I can still see the concern maybe fear in the teacher’s eyes. In days gone by, with me sat observing the lesson; the teaching input has been completed, the hinge point question reveals half the class know the answer and half haven’t a clue. What to do next; where to go?
Sadly, more often than not, the teacher would just continue with the lesson as planned leaving half the class clueless about what has happened and with poor foundations on which to build their understanding of the next part of the learning. Observers can often bring out the worst in the teacher. Three different things need to come together in a teacher’s classroom armoury at this point. The pre-planning of high quality questions, how to monitor the learning (or performance) of all pupils and “what to do if” scenarios that are well rehearsed and honed.
Each year I have the pleasure of spending a couple of hours working with trainee teachers. In many ways this one off approach is inadequate and needs to be rethought; within these constraints I try to focus on a few essentials. Some simple techniques to get a class of thirty pupils to behave alongside the underpinning theory; the importance of systematically planning the learning rather than the lesson planning, that they tend to focus on, and how to respond, as a teacher, to pupil feedback in the real time maelstrom of a classroom.
Key to the session is stressing the “logical development of knowledge”; what will you teach pupils and in what order and why? Once you have determined a teaching order you need to check that the pupils are with you on the journey; the assessment bit. Pre-planning a few key questions, congruent with the learning flow, and how pupils will respond is a critical part of a teacher’s classroom preparation.
When considering how pupils will respond, I tend to promote two key principles behind co-operative learning; namely, there should be individual accountability and simultaneous interaction. In co-operative learning the latter is usually with peers but in the case of whole class questioning the interaction is with the teacher. The pupil whiteboard and pen would be my favoured method; all pupils must answer the question (individual accountability) and show their answer at the same time (simultaneous interaction), with you able to monitor the learning of all. The pupil whiteboard is great for very short written answers or numerical ones; for more complex questions the use of multiple choice questions with pupils giving an A-D/E response can be highly effective.
In the multiple choice question at the bottom of this blog I’ve included a key misconception pupils have about why metals expand when heated. Add some wait time between the question and answer and you have developed a pretty useful, totally transferable and highly sustainable teaching method.
What I would suggest teachers stop doing is: asking individual pupils questions as the sample size is too small to tell you anything about the learning of the class as a whole and traffic lights/thumbs up. The last two have become pet hates for me; they are not bona fide ways of assessing what pupils learn. At school my aim was to be anonymous in class and play football with my mates at break and lunch. If these techniques were used with me, my schooling pre-dates them, I would have been a thumbs up, green light pupil particularly as the end of lesson bell approached.
With an acknowledgement to Professor Eric Mazur you may want to adopt an 80:20 model of response. The three “what to do if” scenarios:
- If 80% of the pupils in the class know the answer then give a quick recap of the learning, note the pupils who may be struggling, and move on. If time allows come back to the pupils who were struggling later in the lesson.
- If 20% of pupils know the answer then it’s time to rewind the lesson to the point where pupils’ learning is more secure; identify gaps in knowledge or misconceptions and reteach.
- If the responses are somewhere in between then simply say to the class, “Find someone with a different answer to you and see if you can agree on which one may be correct”. Do not give any indication of which answer is correct; it’s time for pupils to work hard.
It’s low stress on the teacher and has proved a highly effective way to enhance pupils understanding. You have the simultaneous interaction of lots of pupils talking to each other; those who are confident and secure in their learning are able to explain on a 1:1 basis to those who are less secure. The less secure often know that they don’t understand so are receptive to listening to another pupil, in a private conversation, with no public loss of face. After a minute or so of pupil discussion; stop the talking and ask the same question again. Look at the pupils’ response, go back to the 80:20 rule and follow the appropriate course of action. Don’t get too caught up in the 80:20 proportions; feel free to tweak as you see fit at any moment in time.
Hope you’ll try this out with one of your classes this week and in the real time maelstrom of teaching thirty pupils be able to respond and react to the feedback they are giving you.
It is all too easy to want to bow to the pressure of completing the lesson, according to the plan you halve, whilst being observed, but there really is no point. At the end of the day we’re here to help students learn. I was in an interview fairly recently, and I assumed that the students I was doing my model lesson on would known the basics of geography (stuff taught in 1st 2 lessons of the academic year. I used that the basics but as a starter sorting activity to gauge what level the group was at. Most had no idea what the starter was about – they couldn’t differentiate between human/physical/environmental geography 😳. How had they made it to June and not known this?! I made the decision to stop with the lesson I’d planned, and go back to the basics that they needed to know to access the geography curriculum. They ended up Nailling differences between all three types of geography and the rain was positively buzzing with excitement. I must say that I was a tad nervous of the feedback because of I hadn’t touched on the subject area that was given to me to teach but as far as I was concerned the students had made progress. Feedback from the lesson was great they loveed the fact that I’d stopped the lesson when I recognise the students didn’t have the information required to make any further progress in the lesson plans and that I had amended it accordingly. We must always remember that it is a plan, and plans are not set in stone.