Diagnostic Teaching, Literacy, Time saving teaching, Writing

The Power of DTT (Diagnosis, Therapy, Testing)

Hana Malik – Curriculum Leader for English

Twitter – @MsHanaMalik

It is that time of year again, where you feel sandwiched between fear and hope: Year 11 students will do as amazingly as you know they can, or, some Year 11 students might not get there.

What we as teachers in the classroom, especially in this last push before final exams, undertake with learners will impact final outcomes. Fact. So how should one decide what to do with those precious remaining lessons?

DTT, Diagnosis Therapy Testing, is not new (is anything in education?) and we all do it, with all groups throughout the academic year. But are there ways to maximise this process to ensure Year 11 students have the best possible chance to achieve highly?

What is DTT?

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Diagnosis: Finding out what the student needs.

There are countless ways to garner this information; for Year 11s, and arguably all year groups, the more specific you can be the better. As a teacher, be clear on what it is you wish to know, whether it be the extent to which content has been learnt or how successful students are in applying a skill. Thereafter, you can decide on how to record  and track that data.

One way we have tracked Year 11 mock data is through personalised learning checklists – PLCs. This straightforward and effective colour-coded system of logging marks allows you to see where the areas of strength are within a class. You can then deploy ‘experts’ as you wish. It also, vitally, allows teachers to gauge areas of weakness; teachers and students can see the content and/or skill which needs to be revisited, and even the extent to which it needs to be revisited – Is there a trend? How many students under-performed in this area?

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Example of GCSE Literature mock PLC

Therapy: After identifying areas which need to be ‘treated’, teachers can devise lessons and revision sequences which will secure marginal gains.

This is vital in ensuring DTT is effective. As part of Year 11 therapy, I believe it is important to create and encourage a culture of sharing. What’s working well with specific students? Might it work with other learners? Creating a ‘Best Practice’ folder is one way to do this, carving time into meetings to share practice is another.

Ultimately, teachers having the resources and skills to close gaps is what makes DTT effective. That is to say, this is the bit that means the most and probably takes the most time. But, as every exam class teacher can tell you, it is always worth it.

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Examples of therapy, securing marginal gains

Testing: Has it worked?

The only way to know if students have closed that gap you spent time ‘treating’ is by testing, and the test that ought to be sat really depends on what students have gone over.

In Year 11, mocks seem to be the most popular choice. However, there are other options. Quizzes, short and swift, can often highlight how well students know content. Flipped learning is also an enjoyable way to test whether students can transform learning.  

More often than not, therapy will prove effective the first time around. And, if it hasn’t, all we can do is try again.

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Drama, Multimodal Learning, Oracy, Reflection

Using Dramatic and Active Learning Strategies with Written work in Drama: Exploring Practically before putting pen to paper

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Becky Griffiths – Curriculum Leader for Drama

When I think back to this time last year, negotiating all the changes of the new GCSE 9-1 specification, I recall how challenging it was. It felt as though everyone in education was wading their way through reforms with feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty. Part of the challenge for me as the Curriculum Leader in Drama was to find ways to engage my students with the significant increase in written content at GCSE.

When I reflect on my encounters with Drama at school, I remember experiences where we explored plays, improvised and collaborated with peers.  My experiences enabled me to develop a genuine passion for the subject. Written work was a marginal aspect of GCSE drama; far more concerned with exploring through practical drama. When I try to reflect on behalf of GCSE drama students across the country, in the midst of current educational reforms, I am conscious that their experiences of studying drama are wildly different to my own due to the shift in weightings for written and practical work.

I’m a firm believer in reflection being a tool for change, so decided to investigate this issue as part of my MA dissertation. At the core of this, was student voice. My initial question was: ‘How can I increase engagement in drama despite the reduction of practical content in the new GCSE drama specification?’ and a subsidiary question emerged: ‘Do dramatic and active approaches increase engagement and develop students’ written work in drama?’ After interviewing students, it became very evident that they wanted to inject the ‘drama’ back into our classroom. Therefore, I decided to create a series of sessions based around active and dramatic approaches to explore written work, before committing any writing to the paper. Heathcote and Bolton (1995: 32) were both advocates for “process drama” whereby students explore a play, story or theme by actively experiencing it, stating: “There is an active, urgent, purposeful view of learning, in which knowledge is to be operated on, not merely to be taken in”.  

Some examples of the active and dramatic strategies I used included:

  • In-role Activities: Students exploring the themes of a play through improvisation, hot-seating and Teacher in Role.
  • Competitive Games: Relay races where students have to memorise key information in teams and using post-its to create a version of ‘Heads Up!’ and guessing the name of characters, with certain rules in place.
  • Technology: Using iPads to to film each other practically and writing down precise observations, based on lived experiences.
  • Forum Theatre: Using forum theatre to experiment with scenes practically and working in the mind-set of a director.  

As a result of these memorable active experiences, students were able to articulate responses, which, in turn, improved the quality of their writing.  Stredder (2009: 17) has highlighted the benefits of approaching Shakespeare’s plays actively in support of written work: “Some of the confidence, involvement and ownership that result from active work in the classroom, as well as the ability to use ‘ways into the text’ productively, should carry over in their independent work, including, of course, their written work”. What became very evident was that students needed to physically enact moments from a play in order to visualise them and this helped them to create more precise written responses. It transformed written responses from “I would put on an angry facial expression as Lola is angry with Sephy,” to “I would use an aggressive facial expression by furrowing my brow and curling my lip to the side to show my distaste for Sephy”.

But what about my subject? I hear you ask. I have seen other curriculum areas utilise the power of drama to explore and investigate topics. In Science, for example, teachers have set up crime scenes where students have to investigate. Or perhaps in Geography, where students make David Attenborough style documentaries to explore climate change. The possibilities are endless and students appreciate having the freedom to explore interesting topics in ways that are memorable and that ‘stick’.  

This research has helped me to explore and devise strategies that I can build upon to mediate my teaching within the ever changing climate of education and for my students to view the experience as a challenge, rather than a negative barrier that we could not overcome. These new strategies, I hope, have provided my students with the same enriching experience that I had at school and I hope too that what we have learnt together during the process of my enquiry, as teacher and students, allowed for more meaningful and confident connections to be made between ‘acting out’ and ‘putting pen to paper’.

For more details of the full version of my MA dissertation, tweet me @MissRLGriffiths

Diagnostic Teaching, Mastery, Numeracy

Mastery Approach to Teaching and Learning

Kiera McDonnell – Lead Practitioner for Maths

What is Mastery?

More traditional teaching methods assign a set amount of time for coverage of certain topics. However, over the past decade, theory has made a notable move away from teaching to a time constraint, to varying the time to ensure that pupils are confident and proficient in the outcomes and objectives before moving on to new content. To summarise, there is a far greater emphasis upon depth of understanding rather than a thin breadth of understanding.

The Mastery approach, first proposed by Benjamin Bloom in 1968, considers the critical links that pupils must make in their learning and that without certain concepts and processes true understanding is not possible. It would be unrealistic to think that a student could understand division without a deep understanding of multiplication. If the bedrock of understanding is not secure, any additional content or learning will not be either.

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Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Mastery is less effective if high prior attaining students are accelerated through the curriculum, thus widening the attainment gap. Stretch and challenge are, instead, achieved through deep questioning, both by the teacher and by the student, and a demand for greater precision. In the same way, support is provided through strategies such as varied and multiple representations. Promoting a growth mindset mentality, the Mastery approach is built upon the belief that all students can reach a desired outcome with the right support.

How effective is it?

Due to the targeted and individualised nature of this teaching and learning approach, research clearly shows that Mastery has a very positive effect on student learning. Studies also show that, not only has there been a positive impact on attainment but that student enjoyment, confidence and sense of achievement is also augmented; this student confidence and enjoyment is also transferred to other school learning. The impact of Mastery as a Teaching and Learning strategy has also been found to be particularly effective when pupils work collaboratively, either in pairs or small groups. Learning from peers and supporting classmates in their learning not only improves cognitive understanding but, again, can also increase overall enjoyment. Finally, research evidence also shows that the process yields improvements in students’ confidence in learning situations, school attendance rates, involvement in class sessions and attitudes toward learning.

What are the implications for day-to-day practice?

Moving towards a more Mastery based approach in your classroom clearly requires planning. The need for continual, meaningful in-class feedback in order to effectively respond to the particular needs of your pupils is key. The provision of additional and alternative representation and models, alongside deep questions and problem-solving tasks that challenge students’ understanding, all require rigorous and careful planning. However, through implementing these strategies and introducing the idea of Mastery to your students you have the potential to instil in them the belief that they are capable of learning, and learning well, which, in turn will support them in their journey to reaching their full potential at school and beyond.

 

Reflection

Reasons to be Cheerful?

Duncan Bowyer – Associate Senior Leader and Lead Practitioner

If you are anything like me the New Year can start with many a good intention – New Year resolutions being one of them! How long will they last I wonder? A few days, a few weeks? I am sure there are many of you reading this who are much better at sticking to a resolution than I (my new gym bag still lies in the hall unused!).  

January is a time for reflection; the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of why we teach.

joy painting brush
Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com

Given the pressures that we face in our working lives it is sometimes challenging to remember why we do the job that we do…but for many of us the answer is simple – it is because of the students. We do this job because we want young people to have all the opportunities they deserve! We want our colleagues to get the opportunities that they deserve!

The reality is that this profession has a huge number of challenges;  larger class sizes, diminishing budgets, colleagues being asked to take on extra responsibilities without extra money or time being able to be offered to them. For many of us this time of year means the mocks and trying to fit in the marking of these exams in an already packed schedule.

It may sound ‘PollyAnnaesque’ but it is at these times of pressure when we can see the reasons why we went into this profession in the first place. Many years after training I can still hear my PGCE Tutor’s voice resounding in my mind highlighting  the joys that we have in our jobs everyday.

So, remembering the words of that tutor here are some little reminders of what she always said can bring us joy…

  1. Our students: Of course this had to be number one. Seeing how students progress, grow and mature is the main reason why we come in everyday. If we know that a student is able to have much better life choices thanks to the efforts of a school then surely that is enough to help spur us on when the going gets tough.
  2. Our colleagues, our family at school: In times of stress we see how a school can band together, can protect, support and develop staff. Aside from the students it is the staff in all aspects of school life who are the beating heart and soul of our education system. Like many of you I have lifelong friends who I have met in school. Where else can you soak up the years of wisdom and experience that we have in many staff rooms up and down the country?
  3. Our subject: We all picked our subject for a reason – in what other job are we lucky enough to spend all day talking about the one thing we have a real love for? I will never forget as a student seeing Mrs Hudson crawling along the floor in our English lesson pretending to be the monster from Beowulf, or Miss Hardy painting numbers onto the piano to help us all learn our scales more effectively. In what other job can we escape into the wonderful world of Science, see the beauty of Maths, or help students communicate with each other in melodic and exciting different languages?
  4. Our resilience: We can take anything that gets thrown at us! We can remain calm, focused and support those students and colleagues who at times are struggling. This gives us a massive advantage in life – dealing with the education of hundreds of young people can prepare us to take on the world!
  5. Our joy: A recent study highlighted that those who work in a school laugh – on average – 20% more a day than those who work in an office! That has to make us feel good.

Finally – we are human, we have days where we are stroppy and stressed. However, I am sure that if we think about some of the above reasons to be cheerful then it will make scraping the ice off of the car first thing on a cold winter’s morning that more bearable.

Critical Thinking, Literacy

Critical Thinking for All

Hannah Evans – Assistant Headteacher

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It is far from surprising that, when asked,  teachers who are working on a collaborative KS5 transition project here at Sarah Bonnell revealed that their main reason for signing up was to enhance the way in which their students think critically.  They want them to engage in independent thought and establish lines of argument. Isn’t that what we all want from our students? A sense of personal response, of real engagement in and evaluation of the things that they are learning about? It’s what John Hattie calls “deep learning”: when students can ‘think critically and develop a deep understanding’ in their lessons. This is an area of pedagogy I am really interested in and, as a teacher of mixed ability classes, I am even more interested in the ways in which I can engage all students, regardless of their starting points, in this type of learning.  Here are a few strategies that have worked for me because they really do foster insight and enquiry for all.

 

What would Simone say?

Whichever author, monarch, sociologist or scientist students are learning about, share a current news story with them and ask them to consider what the figure would think.  For example, what would Elizabeth Ist think of Brexit? What would Dickens think of the rise in food bank usage? How would Simone de Beauvoir respond to the ‘Me Too’ movement? What would Genghis Khan think about increasing diversity in the UK?  The idea is to get students to negotiate the ideologies of key thinkers so that they can be confident in applying them in their critical essays.

 

Harkness Discussions

I learned about this strategy from one of our maths Lead Practitioners; she told me about the Harkness Method which encourages students to take control of their own discussions by setting challenging questions about a text or topic.  John Hattie’s research found that classroom discussion was ranked the seventh most effective strategy out of 150 strategies to enhance learning, so it seems essential that we consider the ways in which discussion can be harnessed to generate critical and evaluative thinking. The diagram below details the way in which the process can be set up and facilitated. For me, the most interesting part of it is the fact that when students set the questions for the discussion, they give them a challenge rating, thus ensuring that they are constantly evaluating the sophistication of their own ideas and questions.  

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Empowering language

Giving students the right language so that they can sound critical in their approach is really empowering for students who may not have an existing flair for using an evaluative style. I like to challenge my students to use one new critical technique in their essays each time to encourage them to reflect on the way they write, not just what they are writing about. Students enjoy building up their repertoire of sophisticated methods and I will often ask students to share their ‘showcase sentences’– sentences that really demonstrates sharp and clear expression of thought.

 

Model high expectations of critical thought

Sharing great critical writing with your students is, I think, the best way to enhance their critical thinking and style.  Some of my favourites are Caitlin Moran, Elizabeth Day, Barack Obama, Virginia Woolf and Gary Younge. These great journalists and orators will save you hours of model writing time and inspire students to see that having a critical viewpoint really does matter in the real world.

Diagnostic Teaching, Numeracy, Time saving teaching, Work/Life balance

Question Level Analysis

Hafsa Farhana – Lead Practitioner for Maths

Teaching a year 11 class can be daunting, especially when you know very little about them. This was one of the challenges I faced when I started teaching two year 11 classes at Sarah Bonnell. I wanted to get an overview of their strengths and weaknesses and use that to plan my teaching for the rest of the year. I needed to make sure that all of my lessons were effective in order to maximise learning in a short amount of time. To do this I used question level analysis (QLA) tables from the beginning of the academic year. This helped me devise a Scheme of Learning catered to my class.

QLAs are all readily available from exam boards websites with conditional formatting so you can see the Red, Amber and Green (RAG) scores for each student. I would also calculate the average as a class and RAG each topics. This is now a method employed by the Maths department for our year 11s to ensure we use the build up to the summer exam effectively and can have a systematic approach to revision.

A comment I often heard from students is that they didn’t know where to begin with their revision so I always share the analysis with the class and individual students. The feedback from students is that they found QLAs useful as they were able to hone in on their weakness so that their revision was purposeful.

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The QLAs enable me to give whole class feedback, for example, anything that is Red as a class average, I will need to reteach as a priority. This could be as a whole lesson or part, a starter, homework or a flipped learning activity. The Amber topics can be addressed through starters in lesson or using experts in the class to support the learning of those who weren’t as successful as them in those particular topics. Anything above 75% are the strengths of my class and therefore not a priority to revisit.

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When I first started doing this the downfall was that it was very time consuming to enter the data myself. Asking students to fill in the google sheet posed a problem as some students did not want their classmates to see their results. However, I recently discovered how easy it was to do using Google Forms.

I created a Google Form so that I could collect individual scores of my students and shared the form onto the Google Classroom. Within minutes my I collected all their results; I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was!

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This populates a Google Sheet which I then export and copy into the QLA file.

QLAs are not restricted to just exams, but they are very effective when used with diagnostic questions. Another way I use QLAs is by create a sub-SOL, where I can address the topics identified as starters for the term, thereby ensuring students are making progress without deviating from the department SOL so all topics are taught. The next thing I am keen to try is to use the QLAs to support my class in creating a revision timetable.

 

Collaboration, Diversity, Group work, Professional development, Reflection

Collaborative and Reflective Staff Networks in Education

group hand fist bump
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Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner for Inclusion and Drama

Staff in our school have been working hard to establish a range of reflective and collaborative networks, aimed at developing reflections, promoting discussions and empowering practitioners. What follows, then, is a summary of five models we have used to do this.

  1. Action Research: As a way to support staff to take control of their classrooms and act as practitioner-researchers, our assistant headteacher Charlotte Paine has successfully rolled out action research with smaller groups of staff first, before all teachers and teaching assistants from across the school have contributed to presentations on their research. This has been wonderfully popular, and supported with teacher confidence, collaborative working and innovations with teaching.
  2. Coaching: In a development which was really appreciated by many teachers and support staff, Yamina Bibi and Fiona Morris – former colleagues of mine who are educational leaders with a precision focus on developing staff to be their very best – worked hard to establish a coaching culture at our school. Here, a full range of staff are developed through personalised coaching sessions, led by staff across the school, allowing staff to set their own targets and negotiating their own paths towards them.
  3. Diversity Discussion Group: Inspired by the grassroots education movements @WomenEd, @DisabilityEd, @LGBTed and @BAMEed, we established a meaningful collaborative discussion group allowing staff to reflect on issues of diversity across the curriculum and in education more broadly. Staff have found this group to be genuinely exciting and helpful, promoting and supporting the important role of diversity in education.
  4. Teacher Journal Group: The opportunity to engage with a teacher journal allows staff to track their own learning and consider what is helpful and meaningful in their diverse teaching contexts. In line with this, we have had a teacher journal group at our school which has involved different staff including a teaching assistant, a curriculum leader and a lead practitioner discussing, sharing and learning new ideas.
  5. SB Discussions: Staff have really tended to enjoy rich discussions over hot educational topics, including inclusion, student led-learning and the value of collaboration. Hearing colleagues, with their wealth and diversity of opinions and experiences, come together to interrogate a range of educational topic, has been really meaningful.

All told, then, we have sought to establish a full range of platforms for teachers to share their opinions and empower themselves to forge their own paths. I hope this blog post may be of value to those working in education, considering how to embed or develop collaboration and reflection in the cultures of their schools.