20 ways to widen the ‘gap’ in your classroom 

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  1. Make homework optional
  2. Create resources for different levels/grades of students
  3. Only teach certain groups of students the tough stuff
  4. Take under achieving students out of one subject to catch up with other subjects
  5. Allow absence without any action
  6. Don’t make students catch up with work when absent
  7. Make judgments/decisions using student data/hearsay, before you’ve met them & seen what they can do
  8. Treat PP/LAC students differently (marking their books first won’t close a gap)
  9. Think that an SEN student cannot learn the same and in the same way as non-SEN (in the majority of cases)
  10. Don’t check students’ work regularly and hold them to account for incomplete/unsatisfactory standard or work/presentation
  11. Use marks/grades/levels on student work
  12. Talk about attainment instead of improvement
  13. Leave a piece of work unimproved by the student
  14. Tell them they’re weak/lesser/in a bottom set
  15. Assume they know how and what to learn
  16. Assume that if you’ve said something once, it’s enough
  17. Have discussions about groups of children instead of individuals
  18. Don’t follow through things you say you will do with students
  19. Don’t follow school systems with a student/s because they’re a ‘special case’
  20. Don’t ever contact home or involve them in the student’s learning.
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Are we wasting time on lesson plenaries?

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I’ll be honest. Most of my lessons end with ‘that’s all we’ve got time for, pack away’. But a call for plenaries that show progress on a teacher forum got me thinking.

Are we wasting time on lesson plenaries?

In the days of lesson observation and the demand for teachers to show ‘progress’ every 20 minutes, plenaries were perfect. You could start the lesson with an activity that showed they knew nothing about the topic, teach them and then at the end get them to do the same activity. Usefully, but possibly predictably, their responses would change so the assumption is that they’ve made progress. The problem with this is that whilst they could do that in the time frame given, if you gave them the same task a couple of weeks later, they wouldn’t have a clue. They were a temporary measure and without any sort of strategic spacing  in consequent lessons/weeks, that lesson might as well have been a write off.

Having looked at some of the research on memory and learning, I believe that the use of time in lesson should come down to two things: learning new stuff and repeating already learnt stuff to support long term retention. Everything else isn’t needed. So can the plenary fit that model?

Firstly, it could be part of the first time to get students to recall their learning from that lesson. Here it might be the 1st/2nd recall:

https://www.inkling.com/blog/2015/08/why-google-changed-the-forgetting-curve/

After that lesson, the next time you teach them, you need to get them to recall the previous learning. For most it will be a matter of days between lessons. If more than that, a homework might be appropriate for being the 1/2/6 days recall.

In my opinion the best, quickest, shortest way of recalling prior learning is a quick 1-10 at the start of the lesson. After several lessons this will need to include content from the last lesson and then previous lessons with increasing gaps.  The plenary of the lesson can then be the recap of that lesson. However a plenary doesn’t always need to be a separate part of the lesson at the end. The way I teach I am constantly making links and embedding that I naturally repeat the content throughout the lesson. I tend to talk quite a lot then apply it through a video clip. There is a natural repetition which is why I don’t plan plenaries.

So, I don’t necessarily think that plenaries are a waste of time. They have a function in long term learning. However I do think the days of using plenaries to ‘prove’ progress in lessons needs to be scrapped. If you really want to try to see progress during a lesson observation, doing a 1-10 starter which includes content from months ago is a better indicator, otherwise we’re just playing a silly game of ‘pretend they’ve learnt stuff’ when we all know it doesn’t really work like that.

Staggered marking and feedback 

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My year 9s have just done their end of year exam. In RS this means the same set of questions skills repeated for religions and themes. They’ve done three sets of these so they are marked on 1/2/4/5/12 mark questions, 3 times.

I got them to write their answers to each set on a different piece of paper. So Christianity on one, Islam and another and theme B on the final piece.

Instead of marking all of their papers I have marked them one by one. So I marked all their Christianity papers in one go and then did my usual whole class feedback on particular points of knowledge or common errors, whilst reminding them of the requirements of each question. They then ‘green pen’ their work which means they improve their initial work taking on the feedback I’ve given to the class and where they’d missed marks on their own work.

Between that lesson and the next I marked the Islam section and then did the same. I have to finish marking their Theme B and will do the same.

This means:

  • It spread my marking out over more days but each section was fresh in my head as I fed back as I’d only marked that one section.
  • We could focus directly on 5 questions, instead of 15.
  • Their green pen work was more targeted as there was less to do in thirds.
  • My feedback was repeated three times. This links into the research of repetition and retrieval to aid long term memory.
  • Although I was required to determine a grade using marks it has stopped them ‘just’ looking at the ticks (I refuse to write marks!). The purpose is to improve their work not to see what they got. Delayed grades are the lesser of two evils.

I’ve looked at various research about feedback timing. Most compares ‘instant’ versus delayed. By definition these sort of test feedback couldn’t be instant so it would be interesting to know if there is any research that just deals with different lengths of delayed feedback. This is taking a week and I genuinely feel it is working better than if I’d done it all at once.

I am lucky to have the luxury of time with this group, but if I didn’t , would the time spent on delayed, staggered feedback be better than all at once delayed feedback?