Reading ages…

#15MinForum – 9/03/17

I can’t remember the last time I taught a lesson which didn’t require students to read something at some point. Nor can I remember the last time I spent any real amount of time looking at the text I would be getting students to read (be that on slides or in books) and really considering how individual students in a group might cope with it. There are certainly strategies that I’m sure many of us use in a lesson to introduce keywords and technical vocabulary, or to model the use of language, but how routinely do we look at the texts and the tasks and think explicitly about the impact of our students’ reading ages on their ability to engage meaningfully with these things?

Our latest 15 Minute Forum, led by Andrea Boohig (our Head of Learning Support/ SEND Coordinator), challenged us to think about exactly this…

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Photo Credit: mangoldm Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Andrea started by sharing some context in terms of how we currently assess students’ reading skills (NFER, Basic Literacy Assessment, Spelling Assessment, Wrat 4, Edinburgh tests etc) and the interventions currently in place to support students (paired reading programmes, small literacy groups, our transition teaching group, one to one support, parental engagement etc). Information about specific students across years 7-13 is made available to staff, and students are regularly retested to establish whether the various interventions are working.

This all sounds like important and impressive work – our Learning Support team is doing great things with vast numbers of students (we have more students with EHCP’s than many special schools do, and then there are those many individuals with needs that aren’t recognised at the same level but which are still of real significance).

But the work of the Learning Support team alone is not enough: it is essential that classroom teachers do their bit…

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Photo Credit: thaisteles2 Flickr via Compfight cc

Steps to success…

Andrea set about highlighting the characteristics of students with reading ages below 8 years, between 8-10 years, and between 10-14 years, with some specific suggestions for supporting these students. It is well worth a read and some reflection on your current practice. How carefully do you unpack key vocabulary to support students (not just with technical language, but with multisyllabic words)? How often do we assume that because a student has had chance to read something and then write it down, they have taken it in (when in fact the act of copying one letter at a time limits comprehension almost completely)? How often do we recognise behavioural traits as resulting from a students (in)ability to access the text they are expected to work with? There is a lot to think about…Slide4Slide5

 


Excerpts from Andrea’s presentation can be viewed below:

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Mixing it up…

#15MinForum – 23/02/17

Each time our Learning Communities meet (which is once per half-term, when we have a late start for students in order to buy some time for CPDL), I have the privilege of being able to wander from group to group under the pretence of ‘offering support’ (when in reality most of what I do is marvel at the richness and depth of discussion our staff are engaging in!)

A few weeks ago I walked in on a conversation taking place in one of the groups who have had the brilliant ‘Make it Stick‘ as their core reading, to hear our Director of Music, Jonny Bridges, explaining the analogy he uses to illustrate for his students the interleaving approach he is using with them… Fittingly for a music tech teacher, it involves a mixing desk…

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Photo Credit: K. McMahon Flickr via Compfight cc

As I sat listening, gripped by his analogy, I scribbled a myself a reminder: ‘Jonny. 15 Minute Forum. Interleaving.”

 

Mixing it up

As you can see in Jonny’s prezi (here),  he started by setting out how interleaving contrasts with the way most of our subjects work through their schemes of learning. Specifically, we tend to teach in successive units of work that are often then not returned to until the end of the year. When following an interleaved approach, the curriculum is weaved in on itself, so that rather than drilling down into one unit at a time before moving onto the next (i.e. AAAA, BBBB, CCCC), the teacher instead moves between topics introducing things one layer at a time (i.e. ABC, BAC, ACB, CBA). This sits nicely alongside – and is indeed inextricably linked to – the idea of spacing vs massing practice (there have been some nice ideas shared in relation to this at previous 15 Minute Forums/ eLearning eXpress meetings, like this one from Gabby Veglio and this one from Annis Araim).

Jonny highlighted that students (and teachers!) may feel frustrated by the fact that they don’t work on a single topic for extended periods of time (as they would in a ‘massed practice’ approach) and therefore they don’t develop the short-term fluency (which is, in truth, illusory!), and instead their sense of mastery is something that develops over a longer period of time as the topic is returned to repeatedly.

And this is where the mixing desk analogy comes in…

mixing it up

This distinction between short-term artefacts from the classroom (‘performance’) and the longer term, deeper conceptual growth (which we might more justifiably call ‘learning’) is an important one, especially as the latter is the one we want and yet a lot of what we are geared-up for is the former…

 

Learning vs Performance

This article, from Bjork and colleague, is a must-read if you’re interested in exploring more about the learning vs performance distinction, as is this blog from David Didau (@learningspy), which seats interleaving within the wider point about desirable difficulties…

Elsewhere, this guest post on the fantastic ‘Learning Scientists‘ website is worth a few minutes of your time…

 

Read more about Jonny’s own experiences and successes in his prezi, here

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Practice, practice, practice…

#15MinForum – 9/02/17

Does practice make perfect, or does it make permanent? How can routines help make the permanent perfect? This was the tongue-twister that Ian O’Brien, Deputy Headteacher and Physics teacher, shared to whet peoples appetite when advertising our latest 15 Minute Forum.

Setting up the routines for success.

As part of his work in his Learning Community, inspired by Doug Lemov (@Doug_Lemov) et al’s bestselling ‘Practice Perfect‘, Ian has been working to look at whether we can set up routines to help learning or to approach problem solving in a manner that we can fall back on in stressful situations, and whether practice can ‘program’ our responses to these situations…

Using Owen Farrell, England’s ever-dependable goal kicker, as an example, Ian highlighted that it doesn’t matter where he is on the field or who the opposition are, the routine is the same. He can be out on the far right touch-line (the harder side to kick for a right-footer to kick for goal), he can be directly in front of the posts, he can be playing for top-of-the-table saracens against minnows from the depths of the table, or he can be playing for his country in a high-stakes international. Regardless of the specifics of the situation, the routine takes the same length of time and follows the exact same steps. And it is remarkably reliable…

 

So the question Ian posed at the start of the forum was ‘what do you want the students to be able to do. Find one thing. How do you then drill it so that it is second nature? How can you programme the student response?’

Drill, drill, drill.

In Ian’s own case, the starting point was looking at the way that his physics students, at all levels of the school, lay out their equations. A methodical and highly structured approach has always been something that the physics team has encouraged, and for many students it sticks. But there are also many students who continue to do it their own way, missing out steps, taking shortcuts, not laying things out carefully. And these students make more mistakes and find it harder to self-diagnose their own mistakes.

So Ian set about really focussing on embedding the perfect routine: list out the data provided including the units of measurement, then check the units, then select and write out the required equation, then write it out again and plug the known values in, then rearrange the equation, then finally do the calculation. Each of these is a separate step, each step is written out carefully (with the equals-signs all lining up) and it is spaced out. No shortcuts, even on the easy questions. Like Owen Farrell’s pre-kick routine, the idea is that the routine never changes regardless of how easy or hard the question may be.

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For weeks (and now months), this has been hammered home every lesson. It is modelled every lesson. Students peer- and self-assess – not to check whether they got the right answer, but to check whether the work has followed the perfect structure. Mark-schemes have been adjusted to reward the use of the perfect structure rather than just the correct answer – the real exams won’t do this, but it reinforces the programming/routines during this stage of the learning.

Reaping the rewards.

Ultimately, students are making fewer mistakes. Those teaching groups with whom Ian has focussed his efforts at this stage are excelling with calculation work, even where some of the students in those groups are not natural mathematicians or whose prior attainment is generally towards the lower end. Whats-more, where they do make errors, students are able to much more quickly and independently identify the problem and fix it.

So where else might this work? Anything where there is a sequence or format or routine that needs to be deployed consistently! Approaches to structuring a paragraph/ essay (be it PEE, or PETER or whatever the latest mnemonic for writing arguments is), perhaps. The steps students need to go through when setting about constructing a graph, perhaps. The routines students are encouraged to adopt when writing out responses in long-answer questions, perhaps…

 

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