable working individually and in silence, and enjoy the challenge of the deep thought that this type of work enables. Introverts tend to be more engaged by parts of lessons which require them to think deeply and "be inside their own heads". This includes lectures and individual work.
Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to be less naturally adapted to this way of working, preferring to work in groups and discuss ideas. But, just as we need to help all students develop their ability to work in groups, we also need to help all students develop their ability to do deep independent work. What is more natural for extroverts is less so for introverts, and vice versa.
What is the implication for teaching? Think about the types of group activities you use. Whilst introverts are not against working in a group (many actually enjoy this in small doses, as long as it is productive and roles are clearly defined), they need some time to themselves to think deeply too. We should also be providing support for extroverts to develop the ability to work individually, allowing them to access the strengths of deep work. Again, ensuring we use a mixture of group based and individual activities is vital to address the needs of all students in the class.
Thirdly, introverts tend to think very carefully about what they are going to say before actually saying something. They are more hesitant to say something that might be perceived as foolish. This can mean that in class discussions, whilst they are thinking of lots of great things, they may not choose to share them with the class. In fact, many introverted students might get fed up with their extroverted peers who will often shout out the first thing that springs to mind without thinking it through. They will probably see this as a waste of time, and will almost certainly get frustrated if this kind of behaviour is praised (e.g. when a teacher says something like "Good effort" or "Nice try" when it was completely irrelevant or plain wrong).
Whilst we do want students to develop into adults who are able to say what they are thinking when it truly matters, forcing them to do this is probably not the best way to approach this situation, and may just cause more anxiety. Similarly, we want to help our more extroverted students develop the skill of thinking before speaking at times, so they do not just say what is on their mind.
We must remain constantly aware that asking introverted students to participate in class more is asking them to act more like an extrovert, which is just not who they are. Instead we should celebrate the amazing qualities they bring to the class, such as deep thought.
What is the implication for teaching? Giving students time to think before requiring answers is a great strategy, but even more so for introverted students. They will probably benefit from an extended period of time, where they can jot down a few of their ideas, and focus them a little, before being asked to share anything with the class. Whilst you should expect introverted students to participate in class, ensure they have time to be prepared before sharing. And don't force them if they really do not want to. The other side of this is when reporting to parents. The most dreaded line in a school report for an introverted student is "xxx needs to participate more in class". If they have something they feel is worth sharing, they will. If they are not sharing, then it is probably because they do not feel their ideas are fully formed and ready to be judged (by you or their peers). Telling them to participate more is telling them to be more extroverted. Rather than telling them to be something they are not, help them achieve their potential as an introvert by saying something like "xxx thinks deeply about content before sharing their well-formed ideas with the class" or "xxx has some really good insights in class based on their deep thought about the content".
There are so many more insights throughout the book, and I strongly recommend reading it. If you are an introvert, it might help you identify with some of the parts of your character you have tried to change or hide to fit in with the extroverted ideal (as it did for me). If you are an extrovert, it might give you an idea of what life is like for an introvert.
But I can summarise my main takeaways with regards to teaching in three points:
I used to have a classroom full of displays. Common misconceptions, etymology, the Maths Mr Men, historical problems, a challenge corner with problems of the week. I even had bunting. But over the last couple of years I have really started to rethink the design of my classroom. Mostly inspired by the ideas from Cognitive Load Theory, I started to think that displays might actually be distracting, and, as Craig Barton has said, the cognitive effort required to ignore them takes up working memory space.
Recently I read this piece from Mark Enser on the TES also about classroom displays, and he argues a similar point that they could cause more harm than good.
So I thought I would share what my classroom looks like at the moment.
The front of my room has a SMART board in the middle, with two whiteboards on each side. We have adopted as assessment criteria around the Approaches to Learning Mathematics, and the rubric for this is on the board on the right (Engagement & Curiosity, Perseverance & Resilience, Independence & Reflection, Mathematical Communication, Resourcefulness, Academic Honesty). I also have a small poster of my Eight Tips For Learning Maths document, which I give to all students at the start of the year. Above the door I have my favourite edu-quote: Memory is the Residue of Thought, Daniel T. Willingham.
I have had all the display boards removed from the side of my room, and now have three big whiteboards, which I often use to get students working on problems. I have the posters from the Learning Scientists which I refer to when teaching students study skills. I also have a copy of my classroom expectations document, which I hand out to all students at the start of the year. In the back corner is the quote "Practice Makes Permanent, Anders Ericsson".
I have since removed
The other side of my room is similar with two big whiteboards (I have asked for a third to go in the middle), and two quotes: Learning Occurs Over a long time, Hermann Ebinghauss and Our Working Memories are limited, John Sweller.
I have been working with a group of teachers on checking for understanding, and we have defined 6 stages of understanding. The next stage is to start referring to these to help students be aware of their own level of understanding. To do this I have put up an extra display.
I have lovely windows across the back wall of my room which look out onto the school field past a small bio-garden used for activities to grow things. The tree is home to a hummingbird. I have a set of shelves where students can leave their textbooks and folders, and I keep extra exercise books, scrap paper, mini whiteboards, and printed templates of some regularly used activities (exit tickets, two truths and a lie, frayer diagram, question reflection sheets, etc). I will blog about these at some point soon! The clock is on one of the pillars so I can see it, but students cannot (without turning around). This avoids time-watching being a possible distraction.
The most cluttered part of the room is my desk area, and it needs a good clear out! It is the end of term , so please forgive the mess! But I have my desk, with an extra desk next to it with my visualiser on. Behind me is my shelves with my paperwork and books. On the walls around my desk I have some notes to myself, copies of my summaries of research, extracts from the T&L Newsletter and the Principles of Great Teaching document. As well as a few personal bits like photos of me with my son, etc.
I have already been rethinking the area around my desk. There is a lot of stuff, and lots of it is not needed. Even the stuff on the walls, I rarely actually refer to, so I think I will be taking some of that stuff down. I have also thought about taking down the Learning Scientists posters (as much as I love them) as they are too small to actually see. I refer to them sometimes, but students never really look at them, so do they really serve the purpose I had hoped. Similarly with the expectations and tips for learning. I either need to get them printed larger so they can actually be seen, or just get them in the front of books/folders, and refer to them there.
I almost exclusively have my desks in pairs (sometimes regrouping into groups of 4 on rare occasions). This allows students to discuss ideas with their partner, but means all students can see the board easily. It also gives me ample space to move around the room, and I can crouch next to or in front of every student in the room (with the exception of next to those beside one of the columns).
The four quotes are new this year, and I have found myself referring to them quite a lot. I talked about the ideas at the start of the year with my classes, and when appropriate now, I can just point to the quote. I deliberately only had one on the front wall, but maybe I need to move that to a side wall as well?
There is some space on the back wall below the windows, and I have been thinking about putting a Mathsy display up there. Something fun and interesting. Being on the back wall it would not serve as a distraction, but could add some more "life" back into the room. But I am not convinced yet.
What does your classroom look like? Are you a displays enthusiast, or minimalist?
Perfect Tau Day
It would be remiss to not mention that today is both a perfect day and tau day (in the US).
Preparing for the 4th Industrial Revolution
I posted a response to a post on preparing students for the future. I don't often get involved in this, but this article in particular riled me up.
Lesson Sheet for 5B HL
I have been using Lesson Sheets with my IB Higher Level class, and I have written a blog about how that is going, and what I do with them.
Context is Important
A short reflection on a question I gave my class that tripped them all up because of the context, and why we should be wary of this when assessing students.
We did conditional probability in my IB Higher Level class today, and one of the questions I set them really tripped them up. Not because of the Mathematical content, but rather the context that the question used. Below is the question.
The issues that arose were from a general lack of knowledge about how tennis works. Many of the students did not know that if you miss the first serve, you get a second serve, for example. One of the interesting misconceptions was that if you miss the second serve you get a third serve. Another, that if you got the first serve in, but then lost the point, you got a second serve.
Once I explained the rules of tennis clearly to the whole class, they all completed the question pretty quickly.
This really highlighted to me the importance of knowledge about the context when answering a question. In Why Don't Students Like School, Willingham gives the oft referenced example of children who know a lot about baseball but with low reading ages having better comprehension of a passage about baseball than those children with high reading ages who know little about baseball.
Although I knew this, it was not something I had considered in the realm of Maths teaching before, as I just thought it applicable to subjects with reading comprehension. But clearly reading is a big part of Maths as well.
So what does this mean? Context is important. Or, more specifically, knowledge about the context is important. Lacking knowledge about the context can be a real hindrance to being able to solve a problem, even if the mathematical knowledge is there.
This is an argument for removing all context from the sequence of teaching when initially introducing new content and skills, so that students can focus all their attention on what we want them to learn.
It is also an argument for using lots of questions with contexts after they have mastered the content, and are confident in their abilities to use their new knowledge and skills. This ensures they have seen many contexts, and hopefully, through that and other subjects, they will have knowledge of any contexts that come up later in life (or more likely, in exams).
If I had given that question to a weaker group, it would have thrown them completely, even if they could do the Maths. Fortunately, with a high achieving group, they were secure enough in the Maths to recognise that the problem was the context.
But in future, I am going to be much more aware of the context for questions, and, if necessary, teach the knowledge they need about the context before setting questions, as well as the content knowledge.
UPDATE: I have since read this excellent article from Dylan Wiliam in the IMPACT journal from the Chartered College of teaching, and this quote add nicely to my point.
This year I am teaching IB Higher Level for the second time. My approach to teaching has changed a fair amount in the last three years since I last taught the course, and in particular I am now much more focused on breaking down ideas and giving examples across the range of types of questions. However, with this being a Higher Level class, I am also acutely aware of the Expertise Reversal Effect, and the fact that my students are further along the expertise spectrum than all of the other students I have taught in the last 3 years.
There are some elements of my teaching I have kept, such as the weekly quizzes. I run these in our single lesson that is after lunch each week. I use past paper questions mostly, with the odd drill style activity (recently we have been doing trigonometry, so have been drilling the exact values), and try to keep to 30-35 marks in the 40 minutes period.
I started the year with the Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back starters as well, but have found that there is too much of a time pressure to include these and the quizzes. Given that students are significantly more focused in the quizzes (there is a little bit of stake there as they do count minimally towards their grade), I have moved away from the longer starters, often just using a single exam question to start the double period, and a prior knowledge priming question in the singles. I am considering going down the route of quick retrieval of key facts and terminology as a starter.
But the biggest change is that I have started teaching through lesson sheets. Well, more appropriately, skill sheets. I have focused on breaking each of the units down into the individual skills that students need to master. On each of these I give a starter (which is really just a link to prior knowledge), and then a space for notes. This is followed by a series of examples and your turns on the sheets, and then an exercise (usually just the page numbers from the textbook and 2 ebooks).
With the examples and your turns, I am much less specific about the your turn being very similar to the example, as these kids are good mathematicians, and that would be patronising for them and would not invoke them to think. I even have them one after the other, rather than side by side as I have done with other classes. Below is an example of a set of example and your turns for the Trigonometric Double Angle Identities. As you can see, the jump from example to your turn is significant. Indeed, I have found that often the students need a little help with the your turns, and I will address this with individuals and pairs as I walk around the room.
One of the great things about having lesson sheets is that I can go through and "do" the sheet as part of my planning. This includes thinking carefully about the notes, both what I want them to write down, and annotations of what I want to say. I also do the examples before class to ensure there is nothing that is going to trip me up, but also to give me the answers to the your turns so I can easily check student work. This is a good example of what Doug Lemov calls Standardize the Format, making it easier to quickly check work as it is in the same place for all students.
In the lesson I model live using my visualiser. In the notes section I will write the key points that they should definitely copy down, but I also expect them to keep notes of the things I am saying as well. I then model the example on the sheet using the visualiser.
I have also given students folders to store the lesson sheets, quizzes, formula booklets and challenge sheets (UKMT Mentoring sheets). I have a folder with my notes versions too. This means students have an easy set of notes and examples to return to in revision. When we do questions from the textbooks or other exercises, students do these in their books. In reality we do very little of this in class due to time constraints, and they are having to do a lot of that as homework. They are getting practice through the your turns, but not enough to really cement the ideas, and this is a problem I am struggling to overcome at the moment. They do get some practice as part of the weekly quiz.
At the end of each week, I take all the lesson sheets that I have written on live under the visualiser to the library where I scan then in, along with the solutions for the quiz. I then upload them to our class website, where I have a section for each unit. In each unit there are links to the blank lesson sheets, the completed version, the notes from the last time I taught the course (which are similar but a pdf of a smart board file), and any links to other worksheets. There is also a page with links to all the quizzes and solutions.
I have found the process of breaking units down into individual skills to be useful for me to really think about the content. It has also made students more aware of the individual skills they need to work on. When the idea of atomisation has come up on the Mr Barton Maths Podcast a couple of times, Craig has asked how they then pull it all back together. For me this comes in the retrieval practice they get in the weekly quizzes and starters.
The resources are really popular with my students, who have a folder full of organised revision material with links to pages of questions in the textbooks.
Last week I also asked for student feedback, and one of the things they said was they wanted more feedback on their progress, and I have produced Skill Tracker sheets where they can record each time they answer a question correctly on a skill to show their own progress.
The big change for me has been not using a presentation software. I have used both Powerpoint and SMART Notebook successfully for many years now, and this is quite different. Whereas I used to place things I wanted to show them in the presentation, I now have to switch to them from the visualiser. On the other hand, the visualiser gives me the ability to quickly and easily Show Call student work (the Your Turns, for example) and to comment on their answers.
Do you use lesson sheets? What do you include in them? How do you put them together? How do you find using them?
I have been thinking a lot about my approach to teaching. It has changed dramatically over the last few years, but with having an IB Higher Level class for the first time in a few years, I have been forced to reconsider as their level of expertise is much higher. That being said, there is still some in the class who need the explicit instruction of this difficult content.
So yesterday I decided to have a chat with my class about how the course is going so far. I started by asking them two questions:
1. Would they prefer to get rid of the weekly quizzes, or change them to every other week?
2. Do they find the lesson sheets I produce (future blog post on these coming) a useful resource that is worth the time they take to produce?
The answers to both questions were unanimous: keep doing what I am doing.
The students were very happy with the weekly quizzes (a couple did mention they were a little too difficult, so I am going to ensure there are more easier questions in future), and they definitely seemed to be won over by my constant hammering on about the importance of retrieval practice. They could see the benefits of having regular chances to retrieve their knowledge and practice applying it to exam questions.
The lesson sheets were really popular. The comments were that they helped them organise themselves and were great for looking back at for revision. I am glad to hear this since they take a long time to produce, but it is worth it if they are appreciated and helpful.
These were both affirming results. I believed that doing them was beneficial for the students, but it was good to hear they also see the benefits.
After that I turned to some comments they had raised on a recent survey I sent them as part of our Maths Department review. The two main issues that were raised in the survey were that there was too little time for practicing, and that the feedback I give was not detailed enough.
First I addressed the issue of practice. This is something I have been concerned about for a little while myself, and was something I reflected on as a target for this year. We went down from 8 periods (40 minutes each) to 6 periods last year, and this had a huge impact on the amount of practice students get in class. They were given more study periods with this extra time, so I have been assigning more homework than I used to. I explained this to the class, and made the suggestion that we could fit more practice in class time, but I would have to stop doing my tangents on the non-curriculum side of Maths. Thankfully they all (bar one) said they would rather have those and practice at home. It would have been difficult to cut those out, so I am glad they went that way!
I did also explain my main principles for teaching, which are the four quotes I have printed and stuck on my walls:
1. Memory is the Residue of Thought
2. Practice makes Permanent
3. Working Memory is limited
4. Learning occurs over time
I said that I try to give them lots of opportunities for 1 in class through the Your Turns, address 3 through the examples and lesson sheets, and the weekly quizzes and starters are aimed at 4. We left it at 2 was their responsibility if they wanted to learn the material properly, though obviously they do get some practice in class.
For feedback I was a little more contemplative before the lesson. This was not a comment I was expecting, so I took it to heart. I only take in and mark one piece of work a week (the weekly quiz) which is our departmental policy. For homework I expect them to check answers in the back of the textbook, and I will do a walk around checking for any issues they had. But I do not review them. I have decided that I need to be more focused on giving individual feedback whilst they are working in class on the Your Turn questions, and also that I need to make sure I Show Call their answers for these too.
But we talked about how they could become more aware of the areas they need to work on, and I suggested I create a grid which has a row with 4 boxes for each of the skills we learn. They could then tick one of the boxes when they answer a question successfully on that skill, in either the weekly quiz, the starters, exams, or indeed practice at home. That way they could generate a visual of the topics they are doing well at, and see it grow over time. And if they comment when they get it wrong, they can also see the ones they need more practice on. I will review these with them every couple of weeks to get a picture of which skills and topics I need to drop into the quizzes and starters.
I have also been thinking about making use of learning maps as I have read about them in High Impact Instruction by Jim Knight (one of the books we got on the instructional coaching conference I attended in April). They idea of these is that they show the entire unit in simple terms at the start, but that students add to them over the course of the unit. I had a think about one for the upcoming statistics unit, and I am going to try that out. I hope this will also give students a chance to see how they are progressing.
Overall, the conversation with the students was useful. I got some confirmation, but also some ideas to try going forward. I am going to have a similar conversation with my GCSE class next week.
We started a new term a few weeks ago, and I led a couple of INSET sessions on Monday to kick it off. We started by exploring the second standard of our Principles of Great Teaching. The wording of this is:
All students are expected to participate in questioning sessions, with the use of a "no hands up" policy.
We watched a few clips to spark discussion around why asking for hands up is not a great strategy, and then groups shared a few strategies they use to question students. In the last 20 minutes I talked about Doug Lemov's Cold Call technique.
If you are interested you can download the powerpoint I used here.
After that we had some optional workshops on offer, and I ran one on MARGE (which I have talked about before here). We had 45 minutes, so it was a whistle-stop tour through the 5 principles with some time to reflect on what they meant for classroom practice. I tried really hard to build in the 5 principles to the presentation to model the ideas, and at the end I pointed this out to the group, making the metacognitive explicit. It seemed to go down well, and I think I am slowly getting more people to think about the science of learning. It is a slow process, but my incessant going on about it seems to be making people think.
You can find that presentation here.
Finally we all came back together to start looking at the Principles of Great Teaching in more depth. My plan has always been to create a document to support the poster front sheet, and I wanted everyone to be involved in creating that document. The purpose is to make the Principles more explicit through explanations and examples. The first stage towards this was to create a rubric for each principle. I started by creating an example one for the first Principle (Challenges All Students) which you can find here. I shared this with all staff, and split them into 15 groups to start putting together rubrics for the other Principles.
The purpose of the rubric will be for self-assessment of our teaching. I envisage teachers going through the rubric for a Principle and highlighting the descriptors they feel they are meeting, and using this to inform their target setting. It will also build into the coaching programme we are starting.
By the end of that session we had a starting rubric for most of the Principles. In a future session we shall come back to those, review them in departments, adjust and amend them, so that for the start of 2020 hopefully we have a complete (but not finalised) document.
My High Five
An idea started by Ben Gordon, here are My High Five.
T&L Newsletter Issue 11
Last week I published the 11th issue of our T&L Newsletter. You can find the issue here, and the full back catalogue here.
IB HL Just For Fun
I have decided to continue to open up the world of Maths to my IB Higher Level class. They all did presentations last term on a topic of their choice, and I am planning on doing that again later in the year. But for now, I have also decided to do a Just For Fun lesson at the end of each unit.
As we are finishing of a unit on Trigonometry, I am going to talk to them about the etymology of the trig words, why it is called the CO-sine, and the tangent. And why secant is the reciprocal of cosine not sine (as much as students wish the first letters would match).
The next unit is on exponentials and logarithms, and I am planning on introducing them to fractals and Hausdorff dimensions. I have some other ideas for later units, but I am eager to hear suggestions too
I read Memorable Teaching by Peps Mccrea, which was excellent, and have written a short reflection here, with a sketch note.
I have used a couple of the tasks from mathsvenns.com this week when teaching quadratic functions. I have used them before, but kind of forgot about them, and they are just such an amazingly rich task. In trying to find the functions for each of the regions, students have to think deeply about the ideas. I want to build more of these into my lessons over the next few weeks and months to try to embed the practice of using them. Since I am now doing weekly quizzes with my classes, the need for the Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back starters has kind of diminished as they are getting regular retrieval in the quiz. So I am thinking that Venn diagram tasks could become a feature of my starters (on a previous topic so there is some retrieval going on, and time for the maturation of ideas to help in the process).
I have started having 20 minute coaching style conversations with my colleagues about what they are aiming to achieve this year. They have been positively received so far, and it has been an interesting experience for me. I am also trying to set a time when I will catch up with them in a few weeks to see how things are going.
This comes from my delving into the world of coaching, but also thoughts about leadership. I want to have one-to-one conversations with all staff, and really listen to what they have to say. Hopefully this will be informative for the T&L Programme.
This is a response to this post about what schools need to do to prepare students for the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The underlying argument is that students will need to be educated differently to survive in the new world. However, as far as I am aware, the brain structure of children is no different now than it was 4,000 years ago, which would suggest that effective learning happens in the same ways as it always has.
Many of these ideas are comprehensively argued against by Daisy Christodoulou in her excellent book 7 Myths about Education.
But lets take a look at each of the 8 ideas presented in the post.
1. Redefine the purpose of education
The premise of the argument is that we should stop educating children to work in factories and have a single job for life, but rather educate them to be adaptable when they go to work. But that is NOT changing the purpose of education. It is still saying the purpose of education is to prepare students for a life of work. I have come across very few teachers who have such low aspirations for their students.
We do not teach them so they can get jobs. We teach them to give them an education that will allow them to have options later in life. We gift them the knowledge and skills that have been useful to the development of society over hundreds (or more) years. We give them the chance to explore beauty in nature, in art, in science. We provide opportunities for them to find themselves, and learn to work with others. Are some of these things useful in our working lives? Maybe. But that is not why we teach them.
Mark Enser argues this point well here.
2. Improve STEM education
I am a Maths teacher, so of course I think Maths is important. But is it more important than languages or arts? To some students, maybe. But, as I argue above, the purpose of education is to provide a broad insight into the world.
But, the author barely argues this point, but rather goes on to say that we should be teaching humanities as well (which is what we already do) and then further changes tact saying we should teach critical thinking and collaboration, citing this rather famous WEF Report. Blake Harvard does a good job of breaking down this report here. And I refer back to my argument above again. This suggests we should teach things that employers want, not what is best for students. Perhaps if employers want these skills, they should invest in training their employees.
Anyway, what a whirlwind. From stating we should improve STEM teaching we end up at teaching creativity and collaboration. All in one paragraph. A muddled argument at best.
3. Develop Human Potential
With machines able to do all the manual and repetitive labour, we need humans to be more creative and do the things machines can't do. So the argument goes. But creativity is hugely domain specific, and requires a large amount of background knowledge. Schools do teach students to be creative, by teaching them enough content and skills that they can be creative. As an Art teacher once said to me, "You need to know the rules to be able to break them". He was describing the work of Pablo Picasso, and how he had spent years learning the basics of drawing and painting before being able to create the masterpieces we now celebrate him for. We need to go through those steps to be able to become the creative and adaptable thinkers able to compete with the machines.
And don't even get me started on what happens when the machines learn enough content to become creative!
4. Adapt to lifelong learning models
"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." - Future Shock, Alvin Toffler.
What nonsense. Those who cannot read and write will not be able to "learn, unlearn and relearn" (at least not as effectively as those who can). And we can all learn, unlearn and relearn naturally anyway. Everyone of us is in built with the ability to learn. What makes us more able to learn, is knowing lots of stuff. The more we know, the more we can learn, and the more we learn, the more we will know. This is the Matthew Effect.
And then we hear that we need people to be lifelong learners as the jobs of the future don't exist yet. Another old argument that has been argued against many times (e.g. here). But again, this supposes that schools are not teaching kids to be lifelong learners. That is one of the primary aims of many teachers. I want my kids to be successful in whichever path they choose, and the best way to do that is to give them a broad education of the stuff that has helped generations of previous thinkers to advance society.
5. Alter Educator Training
Finally one I agree with. We need to incorporate more cognitive science into teacher training so that teachers are aware of how the brain works and learns.
Oh wait. No. We need to become facilitators. That is not altering educator training. That is what most teacher training currently is. Both initial training and training we receive later in our careers.
"Failure needs to be embraced as an essential step to learning." Another dangerous idea. Whilst we can learn from mistakes, they are not what we want to happen, and they are not essential. They are likely to happen, and can be used to in ways to remove misconceptions. But a 'perfect' explanation with examples and models can lead to learning with no mistakes. The danger in this phrase is that mistakes will happen, and we want students to learn from their mistakes. But we should not be aiming to make mistakes.
6. Make schools makerspacesHonestly, I do not know enough about this to make an informed comment. But my gut feeling is that these makerspaces could be useful, unless they are taking away time from other stuff (like teaching of classes), which I suppose is the implication.
7. International Mindfulness
I actually do agree with this one. Although I think many teachers and schools do already do this.
8. Change higher education
I am not sure how this is something that schools are supposed to do. But the argument once again boils down to colleges being a place to prepare people for work, and schools prepare you for college, so the people in charge of businesses should decide what they want and schools and colleges should fit in with giving them the mindless drones (who are all very creative about things they know nothing about) that they want.
Memorable Teaching by Peps Mccrea is an excellent short read as an introduction to some of the big areas of cognitive science.
After a brief overview of the architecture of Long Term Memory and Working Memory, and how they interact to create Deep and Durable learning, Mccrea launches into an explanation of his 9 Principles of Memorable Teaching.
Each Principle is described concisely, with descriptions and key ideas, and further reading on the topic.
I created this sketch note summary of the key points for me.
There are lots of links to things I have been working on over the last few years, such as: removing most of my displays and streamlining my resources (Principle 1); thinking about the cognitive load by breaking tasks down (Principle 4); ideas from variation theory and examples and non-examples (Principle 6); desirable difficulties and especially spaced retrieval through low stakes quizzes and starter activities (Principle 7).
Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about Mark McCourt's idea of the Teach->Do->Practise->Behave model of learning, which links in with Principle 8.
One area I want to work on more is making my students elaborate more. I am using Cold Call a lot more now to do this, bouncing answers from one to the next, but I still need to work on priming their minds and tethering to their prior knowledge in a more deliberate way.
I am a maths teacher looking to share good ideas for use in the classroom, with a current interest in integrating educational research into my practice.