Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A template for outstanding teaching - lessons from cross-curricular observations

This term, more than any other, I have had a wide range of colleagues observe me to help me reflect upon my teaching and learning.  The generic idea was to have an open approach to teaching which would force me to push myself and re-examine how I teach; importantly assessing what works well and what could be improved. I believe that one of the best things about being observed and observing other people is that best practice and new ideas (and mistakes) are shared.

One colleague in particular, a chemist, was keen to swap/share observations. We met up and discussed what we wanted from the process during the Autumn term:

1. The ability to test new ideas with classes and experiment new techniques
2. To focus on independent learning & assessment
3. To work on getting the kids to do more

The outcome is a provisional framework (for all subjects) for consistently ensuring your lessons are outstanding. 

To some extent the latter has been inspired by @TeacherToolkit 5 minute lesson plan, which many teachers (who use Twitter) across both sectors have been using (See @specialsciteach's photograph below.

Source - For Blog CLICK HERE

*Please note this is not a prescriptive list - the template below provides flexibility for teaching and pacing the lesson according to the pace of learning (a more "see how it goes" approach to teaching as opposed to timings being based upon amount of activities)

**Simply the idea based on LESS IS MORE - QUALITY NOT QUANTITY!

1.  Every lesson should have ONE PRIMARY FOCUSED OUTCOME- what is the key thing every student should leave the lesson knowing/understanding/being able to apply to the real world.  Too many objectives can be confusing and often the lesson can be rushed to cover the content as opposed to exploring the core idea in depth & through discussion.

2. Every lesson should be have ONE MAIN LEARNING LOOP  plus a series of smaller bolt-on loops (a.k.a progress checkers / hinge activities or questions / additional content / minor outcomes etc) which can be flexibly added to the lesson, if needed! (See CTT lesson  below for best practice)

3. Every lesson's PACE MUST MATCH THE PACE OF THE LEARNING (& IDEALLY TRY AND FIT THE CLASS PROFILE)The engine and key in my opinion to achieving an outstanding lesson is appropriate pacingHowever, PACE can be a fickle beast and too much can mean the students do not have time to process the information sufficiently, whilst too little means the lesson content is not covered quickly enough and is often lethargic. The key point is to pace the lesson according to the PACE of learning rather than the PACE of the activities you have to get through in the time! It is a tricky balance to strike as PACE needs to vary for each year group, for each day and stage in the year - to get the PACE right takes time and only comes with experience.

4. Every lesson's MAIN ACTIVITY SHOULD BUILD FROM CLOSED/SIMPLE TO OPEN/COMPLEX; ideally aspiring towards higher order & critical thinking skills wherever possible, if appropriate.

5. Every lesson should have a range of FLEXIBLE BOLT-ONS or HINGE ACTIVITIES to support the primary outcome, if needed. Note that the, if needed, is a key idea as too often continuous and in my opinion unnecessary 'reviewing' occurs, wasting valuable independent learning time.

5. Every lesson at the end spends at least 10 minutes ASSESSING THE MAIN OUTCOME. This could be done by a ticket to leave exit slip, an exam question or any other plenary assessment tool. The key question to ask is - How do I know every student has learnt something/made progress & achieved the primary outcome?

6. Every now and again, when near the end of a topic or unit, give the class a FERMI PROBLEM  - in this context a problem designed to teach/encourage approximation, critical thinking, problem solving & synoptic links both within and between subjects. Often they are Oxbridge type questions e.g. For Geography, 'What is the population of Croydn?' or 'Is nature natural?' 

Furthermore, there are some additional best practice techniques I have picked up from colleagues. One of my favourites is using named wooden lollipop sticks (example 1*) to ensure all members in the class are asked questions & assessed.

*Example 1: At the start of term (or at the start of a lesson) get every pupil in the class to write their name on a wooden lollipop stick. These are then collected in and the teacher uses them to record who has answered a question and who has not - a quick, easy and effective record to ensure equality of assessment and differentiation when needed. I have personally taken this idea but instead use paper numbers , from one to twenty-four. Each chair/desk has a number and during the class, i hot seat students by pulling out a random number to assess and gauge progress.

*Example 2 - Hinge questions - 80%

Here is a rough outstanding lesson template format based upon our conversations so far:

Reviews previous learning or introduces topic. Must be focused, engaging/stimulating, provide a basis for assessment either through progressive Socratic questioning or written assessment e.g. exam question.

Assesses the learning from the starter activity - key to identifying strong/weak areas of subject knowledge and acts as a basis to progress onto the main task or take stock and go another direction e.g. reviewing last lesson.

Key primary outcome explained - the focus of the lesson!

MAIN TASK  - should aim to build up from closed and simple to open and complex, liking to critical thinking and independent learning as appropriate.



Many thanks - Please leave your won comments below and hopefully using this template we will no longer feel like the image below:

Further Reading/Blogs:

CTT Lesson - keeping it simple and focused - The one question lesson (from the teacher)

N.B The topic is the environmental consequences of rapid urbanisation for AQA Geog GCSE

 - Teacher puts question on board and on A4 student sheet (n.b. prior knowledge of topic is vital!)
 - Each student writes down one question on the sheet which can be answered Yes/No.
 - After 3 rounds of this reflect on progress so far
 - Next round is questions with a one word answer
 - Next a numbers answer
 - Finally rounds with open ended questions
 - Now, each student or group answers the question on the sheet using the information gleamed form the questions.
 - Video of Bhopal is shown and prep is to add any missing content to notes using textbook & independent research

Question : How could this be improved?

The Geographer & the Chemist: An update on targets for next term...

UPDATE - The Geographer & The Chemist

So, the chemist and I met up today not only to review this term's observations and teaching and learning in general, but also to set ourselves new targets for the coming Spring Term.

The challenges we have both set ourselves are to explore & evaluate:

1. A variety of main tasks (inc. advs & disadvs of each method) - reflecting on what went well & how we would change it, if we had to deliver it again.

2. Assessment for learning strategies/techniques - Investigating what they are, how they work and how best to apply them and to what situations and classes.

3. To make key skills and key terms a core part of our etaching across all of the curriculum levels.

Chemist's top tip of the day:

Pose 3 differentiated questions/equations/problems/phrases on the board and hand out every member a post it note. Students then chose one option and come up and put their answer up. One member of the class is then chosen to sort the correct answers out and explain why.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Teaching quality Geography: reflections on Iwaskow's Status of Geography paper

No matter what sector you teach in, the good news is that Geography, has never been a more topical subject.  In the maintained sector, the new EBacc qualification has meant Geography's status has had a bit of a resurgence - its been 'rebranded' to some extent - and numbers taking up at the subject at GCSE are rising with 187,022 candidates taking it at GCSE in 2012 (up 3.48% compared to 2011 - outperforming History and English!).  It is even estimated that 36% of GCSE pupils will take the subject in the summer of 2014...

However, the challenge facing all Geography departments across the nation will now be this:  how to encourage GCSE geographers to take the subject as an AS-Level/A2 option or IB module?  Furthermore, is the quality of teaching Geography, as an academic subject, improving - are standards rising? For instance, I have noticed at GCSE and beyond, map work skills and general geographic knowledge i.e. where places are located, are particularly poor.

Interestingly a recent report entitled 'Quality Geography - Learning to make a difference' by Leszek Iwaskow, the National Adviser for Geography touched upon many of the teaching & learning themes to do with geography I have been exploring this term. Please click the link below to access the report.

Below are some of my thoughts on his paper and the wider context of geography teaching in schools:

The traditional model for departments it seems is to put the specialist teaching at the top end of the pyramid (Sixth Form) and any non-specialist teaching at the bottom end (Year 7 & 8 Lower School Geography). However, is the best long term approach?

Surely, some of our most skilled geographers need to teach the core skills to students at the bottom end of the school so as to inspire them and equip them with a good set of core geographic skills? What tends to happen with the current approach is that students have to often wait to be inspired at GCSE and even till A-Level before they receive quality geography teaching from a specialist - is this not the wrong way round? The flip side to this, of course, is that specialist teachers are needed at A2, which I do not dispute, but GCSE and even AS specifications, (take Edexcel's for instance), are biased to some extent to covering 'popular geography' and 'popular science' themes, which any good teacher could teach maybe?

Furthermore, in my latest blog entitled, 'a template for outstanding teaching' I discuss the need to shift away from prescriptive outcomes and instead focus on one primary outcome, with a series of learning loops built in, offering a flexible approach and quite organic approach to classroom teaching.  Leaving room for the lesson to progress naturally as opposed to a pre-conceived prescriptive format MUST BE A GOOD THING?!

In relation to Geography teaching, I have been focusing on actually teaching about the geography of case study topics much more e.g looking at the physical geographic aspects which make the city or tourist attraction what it is.  I have used GIS and maps much more to build in the core skills, which are lacking, and have then built in the critical Socratic questioning and higher order thinking skills needed to excel and gain top marks. I find the latter approaches to have been much more rewarding in comparison to trying to speed through a lesson, purely focused on ensuring all the assessment boxes for HMI are ticked or all of the exam spec content is touched upon, however briefly.  Furthermore, more time in lessons has been handed over to the pupils to work independently, the misnomer known as 'lazy teaching.' By only having a single outcome and focusing on the core geographic issues at hand, I have been able to simplify and gut the often wordy syllabus waffle into a series of clearly focused lessons that focus on the GEOGRAPHY & INTERCONNECTIONS between particular spaces and places.

Consequently, my teaching and learning targets for next term are to explore & evaluate:

1. A variety of main tasks (inc. advs & disadvs of each method) - reflecting on what went well & how we would change it, if we had to deliver it again.

2. Assessment for learning strategies/techniques - Investigating what they are, how they work and how best to apply them and to what situations and classes.

3. To make key skills and key terms a core part of our teaching across all of the curriculum levels.