Student Presentations: Are They Useful?

student presentations

In all my years of teaching, I’ve rarely come across students who were naturally ‘good’ at presenting. In theory, student presentations should demonstrate knowledge of their chosen topic. But too often the breadth of knowledge or depth of understanding fails to show what was supposed to have been learnt. In this post, I’ve put together some of the tips I’ve given to my students so that they can show a greater level of knowledge and understanding and thus raise their level of attainment.

Why are student presentations so important?

Recently on Twitter, there has been a huge increase in the number of teachers arguing over whether the teacher or the students should be in control over the learning that takes place. I freely admit to having mixed views on this, despite identifying primarily as a “Trad”. (You can read an excellent article on the distinction between Traditional and Progressive teaching by @teacherhead (Tom Sherrington) here.) In my opinion, the teacher should be the one who teaches. After all, we’ve studied educational theory, have greater experience of what constitutes excellent answers and we are experts in our own subject areas. Not that students can’t contribute themselves of course!

Ultimately though, it is the primary responsibility of the teacher to ensure that students learn. If teachers can pass on that torch to students, then that is a fantastic achievement. However, to place the onus of learning primarily on our students could be disastrous. Too often, they simply aren’t equipped with the skills required to bear that responsibility.

However, at some point, students have to be able to take ownership of their learning to some degree. That way, they develop their skills in learning how to learn, which is an excellent life skill. Not only that, but it is a natural way for students to stretch themselves and demonstrate a greater degree of independent learning. An excellent method to enable this is for students is to research, learn and present to the rest of the class.

What are student presentations for?

I use student presentations in three different ways:

  1. Summative assessment at the end of a unit
  2. Formative assessment in order to plan next steps for the class or for individuals
  3. As a Flipped Learning technique, in order to bridge the gap between two lessons

Summative Assessment

Using student presentations to demonstrate the extent of understanding, as opposed to an exam, can be very beneficial. Firstly, the students get to show everything that they know, rather than being constrained by a specific exam question, as they would get in an essay. There are some excellent advantages to this.

Firstly, the students will demonstrate all of the areas that they are knowledgeable about. This is beneficial for the student, as they get to show off what they have made progress on throughout the course. In addition, they will always have learnt something, even if only a little. This has the benefit of allowing even those who have learnt only a little to feel as though they can contribute meaningfully to the lesson.

Secondly, presentations allow for the practice and demonstration of skills beyond being able to read and write. Some students feel much more comfortable presenting their ideas verbally than they do via a written format. In my experience, this is even more pronounced in students whose written skills are significantly hampered by poor spelling, punctuation and grammar. Low levels of literacy can sometimes hide a depth of understanding of subject content.

Thirdly, when students present to the class, the teacher can assess the standard of response without having to mark a pile of books, essays or portfolios. This can also be a huge advantage, particularly for teachers who, by the nature of their subject areas or Key Stages, can be swamped with the amount of written feedback they are expected to give. Presentations can and should still be assessed, rather than just listened to, but the feedback can be written or checked off a list as the presenter speaks, thus reducing workload and avoids the need to take marking home.

Formative assessment

I often give students the opportunity to present, as opposed to writing an essay, part way through a unit. This is to see what standard their knowledge and understanding is at before I continue teaching the remainder of the course. As a teacher, it allows me to plan much for effectively, making sure that my lessons are more relevant to the needs of the class.

When my students present well, they highlight to me not only what I have taught well, but also the extent to which I have challenged them. In contrast, when students do not present well, it can be a sign that I have not explained concepts to them in a clear enough way, or that they need additional support regarding specific topic areas. Either way, my teaching and their learning both improve in the immediate aftermath.

Flipped Learning

As I’ve written about in the past, Flipped Learning is an excellent way to develop independence in our students. Student presentations which follow the Flipped Learning principle of independent research, prior to the lesson, are invaluable. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate maturity and a willingness to stretch themselves beyond the classroom. It also allows for lower-order skills such as information gathering to be undertaken, where the presence of an expert is not needed as often. In the lesson that follows, more time can be given over to higher-order skills of analysis and evaluation. Here, the presence of an expert is often much more necessary.

Who benefits most from student presentations?

Obviously, the students who have learnt and prepared the material will make progress in their level of knowledge and understanding. But do other students benefit from watching students presentations?

It depends. (And this is where you as the teacher come in.)

The evidence that students learn well from others is not conclusive. However, this is not necessarily because presentations are a ‘bad’ way to teach. Rather, the quality or the nature of student presentations, as opposed to teacher presentations, may be found wanting. Having observed students present in my classes and in other subjects too, I’ve compiled a number of tips that I now give to my students, each time they present to their peers, to help to ensure maximal quality.

What students should avoid when presenting

Students often rely too much on the written word and this often impacts negatively on what they present visually to the class. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a PowerPoint slide covered in text. Not only is this difficult to read, in terms of the size of the font used, but it also distracts the audience from listening to the presenter.

Another reason why students shouldn’t place much text on their slides (if slides or their equivalents are used), is that they can have a tendency to just read them out to the class. This too can be not only distracting but can leave the audience feeling as though listening is a waste of time. After all, they can read for themselves at their own pace.

Many students will also spend a disproportionate amount of time making the visual appeal of their presentation fantastic, but at the expense of providing real value to the listener. The point of the presentation isn’t to show off design skills. The visual appeal should really just be “clean and clear”, so as no to distract from the content.

Tips for student presentations

  • Focus on your verbal presentation rather than relying on the written text on your presentation screen. Make it a speech, rather than pointing to what you have written. Otherwise, the audience will keep shifting their attention from the speaker to the screen and back again, ultimately focusing on neither.
  • Use images on your slides (if you even use ‘slides’) instead of text. A symbolic image can be far more thought-provoking than a paragraph or a set of bullet points.
  • If you absolutely must have text on the screen, then limit it to three bullet points. If you can’t limit it to three, then split the ideas across more slides.
  • Provide a detailed handout to the class at the end of the presentation, so that any points that went unnoticed by the audience can be addressed and taken away to be studied further.
  • Have at least one ‘scriptless’ section, where the content of the presentation has been memorised. (This is mainly for those students who are more comfortable with presenting, or who have a greater depth and/or breadth of subject knowledge.)
  • Allow for Q&A at the end of the presentation, so that any students who want points to be clarified can have their questions answered. This is also beneficial for the presenter, who will then be able to demonstrate subject knowledge that they hadn’t thought to put into the original presentation.

Final thoughts…

I firmly believe that by following the tips outlined above, students can create excellent presentations. As always, I welcome critical argument of anything I’ve written and I would love to know if you give similar or different tips to your own students. Just leave a comment or tweet me (@guruteaching) and I’ll get right back to you!

 

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And don’t forget to SHARE this with any teachers you think would find it useful.

Andy

Starting a Class Blog in 5 Minutes

Starting a Class Blog

Why is starting a class blog important?

Starting a class blog is one of the most effective ways to engage students in and beyond your lessons. I’ve been using them for years and my students absolutely love them. Recently, my Year 10 class asked me to create one just for them. They’d heard from some older students how much they enjoyed learning in this way and why blogging beats using “traditional” methods hands down. I would agree for the most part with their assessment. However, when blogs are used effectively, they do not replace “traditional” methods. They simply present traditional methods in a modern way.

For example, in my both my Law and Religious Studies lessons, at all Key Stages, the most important part of my planning is “Questioning“. My students love to go deep into a topic during debates, looking at concepts from a broad range of perspectives. They love it even more when I drill down into what they mean by the words they’ve used, or what assumptions are built into their reasoning and beliefs. This is as traditional as teaching gets, just take a look at the dialogues in Plato’s works.

Blogging simply allows that dialogue to take place in an environment more familiar to today’s students, the digital natives. And we all know that when students are in comfortable surroundings, their fight or flight system switches off and they become more naturally inclined to engage with the lesson. The depth I’ve seen in some of the comments sections of my class blogs has been phenomenal.

When blogging is done well, it takes the topic away from the teacher and gives ownership and independence of learning over to the students. The teacher can still moderate the debate, but they become a moderator rather than the centre of the discussion. Not only that, but your entire debate is recorded. This means that your students can revisit it when planning an essay or revising for a test. How many of your verbal debates in class were recorded accurately and in detail in the past year?

Why aren’t more teachers starting a class blog?

Trying something new is always a challenge. Below I’ve listed some of my colleagues’ responses when I’ve asked them about blogging. Some of these may sound familiar…

  • The teacher is not familiar with blogging, so they worry about doing a bad job, or that it will take up a disproportionate amount of time for very little gain. (Below I’ll show you my foolproof 5-minute process to set up your blog. It takes me longer to create a decent worksheet!)
  • The teacher feels they are “not good with computers”. (Sorry you aren’t allowed to use this one, it’s not 1998 anymore.)
  • The teacher feels that their methods are perfectly fine, so they don’t need to change anything.
  • The teacher sees blogging as a fad, that will soon go the way of Brain Gym and Learning Styles.
  • The teacher is worried about how students may abuse the blog, bully other students on there, or somehow get the teacher into trouble.

Whilst all of these problems are valid to some degree, they all boil down to one thing. Fear. Fear that we as teachers aren’t good enough, or that we will try something that doesn’t pay off. Personally, I don’t think that as teachers we can afford to think in these terms, even if we try to rebrand the Fear as “just being practical” or muttering to like-minded colleagues “I’ve seen this before”. Apart from anything, we are supposed to inspire our students and give them the sense that it doesn’t matter if you fail. You just learn from it and do things differently next time, without judging yourself or worrying about being judged.

Not only that but as I mentioned in a previous post on Flipped Learning, students should be encouraged to engage with materials before the lesson in which they are studied. This allows the teacher to focus more on higher-order tasks regarding analysis, evaluation and problem-solving, rather than basic content delivery and comprehension. Blogging allows this to happen but also introduces the depth of analysis via peer-led discussions of the content.

Top tips for creating your ‘beginner blogger’s mindset’

  1. Don’t judge yourself before starting a class blog.
  2. If it ‘fails’ first time around, don’t judge yourself then either.
  3. Stop thinking that others are judging you. They aren’t. In fact, they’re probably jealous of your guts to try it in the first place.
  4. Now try it again, but tweak it a little.
  5. Repeat until you succeed. (It really won’t take you long – you’re probably overestimating how hard it really is!!)
  6. Tell others what made it work and what the benefits of blogging vs other methods are.

How do I set up my first class blog?

Blogger

Firstly, you will need to decide on a blogging platform. There are many out there and for the most part, there is little between them in terms of how you would use them in the classroom. However, I’m going to show you step-by-step how to use WordPress.com to set up your blog. I use WordPress for all of my classroom blogs and even this blog you’re reading right now! It’s very easy to set up and to customise as you see fit.

All you need to do now is to follow each step and you will have your very own blog to use within five minutes!

  1. Go to www.wordpress.com and click on “Get Started” in the top-right corner of the screen.
  2. Select an initial layout for your blog from the basic templates. (You can change this later.) For ease of use, I would pick the “A list of my latest posts” option as it offers the simplest layouts.
  3. Choose a theme. A theme is a detailed template which you can customise or leave as it is. Any theme will do for now, as again, you can change this later if you like.
  4. Choose your domain (the web address of your blog). Type into the box a word or phrase you would like to appear in your blog’s web address and a list of FREE and PAID options will appear. Choose the FREE option. WARNING: You cannot change your domain once you have registered, so try out a few names to see which ones work for you.
  5.  Pick a Plan. Again just select the FREE option, unless you are familiar with blogging and web design and want more features. Personally, I think this is completely unnecessary for classroom blogging, but once you catch the blogging bug you might consider this in the future. With the exception of this website, I’ve always used the FREE options and been completely satisfied with what they have to offer for my students.
  6. Create your account. Type in your email address and select a username and password in order to log in to your blog in future.
  7. You will be sent a confirmation email to the email address you registered with in the previous step. Go into your email and click “Confirm”. You will be redirected to a login page where you need to enter your username and password that you picked in the previous step.
  8. You will now be directed to your “Dashboard” where you can create your own content or link to content that exists elsewhere on the web.

Publishing your first post

Now that you’ve set up your blog, play around with the different features in the dashboard to familiarise yourself with them. Don’t worry about clicking on the wrong thing, you can’t break your blog! As with any new technology, the more you play around with it, the quicker you will learn about it. The Dashboard is designed to be as user-friendly as possible. However, if you are having any issues understanding how things work then there are a tonne of tutorials on WordPress, aimed at beginners. I’ve found that YouTube is also a brilliant resource for blogging tutorials too, with the added benefit of you being able to see what you are supposed to type or click on.

Keep your first post simple.

I tend to make my first post about “House Rules” for students using the blog. It really helps if from the outset students know exactly what they are and aren’t allowed to do on the blog. Set out your high expectations and (hopefully) the students will meet them.

To create a new blog post, go to the Dashboard and click the “Add” button next to where is says “Blog Posts” (I told you it was user-friendly!). Type in your title, then add your text beneath. You can add images if you like, or you could even add a link to another website. Once you are finished, it’s time to “Publish” by clicking on the “Publish button on the left-hand side.

Congratulations, you are now a blogger!

Final thoughts…

I would love to hear about your classroom blogging experiences and would be happy to answer any questions you have about starting a class blog. Just leave a comment on this post or send me a tweet (@guruteaching) and I’ll get right back to you.

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How Flipped Learning Works

How to use flipped learning

What is Flipped Learning?

Flipped Learning is how we should all teach, all of the time. This is a bold claim, but I mean it sincerely. Not because I know it all (I really don’t!) and not because other methods don’t work (they do!). The simple aim of Flipped Learning is to ‘flip’ delivery of content, creating more independent students. Less challenging tasks are completed outside of the classroom, where there is less support available from the teacher. More challenging tasks are completed within the classroom, where there is more support available from the teacher. Independent learning becomes more embedded, student engagement increases and progress over time speeds up. Oh, and the best part is that it reduces teacher workload.

Flipped Learning has been around for a long time, but many of us haven’t thought to utilise it properly. Instead, we focus on a more traditional method of teaching. Teachers often deliver basic-level content then set a more complex task for homework that builds upon the activity from that lesson. The homework task is often difficult, pushing the students to their limits. After all, we do want our students to be challenged! However, little Jimmy returns the next day and says he hasn’t completed his homework as it was too hard. Weeks go on and the gap widens between those who are more-able and those who are less-able.

So, back to little Jimmy…

Solution 1: Provide little Jimmy with a more detailed set of instructions for each homework task?

Solution 2: Provide little Jimmy with a different task to the rest of the class?

Solution 3: Assume little Jimmy was lazy, tell him off and don’t change your homework policy?

Question: Which of the above solutions is the right one here?

Answer: ALL of them.

However, we’ve tried all of these and had mixed results. Not only that, but you might even be tempted to dismiss the third solution, viewing it as too hard to implement, or even a ‘waste of time’ if it doesn’t work. Either that or you are afraid of making changes that you and your colleagues view as adding further unmanageable workload. But I can tell you from experience that there is a way to implement a Flipped Classroom approach without increasing workload. In fact, when used properly, you actually reduce your workload over time, something we should all aspire towards. You can read this post for more tips on reducing workload.

Encouraging and guiding independent learning is the key to success

Mastering independent learning is what will ultimately make you students more resilient and less likely to give excuses for missing deadlines and failing to complete work. Furthermore, it will enable the students to go beyond what you as the teacher are able to achieve, in the limited number of hours that you see them in the classroom.

In reality, the Flipped Learning method of delivery, when approached sensibly, reduces the incidence of missed deadlines, challenges students further within a sequence of lessons and REDUCES WORKLOAD! That’s right – it’s that magic wand we’ve been searching for. You can click here to read my Seven Ways To Reduce Teaching Workload.

Why is Flipped Learning important?

In order for students to make outstanding progress, they must be able to move through Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, from the basics of remembering information, to being able to deploy that information is a meaningful and complex way. To achieve such a feat in lesson-time alone is almost impossible today. However, the Flipped Learning approach leverages time outside of the lesson, in order to move through the stages at a quicker pace whilst supporting students during the most complex parts. All you are doing is re-ordering activities, so that students are supported when they need it.

Bloom's Taxonomy for Flipped Learning

How can I use Flipped Learning in my lessons?

Lesson 1: Introduce students to the course you are teaching – give out information on the basic outline and discuss future issues to be studied further. This allows students to read ahead if they wish. Your more engaged students will do this if you open the door for them.

Homework task 1: Students research information from a book/watch a YouTube tutorial/listen to a podcast/etc, then answer a set of questions based on comprehension or evaluation of the material.

Lesson 2: Spend a little time on checking comprehension is completed to the standard required, then focus the rest of the lesson on applying that research to a problem-solving activity, an evaluative task, a scientific experiment, creating a product, or demonstrating a skill within a sport. Higher-order thinking skills are best studied and practised with you in the room to support the students. Many of them may not have this support at home.

Homework task 2: By this point, your students have established a basic understanding of the topic, have practised skills of analysis and evaluation and have seen model answers in class. The timing should now be perfect for students to tackle much more challenging tasks which synthesise their knowledge and understanding of the basics, with more complex material. The complex material that you add here should form a bridge from the topic which has just been taught, to the topic that you will cover in the next lesson.

Repeat this sequence until you have completed the course.

Examples of Flipped Learning resources to get you started

  • Podcasts – I often direct my students to iTunes as there is pretty much a podcast for anything you can imagine. Also, Audiopi has developed an extensive range of podcasts, created with GCSE and A Level students in mind. Read my post on Why Podcasts Improve Learning.
  • Video clips – As with podcasts, there are videos on everything. Youtube and Vimeo have an excellent range.
  • Books – Good old-fashioned words on pages. You can find books everywhere.
  • Market research – send students out to gather research on a topic from people they know. A simple Google Form can be created in minutes and emailed to anyone.
  • Blogs – You can find blogs on most topics, but make sure you thoroughly vet them first before directing students to them!

Nowhere in the Flipped Learning model has the teacher delivered basic-level content

Students can gather this information on their own. Obviously, don’t hand a ten-year-old an undergraduate textbook, or use a grainy video with a monotonous voice-over. The material must not only be accessible, it must also be engaging. Otherwise, students will ‘switch off’ and claim they couldn’t complete the task when in fact they just didn’t want to attempt it.

There are times where you, the teacher, as a subject-expert, needs to act “the sage on the stage”, but just not as often as previously thought. You can let go of the reins a little! Independent learning conducted frequently by the students relieves a lot of the pressure on you to deliver a high volume of content. The students are fully able to complete lower-intensity research tasks in their own time, freeing up lesson time for you to develop more advanced skills of analysis and evaluation and to deepen their understanding of key issues.

Congratulations!

You have saved time on delivering content, students have managed to do this for themselves! You have spent a higher proportion of classroom time on higher-order learning activities (see Bloom’s Taxonomy for details), challenging students to use information in a range of practical ways. Less time and energy has been spent chasing students for missed homework deadlines, as students now find homework tasks easier to do – they have fewer excuses!

But more importantly, your (previously sceptical) colleagues now want to know your secret to having more free time, happier students and higher exam results. You don’t have to “sell” Flipped Learning to them anymore!

My challenge to you

Dive in. Have a go. Try it. PLEASE! (You can thank me later!) And then use those extra hours you’ve freed up each week to have a rest.

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