Intervention in the Classroom…

#15MinForum – 23/2/16

With less than 10 weeks of teaching until the first of the GCSE exams (gulp), this morning’s 15 Minute Forum focussed on exploring a range of strategies that might conceivably be classed as ‘intervention’ in the classroom to support those individuals whose  data (from assessments/ monitoring/ marking etc) suggests they might need an exra nudge…

Sands of Time

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The idea of ‘intervention in the classroom’ is neither a new idea, nor one that should really be seen as something special that is rolled-out at certain times of the year. Rather it is a way of thinking about high-quality, inclusive classroom practice, sharply focussed on meeting all pupils’ needs, including targeted provision, within lessons, for individuals/ groups when necessary1. Clearly this has particular relevance for our exam groups in the run-up to their public exams, but the strategies discussed in the forum are really just about making sure our teaching approaches are highly effective at supporting the progress of all students in all classes across the whole school.

intervention toolbox

At the start of the session, I presented 6 strategies that could be used as a tool for targeting individuals:

  1. Targeted questioning (within a no hands-up classroom!)
  2. Additional/differentiated tasks
  3. Create opportunities within the lesson to engage with key individuals/ groups
  4. Peer scaffolding/ differentiated seating plan(s)
  5. Activating students as resources for each other
  6. Carefully considered deployment of support staff

Each group of staff was given an A3 sheet with one strategy on  and tasked with discussing that strategy in relation to 4 key questions:

  • What does the strategy actually ‘look like’? what is it?
  • Why might this strategy work as a form of intervention?
  • How might you actually do it?
  • What else needs considering?

After a minute or so, each group passes its sheet to the next group (we went clockwise, but whatevs) and reviews what the previous group had written and seeks to add to it. After another minute, the sheets are passed on again and this is repeated until each group recieves the sheet they started with (which should be, by now, full of ideas from all other groups in the room… I’m sure someone somewhere has given this technique a name, but I think of it as snowballing – works well for generating ideas and sharing them around the room).

By the end of the session, we had begun (and it isn’t a finished product!) to explore each of the strategies – the sheets have now been pinned-up in our Learning & Development Room for staff to review, reflect, modify over the coming weeks as part of a working-wall of ideas.

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I wouldn’t suggest these ideas are new to staff, but I know that I find taking the opportunity to sit and think and talk about these things has the effect of freshening them up in my mind… Now I’m off to reorganise my seating plans for my year 11 group…

Coincidentally, @Shaun_Allison posted this fantastic list of suggestions for what to do with y11 just yesterday – I’d like to think our posts complement each other nicely!

1Some of the language here is rehashed from old National Strategies materials (like this), which promoted the idea of a model of intervention to support progress based on waves (where Wave 1 was about classroom practice), built upon upon in more recent DCSF guidance about Personalised Learning and Quality First Teaching (have a look at these webinar slides from @NataliePacker for a little more on QFT and the SEND Code of Practice).

For a few more thoughts on Quality First Teaching, see this post from @TeacherToolkit




Scaffolding talk for learning

#15MinForum – 9/2/16

15 minute forum 9-2-16This week’s 15 Minute Forum, delivered by Emily Johnson (our Teacher i/c KS3 English), focussed on a lovely little strategy for scaffolding discussion. Emily shared an approach that she has been using with her sixth-form English Literature students, but it is easy to see how this might be (or perhaps ‘should be’, given the importance of talk for learning)  successfully used across key stages 3-5 in a range of subject areas…

Why should we care about the quality of student talk?

Emily and I have talked and shared some interesting reading recently about the importance of developing oracy and placing value on the process of talk, and Emily gave a short summary of this to set the context to the session. In part, this is about recognising the critical role of ‘talk’ in the relationship between language, learning, thinking and understanding, and in part it is about helping to bridge the gap (or, for some students, the chasm) between thinking and writing by forcing students to articulate, organise and develop their thoughts coherently in verbal expression before committing them to paper.

Abstract speaker silhouette with bubbles

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These points are hugely important for students across the spectrum – from those whose written work is routinely disordered or underdeveloped through to the most literate and able students (some of whose writing can be unnecessarily overwrought, pretentious or perhaps just plain waffly – forcing them to first discuss their ideas (using a framework that supports but doesn’t restrict) can often be helpful in forcing them to frame their ideas in a more succinct format).

Moreover, the way we structure, manage and model talk, dialogue and discussion should strive to ensure that students not only reap the benefits of talking themselves, but also that they listen, really think about and engage with the things they hear, and support others with their thinking (inluding a respect for alternative positions).

How do talk cards work?

The cards themselves each contain a  statement/ instruction/ assessment criterion taken, in this case, from the marking scheme or assessment objectives of the specification. For example, the English Literature cards that Emily shared included statements like ‘support your statement with a quote’, ‘suggest an alternative interpretation’, ‘make a link to the typical features of the genre’ etc.

Talk cards

When writing the cards, it would seem desirable to emphasise more than just brief factual recall, focussing instead on the narrating, explaining, analysing, speculating, imagining, exploring, evaluating, discussing, arguing, justifying and questioning that Robin Alexander refers to as the repertoire of ‘learning talk’ in his work on dialogic teaching.

Running the activity:

  • A question is posed to the whole class (for example ‘How does a Hardy present Tess and Angel’s relationship?’), and students are given thinking time (5-10 minutes) during which they individually start pulling-together various sources of information from previous lessons/ homework tasks (having already spent time reading articles and completing close analysis work)
  • Students distribute the cards in their groups (4-5 students). If you have colour-coded the cards to indicate the level of challenge associated with each one, students might be asked to ensure an even spread to each member of the group, or alternatively you might differentiate them yourself by distributing the cards yourself while the students are still pulling together their sources of information, giving some students more of the high challenge cards.
  • Students start playing their cards! As a student plays their card, they make their contribution to the discussion, agreeing with,  buildling upon, or challenging the previous contribution, or taking the discussion off in a new direction.

The process could continue indefinitely with card replenishment, or it becomes a simple competition: the first student to get rid of all their cards is the winner! Encouraging competition encourages students to self-regulate: if they, collectively, think someone has played a card and not actually contributed a suitably pertinent or robust point, they reject it. This in itself encourages students to engage thoughtfully with other people’s ideas.


A little more reading (about talking)…

In this short article from Robin Alexander on the essentials of Dialogic Teaching, he summarises key features of scaffolded dialogue, amongst which he includes:

  • interactions which encourage children to think, and to think in different ways
  • questions which require much more than simple recall
  • answers which are followed up and built on rather than merely received
  • feedback which informs and leads thinking forward as well as encourages
  • contributions which are extended rather than fragmented
  • exchanges which chain together into coherent and deepening lines of enquiry
  • classroom organisation, climate and relationships which make all this possible

There isn’t much in this list that the talk cards won’t help us to start exploring and embedding. He goes on to suggest that…

These forms and dynamics of talk contribute to:

  • uptake (one person responding to and taking forward the ideas of another)
  • scaffolding (providing the child with an appropriate linguistic and/or conceptual tool to bridge the gap between present and intended understanding)
  • handover (successful transfer of what is to be learned and assimilation of new learning to existing knowledge and understanding)

It strikes me that this activity, and others like it (which we can hopefully explore moving forwards), could go a long way towards embedding some of these features and ideals!

For a more detailed overview of Dialogic Teaching than the short pdf linked above, I would thoroughly recommend Robin Alexander’s book (well, more of a pamphlet really) Towards Dialogic Teaching: rethinking classroom talk. An insightful and very accessible entry into thinking critically about student and teacher talk in classrooms…

#15MinForum 26/1/16

Our first 15 minute forum took place earlier this week, kicked off by Gabby Veglio (Yr9 Year Leader and whole-school numeracy coordinator) leading a session on ‘Top Tips for Positive and Assertive Classroom Management’.15 minute forum

The Context

Although as a school I don’t think we would recognise ourselves as being part of the bigger picture presented in the media of ever-declining standards in student behaviour (and I certainly don’t think our students experience anywhere close to the supposed ‘average’ of 38 lost days of learning each year due to low level disruption (as reported last summer in this article)), that doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of students who, on their day (and possibly most days!), can present challenges.

At the other end of the spectrum, I would even dare to suggest that a great many of our students are so compliant, that it means we as teachers can get away without deploying (and thereby refining) our full armoury of strategies that force us as teachers to think carefully about what we say (or don’t say), how we say it, where we are in the room, etc…

And so this was a session which had a little something for everyone, be they individuals who recognise that there are classes who aren’t quite where we want them, or staff who feel proficient based on the fact that they ‘don’t get any hassle’ but who want to take the opportunity to reflect on the language they use and the steps they follow (and then consider how these factors contribute not just to behaviour, but to the general ‘climate’ of the classroom).

The Forum

Gabby led us through her top tips – Positivity, Prevention, Deal with the Low Level, Consequences, and Lesson Planning – before we then had chance to unpack some of them further in groups. Gabby’s resource slides can be seen in full further down (and are well worth a look!), but here are some of the highlights in a more ‘stream of consciousness’ format…

  • Use the non-verbal cues. Eye contact and long pauses – don’t fill the silences! Own the classroom and consider your position in it. Just changing where you are standing can modify the behaviour of individuals (and if it doesn’t, you are well placed to quietly redirect them)…
  • State what you want, don’t just label the behaviours you can see that you don’t want. This means phrasing things wherever possible (is it ever impossible?) in the positive: rather than “stop talking”, try “I’m expecting you to be listening, thanks” (using “thanks” rather than “please” changes what you are seeing from being a plea to an expectation of compliance)…
  • Public praise – catch them being good. Use this to highlight what you are looking for – identifying these role models publicly allows you to reinforce what you are expecting students to do without simply restating the original instructions…
  • Give students choice. Here we are aiming to be assertive without bullying. “Richard, you can work sensibly with Adam as I’ve asked, or you can work at the back on your own”, or “Michael, you can come back into the classroom and complete the task in the way I’ve asked, or you can choose to go and work on the safety net. Going to the safety net obviously means it will need to be followed up with a further sanction, but it is your choice to make”…
  • Avoid humiliation and confrontation. There may be a place for carefully-deployed sarcasm, but rarely is that place classroom/ behaviour management!
  • Avoid escalation and confrontation by acting ‘casually’ – “Steven, can I borrow you for a minute for a quick word” is less likely to cause a scene than launching into Steven in front of his peers…
  • Avoid unnecessary dialogue. This is partly about non-verbal cues, partly about diverting attention away from someone who may be looking for it, and partly about avoiding escalation: remember who is the adult and who is responsible for modelling the behaviours! We don’t always have to have the last word (but we do have to reinforce what we want and round off with a statement of expectation (i.e. “thanks” rather than “please”) – “but Sir, I wasn’t talking I was just borrowing his ruler” might be better handled, despite the fact that the student was clearly talking, with “ok, well now you’ve got the ruler you can carry on with the task without discussing it”…
  • Separate the person and the behaviour. De-personalise it, then emphasise that the behaviour is something the student is ‘choosing’…
  • Make decisions and follow them through! Never threaten something that you won’t/can’t follow through on…
  • Follow department/ school procedures. We each have our own approaches before we get to the formal heirarchy. It matters less what your own steps are before you get to the ‘formal procedures’ (i.e. how many verbal warnings you give, whether you use ‘good learning/ poor learning’ on the board etc) as long as you use the same ones all the time (it is shared) and you apply it in the same way each time (it is consistent). Linked to the earlier idea of ‘choice’, it is invariably a good thing to let students know what the next step will be (be explicit about expectations and where this is heading if expectations aren’t met)…
  • Routines, routines, routines. At the start of the lesson, at transitions between tasks, at the end of the lessons. Mek them explicit, reinforce them continually and ensure students understand the conditions under which tasks are being completed. One suggestion is to start the task, watch for a few minutes and observe, freeze the class, feedback on what is being done well and where (by way of clarifying and exemplifying expectations), then set them off again…
  • Use the seating pan (and vary it, if you there is a need to prevent students feeling that they, rather than you, ‘own’ a particular space)…

What next?

For those of you interested in some additional reading/ ideas/ support, here are my three top recommendations:


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