Over the last year I have started working as an instructional coach in my school, and this term I am training 4 other teachers to work as instructional coaches next year. As part of this I have gone back and read various books by Jim Knight, to clarify some of the details that he shared in the Instructional Coaching Institute I attended in April.
One of these books is Better Conversations, which is not directly about coaching, but rather about having productive conversations. Obviously, this is a key skill of the good coach.
Knight starts by exploring the issues around communication in today's world, and what he refers to as the "radical brokenness" in many of todays conversations, which often focus on persuading an "audience" to agree with you. He contrasts this to a Better Conversation, or a dialogue, where both parties learn from the conversation.
Knight does not sell himself as an expert, but rather somebody who wants to improve his own conversation skills. The book is his way of collating the stuff that will be useful to his own development, and he has very generously shared what he has discovered.
The philosophy of Better Conversations is that they are based on a set of 6 Beliefs.
These 6 beliefs are easy to agree with, but Knight goes one step further to say that we need to demonstrate these beliefs through our actions, and to do this we can internalise a set of 10 Habits.
The main bulk of the book is exploring each of these habits, what they look like, and how we can become better at them. Each chapter ends with a series of reflection forms to use to analyse how you currently live up to the habits and to plan how you will make the next steps.
I agree with the premise that many conversations that take place do not fulfil the requirements of a dialogue (a learning conversation where both partners are there to learn). This is as true in schools as it is in the wider world. But these skills are not only applicable to coaches: they are a vital part of developing anything, including a school or education system.
Just imagine a world where everybody was willing and eager to learn from each other, and our conversations were not an attempt to convince or belittle others, but rather to truly understand what the other believes and learn from them.
You can get a PDF version of the above images here.
I have done a few sessions with students recently on the importance of sleep, as lack of sleep has become a chronic problem for our sixth form students. They are staying awake into the small hours of the morning to complete work that they have left to the last minute, thinking that sleep is a luxury that they can do without.
But that is simply not true.
Based on my reading of Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, I have been being more explicit about the dangers of a lack of sleep, but also the benefits of getting enough sleep. I have been particularly focusing on the way sleep relates to learning, but have also been talking briefly about the other health concerns.
I have started with a brief introduction to the importance of sleep for the learning process, and I have cobbled together an analogy that I think sums it up quite well.
Our brains act like a sponge, absorbing lots information throughout the day. As they day progresses the sponge gets more and more full. When we sleep, it is like squeezing the sponge into a bucket: the new learning is safely stored into our long term memory (the bucket). Day after day we keep adding more stuff to our bucket. Of course, when we squeeze the sponge some of the water splashes out and misses the bucket, and we lose that water, but most of the water is makes it into the bucket. When we wake up, the sponge has been completely emptied, and is ready to absorb a new set of learning the following day.
I have been using this analogy to highlight the two benefits of sleep towards learning: firstly it helps consolidate our learning from the previous day by transferring ideas from our pre-frontal cortex into our long term memories; and secondly, it leaves our brains in a more receptive state to learn the next day.
Of course, when we do not get enough sleep, we do not fully squeeze the sponge, so not everything makes it to the bucket, and we do not have as much ability to soak up new knowledge the following day as the sponge has not been fully emptied.
Or if our sleep is of low quality (such as when we drink alcohol or take sleeping pills), when we squeeze our sponge it is like having a shaky hand, and much less of the water makes it into the bucket.
This analogy works for the deep sleep cycles, and seems to get the point across.
But it does not work as well for the importance of the REM cycles. This phase of sleeping is also vitally important to learning, as this is the time when our brain starts to make connections. As many mathematicians know (and I am sure many from other walks of life) when we are stuck solving a problem, one of the best things to do is to go away and come back the next day. Part of this is due to the power of the REM cycles of sleep, where the brain continues to work on the problem, accessing that deep bucket of knowledge you have stored away in the daily sponge cleansing.
Having talked about the importance of sleep for learning, I then share some of the startling facts and figures that Walker shares:
Many students bemoan that they just don't have time to sleep as they have too much work to do. I point out to them that if they were getting enough sleep then the work would take far less time as they would not be trying to do whilst cognitively drunk, and that, more importantly, their health is far more important than any piece of work.
I finish with some recommendations for sleeping better:
In part 1 of this series I discussed why I have been won over by the humble booklet. In this post I am going to expand on how I design my booklets and what I include in them. I will include images from some of the booklets in the post, but I am not able to share whole booklets as I use some material that I do not have permission to share. I will reference to the main sources I use for each section of the booklet, and give some images of the types of resources used. You can find one full example on Coordinate Geometry here.
The front page is fairly simple, with the unit number and title, a space for students to write their name, and the video numbers linked to the topic on www.corbettmaths.com. I also have a back page to all the booklets which has references to websites I use to put them together.
Within the unit I start by breaking down the objectives into individual skills that students will need to master. So, for example, in the advanced trigonometry unit there is a skill for sine rule, one for cosine rule and one for identifying which one to use. Within each skill I will break them down into smaller sub skills if necessary. So sine rule is broken down into finding missing lengths and finding missing angles.
So the final break down of skills and sub skills for the advanced trigonometry unit is:
With each skill identified, I go about planning them following the same format.
Required Prior Knowledge
The skill starts with a short item on the required prior knowledge for that particular skill. Sometimes this is a recap of a prior skill from the current unit (eg factorising quadratics before solving them). Sometimes it is something from an earlier unit (eg solving equations before sine rule).
As can be seen in the examples below, these take a variety of forms. Some are simply questions on processes that need to be secure. Some are ideas that will lead into the current skill. One of the things I need to work on is developing these to cover ALL the prerequisite knowledge and skills that have not been covered already in the current unit.
The point of this section is to help me and students identify if they can do the necessary skills required to do the new skill. If they can't do them, then the lesson will adapt to address those issues first, before moving on with the new skill. There is little point in teaching students to solve the Sine Rule, if they cannot solve equations with the unknown as part of a fraction.
It is worth noting here that these are not meant to be lesson starters. I use a retrieval starter of Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back as the 'Do Now'. In single periods I have started doing a single retrieval question rather than four, usually from last lesson. I do sometimes plan the Further Back question to address any required prior knowledge too, but this might be a couple of lessons ahead of teaching what requires it.
Next there is a section for notes. In terms of teaching, this is when I will explain the new skill, and give any definitions, etc.
The notes section is structured as a fill in the gaps exercise, usually with a sentence starter given, and then some space. I also have prepared powerpoint files to go alongside the booklets (though I have stopped using them as much) which line up with the notes section. I now prefer to say and explain the idea and give students time to fill in the gaps themselves.
I have been thinking a lot about the use of non-examples at this point of the booklet, and although they are not embedded in them at the moment, I will be adding space for these in the next iteration of them. I am thinking of adding Frayer Diagram templates as well as a way to structure students notes on the definition, characteristics and examples and non-examples of concepts. I have used these a little at the end of units as a reflection activity, but I think they have potential to form part of the actual notes students produce as well, and would push me to think more deeply about non-examples.
Example Problem Pairs
The notes section is followed by sets of Example Problem Pairs. These largely follow the idea set out by Craig Barton here, though I have not been so careful with making them minimally different yet. Perhaps I will adjust these moving forward.
Printed are both the example and the your turn problem, as you can see below. This allows me to give students the questions (no time spent copying out questions), and include any images so they don't need to draw them. It also allows me to include graph paper when necessary, along with any other diagrams (for example they can write straight on transformation examples).
Of course this does introduce the potential issue of students rushing ahead and not paying attention to the example (I will discuss how I deal with this in Part 3).
The biggest issue I have found with this layout is that I need to make sure I include enough space for students to write their answers! They tend to require a lot more space than I do to answer a question (bigger handwriting is one problem, but also the fact they are novices so can't "see" the way forward as easily and so jot things around a bit more). This is one of the things I take note of when annotating my copy of the booklet for adapting the following year.
I have also just finished reading the excellent Making Every Maths Lesson Count by Emma McCrea, and recently listened to the Mr Barton Maths Podcast with Michael Pershan, both of which mention Algebra by Example. In particular they mention the use of incorrect examples, and this is something I want to explore further within the booklets. Getting students to review an incorrect example, or compare an incorrect with a correct example, sounds like a great way to get them thinking about the details a little more.
There is also incomplete examples, where students have to fill in the missing bits, as you gradually reduce the amount that is given to them. Booklets would be great for this as you can have them all printed a ready for students to write on.
The number of example problem pairs will vary depending on the skill. For example, in using the sine rule to find lengths, there is a single example problem pair. But in graphing regions using inequalities there are a total of 8 example problem pairs. These are included to go through the different variations of the types of questions that can occur. If a class is moving on fine though, I might push them to do the remaining examples themselves, rather than working through them.
After the example problem pairs, there will be an exercise. This will probably be a fairly classic set of questions to practice the new skill they have just learned. I do sometimes make use of the sets of questions from Variation Theory, but also use CorbettMaths, Dr Frost Maths, 10 Ticks, exercises from our ebooks, Pixi Maths and my own site Interactive Maths. These are not the only ones I use, as I also get stuff from TES and Resourceaholic, and have found the old textbooks great for some of these too.
I like to include more than enough practice in here for students to do, so will generally have much more than I need. This is also the bit of the booklet where students write in their own exercise books to save space, so I can bunch questions up as much as possible. This allows me to choose what I want them to do based on how they are understanding the material.
For each skill there is also an accompanying powerpoint that has the answers to most of the exercises.
Sometimes I will also include links to even further practice for students. Usually this is to a page in their textbook or CorbettMaths, but also CIMT. We very rarely use these in class, and they are provided as extra for students to do in their revision outside of class.
Test Your Understanding?
These are not always included in the skill, but when they are I use them as a quick way to check before moving on to another subskill, or before more independent practice. These will usually be answered on mini-whiteboards, and are there in case students struggled with the your turn and need a little more guided practice before moving on to the exercise. They normally include 4 questions similar in style to the example problem pair.
Sometimes instead of including these in the booklets, I have used diagnostic questions as part of the powerpoint, which I project and students answer by raising the number of fingers that correspond to the answer they think is correct.
Sometimes a skill is broken into smaller sub-skills. Rather than creating booklets with 20 skills for a unit (which I feel can be a bit overwhelming) I will not relabel these sub-skills, but rather incorporate them into the bigger skill. For example, in the skill of Sine Rule, there is a section on finding lengths and then on finding angles.
I also make a lot of use of these in the first skill of a unit when that is largely prior knowledge. For example, in the unit on Quadratic Equations the first skill covers expanding, factorising and use of the graphical calculator. I do not want to dedicate a whole skill to each, but this does mean there is some material on these if I discover I need to reteach some bits of it.
Each new sub-skill will follow largely the same layout as above. I am more likely to use Test for Understanding instead of an exercise if there are lots of sub-skills that build up, and then include the exercise at the end of the whole skill.
I sometimes include activities like matching activities, or odd one outs. These will often cover the whole skill and so will be included at the end of the skill. Sometimes this is just a blank space with a title to stick in the cards. Other times there is more structure. It depends on the activity. This is where I still get to include some of the great activities you find on TES.
At the end of the skill there is usually a challenge section. What I mean by challenge is that it is not your "ordinary" style questions. This is where I include things like Maths Venns, stuff from Don Steward, Clumsy Clives, Arithmagons, stuff from nrich, UKMT questions. This is not something I included from the beginning so not all booklets have them yet, but I will be adding as I find new things and adapt them the next time I teach the unit.
More so than other sections, this is the one I find most useful to have available at any time, as I can push students who have demonstrated a basic understanding on to these tasks to develop their understanding further.
At the end of the booklet I like to include a unit review section. This will always include a Unit Review Worksheet which basically has a two questions on each of the sub-skills from the unit. It is meant to be used by students to assess themselves on what they can and cannot do.
There are also sometimes activities that cover the whole unit, though these really do depend on the unit in questions.
For some units I also included a section of exam questions on the topic at the end of the booklet. We already have a set of documents of exam questions by topic, so this is not something I have done religiously as they already existed. However, I am starting to think that including them at the end would remind me to make use of them more often, and would truly enable students to have everything in one place.
In part 1 I discussed 10 reasons why I have been won over by the use of booklets. Some of these are determined by the way I make the booklets (e.g. having everything in one place). Although there is definitely an initial time commitment to putting these booklets together in the first place, in following years you only have minor tinkering to do for a whole unit, which allows you to focus on how you can best use the booklet in your teaching, and how you can use that extra time made available to teach better. In part 3 of this series I will be exploring how I go about using the booklets I produce, both in planning and in class.
Do you use booklets in your teaching? What do you include in them? Do you do things differently to me? If you don't currently use booklets, could you see any benefits in having a resource like this?
In High Impact Instruction, Jim Knight talks about what he calls Learning Maps. These are designed by the teacher to show the learning of a given unit, but also emphasise connections. The completed Learning Map is a revision resource for students, but also lends focus to lessons. He suggests starting lessons by referring to where you are on the map, and finishing by updating the map with what you have learned that lesson.
As well as being a tool for in the classroom, I particularly like the way they can help me plan out a unit. So I decided to give them a go in the recent unit I taught on Differentiation to my IB HL class. ll as being a tool for in the classroom, I particularly like the way they c
Before planning the unit I started by drawing up a rough version of a map that showed all the things they needed to learn, grouped under some headings. With this, I started planning the Lesson Sheets for the unit, working my way through the objectives listed on the rough map. Once the sheets were finished I then drew a neat finished map, with more details rather than just headings. The point was that all things covered would be on the map.
To start the unit we drew the outline, with just the headings. I did this under my visualiser and students made their own version. As we went through this I summarised the key points verbally. Anecdotally, I felt that this gave them a big picture of the unit. It allowed them to see what we were going to be doing, and where we were going. Given that many in the class had done Additional Maths at IGCSE, they had already seen the basics of differentiation, so giving this big picture showed them there was a lot more to it than in Add Maths!
Then, every few lessons, we would take out the map and add to it the details of what they had learned. This included key points and definitions. As the unit progressed, the map grew in detail, and became more like my version.
Of course, there were a few things that I missed off my version of the map (using induction with differentials, some common derivatives) that we actually did talk about in class, and we added these to the map too. If I missed something off that I had mentioned in class, students were quick to say it. Often these were things said in passing, that I hadn’t planned, but next time I will know to plan them more specifically into my lessons.
The end result is shown below (and available as PDF here).
The students said it was a useful exercise to see the topic grow organically, and also liked the fact that they had a one page summary revision sheet. One student commented on how she was a little scared at the start as the map was so big, but that filling it in helped her realise the connections between the different things we looked at.
Overall I was pleased with this first attempt, and I will continue to use them with this class. I am not sure if I will start referring to it every class as Jim Knight suggests, but we shall see.
Differentiation Increasing Activity
After listening to the Mr Barton podcast with Chris McGrane, I have been thinking more about task design. I really like OpenMiddle problems, and MathsVenns. But the More/Same/Less idea is one I have not used much. After trying a logs one from OpenMiddle, I decided to give making one a go for my IB HL class.
The activity created some excellent discussion amongst students, with them arguing with each other about answers. One girl took the particularly interesting route of sketching what each must look like, before finding functions that would work. Most of the groups missed the fact that boxes beneath each other can't just have f'(1) less than 0, but that all three boxes needed to be equal, but perhaps that is a less important part of the process, as they all thought hard about how to input functions in the right places.
I am becoming a big fan of this type of activity, and will try to build them into my teaching more often.
IGCSE Booklets Part 1
I posted the first of a three part series on using booklets with my IGCSE classes. This first post looks at 10 reasons why I love booklets.
Ingredients for Great Teaching
I wrote a summary blog post of this excellent book for my school T&L Blog.
Over the last couple of years I have moved to a booklet model of teaching my IGCSE classes. In other posts I will detail how I put together a booklet and how I plan lessons using a booklet. But in this post I want to start by exploring what I mean by a booklet and why I decided to move towards using them, and why I am now won over by their usefulness.
I design booklets for each unit. They cover the different skills within a unit, building up to exam style questions. A booklet is designed to contain all the resources I might need whilst teaching that particular topic. That does not mean I will use everything in the booklet, but that I do have a variety of things available to choose from. Depending on the class, I will adjust what I use.
So why do I use booklets? Here are some of the reasons I have come to really appreciate them.
It forces me to think about the whole unit (or learning episode)
The first huge benefit is that it forces me to consider the whole unit when planning, not just focusing on lessons. There has been a lot of talk recently about the lesson being the wrong unit of time to plan for, but when our time is split in that way, I find it difficult to not plan in those chunks. Using booklets has helped me break through that barrier.
In creating the booklet I have to do it before I start teaching the unit so I can give the complete booklet to students when we start. This means I have to think about all the individual skills that form a part of the unit, and how they connect to each other and build up to the big picture. It means I have to consider not just the order in which I will teach these skills, but how I am going to link them together. Rather than teaching a series of 10 lessons, I now teach the unit. Of course I plan what will go in each lesson, but this is really flexible as we can just pick up from where we finished last lesson. So if we get through it quicker than expected, we can move on, and if it takes a bit longer, there is no need to rush at the end of the lesson.
Initial time input but saves time in the long run
Putting the booklets together in the first place takes a long time. But now I have a set of booklets on 21 units covering the IGCSE, and I can reuse them again and again. In reality, I make adjustments each year, but the bulk of the work is done. In future I can plan a whole unit in about an hour as I just need to review the notes I made the last time I taught it, and make the necessary changes.
I can plan for interleaving and Retrieval of linked prior knowledge more easily
When planning lesson to lesson I always found that my focus was on the current bit of new learning, and rarely did I think about interleaving other topics in. But with a bigger picture of planning, I can add more interleaved exercises within the booklet.
I don't currently do this, but you could also pre-plan retrieval of prior topics within the booklets. You could design an optimal spacing schedule and plan in these retrieval opportunities within other units.
No running for last minute photocopies
As everything is in the booklet and the booklet is printed for the start of the unit, there is no need to be running trying to get the worksheet copied just before the lesson. It is also cheaper on photocopying as I am not copying things that I end up not using, and there is little wasted white space within the booklet. Three separate worksheets might fit on a single double sided page, instead of 3 single sided sheets.
Changed focus on lesson planning from finding activities to thinking about explanations, what I will use, how I can supplement
In the run up to a particular skill, I no longer have to spend time finding/putting together a lesson/activity to use. I can focus my attention on thinking about how I will explain difficult concepts clearly, what visualisations I could use to enhance my explanations, and any other materials that might enhance the teaching of that particular skill.
I don't forget any skills
Perhaps not groundbreaking, but I can't forget to teach something. It is all there and in my face. I can't get to the end of the booklet without teaching everything from it. Of course, I could forget to include something in the booklet, though that is less likely. What does happen is that I realise I need to break a skill into more smaller bits, but I can just take a note in my copy of the booklet to refer to later.
And on that note, whilst teaching I can easily annotate my copy of the booklet. This means I can note anything that doesn't work, or works particularly well, as a reminder for next year. As some of my colleagues are also using the booklets, my hope is that they will start making suggestions too and the booklets will continue to improve each time they are used. No need to reinvent the wheel each year.
And because I don't need to focus on creating the whole thing each year, I can give my attention to finding/creating more interesting problems. This year, for example, I have tried to put more Open Middle and Maths Venns problems into the booklets.
Everything in one place means it is more efficient to navigate to content in lessons - means I can be more responsive in my teaching
With everything in the booklet it is easy to navigate as I just say the page number they need to turn to. No getting out different books, or finding the ebook. For most things they don't even need their exercise book as they can write straight in the booklet. This saves maybe 3-5 minutes every lesson, which over a few weeks really adds up.
The other advantage to having everything in one place is that I can be more responsive in the way I teach. If students need more practice, there is loads in the booklet so we can just carry on with that. If some students need to be pushed a little harder, there is a challenge question (available for all students, not just the 'high achievers'). If the whole class is ready to move on within a lesson, that's fine, we can just move to the next skill. No filling time as I don't have resources prepared.
Standardise the format
In Teach Like a Champion 2.0, Doug Lemov discusses the strategy he calls Standardize the Format. The idea is that I can save time and effort checking student work if they all answer in the same format. Booklets are perfect for this as they guarantee that all students will write in the same space. Walking around the classroom you can quickly look to see every response, as they are all in the same space, so you don't need to hunt for them.
Students can use them for revision
My students have been particularly happy with the booklets in the run up to exams. The booklet gives them a structure to their notes, clearly shows examples, and has plenty of practice questions for them to do. I provide an electronic blank version of the booklet too, so some students use this in their revision, printing it off and filling in the examples and your turns again. What a great way for them to practise the skills they need.
So there are 10 reasons I have grown to love the booklet. Many of these relate to workload issues, and many more relate to better teaching. I feel that by using booklets I have been able to focus more on my teaching (explanations, examples, models) and less on the activities. Moving towards using booklets has happened alongside my general switch to a more explicit teaching methodology. I love them. And my students are also overwhelmingly in favour of them.
In the next post I will be looking at how I actually go about making a booklet and what I include in them.
Do you teach using booklets? If so what are your reasons for using them? If not, have you ever tried it? Is it something you would be willing to try?
As a southern hemisphere school we have just had our mock exams, so I thought about way to return them for the biggest impact. I put the question to twitter and got some great responses (given that it was the summer holiday for UK teachers).
What I ended up doing was giving students back their papers and getting them to go through them and fill in the following template that I printed off. I got this idea from Blake Harvard's post From Unknown to Known in the Classroom.
As they went through the paper I wanted them to write down what their known known's were and, more importantly, what their known unknowns were. I then wanted them to correct their errors, making use of each other first (for most questions at least one person in the class got it right), or referring to my worked solutions.
I found the template useful, but did need to push students to be more thorough and specific in using it. Just writing trigonometry is of no use, they needed to identify what exactly was the problem in trigonometry. Was it spotting the need to use trig? Or applying the rules? Etc. I think for this to be really useful students need to become practiced at using it, and I need to model how to use it well. It is probably too late for my students doing their exams in a month, but for my S5 (Year 12) class with whom I do weekly quizzes, I am going to start building this into the following lesson for them to reflect on the quiz
At lunch today, a colleague and I were talking about Trig, and one thing that came up in conversation was that if a+b=90 then sin(a)=cos(b). Not that this was something that we did not know, but it certainly was a case of the curse of knowledge as neither of us could think of a time we actually taught this to our students. We both felt this was a useful thing to explicitly teach them.
I had a good lesson (as far as it can be judged at the time) with my IB Higher Level class this week where we started implicit differentiation.
Slow Teaching by Jamie Thom is an excellent book to give you a brief overview of lots of different areas of teaching and learning. The premise of the book is Thom trying to convince us that we should slow down in all the things we do, both in and out of school. And he has me convinced!
Tackling topics such as classrooms, relationships, questioning, wellbeing and teacher improvements, each chapter is succinct and to the point. They also all end with a series of Slow Questions, to help the reader reflect on their own practice in light of the slow ideals (given below as an overview of the ideas shared).
Thom's main point is that the fast lifestyle of many (mainly new) teachers is unsustainable, and there are many ways to slow down, and actually become a better and more efficient teacher. Taking the slow, thoughtful approach can help us better balance our lives, be better teachers, have better relationships with students, and improve our wellbeing.
I have summarised the 21 chapters briefly in this sketchnote.
Streamlined Planning and Teaching
An Actor's Paradise: The Non-Verbal in the Classroom
Efficient Teacher Talk
Questioning: Rediscover the Potential
To Praise or not to Praise
Serene and Stoical Behaviour Management
The Power of Modelling
Developing Motivated and Reflective Learners
Debunking Manic Marking
Literacy: Beyond the Quick Fix Solutions
Teaching the Secrets of Effective Revision
Reflect and Refine: Developing Passionate Teachers
Understanding and Managing Stress
Arming Ourselves against Anxiety
Tacking Teacher Insomnia: Sleep Easy
Embracing Mindfulness: The Meditating and Mindful Teacher
The 12th issue of the T&L Newsletter I put together for our staff was released this week. It can be found here (along with all previous issues).
Weekly T&L Summary
This term I have started to put together a one sided weekly summary of the T&L bits. This includes the weekly meeting, the discussion group title, the upcoming reading club with a link to the article, and the date and time of the learning walk for the week. It also includes links to 6 blogs (shamelessly taken from the ones shared by TeacherTapp) and what I am currently reading. The previous ones are also available on our T&L Website on the same page as the T&L Newsletter. The PDF Version is hyperlinked to the articles.
I decided to do this to streamline all information into one sheet. My end goal is that all information will be distributed through there, but for now I still need to send a few email about the most important things (as not everyone is reading the summary yet).
Checking for Understanding
This week I ran an INSET on Checking for Understanding, which is one of our Principles of Great Teaching. I asked twitter for some advice, and it didn't fail to give some ideas.
The original tweet is below, but make sure to check out the responses.
My presentation is here.
I was very excited to see this tweet on Sunday evening, and am looking forward to making use of them and creating some of my own.
As I started planning my next unit on discrete probability distributions, I have already started to attempt to put some together.
This week I started my second coaching cycle after a fairly successful first go last term. The teacher I worked with last term wanted to develop the students ability to use higher-level discussions. He worked on that by making use of a strategy he called pass the sentence. This worked by having the first student say something they know about a problem, and then each successive student had to repeat what had already been said, before adding their own idea. His was a small class so he did this with the whole class. By the end of the term, the teacher felt he had met his goal, and has been enthusiastically talking about the process to others.
But there were a couple of things I learned from that first cycle. Firstly, we didn't set any clear way to measure the progress against the goal. We judged it based on 'feeling', and this means we do not know for certain that the strategy helped. We also did not make as much use of recording his classes as we should have, and this time round I am going to suggest we record many more classes (or bits of classes).
I am also considering whether it makes sense to actually go to multiple classes that the teacher teaches. I guess this will depend on the goal to an extent, but with something like raising levels of discussion (which is actually pretty similar to what the teacher has chosen this bimester too), that can be incorporated across all classes. That might make it easier to develop the habits, as opposed to only doing it with one class. When I decided to use example problem pairs, I did across all my teaching, so I was doing many times a day, and I think that helped embed the skill.
In this second cycle we have recorded a lesson and watched it, and had a meeting after to go through the Identify Questions. It was a a really good meeting where we discussed ideas for over an hour, and at the end of it we both came away with a clear plan going forward. I also learned from last time to send a summary of the decisions (what the goal is, what strategy, next observation/meeting) to the teacher to confirm we are on the same page. We are recording again today, this time focusing on the students discussions, to get a baseline to judge progress against.
I am really looking forward to pushing ahead with this cycle. The coaching process has been great for me, and I think it has huge potential to make a difference to what teachers do.
I have been quite active in my blogging over the last few weeks, with these posts:
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 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.