On being predictable. 8 things you’re likely to see in my lessons and the 4 principles which underpin them. (part 3/4)

This post is part 3 in a series of four.

Part one can be found here: https://benjamindwhite.wordpress.com/2018/06/15/on-being-predictable-8-things-youre-likely-to-see-in-my-lessons-and-the-4-principles-which-underpin-them-part-1-6/

Part two can be found here:  https://benjamindwhite.wordpress.com/2018/06/21/on-being-predictable-8-things-youre-likely-to-see-in-my-lessons-and-the-4-principles-which-underpin-them-part-2-4/


5. Building more processing time into lessons:

I now tend to include a significant proportion of silent (or quiet) working in lessons. The thinking being that this is where individual thinking and processing is most likely to happen. I can’t prove yet that this is better for learning – but have a good proxy for measuring how commonly it occurs…

My register completion rate is much higher than ever! For years I was one of the worst in the school. Students weren’t running riot, they probably looked quite ‘engaged’ but I was too busy to stop and complete it. I actually occasionally found myself wondering how teachers could stop for this admin task in the midst of an engaging lesson.

Why? Students are more likely to remember what they think about. Engaging individually with useful tasks – and writing out their own responses – probably helps in this regard. Also, unless they actually knuckle down then students in my lessons might never leave the realm of ‘meta-work’ i.e. introducing and talking about the work which they will eventually have to do. On reflection this seems silly and likely to reinforce disadvantage as some students are less likely to do this actual work successfully away from the classroom environment. 

What next?

I initially tended to constantly circulate the class asking individual questions,  providing clarifications, picking up on questions/suggestions I noted when marking etc.

However whilst I still do this sometimes, it is entirely possible that the net effect of wittering my way around the class could have been to distract a large proportion of the class. It’s proving tough to stick to but I’m trying to do this less – answering queries when raised but otherwise staying out of it.

This goes against some of my earlier training (and my aforementioned character flaws!) but I’m trying to go with it for a while.  It’s a topic that occasionally pops up on edu-twitter – I found this article interesting LSE Silence in the Classroom is No Problem

6. Model effective study practices:

I am now more likely to provide critical but constructive feedback on pupil study techniques. Earlier in my career I would have been reluctant to pass judgment. I now feel I can draw on key principles to inform feedback.

For example time spent making notes look perfect is probably not as useful as time spent quickly reviewing and correcting responses to questions about the topic. I’m trying to encourage students to feel more comfortable with committing answers to paper which may not be 100% accurate – the act of writing may help with their thinking and as long as they immediately pick up on and correct errors this seems more helpful than simply transcribing the correct answer once from one place to another.

We have also been exploring how best to support successful revision – in Sociology I’ve attempted to make the process as systematic as possible. In the example below these are the core categories which students will need to be able to recall in order to access the different questions in a Crime and Deviance paper. We’ve been using some of these in class – completed initially from memory and then supplemented using notes or my own explanation. A number are now using these in their own revision slots.

Example (A-level Sociology AQA – Crime Topic)

Why this? Thinking hard is hard. Effective revision is hard and without prompting I find that students drift back to reviewing material primarily by re-reading. They are reluctant to spend long trying to recall key information. These grids encourage more effective strategies – and make them as accessible as possible for my students. The same goes for the quiz questions and answers in their notes packs. 

What next – I would like to work with my year 13 students to help them coach year 12s into effective study strategies. Potentially using this resource as a starting point: Carl Hendrick and Olivier Cavigioli How Should Students Revise

7. Using No More Marking comparative judgement engine with classes to review answers, check understanding, and share excellent responses.

This is the one bit of tech (bar my data projector) which I would say has made a big impact on what I do with my classes. At A-level I’ve been using the comparative marking tool to peer-review and improve timed essays.

I find it a great way to help students reflect directly on how to explain key course content, and to do so within the time and space limitations of exam style questions. Students seem to value the process – but find it challenging. I’ve carried out informal reviews with one or two small groups of pupils which suggest that it’s helping. However I’ll need to review this more systematically when I’ve been using it for a year.

Example: Using No More Marking to Comparatively Mark A Level Essays

Why this? For many of my assessments – it’s better and quicker than marking them by hand (and deep into the night). It’s proven invaluable towards end of this term – yr 13 classes have now written, reviewed, and improved answers to 3 different essays. In a way which I think adds value compared me marking them alone at home – and which takes a fraction of the time. I could probably have managed one of these three if tackling in traditional way. 

What next? I’ve been liaising with @ollie_lovell on exploring this further. As part of that process I made this video tutorial guideHe has raised some excellent questions about the process. I hope to return to these – and to explore the comment feature for essay judges later this year. 

 8. Reflection and rehearsal of my explanation.

As a result of the changes above I spend less time in lessons ‘delivering’ new information. Much of each lesson is reviewing and clarifying. However when I do explain new ideas I’m more aware of a need to carefully consider the media I use, the words, the number of witty asides etc.

I also now aim to explain everything at least three times. Generally this includes a quick intro towards the end of one lesson. Then in the next lesson the ‘main’ explanation itself. And thirdly a review in response to student answers to questions on in a third lesson(as outlined in practice 1 ).

Example – Over three iterations of the same lesson with each of my yr 12 classes I tried refine my explanation of Moscovici’s research process and findings. I’ve now shifted from reading the text and projecting a bullet-point summary of key points, to explaining it whilst revealing the relevant sections of this diagram. The latter method seemed to lead to better recall from students one week later.


Why this: Given that my job, is essentially about explaining things, it’s embarrassing how little I know about research relating to effective explanation! Somehow for a good proportion of my ten years I didn’t think about this – at least not systematically. This is probably partly to do with my own weaknesses and biases. It’s also likely a product of the things I focussed on when planning and talking about lessons. Activities and structure quickly came to the fore once I had a loose grasp of key ideas or content. I’m not sure that this was helpful. 

What next? Even dipping my toe into the world of dual-coding has highlighted the likely inadequacies of my text heavy  topic summaries. However as I now have the overviews loosely in place I’m hoping to refine and improve them using diagrams, images, and appappropriately placed labels over the next year or so.  A conversation with Nick Rose prompted this thinking. His blog post here. And book with David Didau seem like a useful starting point for my improvement process.  

Overall, I’m happy with the turn my teaching has taken in the last year or two. However, I am becoming aware that over-reliance on one stripped down pedagogical model might become unhelpfully narrow in the long run. 

I’m not closed to the idea that some approaches might simply be ‘better’ than others.

However I am also cautious about concluding that any particular approach can have ‘cracked it’.

No doubt twenty years ago there were some thoughtful and dedicated (and somewhat geeky) teachers who thought that the approaches I’ve moved away from were the best way to teach.

I can’t help but think that in twenty years time people will be ‘discovering’ the limitations of the practice thare quickly becoming my established teaching habits.

I’m fascinated by Robert Kegan’s model for human development and his suggestion that

Only a proportion of adults reach a stage whereby take ownership of authoring their own beliefs and values – critically analysing those beliefs  and practices which they may have inherited. 

And that an even smaller proportion of adults are able to maintain enough separation from this framework to avoid becoming fixed within it.

In part four I’ll be exploring the above in a little more depth.


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