Effective Classroom Questioning Strategies

Effective Classroom Questioning Strategies

Effective Classroom Questioning Strategies

This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in January 2019.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.  

Earlier in my career, I used to ask all of the wrong questions and when I asked the right ones, I asked them in the wrong order. The result was predictably bleak. My students still learned, but at times it took far longer than it should have done and in some cases, very little learning happened at all. This was down to me (most of the time).

I’m sure that most of us have felt guilty for letting our students down when we’ve taught a lesson that just didn’t do what we wanted it to do. But rather than spend time navel-gazing, it’s important that we instead address one of the most fundamental parts of our teaching. No, not the worksheets, or the PowerPoints, or even the homework. It’s our questioning. It’s easy to think that we’ve got our craft down to an art. But is questioning more of a science?

In my own experience, asking the right questions at the right time, to the right people, in the right way, is often what transforms a lesson from mediocre to truly excellent. Not only that, but there’s a way to do it well and with consistency, without your students tiring of formulaic lessons.

What’s the purpose of asking questions?

There are many reasons why we ask questions in class, whether it’s to check the level of understanding, stretch answers further, or to help develop confidence in our quieter students. A key component to effective questioning, though, is identifying why you are asking the question in the first place.

This is where “planning for questions” comes in. When I plan a topic, I always begin by deciding what my students need to know by the end and what skills I want them to be able to demonstrate. Only then can I decide which questions are more important than others. For example, in Religious Studies, I teach the nature of religious experience and how far it proves the existence of an afterlife. In order to teach this, I need students to be able to answer questions such as:

  • What defines a religious experience?
  • What are the different types of religious experience?
  • What common features do different types of religious experiences have?
  • How do religious experiences manifest themselves in different religions and cultures?
  • Why do people believe that religious experiences are convincing as evidence for an afterlife?
  • Why do people believe that religious experiences are not convincing as evidence for an afterlife?
  • How convincing is religious experience as an explanation for an afterlife?
  • How far does a belief in religious experiences impact the lives of believers?

Each question is designed to build upon the knowledge and skills that were learnt and developed in response to the previous question. By the end, I can be much more certain that students have an excellent understanding of the topic. Moreover, if a student was unable to answer a specific question, I’d easily be able to identify the reason for it, just by working through the previous questions, to see where they began to struggle.

What About Higher-Order vs Lower-Order Questions?

In the past, it was argued by some that higher-order questions, which require students to analyse and evaluate, were more important than lower-order questions, which simply sought to develop a basic understanding.

This is wrong.

Without first establishing a basic level of understanding of the main points, it’s pointless to ask the higher-order questions. After all, you can’t evaluate the persuasiveness of religious experience, without first knowing the key features, which you then need to critically analyse. All students need to master those basics, regardless of their prior attainment or levels of ability, before they move on to more complex analysis and evaluation. Knowledge comes first: you can’t apply skills in a vacuum.

That being said, higher-order questions can make a huge difference to students who would otherwise give simplistic and short answers. The question “Was the Treaty of Versailles significant in causing the Second World War?” elicits a much simpler response than “How significant was the Treaty of Versailles in causing the Second World War?” Students who would give a brief yes/no response to the first question would have to justify and evaluate their reasoning in answer to the second question.

What difference does effective questioning make?

Effective questioning, if viewed as part of a feedback dialogue between the teacher and the students, adds as much as the equivalent of eight months worth of teaching to students receiving it. This is according to the Education Endowment Foundation’s Toolkit and you can read more on it here. In my own experience as a classroom teacher, effective questioning makes a huge difference. Not only to the quality of teaching and learning, but it also cuts out activities that don’t contribute to the true purpose of the lesson or topic being learnt. Consequently, effective questioning reduces unnecessary workload – the Holy Grail in teaching today!

How should the questions be asked?

When asking questions, it’s important that you give your students time to think before answering. One way to do this is to give them some key questions in advance, either on the board or on a worksheet. Whether you do this or not, you should always wait for an answer, even if it means creating an uncomfortable silence for a few extra seconds. We can often be guilty of jumping in too soon if a student doesn’t answer. But this can be detrimental as it allows students to effectively opt-out of answering if they know you’ll do it for them. Instead, if you really have to, try rephrasing the question and ask something specific about part of the answer you want them to give. By narrowing your question in this way, a confused student might be able to give a more confident answer. From there, you can then ask a follow-up question which builds on what they have already said.

The follow-up question could also be asked to a different student, to keep the rest of the class on their toes. The popular strategy of “pose, pause, pounce, bounce” is a really simple and powerful questioning tool, which you and your students will find increasingly effective the more often you use it. First, pose the question to the class, then pause, allowing the class to think of their response. After this you “pounce” and ask a specific student for their answer. You can then “bounce” to another student to answer a follow-up question.

What about those students who still don’t answer?

Some students just don’t want to answer questions in front of their peers. More often than not it’s a confidence issue. It’s easy to just let these students live an easy life. However, for these students to thrive over the long-term, it’s vital that you keep asking them questions, rather than leaving them out. Ask them simple questions to get them used to speaking in front of others. The lower the stakes, the more they will feel they can answer without the crippling fear of getting it wrong in front of others. Over time (this could be weeks or even months), gradually ask them more challenging questions as their confidence grows.

How much time should you spend on questioning in your lessons?

As much time as possible!

I’ve found over the years, that students perform much better when they’ve spent a significant amount of time answering and debating the answers to questions during the lesson. Having a range of different answers helps them to develop their own understanding, particularly of complex topics and gives them models to base their own answers on. It’s also an incredible way to build engagement in the lesson, as students feel as though they have some ownership over the direction of the lesson and are able to “try out” their answers before committing them to paper in high-stakes assessments, where it really counts.

Effective classroom questioning strategies are the lifeblood of many of the most engaging and thought-provoking lessons I’ve taught and observed. If I focus on nothing else but this, my students will receive an enriching curriculum that stimulates and challenges them. Oh, and they’ll also be well-prepared for the rigour of their exams (after all, that’s quite important too).

Any questions?

I hope so!

Becoming A Research-Informed Teacher

research-informed teaching

Becoming Research-Informed

I’m writing this after returning from the hugely inspiring ResearchED Durham 2019. Brimming with ideas about how I can be more research-informed and improve my teaching, I’m dying to see what quick wins I can implement and what cultural changes I can affect, at least in my own classroom. But the trouble is, my enthusiasm isn’t enough. Nor is the random assortment of notes that I took while listening to the speakers. I know fine well that by Monday, some of that enthusiasm will have waned and that I’ll have forgotten the context of those pithy quotes I wrote down, in the hope that they would make me look and sound clever.

Come to think of it, I probably haven’t improved that much at all.

So, what was the point in attending?

For me, it’s about developing good habits. In this case, I mean that I’m trying to develop the habit of using research-informed strategies to influence my teaching. Attending a ResearchED event has been on my to-do list for a long time now. But as a one-off instance of CPD it isn’t enough. To really make the difference to my practice, I’ve started to read more academically about what works and to apply some of that research in my daily teaching activities. Attending ResearchED is only one piece of the puzzle (albeit an invaluable one).

[Contains affiliate links]

It’s easy to see why many of us teachers feel overwhelmed at the number of edu-books currently out there as “must-reads” and I’ll even be recommending a couple in a moment, so brace yourself. (Also, you can read a few of them on Kindle Unlimited for 30 days for free!) With all those titles telling us that our go-to strategies are either a waste of time or even counter-productive, you could be forgiven for putting off that “change” that might just be needed. After all, it’s comforting to think that after a few years of hard slog in the classroom, that you’ve managed to “nail it”.

But that’s not how we grow.

Sometimes we need to think back to why we wanted to go into teaching in the first place. We wanted to make a difference. We loved our subject and wanted to share our knowledge of it. We wanted to guide the next generation to success. And we still do!

So, with that in mind, I want to offer you a tiny little challenge. It only takes a couple of minutes.

How to begin…

Here’s something I do, once a week, to add something to my arsenal of effective teaching strategies and to remove strategies that have now been proven to be less effective.

I want you to read something. It could be a blogpost, a few pages of a book (here’s a few you can try), or an article from a magazine. Take one thing from whatever you read and implement it during your first lesson on Monday morning (or as close to that as you can).

That’s all.

If we want to become the research-informed and the most effective teachers that we can be, while maintaining our sanity and work-life balance, then small steps are needed. Just implement one thing. Otherwise, the hurdle will seem too high. The trouble with educational research, as @EmmaAlderson pointed out at ResearchED Durham, is that so few teachers engage with it. Many even see it as a threat, or worse, just a fad.

It’s something I’ve been doing for the past few months and over time it hasn’t only improved my teaching (verified by my students’ attainment data). I’ve also become more engaged and reflective about my teaching. It’s given me a much-needed boost in job satisfaction and has allowed me to ride this year’s teaching rollercoaster with a sense of joy, rather than fear.

Give it a go. Choose joy.

Here’s a couple of really accessible ones you can dip into to get started:

Tom Sherrington’s practical guide to using Rosenshine’s Principles is probably the easiest book to read, to improve your teaching. In the book, he gives simple advice on what works well, according to Rosenshine’s research and how we can implement it.

Peps Mccrea’s book is short and sweet, but packs a punch. You could easily devour this in one sitting and come away with a sack full of ideas to help your students learn more effectively.

Your journey to becoming research-informed begins here. Let me know how you get on.

Andy

P.S. You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hi!

So, You Didn’t Get That Teaching Job?

Teaching Job Journey

What to do if you didn’t get that teaching job…

I’m sorry to inform you that you weren’t successful this time. Thank you for applying, we really enjoyed meeting you.”

If you’ve been on the receiving end of such a message, in person or over the phone, you know how devastating it can feel. After all, its likely that you’ve spent hours and hours crafting your application, redrafting covering letters and rehearsing answers to interview questions for that teaching job. Not only that, but you’ve bared your soul, both on the page and in person, when asked questions like “So, why are you a teacher?” and “Tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge”. The feeling of rejection can be powerful and paralysing.

So, where should you go from there?

Well, after a couple of days of naval-gazing, you could be forgiven for throwing in the towel and saying “Oh, stuff them. I didn’t want that job anyway!”

But, you did. And you will again, when you next see a similar opportunity. So how can you prepare yourself to bounce back and improve your chances?

Well, speaking as someone who has been “unsuccessful” on a number of occasions, I can tell you what works (and is working) for me. It might not be to everyone’s tastes and it takes time to put into place, time that you might not have if a teaching job pops up at short-notice. However, I have faith in my methods. It’s a long-game, this teaching malarkey, so I want to take the time to get it right. Otherwise, I could end up in a role that I don’t enjoy, just because I was too short-sighted to choose something that was truly worthwhile for me personally.

I wrote myself some rules…

10 Rules For Staying Sane

#1 Don’t take rejection personally

#2 Ask for feedback

#3 Respond to feedback

#4 No sudden movements

#5 Reflect on the journey more than the destination

#6 Decide what job you want

#7 Start accruing useful and interesting experiences

#8 Build your network

#9 Improve your knowledge and skills

#10 Do things that others aren’t doing

So, why am I writing this?

This list has kept me sane for the last couple of years. 

There have been so many times when I’ve either been within touching distance of teaching jobs, or where I’ve been shortlisted against candidates whose qualifications and experience far surpass my own. But in both sets of cases, having a solid hold onto those ten rules has helped me deal with the pressure and the (inevitable) disappointment.

Some might say I should perhaps get some new rules. After all, I haven’t succeeded at an interview for a long time! But, in reality, I don’t need to.

Rather than looking for greener pastures elsewhere, I’ve instead worked on creating my own ideal role where I already work. It doesn’t come with a footballer’s salary, or a lighter timetable. But I’m good at it and, ultimately, it makes me happy. I now lead a small and successful Law Department, co-run the EPQ and I’ve recently been given the (huge) responsibility for taking our NQTs through their Induction Year. This combination of leading a department whilst developing new staff is exactly what I had always worked towards.

I’m not sure that such a teaching job even exists on the TES, or anywhere else for that matter. And if I have my way, it never will.

So, just take your time and enjoy your journey. If I can do it, so can you.

Andy

How do high ability students reach for the stars in a world of Great Expectations?

high ability students

Guest Post by Stephanie Anne Dudley

As Ed Sheeran likes to put it: “Keep your head down and work hard to achieve”. As a music sensation with global hits consistently hitting the top ten, and with what can only be described as a banger after banger music portfolio, his advice on success is probably worth listening to.

Naturally gifted. Naturally clever. Naturally talented. We’ve all heard the phrases before. Rising from a world where these clichés could often be seen as excuses for underachievement, it raises the question: 

Is the idea of being naturally clever a myth? Can you simply work really hard at something to succeed? Or even is it a skill that you were born with?

Recalling my own schooling, back in the days where pin-straight hair was fashionable and begging Jane Norman for a fancy shopping bag to put your P.E Kit in was a Saturday pastime, the pressure of students who achieved a level 5 in Key Stage 2 SATS achieving high grades did not seem to be at the forefront of education.

By Year Ten, lesson outcomes were the latest craze and on the odd occasion, there may have been a support sheet to assist with a task, but on the whole, from a student perspective, it was different pressures in a different era.

So what has changed?

In an education system where coursework no longer exists and GCSE papers have become more comparable with that of A Levels, the bar has definitely been raised. We expect more from the students we are teaching, as they are now required to sit four exams for their English Language and English Literature GCSEs!

Why the push?

Following the introduction of the 9-1 grading system, English was one of the first subjects to be put through the new examinations. Overnight there was a sea-change in the quality of what students should be writing. Not only could you achieve an A* now comparable with a Grade 8, but an A** which was an exceptionally wonderful quality – as a Grade 9. Thus, no longer were schools focused on simply getting 5 A*-C including English and Maths but the move to Progress 8 marked a development in the way a school or academy would be assessed. Forever.

Schools would now be judged on performances in all subjects, forming an overall Progress 8 score that would then reveal how good a school really was for its teaching and learning.

In working and training in an inner city school within Stoke-on-Trent, which has rapidly raised its profile to second in the city for performance, focusing on how those high ability students at KS2 achieve greatest has become a priority over the last few years.

Are there a range of strategies which assist in this happening or is it simply just good luck?

Here are my 9 top tips to support academic achievement for high ability learners, to avoid the inevitable event of coasting happening, especially for boys.

9 top tips for teaching high ability students

(I do like an odd number, just to be awkward.)

1. Thinking Hard Strategies

In early 2019, our academy trust, in line with PIXL, began to introduce Excel @ Thinking. This involved a range of strategies under the categories: connect, extend, reduce, prioritise, categorise. It enabled students to access deeper level thinking and was certainly a hit for those in top sets. An example of this is giving students ten challenging words associated with a text or topic and asking them to link them all together. They then have to justify the reasons why each links to another. Observing students doing this you can literally see the cogs turning.

As Morrison McGill highlights: How do we instil this confidence and the ability to learn from mistakes in time for them to become self-assured, risk-taking learners? (McGill) Thinking hard strategies hence enable students to make mistakes and find the answers as the emphasis on thinking reduces the amount of written critique.

2. IRIS Connect

Are your questions high level enough? Are you targeting the right students or are you best moving to a no hands up policy? How can you ensure that all students are learning? Get it filmed. We have embraced video equipment IRIS Connect to reflect on practice. The best part is you can just watch it yourself or can share it with others? It’s your call. This is probably the best place to start if those high ability students just aren’t making the grade.

3. Bibles

Thanks to the 21st century, social platforms, notably Twitter, have become a haven for teacher resources. For English Literature within our department, Twitter birthed some amazing revision resources that not only assists with context and plot but focuses on key vocabulary and high-level ideas for Great Expectations, Animal Farm and Macbeth. Since introducing these resources in 2017, we have used these in class and homework to support higher level learning.

4. Tuition

Tuition has been a controversial topic amongst educators for a long time. If it is done properly then it has been proven successful for high ability students. Using a break-down of how students perform in mock exams, if tuition focuses on specific skill deficits then it’s worthwhile. If it is just a general overview of revision then I’m afraid to say, it just won’t cut the mustard.

5. High ability subject entitlement

In order for HAT students to be hitting those grades, they need to be a priority. If they allowed to rest on their laurels in the hope that they are naturally gifted they more than likely won’t actually make any progress and, worse, go backwards. Thus a high ability subject entitlement allows teachers to be aware that HAT students, like other key groups, have different needs. There should be opportunities for masterclasses the elite class, university seminar style days, to name a few examples, as compulsory for students. Learning outside of the same four walls is crucial.

6. Having great expectations

Taking after our good literary friend Pip, of whom our Year Elevens are well and truly sick of by now, we too have expectations of bigger and better. Promoting an environment by which we, as educators, expect students to do well enables students to develop confidence. Inevitably, student success, rightly or wrongly, becomes teamwork between the teacher and student, especially in Year Eleven. Using a question level analysis, students need to know what they cannot do and how to better on those questions in order to succeed. 

7. Exam specialists from AQA

A phrase being coined in academies at present, as GCSEs soon approach is the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Giving the nod to Einstein, this mantra is so true for student success; something needs to change for high ability students to access higher marks if they aren’t already doing so. Adopting this notion within a core department, English, we have had, as well as other subjects, support from the exam board and a consultant to train staff and students as make the big move to AQA this year. Reflecting upon this, what can be better for the students than either workshops or resources and support from those that write the exams themselves. It’s a no brainer. Looking back, that 100% A* gained in my RE GCSE, aside from the great teaching, also came from revising past paper questions in a textbook written by the examiner. 

8. Less writing, more talking

You don’t need to be writing lots to be learning – the most controversial statement if there ever was one. In education, we have spent years providing evidence of books that students are doing. However, all this does is give teachers more to mark and a bombardment of red pen for students to figure out. For all students, but particularly higher ability students, students need to talk about critical questions. For example, it may be far more beneficial for students to discuss the motivations behind Orwell’s novel rather than writing note after note about the Russian Revolution. I simply believe that HAT students need less/more purposeful marking, more high level discussions and teachers just need to plan the hell out of those lessons. Progress achieved. (If only it was so simple…)

9. Boys

Like the main theme behind the 2001 Britney Spears musical number, high ability boys are super important and despite, showing my millennial love for Britney, it is normally high ability boys who struggle to make the progress. Typically, it is the boys that have succeeded in KS2 that then tend to drop off towards KS4 and play catch up on the build-up the exams. How do we combat this? One suggestion would be less focused writing independently and more group writing. Old school flip chart paper and pens enables boys the freedom to explore ideas in pairs or groups and is non-committal as it is not going to live in books forever for the world and his dog to see. In school, we have trialled writing on tables too which went down a treat. It’s definitely worth a shot.

High ability students is a continuous focus nationally, going forward. It is worthwhile trialling some of the strategies above to see how they work in your context. I am eager to develop strategies for high ability further and so am keen to hear any ideas that are working across the country, 

In this society of moving goal posts and high pressure, I would like to think we are all on the right path to success for these students, even if it’s the start. Underachieving boys are an issue that will only change if change is made. Not forgetting that these are strategies that we are putting in place – what are students doing to ensure their own success. There’s no getting away from that.

As Del Boy says:

 ‘There’s no point running away. Running only wears out your shoes.’ 

So I say, let’s growth-mindset the hell out of it – high ability students are not where we want them to be.

Yet.

References:

Morrison McGill: 2017: Mark, Plan, Teach-Save time. Reduce Workload. Impact Learning: Bloomsbury Publishing

Author Bio:

Stephanie Anne Dudley: Passionate English Teacher, Writer, Blogger
and Performance Poet. Six years teaching experience in the teaching
world and Key Stage Coordinator within Staffordshire. Lover of
teaching and learning, spending her days discovering exciting ways to
help students learn. When in hibernation, can be found under a pile of
marking. Send chocolate. Send help.

The Performance Related Pay Timebomb

Guest Post written by Bruce Grieg

performance related pay

Performance related pay policies are starting to unravel…

Performance related pay progression for school teachers has been around since 2014. Over the next year or so I think we are going to see this policy quietly unravel.

Why?

Lots of teachers who were starting off at the bottom of the main pay scale back in 2014 will likely have now received their final performance related pay increase. All the problems with performance related pay will now start bubbling up to the surface.

What problems? Surely performance related pay is a good thing? If people do a good job, they should be paid more, right?

That’s the superficial and trite justification for performance related pay rolled out by the DfE at the time of its introduction.

The DfE and the School Teachers Pay Review Board trotted out lots of “evidence” supporting the introduction of performance related pay. But the evidence they relied on fell broadly into two categories. Some of it demonstrated that performance related pay didn’t work at all; or wasn’t really evidence at all, but just anecdotes about how the private sector used performance related pay (STRB 2012, Chapter 2).

What was glaringly missing from this evidence, for anyone (like me) with a cursory knowledge of the field, was the academic research into performance related pay.

There is a large body of research looking at what happens when you pay people more if they do a good job. And that research tends to show that the more money at stake, the worse people perform.

For example, Professor Daniel Ariely at MIT has carried out many experiments which all fall into some variation on this theme: subjects are asked to perform a challenging intellectual task and are paid money if they perform that task well. A control group does the same task, but is just paid for their time regardless of how well they perform.

In many different variations of these experiments, people tend to do worse if their reward depends on how well they perform. Even in rural India, where the amount of money on offer for top performance was equivalent to six months of household expenditure, people did better if they were just paid a fixed amount for their time. You’d think that if you offered someone a small fortune for completing some demanding cognitive task to a certain standard, they would try really hard to earn that money. But no: if you just pay people a fixed amount to do the tasks, they do it better than those who are offered a huge reward for doing it well.

(Source: http://www.bos.frb.org/economic/wp/wp2005/wp0511.pdf)

So what’s the explanation for the performance-related pay results?

One explanation is that having a lot of money at stake creates too much stress on the participant and they just perform less well. If they can relax knowing the money is guaranteed, even if there is less on offer than the “performance pay” group is getting, they do a better job of the task.

Does this sound familiar? Teachers under stress? Linking pay to performance surely increases teacher stress, even for the best teachers. And that might well make them perform less well in the classroom.

A more nuanced explanation is that once you make money the prime incentive, you lose the other incentives which were there before. The greatest reward for completing challenging work is really the intrinsic satisfaction it creates. Whether that’s solving a scientific conundrum or getting all of your bottom set in maths to pass their GCSE. But once you start introducing a financial reward for doing a better job, you lose the intrinsic reward.

I think that’s what we are likely to see soon. There is a cohort of teachers out there who have had five years steadily working up the main pay scale. Each year they’ll have been told that they have earned extra money because they have been doing a great job. Next year they’ll be again told they’ve done a great job. But they won’t be paid any more for it.

This probably won’t lead to newspaper headlines and strikes and resignations. It is very hard to complain loudly about people supposedly being paid more for doing a better job. But I think school leaders will start to see quiet discontent seeping into staff rooms in schools around the country, as this performance related pay policy slowly unravels.

Author Bio:

Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as CoG through two Ofsted inspections and four headteachers. He set up SchoolStaffSurveys.com after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them. He has previously built businesses in property maintenance and technology sectors.

Website: www.schoolstaffsurveys.com

Twitter: @schoolstaffsurv


How To Do “Teacher Wellbeing” Properly

Teacher Wellbeing

Teacher Wellbeing Isn’t Just Staff Yoga

There probably isn’t a bigger topic in teaching right now than the recruitment and retention crisis. NQTs and experienced teachers alike are leaving in droves, largely down to one of two main issues, as cited by teaching unions: pay and excessive workload. In this article, I’m going to try to explain what I think could be a solution to the teacher wellbeing issue.

It’s not a set of “sticking plasters” (thanks go to @mrbakerphysics, @Mr_JTyers and @JamesTheo, amongst others, for your input on Twitter), but it’s more a holistic way of addressing what it’s like to be a teacher in your school. It encompasses everything that a school can (or should) ‘control’ and hopefully will provide a blueprint to start useful discussions about how to improve and maintain teacher wellbeing, so that our schools can attract and recruit like we used to do in the not-so-distant past.

Simply having an extra couple of staff nights out, free biscuits or a staff yoga session isn’t enough (even if they do add some fun to your week).

Seriously though, we have to think bigger and confront the main reason for the reduction in teacher wellbeing: workload and the unnecessary and excessive pressure that comes with it. I’ve written about aspects of it before. You can read them here and here.

What’s Really Important…

The main reason I wanted to write this piece was not to help recruit and retain staff.

My concern is that many colleagues across schools throughout the UK are now starting to crack. A brief look through my Twitter timeline regularly shows people taking to the internet to share their fragile emotional states, whereas a few years ago they were just sharing selfies and photos of their dinner. Things have gotten worse and for the sake of peoples’ physical and mental health, we can’t afford to spend any more time navel-gazing before putting it right.

Within 5 years of being a teacher I felt this way. Whether you’ve been teaching for 1 or 20 years, no one should ever be made to feel like this because of work. @BBCNews – A teacher’s story: Eat. Sleep. Teach. Repeat. #breakthroughNotBreakdown https://t.co/BITxjHgK9N— 𝕄𝕣𝕤 ℍ𝕦𝕞𝕒𝕟𝕚𝕥𝕚𝕖𝕤 (@MrsHumanities) 4 January 2019

I have to say though, I’m not an expert. My own work-life balance is often less than optimal, despite what I try to implement. But that’s precisely the issue. I, as an individual teacher, can’t do this on my own. Many of the workload problems that I face are beyond my control. They are systemic or boil down to decisions that others have taken.

So, what can we do then?

Successful Teacher Wellbeing Ideas

In all the conversations I’ve had with teachers, these are by far the most popular responses:

  • Time given to share departmental planning
  • Reduced number of data drops
  • No more written reports
  • A clear and consistently followed behaviour policy
  • Centralised detentions
  • Replace morning briefings or lunchtime meetings with an email bulletin or an online noticeboard
  • Email ban between 5pm and 7am
  • Social activities, eg fitness classes, nights out, ‘secret friends’ gift giving, etc
  • Supportive SLT, who take the pressure off at least as often as they put pressure on

What do these ideas have in common? Well, most of them reduce workload. However, these decisions tend to be outside of a typical teacher’s control. They are policy decisions that are either put in place or rejected/ignored by school leaders. Fortunately, school leaders (as far as I can see) are beginning to implement such ideas and share their positive experiences with others. With any luck (and by sharing this with school leaders yourself) the tide should turn a little quicker.

Ultimately, it has to be prioritised by senior leaders and headteachers. Not everyone is fortunate to work somewhere that takes notice of such things. The results are predictable. Staff sickness levels increase and those staff eventually leave, often with a view to ruining the school’s reputation on the way out, making it difficult to recruit. It’s also a false economy to put teachers under this stress, in order to save money. A multiple of the money saved is then spent on external cover agencies. It’s unnecessary, ludicrous and potentially even illegal in some cases.

Most schools/teachers in the UK are inadvertently or otherwise breaking basic UK employment law… pic.twitter.com/NshX5VQPoV— Tom Rogers (@RogersHistory) March 21, 2019

Successful Schools Who Address Teacher Wellbeing: What Do You Do?

As teacher wellbeing is still quite a fledgeling concept, there isn’t yet a lot of data to draw upon, beyond the odd anecdote. So, send me your anecdotes! I’d love to know what teacher wellbeing ideas your school has implemented successfully (you can stay anonymous if you like). The more we share these ideas, the more they will become a prominent feature of the education system and the less we will have to rely on “luck”, when moving between schools.

What Can Teachers Do Themselves To Improve Their Own Wellbeing?

The video below gives some interesting insights into how we as professionals can look after ourselves. What do you think?

Teacher Wellbeing Resources

Teacher Wellbeing Survey

TeachWellFest

Young Minds – Resilience Course

Where To Go For Help…

Sometimes, reading a blog article isn’t enough. If you have reached a point where you feel as though you need to speak to someone about your mental wellbeing then do not hesitate.

Teachers tend to put themselves through hell before seeking help, out of embarrassment, fear or any number of rational or irrational reasons. Below are the numbers of two organisations who CAN help.

Mind:

0300 123 3393
info@mind.org.uk

Samaritans:

116 123
jo@samaritans.org

Education Support Partnership:

08000 562 561
support@edsupport.org.uk

Final Thoughts…

Teacher wellbeing is such a crucial problem to solve. We owe it to ourselves to do all we can. Please share this. Or share something. Just keep spreading good ideas.

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hello!

Andy

Why Don’t Students Use Effective Learning Strategies?

Effective Learning Strategies

A guest post by Dr Flavia Belham (Author Bio below)

For a relatively long time now, researchers working with cognitive sciences have shown that some learning strategies are more effective than others. This has been done via randomised controlled studies in the lab and interventions in schools. Nevertheless, the majority of students in schools, colleges and universities are still investing their time in sub-optimal techniques, such as re-reading notes and highlighting textbook.

In this article, I’ll summarise:

  • Some of the evidence-based learning techniques
  • The main reasons why students don’t use them
  • How teachers can help them do so, using freely available resources and simple classroom activities.

Evidence-Based Learning Techniques.

The main strategy that has received wide support from the academic literature is Retrieval Practice. This technique is basically answering questions and actively bringing information back to mind instead of passively reading notes over and over again. This active retrieval creates new and stronger connections between pieces of knowledge and generates a deeper understanding of the topic. A few ways to use retrieval practice are low stake quizzes, braindumps and flashcards.

Two other effective strategies are Spacing and Interleaving. These two are the opposite of cramming. That is, studying one topic for many hours in a row and then moving on to the next one is significantly less productive than spreading out practice and switching between topics. Interleaving can also happen within one quiz or exam. Especially for STEM subjects, mixing the order of questions will force students to think harder and figure out the answer from the question itself, and not because they already knew which content would be covered. Doug Rohrer has written a lot about this.

Another learning strategy based on cognitive sciences is Dual-Coding, which conveys the idea that it is easier for our brain to understand, process and retain novel information when this is presented combining words with visual elements. Examples of dual-coding are diagrams, timelines and mind-maps.

Main Reasons Why Students Don’t Use Effective Learning Strategies

We, Seneca Learning, conducted a survey in 2017 that revealed that only one-quarter of students were using good strategies to revise. This result is in accordance with peer-reviewed papers that consistently found that less than 30% of pupils and university students use Retrieval Practice to prepare for an exam.

There are three main reasons for this low number. The first is that students simply do not know about those techniques. That is, they simply do not realise that it is possible to study without highlighting the textbook or re-reading notes.

The second reason is that the non-effective strategies give students an illusion of competence, making them believe they are progressing more than they truly are. For example, reading the book makes them feel like they understand all that content, whereas being tested reveals that they still have gaps in their knowledge.

The third reason is that effective learning techniques require planning and effort to implement. Using Retrieval Practice, Spacing, Interleaving and Dual-Coding are, admittedly, way more complicated than simply reading, highlighting and cramming.

How Can We Help Students Use Effective Learning Strategies?

The first two reasons why students don’t use effective strategies is because they do not know about them and they feel like those strategies do not work. Thus, it is crucial that we inform students about learning techniques based on cognitive sciences and show them the evidence.

This can be done with assemblies, classes about the brain and memory processes, as well as the reading of scientific articles. There are also very good videos on the internet that explain the techniques and the science behind it in a student-friendly language. Teachers can also run multidisciplinary projects where students conduct their own small randomised controlled trial. Links to some of the videos are HERE and HERE.

The third reason for the low number of pupils using good strategies is that these techniques are time-consuming and effortful. Luckily, there is a number of free tools online that make them easier to implement. For example, The Student Room has a tool that helps students plan their study routine based on exam dates. There are also guides that help them to allocate their time in an effective way. Seneca Learning is an interactive website providing exam-board specific revision and homework material for KS2 to KS5 pupils for free.

Useful Classroom Activities

There are also many classroom ideas developed by teachers and that successfully apply effective learning strategies. For example, at the latest conference of the Association for Science Education, I attended a talk by Adam Boxer, from a school in north London. Adam is a Key Stage 3 Science teacher that was worried that years 7, 8 and 9 were becoming useless or a simple preparation for the upcoming GCSE years. To change that, Adam developed a series of core questions and what he classifies as perfect answers to them. His aim is that all students finish KS3 knowing all of this content. To reach his goal, he created what is now known as a Retrieval Roulette. This is a spreadsheet that randomly selects core questions for students to answer. The questions can come from the most recent lesson or from any topic previously covered. By using the roulette as low-stake quizzes, Adam is helping his students by using retrieval practice, spacing and interleaving.

Another great idea is Blake Harvard’s Colour-coded Recall. This is a very simple classroom activity that only requires pen, paper and a set of highlighters. At the beginning of a lesson, Blake asks his Psychology students to write down the answer to a question without checking any notes or textbook.  Students must try hard and try to give their best answer. They then take one highlighter (let’s say yellow) and mark what they wrote. Following this, students are allowed to check their course material and complete the answer writing down anything they may have missed. This addition to the answer is highlighted in a different colour (let’s say blue). Lastly, students can talk about the questions and write down even more highlighting that in a third colour (let’s say green). Students receive one grade for each colour and are encouraged to repeat the technique whenever they have time. This method effectively uses retrieval practice and dual coding. It also helps in terms of metacognition since students can visualize their progress very easily.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Jon Gustafson wrote an article for his blog explaining why and how he changed his lessons to become 85% review and only 15% new content. Part of the review is done with low stake quizzes that revisit past content. The aim is to have students practising and applying what they previously learned, while creating connections between the different topics and concepts. Similarly to the Retrieval Roulette, Jon applies 2 to 3 quizzes every week, in which he includes and interleaves questions from the most recent content with questions from past lessons. Jon noticed that his workload and stress have been reduced, and that students are doing more and better independent work.

These are all examples of resources, tools and classroom ideas that have effective learning strategies already embedded in their methodology. Using them from the beginning of their school years will certainly teach students the power of evidence-based methods and increase the number of students optimising their revision to achiev higher progress.

Guest Author Bio:

Dr Belham - Effective Learning Strategies

Dr Flavia Belham applies experimental findings from Neuroscience to the free revision & homework platform Seneca Learning as the Chief Scientist. During her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, she used behavioural and brain imaging techniques to investigate how people of different ages memorise emotional events. She is a certified Science Teacher and worked in schools before joining Seneca Learning.

19 Books That Make You A Better Teacher Today

Best Teaching Books

19 Books That Make You A Better Teacher Today

With CPD budgets being squeezed each year, one easy way to develop your teaching is by flicking through a great teaching book.

This list of teaching books has been carefully curated for you, to filter out books that aren’t based on research evidence and extensive classroom experience.

Take a look and see what you fancy!

[Contains affiliate links]

19 Top Teaching Books

Making Good Progress – Daisy Christodoulou

 

Mark, Plan, Teach: Save Time. Reduce Workload. Impact Learning. – Ross Morrison McGill

 

High Challenge, Low Threat: How the Best Leaders Find the Balance – Mary Myatt

 

Making Every Lesson Count: Six principles to support great teaching and learning – Shaun Allison & Andy Tharby

 

The Confident Teacher: Developing successful habits of mind, body and pedagogy – Alex Quigley

The Learning Rainforest – Tom Sherrington

 

Trivium 21c: Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past – Martin Robinson

 

Getting the Buggers to Behave –  Sue Cowley

Seven Myths About Education – Daisy Christodoulou

What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology – David Didau

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way – Katharine Birbalsingh 

Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories – E.D. Hirsch

Leadership Matters: How Leaders at All Levels Can Create Great Schools (3rd Edition) – Andy Buck

Embedded Formative Assessment (Strategies For Classroom Assessment That Drives Student Engagement And Learning) – Dylan William

Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator – Dave Burgess

The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers – Tom Bennett

Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College – Doug Lemov

What if everything you knew about education was wrong? – David Didau

Flipping 2.0: Practical Strategies for Flipping Your Class – Jason Bretzmann

Have I missed anything? What would you add to the list? Leave a comment below!

Andy

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching

EdTech Tools: How To Choose The Right One

EdTech tool

EdTech tools are simple to use, the real challenge is knowing where to start.

I don’t know about you, but I get completely overwhelmed by the number of EdTech tools out there. I’m bombarded constantly by emails and tweets telling me I *have* to sign up to the latest app or website. I’m no technophobe and I know it can save me time, or help me create more engaging lessons, but where do I even begin?

Where To Start With EdTech tools…

Firstly, identify what it is that you need to develop in your own teaching. Is it developing the strength of your students’ arguments? Do you need to use a wider range of activities, to liven up your repertoire? Is text-analysis something that students need extra support with? Do students just need to practise low-stakes quizzes more frequently? There are EdTech tools out there to help with all of these areas (and more too).

Once you’ve identified your area for development, you can then narrow down the range of EdTech tools significantly.

Question: Are EdTech Tools Worth Investing In?

In my experience, yes. However, not all EdTech tools are worth your time and money. It depends on what your priorities are. Ultimately though, you need to consider the following, before choosing an EdTech tool:

  • Time cost (in relation to the amount of actual free time you have left at the end of the day)
  • Financial cost (in relation to the size of your budget)
  • Amount of positive difference it makes (this might not be accurately measurable)
  • Getting staff on board (not always necessary, but often the hardest task of all)

It’s impossible to say objectively which EdTech tools are worth investing in, as it depends on your own situation. However, by spending a little time figuring out your priorities first, it becomes easier to identify a worthwhile EdTech tool when you see it.

EdTech To Consider Trying This Year

Study Rocket

EdTech Tools

An excellent platform, where students can access distilled exam-specific scripts for GCSE and A-Level subjects, written by experienced teachers (such as myself). Each script is accompanied by a low-stakes quiz, which students can use to ensure they retained the most important points. The quiz has answers built-in, so students can see what they should have answered if they answered incorrectly. It’s a quick and easy way for students to use retrieval practice, an effective metacognition-based revision method underpinned by cognitive science. Students can also request that topics are added if they aren’t already included, or require further depth. Not many platforms are as student-centred as these guys. Highly recommended.

 

Google Classroom

EdTech Tools

Google Classroom lets you organise your digital resources into sections that students can access. This is a brilliant way to encourage students to access resources beyond the classroom. One way I use it is to give students access to Flipped Learning materials before they study topics in lessons. Students can even respond to the materials they read, watch or listen to, enabling a useful dialogue to occur before the lesson. Extremely useful.

 

Insert Learning

EdTech Tools

Insert Learning is a great little Chrome Extension that allows you to take an article and add activities to it. Students are first asked to highlight specific parts of the article using different colours. Insert Learning then provides a great set of sample questions. These range from basic comprehension to deep analysis and evaluation of the text and also of related issues that the students have previously studied. If you want, you can even set your own questions. It takes only a couple of minutes to set up and learn and provides an excellent way to structure wider reading, helping students become more independent learners. Quick, simple and highly effective.

 

Final Thoughts…

We’re frequently presented with new ways to do old things, using EdTech tools. The trick is to know whether it will make a positive difference or not. In reality, this means that at some point you’ll have to have a go. I’d recommend just getting to grips with one EdTech tool this year.

Go on, give it a go!

By the way, what’s YOUR favourite EdTech tool? Leave a comment and share your knowledge!

 

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hello!

Andy

Teacher Wellbeing

teacher wellbeing

Teacher Wellbeing

If you are reading this then you are probably a Highly Committed Teacher. Well done! You’ve survived another year! The trouble is that it’s now the end of the summer term and you’ve got very little left to give. Unless you take a proper break, you’ll end up being “committed” to a different sort of institution altogether! After a year of focusing on everyone else in the room, it’s time to take care of yourself. The value of “teacher wellbeing” can’t be underestimated.

I struggle with switching off, so I’ve compiled a “teacher wellbeing” to-do list, to keep me on the straight and narrow over the holidays, so that I’m refreshed and ready to start again in September. I’ll be miserable and be of no use to anybody unless I take care of myself over the holidays!

Teacher Wellbeing To-Do List

  • Go and see that musician or band you’ve been meaning to see. Soon they won’t be touring anymore and you’ll regret it forever.
  • Get fresh air regularly (not necessarily exercise!).
  • Spend quality time with your family, especially your children – they grow up so quickly!
  • Meet friends you haven’t seen in a while – especially non-teachers.
  • Finally buy yourself a Kindle and read a load of books for pleasure. (Personally, I’d recommend signing up to Kindle Unlimited as well. You can read millions of brilliant books for a ridiculously low cost. It’s only £7.99 a month! I’ve got through tonnes of books this year because I didn’t have to go out and drive to the bookshop. I can just download and read them any time I want.) I use a Kindle Paperwhite [affiliate link] and it’s so much better than reading on my iPhone. No eye-fatigue!
  • Be leisurely in all that you do. Take time enjoying the little things.
  • Go somewhere new – get out of your routine.
  • Treat / pamper yourself.
  • Have a nap.
  • “Decide” to forget about work. Rest means rest.
  • Stop being so busy. Say no to stuff that just fills your time and that you do through silly obligation. This is YOUR time.
  • Go to bed early / late / whenever!!
  • Stop reading edu-blogs for at least a month!
  • Stop writing edu-blogs for at least a month!
  • Nap in the fresh air (park bench, garden, tent, etc).
  • Turn off Social Media and News notifications. (Also, this might be something you permanently want to change, for your own sanity.)
  • Play that computer game you’ve not had time to play for the last few months.
  • Have another nap.

Final thoughts…

If you find even one of these things useful, then my work here is done! But ultimately, just do what you like, when you like. You might not get that chance in six weeks time!

Have a great holiday,

Andy

By the way, you can find me on Twitter at @guruteaching. Come and say hello!

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