There has been much written on this topic over the last year, and I am indebted to many members of Team English for their ideas. I’d also like to acknowledge Michaela School in shaping my thinking towards how we can simplify our delivery of core content. Below are some of the decisions we have taken as a team to get to where we are at present, just a couple of months in to the ‘new system’. It may be of use to Faculties who are considering moving into this area over the next year, and, as an aspiring Assistant Head, I’d like it to demonstrate evidence of a core Teaching and Learning approach that I believe in strongly and would look to work with middle leaders to implement across a school.
Following my reading of the following books,
I presented to my team the story of Student X (who happened to be an actual student (one of mine, in fact!)
The overall message was she had got to 16 years old, about to sit her GCSE Language exam, without being able to write a story remotely competently. I felt, collectively, as a group of teachers, we had let her down in some way. How had she got to 16 years old without things like full stops and paragraphs being automatically embedded in long term memory? Of course, it is a simplistic picture -her attitude to learning (not bad), her attendance record (quite bad), and her SPLD will have contributed, but ultimately, I felt we could and should have done more. The full blog post is here
My message centred on how, for her, core English skills and knowledge had simply not become embedded and automatic, and we discussed as a team, how we might set about addressing this area. This is what led to the strategy for ‘Embedding Learning more effectively over time’.
After the team meeting, I met with my Key Stage Coordinators to discuss our guiding principles further, and the work involved in setting it up. Laura, Rachel and Sue Strachan in particular have been absolutely amazing in helping turn the initially daunting plan into a reality, and have provided a huge amount of wisdom, ideas, caution, enthusiasm and time, all at important points along the road! Sue made two excellent points from the offset:
- Some of the methods people are using already so there is nothing for anyone to be worried about.
- Anything we implement should not lead to more work for the team
We all agreed that we were moving in the right direction with this, and that the sheer weight of research around how students learn best pointed to the fact we need to move more fully towards a ‘recap culture’.
The philosophy is sound: Trim down and focus more on the essentials. Consistency of message. Practise it more. Make the core stuff automatic.
I knew in order to get ownership we needed to involve the team further in as much of the process as possible. We met in small groups before the summer in gained time to decide what might go into the first unit Knowledge Organizers, and to answer any initial queries.
Below is what we arrived at as key components for the new approach:
Knowledge Organisers that identify the Core information that every student should know
This is a large task, and the 3 coordinators and myself are constructing these every six weeks for the new unit. The rationale is simple: Establishing clarity of what constitutes the vital module knowledge/skills for students and teachers. It is a process being evaluated with the team before the KO is used, as they’re being used, and at the end of them being used. Decisions made so far:
- No differentiation. The KO material should be challenging for most. High Attainers would be expected to go beyond the KO content.
- KS3 and Yr 9 – 1 page. KS4 – 2 pages.
- We’ve not arrived at a ‘definitive’ set of categories yet. Terms and Defs, Vocab, Skills, Exam Requirements are recurring, but in our Anthology one we have a mini guide to the Romantics, and in our Yr 9 one -some punctuation reminders.
- For each poem in the Anthology, we have identified an overview statement, 3 context points, and 4-5 quotes to be learned.
- Definitions need to be useful to our subject and collectively agreed. e.g. we can probably refine the dictionary definition of ‘analysis’ for our ends. Some definitions are overly complex/unhelpful.
- Quotes / Terms/Vocab must be explicitly taught in the lessons. If teachers do not see the use of something, a case is made and it comes out in the drafting stage. KOs must be the distilled knowledge of lessons, NOT a bolt-on with terms the teacher never uses in class.
2. Identify a Quiz that can test KO learning easily, effectively and provide next steps for teachers/students
Googleforms has been fantastic for us here. Sue researched this for us and has come up with a winner. Decisions made so far: We create a quiz that tests samples of different sections of the KO sheet.
- Use Multiple choice questions. Don’t make them too easy.
- We copy the quiz and send the link to each teacher for onward sending to their class.
- The quiz takes 15 mins for students who do it in a computer room at the end for the module, following the main assessment.
- The summary info gives the teacher an ‘at a glance’ guide to how each student did, the 2 worst score questions for the class, and a class percentage correct for each question.
- TEACHER ACTION – The teacher can then use this info to re-teach any area where the majority of students didn’t get the right answers.
- STUDENT ACTION -The teacher can also send the quiz results back to the student for them to re-learn areas as part of their next homework.
- RE-QUIZ at later date in year as part of interleaved recap lesson (See Point 4)
3. Create a Quiz that uses a selection of information from KOs during the year to assess overall knowledge acquired.
We hope to use Googleforms again to get a sense of how successful we have been in helping students retain information over the course of the year. We plan to have one of these midway through Year 11. Action steps will be taken from these results -TBC.
4. Create Year Overviews that interleave recap lessons from older units and previous years.
You’ll see here that our first Yr 7 Unit -‘The Novel’ has the skills and knowledge revisited in a lesson in Yr 7 Module 2, Year 7 Module 4, and Year 8 Module 4 with increasing gaps. This is characteristic of our approach across all years. One lesson alone won’t ‘bring it all back’, but together with the other steps in place, it certainly helps refresh and remind.
5. KS4 Revision Weeks
Self explanatory. We have expanded here and built in a revision week before Xmas in Year 10, a revision fortnight in April of Year 10, a revision week just after Xmas in Year 11, and 5 weeks at the end of Year 11.
6. The use of starters to recap prior learning and accompanying activities based on knowledge of how students learn effectively -via low stakes quizzes, mcq, first letter recall, clues.
I am convinced that the most effective plenary is the one that comes at the start of the next lesson, and we are using all starters in all years to recap core current module KO information in the form of a short quiz/activity. This starter may also be used to provide a short separate recap on a previous unit -particularly useful at KS4.
Here are some methods of challenging students in this way: MCQ, first letter recall prompts, quotes with missing words. Whilst open tasks such as a character mind-map can be useful, generally, closed questions on anything from exam timings to which characters link best to a key theme, will work best in the limited time you have for starters, to clarify for the students vital info you want to embed in their long term memories.
7. The use of homework to focus almost exclusively on KO learning and Target Work
Homework now increasingly offers students time/opportunities to learn sections of their KO. This is vital consolidation work to go alongside extended writing or reading practice. DIRT time can now be extended into homework usefully to further give students chance to reflect on and act on teacher feedback.
8. The use of fortnightly KO-Pause lessons to recap understanding of current unit, take time out to reflect, and make explicit links to other units.
Every fortnight in KS4, we are recommending teachers take a lesson to ‘pause’ and go over key learning points from the last 8 lessons, checking students’ understanding of KO skills/knowledge, and offering chance for all to reflect on the steps they have taken so far. Current feedback is that half a lesson is probably enough for this, with all the other embedding learning steps going on, otherwise content will be squeezed too much.
Some teachers are starting to use this time to make the links between exam components explicit e.g. how the same skills are used in Unseen Poetry and Romeo and Juliet extract analysis. Sue has even gone as far as to use a Romeo and Juliet scene to test Language Fiction Reading skills via qns!
9. Modelling and Practice opportunities
The explicit use of a variety of models has been an essential component in our department for years and we are looking to up the emphasis on this even more with an increasing number of the team now trialling live modelling with their classes, and helping students understand the steps towards success. Being more unashamed about creating periods of silent time for students to produce extended writing and practising these steps on a regular basis is also part of how we hope to embed learning over time.
10. Metacognition work and extended DIRT/Target work time.
I have blogged on how highly I rate this in my post around targets work here, and Sue has also produced an excellent guide here.Metacognitive Activities Lesson Ideas & Approaches
11. Create consistency of teaching messages to students
We have moved away from PEA and teachers’ various sub-strands of this in recent years, and Sue and I have worked hard alongside the team to refine a system of 8 tiered prompts that fit our purposes better, and don’t tie down students to the old PEA approach that could prove limiting. The message for all is during the course of your analysis, red is always essential, while you should show off the orange and green skills now and again, where appropriate. Not everything, every time! I am keen for succinctness, a move away from techniques waffling, and instead embracing ways to cover a sufficient quantity of quotes in the given time.
If we use the same messages over time, this will help embed them in students’ long term memories.
It’s only early days, and we may not see the full impact of these steps until Yr 7 and 8 reach Year 11, but the early signs are that the students are responding well, recalling things more quickly, and actually finding some of our recap activities ‘fun’ -Now there’s a dirty word to end on.
Thanks for reading.