Research in to practice?

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One of the new routines that goes with the new job is listening to podcasts as I drive along, around and over the South Downs. With voice recognition, I’m also able to make notes using Evernote and the ‘Hey Siri’ function (all hands free of course). This week, I listened to this excellent podcast interviewing Dylan Wiliam. (thanks to Kristian Still for the link) which connected with reading Leadership for Teacher Learning last year. As an aside, iv’e noticed that by reading the book, reflecting and taking notes at the time, and then revisiting the core ideas from the podcast, I’m more able to make further connections to practice. Wiliam’s TES article where he reflects upon the nine things he wish he knew as a new teacher was also mentioned and I remember reading that last year. This, for me, cements the notion that, although our core purpose is learning, we also need to treat learners as humans.

In this post, I reflect on some of the main points from the sources and consider some practical, classroom applications, mainly through the lens of a geographical classroom. Many of the points demand that teachers sit down, preferably with other teachers, to think carefully about curriculum design and sequences of lessons: campfire CPD in action. This is opposed to the ‘ad-hoc’ nature of planning individual lessons.

Novices need worked examples whilst experts need problems to solve

This is an interesting one and means that our level of support and scaffolding should change depending where the student is. In a geographical context, the 12 mark questions at GCSE and removal of tiered entry means that, at some point, students need to be able to tackle the question without support. I’m a fan of structure strips and other support, when targeted well and based upon the work that has been produced, rather than prior attainment or other measures.

Distributed practice, rather than chunking, is the best way to design a curriculum

I’ve written before about the importance of sequences of lessons, rather than a focus on the individual lesson. For me, the fundamental building block is a complete and coherent scheme of work. I have to admit to a change in view here as, when a novice teacher, I used to think that he repetition of topics was detrimental to student motivation. I still think this to be the case: where content is repeated. To me this sets expectations too low. However, revisiting similar topics in order to apply knowledge in different ways makes sense.

The example above goes against the thematic approach in geography as there are many links to other themes and knowledge. Indeed, one of the most challenging aspects of geography is to encourage students to make synoptic links between different themes.

Interleaving can be illustrated around physical processes. Students often develop misconceptions around erosion, weathering, transportation and transportation. These key concepts can be revisited and recalled by students as we move through an enquiry sequence, reinforcing the fundamental knowledge. In addition, other key knowledge is also needed for a full understanding and can also be introduced when needed. Sitting down and thinking through even the most basic of geography units creates many interconnected topics.

Current events also provide the opportunity for ‘floating topicality.’ Recently, there have been earthquakes, tropical storms and major migration events and these can be either introduced for the first time or explored again to allow students to recall their fundamental knowledge.

No one cares what you know until they know that you care


Memory requires forgetting

When I took over line management of a science department, the timing coincided with the shift away from modular examinations (of which I was never an advocate) to terminal examinations. Results dipped. When we looked in to this, it was clear that the end of unit test was not encouraging young people to develop a deep knowledge of science: they had forgotten what they knew. Wiliam points out that nothing has been learned if it can”t be remembered six weeks later. A shift toward tests that included all knowledge quickly addressed this. Tests that can be self-marked are important here, not only to reduce teacher workload, but so that the young person corrects the mistake. This process is more likely to result in a change to long term memory. This links to the next point, where tests are good.

Another way in which it’s possible to revisit knowledge is to introduce a 15 minute revision session each week. Ideally, this is within a lesson, and covers all of the knowledge needed. I’ve found that performing this each week means that it’s possible to cover all of the basic knowledge at least three times in the year, without the need for after school revision sessions. Of course, application and deep understanding requires more effort and work, but this approach, coupled with regular synoptic testing of knowledge, means that students are required to recall information more often.

Testing is good

Linked to the previous point, low stakes tests used often are good. I’ve found that student motivation can improve as they see their improvement. Mainly, my testing is confined to developing a mastery of key terms and case studies.  Listening to this recent podcast about knowledge organisers has helped me to approach this in an even better way: knowledge needs to be quizable. I’ve been using this with Year 12 by getting them to construct and organise key terms and case study information clearly in a table:

This extract from physical systems highlights the importance of key knowledge. The column format allows students to easily test themselves, and I follow up with a quiz at the start of most lessons. Whether getting the students to complete the definition themselves is a good idea or not, I’m not sure, but it does seem to help them quickly locate a definition using a textbook.

In the last two weeks, I’ve been using diagnostic, multiple choice questions, in class. These have provided insight into the knowledge gaps and misconceptions in my classes without details written feedback or complicated exam style tests. There are many detractors of multiple choice questions, but used well they are fantastic. The trick, I’ve discovered, is to use options that are very similar to the correct answer and/or highlight misconceptions. I’ve used this information to change my teaching and target individuals or groups. What should be avoided are answer options that are obviously incorrect.

For example:

In this example, some of the common misconceptions of tsunami triggers can be identified and addressed directly .

The point of feedback is not to improve the work, but improve the student

Much has been written about effective feedback and I’m a big fan of Shaun Allison’s feedback approach. For me, we shouldn’t expect students to redraft work in order to make it better but improve future work using the feedback given to them. I make the distinction between aiming for excellence here, and we are encouraging teachers not to mark work that is not excellent. I’m not convinced that correcting every ,mistake leads to positive learning in the long term as young people should be able to self-regulate and spot their own mistakes.

Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

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