Closing the gap? No, that’s just leaving some behind.

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I’ve written several times about my issues with focusing on groups of students in schools in terms of intervention and raising attainment. This is of particular concern when talking about how we ‘teach’. I don’t have an issue with funding extra equipment or trips (treating a child as an individual case). I do have an issue where people are somehow claiming that there are specific pedagogical strategies that a teacher can use in their classroom or in their planning or marking that can somehow resolve an underachieving student’s issue, due to the group they’re in, for example they are Pupil Premium,

I do understand why colleagues do it. The data shows that Pupil Premium students are not doing as well so it seems logical to focus on them as a group. However some of the groupings and the following interventions are highly questionable. Marking PP students books first is nonsense. Planning lessons to suit boy’s learning is bizarre. Checking on ‘more able’ students first in class is odd. However good our intentions are these interventions not only are dubious in their nature but also fail to ‘close the gap’

The ‘gap’

The issue is that:

Classroom strategies shown to be effective for one ethnic or socio-economic group tend also to be effective for others.”

You could argue that if you do something that ‘works’ for all children, it will sustain the gap. This is why leaders and teachers try to do something different for those with a gap.

Each time you do something for an underachieving/PP child if you don’t do it for a higher achieving/PP child, then obviously that will close a gap. If I teach the first child how to solve quadratic equations and don’t teach the other, then obviously that will create a gap with quadratics but overall might close a gap in maths. But that is no way to behave. However teachers are still promoting teaching strategies that essentially do the above; put one child at a disadvantage in the hope that the gap will close.

Key stage 4 ready 

All students need to be in the same place to start with to ensure that there is no gap at key stage 4. At secondary it could be argued that key stage 3 is about making students key stage 4 ‘ready’. I don’t mean doing GCSE at key stage 3 (which sadly some colleagues seem to be doing). I mean getting them to the stage where their literacy, knowledge, understanding and subject specific skills are to a standard which means they can access key stage 4 with the best possible chance of excelling.

None of this should be decided by any category or group a student may be in; it should be decided on a student by student basis.

The ethics

One of the biggest issues I have with some of these interventions is the ethical issue of doing something for one child and either not for another or to the detriment of another. For example, marking PP student books first. If you believe that the books you mark first are marked best (which is dubious in itself and not backed by any evidence I’m aware of) and you put particular books at the top of the pile you are knowingly saying that those that the bottom are not as valuable.

You cannot morally justify this kind of behaviour. Either you need to question the marking itself (if it is such a biased process) or give every student the same marking treatment.

It seems some colleagues are trying to close the gap by limiting some and helping others. You cannot justify one child making progress but stopping another having a chance to make progress.

Teachers are still being asked by school leaders to identify what they are doing for the groups of students in their classes, ignoring the rest of the students that haven’t got the label. This practice is highly questionable. Imagine if it was shared with non-group students/parents and there were gaps next to their names.

What’s happening isn’t working

At the current rate of progress it would take a full 50 years to reach an equitable education system where disadvantaged pupils did not fall behind their peers during formal education to age 16.

https://epi.org.uk/report/closing-the-gap/

Despite all the money and initiatives by the government and schools and teachers coming up with new ideas, overall things aren’t getting better. Yet I still see people sharing lists of ideas on ‘closing the gap’. Teachers asking for interventions that make a difference. It’s almost like they want a tick list of things they can say they are doing without any real thought about the reality of each thing making a difference; as long as it’s in the website for Ofsted to see, we’re doing what we need to.

What gets results?

If I am about to sit my Geography GCSE, I have free school meals and the data says that if I get a 4* then I’ve underachieved, but if I get a 7 I’ve made exceptional progress surely there’s one thing I need to get the latter result. I need to know everything that I could be tested on and know how to answer all the different questions. That is the only thing that gets me a 7.

A teacher and school’s responsibility is to teach students to get the best possible grade, for most in mainstream schooling thats a 9. There may be some barriers to this. One of them is not that they cannot afford a lunch. Getting a free lunch does not mean I will get a 4. Not knowing what to do in the exam will get me a 4.

So, it seems obvious how to close the gap; get every student to the position where they know, and can do, everything needed.

Differentiation by task

I still see this awful practice being shared on social media. Teachers are still being told by leaders that differentiation means giving different levelled tasks to different students. Which sheet would I be given? If I have been underachieving then you might give me the level 4/5 task. It might seem appropriate as I’m clearly struggling. But giving me something where I can’t possibly reach higher levels is one of biggest educational errors a teacher can commit. It is the pinnacle of low expectations and logically means I cannot achieve higher than a 5. Why do people still think this is a good idea?

Give all students a level 9 task. Structure it and support them, whether they are currently a 1 or 4 or 7.

Choosing homework tasks is another example of this. I’ve seen menu style homework that allows students to choose what they complete. Giving the easy option is a classic way for the gap to start to widen. Give everyone the same homework and expect them to attempt it  to the best of their ability, with support if necessary. Allowing a child to access a more ‘fun’ or easier task won’t get them a 9.

Expectations; a level playing field?

All schools can do for certain, happens within the school day and school hours. If we work in trying to make all opportunities for students out them in an equal playing field then they might have some chance of succeeding. This doesn’t mean treating them the same. If a student cannot read exam questions to get a 9, they need extra support with their reading. That then means the 9 becomes available to them. If they don’t have a pen to write with, we need to ensure they have a pen. They can then write their grade 9 answers.

Expectations should be the same for all. Creating a homework club at lunch/after school gives all students the opportunity to complete their work. Not expecting homework in from some students or not doing anything about failed submissions, is where the gap starts to widen.

Who is it working for?

There has been research on what schools are doing and ‘what works’. It mostly indicates that alongside attendance the biggest factors that make a difference are high quality teaching and learning e.g feedback, 1-2-1 work. But what is it that these effective teachers do with feedback? Who does the 1-2-1? How? What works?

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An interesting study for research would be analyse those teachers for whom there is no gap in their class results. What is it that they have done for 2/3/5 years that is making a difference? It’s great teachers that make the difference so sharing lists of how to close the gap seems a waste of time unless it focuses on creating equality of opportunity so that students can access the great teaching.

Is it too late at secondary?

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This research as tweeted by Dylan above seems to suggest that the quality of teaching earlier on can significantly affect their achievement at GCSE. If this is the case, shouldn’t most money got into primary schools? Again, the problem remains, if this is true for all students and there is a gap, the gap will remain (unless the definition of outstanding teaching means there are no gaps).

The Sutton Trust sum it up perfectly:

In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning.

http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/2teachers-impact-report-final.pdf

And I’m willing to bet those teachers don’t mark PP student books first, give optional homework or differentiated GCSE worksheets.

 

 

 

Further reading

Effective classroom strategies for closing the gap in educational achievement for children and young people living in poverty, including white working-class boys

https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Closing-the-Gap_EPI.pdf

https://www.nationalcollege.org.uk/transfer/open/2015/leadership-development-resources-for-headteachers-open-access/ldro-s6/ldro-s6-t3.html 

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/473974/DFE-RR411_Supporting_the_attainment_of_disadvantaged_pupils.pdf

http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/2teachers-impact-report-final.pdf

* the way I’m using numbers and data in this post is generalised. It’s more complex but for the sake of argument I’ve kept it simple.

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The same homework for 3 years – how and why

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We have a 3 year key stage 4. Students that opt for GCSE Religious Studies have 3 different homeworks that carry through every year. I have blogged previously about some of these (see links in headers) but not as our key stage 4 homework programme as a whole.

  1. Learning keywords

Students are given mini booklets of keywords that they need to know to understand the key beliefs and teachings of the religions studied. They are given these before they have studied their context. The idea is that they learn these ‘off by heart’ and then when we cover them in lesson their meaning and application to the religion becomes clear.

All keyword sheets are available in our classrooms and are always attached on ShowMyHomework when set.

We also have made Quizlet quizzes on all the words here. We also give students index cards to create their own testing set.

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The students then have weekly keyword tests. One week they are the ‘current’ keywords that they are learning (one of the pages of words) and the other week are ‘random’ from all previous pages learnt. They complete the test in class and then they peer mark using the correct answers. They get very good at this. In fact from when I give out the sheets for them to write on, they run this part of the lesson themselves.

The basis for these are that retrieval practice is good for long term memory. The second random test allows for spacing of retrieval as they don’t know which words will come up and how often. I am currently editing Dave Paterson’s random generator so I can automatically generate and monitor the frequency of these repetitions.

Scores are recorded out of 20 marks each time. On the current keywords they have to make progress every fortnight. They chose a focus word that they will focus on getting correct next time to slowly increase their score.

2. Writing multiple choice questions

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Student feedback on this system is overall positive with the caveat that they’re boring. I don’t care as long as they remember them.

After a few lessons of a new topic I set this homework. Students have to write a minimum of 6 multiple choice questions on the topic.

SMHW MCs

The rules are clear (see above).

The rationale for this homework is two-fold. Firstly it is really easy to see their misconceptions. If they indicate a correct answer that is in fact incorrect then I can see what they’ve misunderstood. Depending on the frequency and seriousness of the error I will give whole class feedback or individual feedback on that issue. Students then need to rectify their error.

I use their questions for the next homework.

MC template

3. Quizzes

The third type of homework uses the questions they previously wrote. I type them up onto a google form and then set them as a multiple choice quiz. There may be one or many correct answers. They must achieve full marks. Google forms records their scores.

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They can actually cheat by doing the quiz once and then keeping the answer tab open. I’ve told them how they can do this! However I don’t care. The point is that the answers are shuffled so they still have to fully engage with the correct/incorrect answers. This exposure is important.

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My screencasts on how to create these quizzes is here.

Once we have covered several topics, I can then start to repeat, space and interleave the quizzes. So year 10 currently have  quiz from a couple of weeks ago and one from January or year 9. This repetition supports the idea of retrieving information at spaced gaps of time during the time needed to learn them long term.

We have a class website and I also put a copy of these quizzes on there so any motivated student can go and complete these independently at any time. I’ve put a notification onto those sheets that email me when they’re completed so I can see straight away who has been doing some independent study.

The benefits of only 3 homeworks

  • Students always know what they need to do; it doesn’t change
  • All of these support research from cognitive science on long term memory
  • Parents know what to expect
  • Students can’t ‘get stuck’. There’s no new concepts (the keywords are initially just a memory task)
  • They need few resources: keyword list and a piece of paper to write the MC questions
  • It’s very little work for the teacher. I just check their MC questions which takes max. 15 minutes for a class. The online quizzes mark themselves. I just put the results on the screen. They mark their own keyword tests.
  • All homework set is of the same quality; no last minute rubbish made up by the teacher just because they have to set homework
  • All 3 homeworks feed into important knowledge and skills they need for their exam

The only issues have been if a student cannot access the internet for the online quizzes however, with plenty of time to complete these I always offer break/lunch access using our devices at school. In an extreme case you can print the quizzes but of course they won’t self mark.

I have been doing this for a couple of years now. I think our results show that this is significant in long term memory and consequently performance in their exam. To me, these are so important, I can’t imagine setting any other form of homework at key stage 4 that would make a bigger impact on learning.

In defence of marking

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It seems that marking has become the enemy of the teacher. It takes hours, teachers spend their evenings and weekends lugging home huge bags of books and for little or no benefit when compared to other teacher feedback.

I know this may be an unpopular view but I think that a certain form of marking is useful but not for the reason other feedback may be.

To put this in context, last year I taught 19 different classes. Two were year 11 GCSE and one year 9 GCSE. The rest was ks3 and core RE at ks4. This ranges from seeing them 5 times a fortnight to once a fortnight.

My school policy is based around assessment pieces (orange stickers) at least once a half term (ks4 core doesn’t have these). It doesn’t specify other forms of marking except how SPAG marking should be presented. Subject areas fill in the gaps between orange stickers, how they see fit.

This is ONE of many ways I assess, mark, give feedback; whatever you want to call it. I still regularly use a visualiser, give exemplars, do criteria based work, give whole class feedback but I do this as well.

What I do

I read or scan their work. I check they’ve done the basics: title, date, underlined. I then check whatever it is they’ve done; always for SPAG errors, in pink, using squiggle and code.. If they’ve not done anything they should have (except SPAG errors) they come the next day and do it. Even tiny things.

Next lesson they are given 10 minutes at the start to do any SPAG corrections and respond to anything in pink.

Why I do this

It keeps high standards

If I am checking their work I am ensuring they are doing the things they have been told to do. Underline the title. Write what they need to write. If I don’t check that and allow them to get away with it, over a period of time their attitude towards their work/the subject/my class may follow.

It gives individual SPAG feedback

Whilst reading I do a general scan for spellings. Usually all capital letters and subject specific words. Then classic errors. It values literacy. It makes it clear that it’s not just for English lessons.

You’ve got to read it anyway

If I’m reading their work, I can’t imagine it adds much time putting sp/cp/gr/p on their work. I rarely write anything extra. All other methods of ‘not marking’ involve reading the student work. Why not pick up literacy errors?

It gives a message

I am bothered what they do and how they do it. If a teacher doesn’t check work it can give the impression it’s not important.

It values effort

We have an attitude to learning scale. One of the criteria is ‘goes beyond teacher expectations’. This means if they do ‘more than’ I’ve told them, they show an attitude to learning of 1. It shows me they are prepared to go beyond. This is a step towards more independence.

I can check understanding

They don’t have to write loads for this. I keep things minimal. Something that will show if they’ve understood.

It helps build a picture of the student

I have to write a very simple report on every child: their attitude to learning, attitude to homework and progress. (Using codes) Every time I do these checks it helps to build up a mental picture of that student, their understanding, their literacy and importantly their ability to follow instructions.

But who is this all for?

I was asked at #TLT17 if I’d still do what I do if no-one else was to look at it (other than students). I’m not sure you can honestly say what you would/wouldn’t do if there were no policies or people looking at it.

I saw a comment on twitter that marking is for parents. None of our students take their books/folders home and I’ve never had a parent ask. I’m guessing it’s context. The point is, this isn’t for parents.

This also isn’t for school leaders or ‘visitors’ to the classroom. Why would I dictate my marking for a person that might visit my classroom every four years?

If I don’t read student work regularly, how do I know how they are doing in my subject? It’s for me and it’s for them.

How to manage this system

Finally it’s important to share how I manage the workload. It’s a combination of things:

  • My school doesn’t have unrealistic expectations or make us spend time doing things with no/little impact
  • We don’t set work we won’t mark. There are times where in a whole lesson students don’t write anything. Plan these at heavy times.
  • Many lessons are note taking; the marking is checking for quality notes and inclusion of content
  • Core is kept simple. No books. Most lessons have minimal writing e.g two key words
  • Don’t get them regularly writing long long pieces or work. And when they do a long piece either use preprinted criteria or stick to one piece of feedback. Why overload with a whole paragraph of nonsense and expect them to change?
  • Stampers and stickers. I make my own stampers with common issues. I also use a ‘work checked’ so I can keep track what I’ve checked.
  • Do checks in class. A lot of my lessons include a video clip. Whilst watching I check their work and get them to change/add there and then.
  • Repeat expectations over and over. Including the end where I do a verbal checklist “when I check your work I expect to see…..”. This limits the things that will need to be addressed.
  • Do it regularly. I try to do this every lesson that they’ve written at KS3 and for core KS4 RE. On average it takes 10 minutes a set. If I do a set at break that still gives me 15 minutes and at lunch I still have 30minutes.
  • Wherever there is pink pen (mine) there must ALWAYS be a correction/addition/response by the student. I’m not wasting my time doing something if they don’t act upon it. Any uncorrected pink after the lesson is done at a break time.

The important part of this system is it fits our school model. I don’t bring marking home. I don’t mark in the evenings or weekends. I choose to take some break/lunch for it because I value being at home without marking. Others may value chatting with others at break more.

Whatever you want to call this, checking, marking, feedback, I personally think it’s an important part of what I do. It may not fit your model or curriculum. It’s important that people don’t think that we should do anything possible to avoid marking. However it must be valuable at least to the students, and be manageable for the teacher. I believe this model is for us.

Images:https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/EEF_Marking_Review_April_2016.pdf

There’s only one way to improve exam results…..

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…get students to get more marks in exams.

There you go. Simple isn’t it? So why do so many schools that have students that are underachieving do everything but focus on this?

Getting marks in an exam relies on two main things: knowing the subject content needed and having the skill to understand what the question demands*.

(And that they have a teacher that knows both of these and can teach them.)

So if you want to improve exam results, you need to look at what each subject is doing, from day one of GCSE to ensure both of these happen. Everything else is a red herring; lesson plenaries, marking policies, group work, homework, working groups, growth mindset…..

But all of this just sounds like an exam factory. What a horrible place to work.  The kids must be like robots. The interesting thing is, it isn’t. My students and their parents regularly tell me they love my lessons. Whenever someone comes to see my classes and asks them about their learning, it’s positive. We still mess around and have a joke. We discuss real life. I still do things that aren’t on the specification. But it all links to these 2 things. I don’t harp on and on about exams. I rarely use the word ‘test’ but we’re doing it all the time. I’m no robot and neither are they.

There is plenty of school time that isn’t focussed on these things: Tutor time, assemblies, PSHE lessons, core PE, non-examined core RE, lunch clubs, after school clubs, school shows, sports fixtures. With a broad and balanced curriculum and extra-curricular offer, a student has lots of time not focussing on exams.

Isn’t this just teaching to the exam? Of course it is. And? Some leaders seem to do crazy other things to get exam results up such as entering students for random qualifications to add to whole school results, book scrutinies, lesson observations, making staff sit in whole school undifferentiated training and other unmentionable practices that would make you shudder. So why not get your teachers to teach these things? There could be much worse things they might do…..like not teach them how to do the exam. That would be really foolish.

Of course the conditions for this to happen have to be there and this is where it becomes complicated. There are some things that can jeopardise these 2 simple things happening:

  • Student attendance
  • Lack of teachers/subject specialists
  • Behaviour
  • Enforced policies that don’t support these e.g lesson observations that require teachers to jump through hoops that meet a set of criteria that aren’t based on these

But in my opinion these are the responsibility of leaders. They need to work on these so that teachers can teach.

Teacher development should focus on how an individual teacher needs to develop in these two areas. It might involve how they feedback to a student, their routines for embedding knowledge or teacher exposition of how to answer exam questions. Sitting in a hall telling them when/how to mark books is missing the point. The correct answer may be ‘never’ if all their systems and practices in the class support the 2 main ways to improve grades.

So next time you initiate or are initiated into a whole school system designed for classroom practice ask you yourself two questions:

  1. How does this contribute to students knowing what they need to know?
  2. How does this contribute to students being able to apply this knowledge in an exam question?

If it doesn’t answer these, it’s probably not worth the time spent for students or teachers.

 

*I am well aware of issues surrounding exam board marking but have put these to one side in this blog.

 

 

Why knowing keywords is essential for learning

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Since I started teaching, I have always given my GCSE students lists of keywords. This was initially because the spec that I’ve taught, includes a keyword definition questions, totalling 10% of the marks. Students needed to know (ideally the exam board) definitions to answer the simple questions at the start. It would have been foolish for me not to get them to learn them. Over the years, I’ve begun to realise that learning these key words means much more than answering these questions in the exam.

Whenever I’ve taught in one teaching room I’ve had a special shelf for these sheets. Students know where they are and come in to collect when they need them. There is a list for every topic (some might call these a knowledge organiser), all colour coded. At any time my students could help themselves to another sheet. However, at the start of my career, I didn’t do anything with them; I just expected them to learn them.

A few years later, I started all GCSE lessons with a quick quiz at the start of the lesson, mainly due to timing (I saw them once a fortnight) I needed to get them back into the topic but I also wanted to test them on some of the key terms.

This evolved into keyword tests every fortnight, based on the keywords from the current topic. I set this as ‘perma-homework’; it’s a permanent homework alongside other set homework. This lead to this poster going up in my room:

Students needed to understand that learning the keywords wasn’t just for the test on a Tuesday but were for long term learning. They seemed to gradually understand this. Unexpectedly they asked for more tests. This was at the same time I was reading about spacing and interleaving. So the alternate test became a random selection from previous topics. This meant that students were having to recall keywords from previous topics but didn’t know which ones. One week they ‘know’ which words they’ll be asked as it’s the current topic and on the second week they don’t. I publicly take in their scores on a spreadsheet on the whiteboard. They don’t seem to mind. I’ve not had any complaints yet. With the current topic they are in a challenge with themselves as they must always improve their score (except if full marks) to show me they’ve learnt their ‘target word’ identified from the last test. If they don’t improve, I help them learn their focus word at a break time.

In recent years I’ve also spent time explaining to student how and why they need to learn them using the usual research references. I’m lucky enough to be able to issue students with index cards and it is strongly recommended to create a set of cards per topic.

Why learning keywords is important

  1. They can answer the keyword questions

  2. They know what questions are referencing when keywords are used. For example,if they know the keyword ‘crucifixion’ and there is a question asking to evaluate ‘The crucifixion is the most important event for Christians’, they will know what event it’s referencing,

  3. It reduces the need for working memory. They can access their long term memory of the definition of crucifixion and then work on evaluating if it’s the most important event, accessing other keywords in long term memory such as incarnation or resurrection.

  4. It gives students confidence as they can do 1-3

I make students learn keywords before they study the topic. They are learning the definition without understanding them. However as we go through the topic, the keywords are then used, explained and put into context. They’ve already learnt the definition and then they attach an understanding and can link these to other keywords. I think this is better than waiting for us to learn and understand them before memorising them.

This strategy was proved to be useful for a few students in their end of year test in July. I asked the question ‘Give the roles of two angels in Islam’. I knew they could answer and get half marks using Jibril but we hadn’t studied any other angels in detail. Several students clearly drew on their keyword knowledge and answered with Mika’il and wrote the definition above. They had clearly learnt the definition and could use it to their advantage to get marks even though we haven’t studied Mika’il in class yet. This is confirmation for me that despite the time they take and the tests being ‘boring’ they are essential to student learning. I believe that every teacher in every subject should consider carefully how they can use keywords to support wider learning.

From their point of view, every year, I ask students about different aspects of their learning. These answers are representative of answers every year.

Things to consider…..

  • How are you using keywords with your students?
  • What words do they need to know?
  • How are you ensuring they learn them?
  • How do you know if they’ve learnt them long term?

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.

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.