Each year I make New Year’s Resolutions with varying degrees of success and failure. But what I’ve learnt is that the plans I make only work when I’ve made a conscious effort to keep them. Last year I decided to start blogging and it’s been one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my professional and personal life. I had never blogged before and the idea of it filled me with fear and excitement in equal measure. Each week I wondered whether people would understand what I’d written, whether they would agree with me, or whether they even cared at all. It’s easy to lose motivation if you dwell on the negative “what ifs’ for too long.
This week I want to share with you some of the problems and solutions I’ve discovered over the past year. Not because I think you should copy what I’ve done, but because we all fail at times when making grand plans. Hopefully, after reading this, you can at the very least be reassured that your New Year’s Resolutions are achievable if you approach them in the right way.
Make a resolution you will be proud of
Last year I wanted a new challenge. It’s not that I was bored, or had too much time on my hands, I just wanted to squeeze a little more out of my experiences. I’d been reading a number of blogs, some on teaching, others completely unrelated. The best ones all had something in common: they shared ways to add value to the world. This, for me, was something that drew me to teaching in the first place. It’s also something I try to promote with my students when they have to choose career paths, apply for Higher Education courses, or just to find meaning in what they are doing right now. If we all tried our best to add value to the world, in whatever way we can, then we can honestly say that we are successful.
Adding value to the world isn’t always easy. That’s why we sometimes need special times like New Year in order to motivate us. But what exactly does “adding value to the world” mean? It sounds like a throwaway phrase that a politician or a celebrity might use. But it’s far from superficial. Adding value means taking what skills, knowledge and opportunities you have and putting them to use for the benefit of others. We all do this as teachers, but often we limit ourselves when faced with more challenging ways to add value. New Year is a great time to make plans to add value to what we do. Below I’ve included a brief list New Year’s resolutions you can make, to improve your students’ experience in education.
Some resolutions for you to try:
Personalise learning for your students in a more sophisticated way. Look at what or how individual students need to be taught, rather than what or how groups need to be taught.
Give your students specific opportunities to demonstrate independent learning and reward them for going above and beyond.
Encourage more collaboration between your students so they benefit from gaining interpersonal skills.
Encourage more collaboration between yourself and colleagues to improve teaching and reduce workload
Build stronger relationships with parents and families of your students to help support them better when they’ve left your classroom
Write your own education blog or contribute a post to someone else’s blog
Mentor a colleague on something they find challenging but you find less challenging
Spend a little extra time creating a ‘perfect’ resource rather than a resource that ‘will do for now’
Give more instant verbal feedback and less delayed written feedback to help students progress over time
Learn and use a teaching method you’ve never tried before, to boost engagement by varying your approach to lessons
Follow some education bloggers on Twitter (I’m @guruteaching) and contribute to debates
How can I keep my New Year’s Resolutions?
Often the only way I’m able to stick to my plans is by using a support network around me to keep me on the straight and narrow. When I started blogging, for example, I made sure that my posts went straight into my social networks. That way, I knew that my friends and colleagues would ask me about how my blog was going, as they would see updated posts each week. If I missed a post, I knew that certain people would ask me why, which just made me feel guilty. It’s December now and I’ve posted several posts each month, every month since beginning.
Your New Year’s Resolutions don’t have to be posted on social media though. Find yourself an accountability partner. This is someone who will ask you the questions you don’t want to answer, so that you force yourself to keep going when you don’t feel like it. That way, when the end of the year arrives, you will be able to stand tall and say that you’ve achieved what you set out to do. Be honest here, how often can you say you were able to do that? How great will you feel?
My New Year’s Resolution this year
I’m now going to put my money where my mouth is. This year I want to create a set of infographics to put around my classroom, as cheat-sheets or how-to guides for my students. They have to be colourful, interesting to look at and above all, they must be easy to use. I have absolutely no background in design, so this will be a real challenge for me, but one that I will be proud of by the end of the year. I’m a fan of online tools and the most promising one I’ve found so far for creating infographics is Canva. I’d love to hear about any other you’ve used too. Please leave a reply below if you know of any others.
YOU are my accountability partner here and I really do want you to ask me how I’m getting on with designing my infographics during the year. Feel free to make me feel guilty on Twitter if you think I’m not sticking with it. Hopefully though, I will add value to my students’ world.
Asking the right questions, in the right way, at the right time, is the single most important thing you can do in a lesson.
The right questions engage your students, identify their reasoning and challenge their viewpoints. Great questions enable students to analyse and evaluate their own and other students’ positions. Perceptive questions drive self-improvement and improvement in others.
High-quality questioning significantly improves student progress over time. This week I explore how we can all use high-quality questioning to drive student progress to raise achievement and to promote a love of learning.
What questions should we ask?
There are two types of questions that we ask: closed questions and open questions. Closed questions are ones where there is a predefined response. For example, if I asked “Is London the capital city of England?” your answer would be either “yes” or “no”. My question doesn’t require you to go beyond that short response, so the information I can gather from closed questions is very limited.
Open questions allow for more extended answers. For example, if I asked, “What do you think of London?” the person answering could go in an infinite number of directions, explaining their answer at great length and in whatever way they wanted. Open questioning is very useful for finding out great breadth and depth of information, that you may not even have known to look for.
What does “open questioning” look like?
In lessons, I always begin with an open question. I teach Religious Studies and Law. Open questions are plentiful when it comes to morality, justice, and belief! Last week I asked this question to a group of 16 to17-year-old Law students: “How fair is the law on murder?” I expected some fairly short responses, as we’d only been studying the topic for a few lessons and so hadn’t delved very deeply into an evaluation of the topic. How wrong I was.
Their responses were fantastic! Students took the basic legal rules that I had taught them and began to create thought-experiments where the current laws would lead to absurd court decisions. They egged each other on, over and over, asking each other “What if…?”, “Yeah, but what if…?”, “No, but what if…?” It was magical. Once I took the students over to the Law Blog I had set up for their homework, they took the debate even further once they had left the classroom! You can read more on how to use WordPress blogs to teach in this post.
One simple question about fairness had led to twenty minutes of sophisticated thought, critical analysis, argument, counter-argument and eventually to the beginnings of an evaluative conclusion. They had explored, by questioning each other, every nook and cranny. They began with a naive and basic response to the question and by the end had arrived at complex and thought-provoking conclusions. I had given no direction and I introduced no further content to stimulate the discussion. Everything they came up with had originated in their own minds. Powerful stuff!
Here are some question styles to encourage depth in debates
Use them in starter activities, or during feedback sessions, to keep students thinking and to encourage them to go into greater depth. Design your questions so that they can’t give a superficial response!
What do you think of…?
How far would you agree that…?
To what extent is…?
How similar is…?
What do you think caused…?
Why do you think [name] is correct/incorrect?
Why are you persuaded by…?
Why are they wrong to say…?
Enhanced questioning techniques…
Don’t worry, this isn’t a CIA interrogation manual! However, the word ‘interrogation’ does make me reflect on some students who see questioning, especially in whole-class feedback sessions, as intimidating. Questioning doesn’t have to intimidate. Many students fear questions because they don’t want to give the wrong answer. You can address this in a number of ways.
Ask students who are particularly quiet open-ended questions that don’t require a ‘right’ answer. By getting them to engage just once or twice, even with a basic response, they will begin to lose the anxiety which many of our students face.
Ask a variety of questions and then allow the students to choose the one they would prefer to answer. By allowing them to take ownership over their learning, their engagement (see the common theme here?) will increase over time. They won’t be able to hide behind the myth that they are ‘forced’ to learn in a particular way. They are choosing the way themselves!
Try questions like “Why might some people agree with…?”. That way, the student doesn’t have to give their personal view, which they may be terrified to reveal! There are likely to be several different ways they can give a good answer, thus reducing their fear of failure.
Over time, keep going back to the “quiet” students, asking progressively more challenging questions. Once they begin to realise that they have nothing to fear, they will open up more and give deeper and more sophisticated responses, which is more likely to lead to a rise in attainment when it comes to exam time.
Tips on getting students to ask high-quality questions
There are a number of resources that you can use with your students to create high-quality questions. I know a lot of people use question-dice, where each side contains a question or even just the starter to a question, much like the list above. There is also the question matrix, which is excellent for demonstrating the different levels of questions that students can ask. They range from “What is..”, to “Who would…”, to “How might…?”. Students can choose a level of questioning they are comfortable with and gradually move from one side of the grid to the other as they challenge themselves over time.
In order for students to begin to create more sophisticated questions, they must have a good level of subject knowledge. A simple way to add depth to students’ knowledge of a topic, even early on in the topic, is to encourage independent learning beyond the classroom. Independent learning, as I’ve written about a number of times, is absolutely crucial for deepening the understanding of all students. Not only that, but it stretches the ‘most able’ (I have mixed feelings about this label) students to ‘go beyond the exam’ and to see the importance of the topics they study. When this becomes a regular feature of the students’ experience of a subject, they will naturally begin to ask a wider variety of questions. In turn, the whole class will be exposed to a much broader and deeper curriculum than if they had relied simply on teacher-directed learning.
From my own experience, students who ask sophisticated questions are more likely to give sophisticated answers. If you want more sophisticated answers, then you should model more sophisticated questions in your teaching. The students learn from us first!
I’d love to hear about how you use questioning techniques in your class. Please leave a reply below.
Just because we are teaching, it doesn’t mean they are learning…
How can we maximise the learning in our lessons?
I learn best when I am completely engrossed, or immersed in a subject. By ‘best’ I mean with speed, depth of understanding and creating a long-term change. This ‘change’ could be in perceptions, level of confidence, skills, or even just the ability to retain knowledge. This is what many teachers would truly define as ‘progress’. So how can we use Immersive Learning to increase engagement and deepen understanding for our students?
Remove as many external distractions as possible. Replace them with a wide variety of ways for the student to engage with the content, no matter which way they turn. This is what ‘Immersive Learning’ is and it can truly accelerate the progress of your students. Let’s see how it works!
Question: How do we implement ‘Immersive Learning’ for our students?
To really develop a student’s understanding of a topic, they need to be fully ‘immersed’. Let’s compare two French students – one who studies only in the classroom and one who goes to France for a month during the summer. Who do you think will develop a greater understanding of the nuances of language use? Who will pick up variations in language use between sub-cultures, genders, etc? Who will have a better ‘working knowledge’ of the language and be able to creatively play with words? Of course, it will be the student who has been completely immersed in the culture. Perhaps more crucially, they will realise that they must learn very quickly how the language operates. The stakes are raised if students depend on learning the language to order their food!
Ok, but what if I can’t take all my students to France?
Obviously, you can’t always take your students out of the classroom. The good news is that you can completely immerse students in any setting, providing you plan for it. Take Religious Studies, for example. If you are teaching about a religion that students are not familiar with, then there is no better way to develop a deeper understanding than to get them to celebrate a festival, simulate a place of worship or mix with people belonging to that religion.
I find that watching a film or a documentary can be a good ‘gateway’ exercise to this – but it must never be a stand-alone task. The reason? Your students might mistake the scripted and staged scenes that they see on screen with real-life! Any use of media, whether fiction or non-fiction, must be followed up with analytical and evaluative exercises. They should compare perceptions created by the media with real life in a community. Remember, the whole point of Immersive Learning is to encourage a deeper understanding, not to give a superficial understanding. But I digress. The takeaway here is that Immersive Learning is possible in ALL subjects.
Here are three Immersive Learning strategies to get you started…
1. CSI-style problem-solving activity
Set up your classroom so that when the students enter, they immediately have to make sense of a situation, they are directed to solve a problem and there are clearly defined success criteria. For example, in a Science lesson, students could enter the lab to discover that an explosion has happened. There could be a variety of materials nearby (either real or not real – just stay safe!) that may or may not have contributed to the explosion. Students must use their knowledge of those materials to decide upon the most likely cause.
You don’t have to rely on prior learning, as you could also have information about the materials ready for the students to discover. Make the materials as interesting as possible help ensure the students become as engrossed as possible. Don’t just use information sheets. Try using YouTube videos on iPads (you could even upload your own!). I’ve found that this works brilliantly for students at all ages. Personally, I favour a Flipped Learning approach in order to immerse students quickly, as they will have studied some material in preparation for the lesson, allowing more challenging concepts and skills to be taught in class.
2. Simulate a celebration event
Teaching students about the importance of the Seder meal in Judaism can be livened up by actually holding a Seder meal in the classroom. Organise for the students to each contribute something to the meal. Have them design their own special plate to use, showing relevant symbolism or aspects of the Passover story. To increase engagement further, have someone from the Jewish community, be they a Rabbi or a lay-person, to help celebrate the meal and discuss its importance to Jews. Students will certainly remember this event for far longer than if they had simply done some paper-based tasks on the topic.
3. Contribute to a real-life campaign
Last week in my blog post Homework: What’s the Point?, I mentioned that I recently challenged students to create a viral video. Many of them created such fantastic content, that when it was shared via social media they created quite a stir! They loved contributing to a campaign (in their case it was on the ethics of animal testing). However, the students also developed an incredibly deep awareness of the issues, as well as a wide variety of people’s reactions and perceptions. The students were challenged to re-evaluate their own positions on the issue, as it had become a ‘real’ part of their life, rather than simply a theoretical task. Immersive Learning had a profound impact on the students that day.
Two more tips!
This can have a massive effect on the depth of the immersion. Have parents contribute to your lessons, by engaging them to interact with your students as part of a homework task. Students could be challenged to debate with their parents on a given topic and record their conclusions. At the start of term, parents could even be given a list of activities to do or places to visit, that would complement the learning that takes place in school.
Make the common theme in a lesson sequence more obvious to students
Try to move away from stand-alone lessons and instead move towards a sequence of ‘joined-up’ lessons, so that students can better understand the links between the various topics. If the students can see the common theme running through a scheme of work, they will be more likely to feel ‘immersed’ and will be less likely to forget the reasons why they are studying a given idea.
Ok, so what now?
These tried and tested Immersive Learning methods have been proven to be extremely effective. They challenge students, encourage creativity and build cross-curricular links. Your challenge this week is to take one of these methods and try it. You’ll be surprised at how incredibly effective they are.
“Ok, time to get your homework planners out.” [Groans are heard around the classroom].
Is this a familiar scene? Was it just the same when you were at school? As a teacher, do you give the same types of homework tasks over and over? Are your students bored by this? I’ve started introducing some homework tasks that are slightly different to what they’ve been used to. Things that take the students out of their comfort zone.
It’s making a difference.
This week I’m looking at homework – what we do, why we do it and why we should view homework differently.
What exactly is the purpose of homework?
1. Link between lessons
When we plan a sequence of lessons, there should be a common thread running though them. Good sequences of lessons flow naturally from one lesson to the next. Students should be able to understand why one lesson follows from a previous one. Setting homework can ease this transition. It gives the students the opportunity to see the wider context of the topics they are studying.
For example, if planning a lesson on global warming, followed by a lesson on natural resources, you could bridge that gap, helping the students to see why they are interconnected. In this example you could set a task that encourages the students to consider how the causes and effects of global warming could be mitigated by different factors and specify the use of natural resources as one of these factors to consider. This introduction to the topic will show students how the topics are linked and will also improve the starting point for each student the following lesson, enabling progress to develop further and quicker.
2. Opportunity to go into detail without time constraints
Students are required to learn in ever increasing levels of depth and breadth, to satisfy the requirements of exam boards and government targets. However the amount of lesson time that can be devoted to this is not increasing to cope with the demand. Homework is the most obvious solution. But there are so many questions to consider here. How should we use homework? Should we just give more homework? Should we change the type of homework we give? Should we do both? When? For which student groups? When? The list goes on…
In my own experience, there are some specific areas that we could devote weeks of teaching-time to, but we only have days to work with. Effective homework tasks are far better than higher volumes of homework. Not only because they place less pressure on students and teachers (we need to leave time for quality marking too remember!), but many tasks we use are slow to achieving our learning objectives. My advice here (again from my own experience) is to select a niche in a very specific topic area and to ask an open question to the student (e.g. “analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of…”, “how does x compare to y?”, etc).
You could give further support to scaffold the students’ responses if they need it (sub-questions, particular areas to look at, sentence-starters, etc). The open question will enable higher level learning to take place, whilst the support makes the depth of learning accessible to students who otherwise might not develop further. I’ll be writing about Effective Questioning in a future blog post. Subscribe so that you don’t miss it!
3. To ensure progress across a sequence of lessons
Progress is not linear. I’ll repeat that: PROGRESS IS NOT LINEAR! I make this point regularly to colleagues who feel that lesson observations and data points throughout the academic year should be used to monitor quality of teaching. To put my point quite frankly, lesson observations as a way of measuring student progress are a blunt instrument and should be abandoned immediately. More on that in a future post I think! Progress happens at different rates, at different times in the course, for different students. In order to ensure progress over the long-term (the true purpose of education?) students must be able to go beyond what is taught in the classroom. Some topics require much greater depth of understanding, or a broader range of ideas to be considered, before progress can really be ‘achieved’. Independent learning and homework are two solutions to this.
Use project-based tasks to deepen understanding and develop skills further
I recently began setting my students longer, more project-based tasks. This meant that they could take time to develop depth and breadth in the knowledge and skills that I wanted them to focus on. One task was for students in small groups to create a “viral video” on the ethics of animal experimentation (on either side of the debate). I wanted students to develop their responses, but also to try to convince others to side with their view. The students not only improved their argument skills, but they also developed a greater awareness of how others perceive their arguments, how to use language to convey meaning and how to use technology to raise awareness and increase engagement of an issue. These skills will be invaluable to the students in their exam, but also after they’ve left school to work in a whole variety of industries.
Getting students to create or contribute to a blog is another method. In doing so, students begin to develop a long-term approach to the way they present their information, redrafting, responding to feedback, etc. You could create a blog for the class, or you could have the students (individually or in groups) create their own.
Practice independent learning
With so much pressure being put on students and teachers to raise achievement in exams, it can be very tempting to “teach to the test”. The result? Students achieve good exam results, but they have little ability to do anything else – things that would be useful in the “real world” once they leave school.
We deal with this, not by ignoring the teaching of exam technique, but by supplementing what students do in class with guided independent tasks. I’ve seen good examples of this amongst my colleagues, from wider reading lists, to homework menus, to term-long homework projects. The common theme throughout is that the student retains some autonomy over what sources of information they use. They can use as much or as little as they like and they can present their findings via a method of their choosing. The result? Higher levels of engagement, more creativity, the students retain the information for longer and they develop “real-world” skills.
Opportunity to learn outside of the limitations of the classroom
The last thing we want to do as teachers is to limit our students in any way, I’d certainly be horrified by this, as would many parents. However, we often don’t think about the ways our students can be limited. A classroom limits learning. By its size, by the resources available, by the students present and by the teacher leading the learning within it. Homework allows for students to free themselves from these limitations. They can access resources not available to schools, they can free themselves from peer-pressure when doing things their own unusual ways. The depth of student responses improves, as does the breadth of their studies.
But perhaps even more importantly, it can contribute to the teacher’s understanding of what the students are capable. This will influence how the teacher leads the learning of other students, now and in the future. Setting “the right” homework enables students AND teachers to develop in a significant way.
There are tonnes of other ways that homework can raise achievement in our schools, far too many to mention here!
I’d love to hear of any methods you use to increase engagement and deepen learning. As usual, drop me a message!
Question: What do the most successful performers in ANY industry have in common?
No man is an island. Not only that but in a world where teachers connect with each other 24/7 over email, social media, etc, we no longer work in isolation. This week’s blog post is something I’ve been considering for a while now. We work in teams, so how do we make the best use of our colleagues in order to raise achievement?
What does a successful team look like?
If you want to see what phenomenal teamwork looks like, just watch a pit crew in a Formula 1 race. Teams in education are no different and the most successful all have the same essential attributes:
Every member has a pre-defined job
They all do their jobs extremely well
They trust each other
They hold each other accountable
They hold themselves accountable
Now ask yourself: do the above points accurately describe the teams you belong to? If not, then what can you do to improve your team and to raise achievement?
Five simple ways to improve your team and raise achievement:
1. Know your job
It’s crucial that you know exactly what you are personally responsible for and what others are personally responsible for. Without knowing this, how could you begin to raise achievement? If you are unsure then a useful exercise is to sketch out a hierarchy (most if not all schools are hierarchical), showing the different levels of responsibility of team members from the very top to the very bottom. That way, it will be much easier to hold yourself and others accountable for the whole range of responsibilities. Once all the jobs are defined, you can begin to collaborate more effectively.
2. Actively work with each other
When designing a scheme of work, or contacting a student’s parents or planning a trip, do we actively involve others in the process? Not only is it useful to share workload when completing complex tasks, you will also benefit from colleagues’ experiences too. In their roles, they may well have encountered similar issues to the one you are busy solving. I always find it helps to see things from a different perspective – it also pays dividends to learn from other people’s mistakes!
3. When analysing your own performance, focus on the important details
It’s very easy when things don’t go to plan, that we can make excuses. Studies show that this happens even more often when others are observing – some people just don’t like to take responsibility for things that THEY could have done differently. For instance, a particular cohort of students may have a real issue with completing homework on time and to a good standard. Is this a behaviour issue? is it their organisation skills? Is there a knowledge deficit? Do they lack engagement with their subject? It’s vital to determine the correct cause of the issue, or else you will waste energy trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, whilst the real problem keeps rumbling on.
4. When holding others accountable, ask the right questions
The same studies that show our unwillingness to hold ourselves responsible also show that we prefer to blame others. Teachers MUST hold each other accountable. Without this, we won’t be able to maintain and drive up standards. However, this can be done in a positive, developmental way, or it can become punitive and lead to decreased motivation. When asking colleagues to evaluate their own performance, ask questions that generate practical and useful answers. Framing ‘problems’ as ‘opportunities to develop specific teaching methods’ is another proven strategy. Another popular one is the ‘feedback sandwich’ – give one piece of positive feedback, then one way to improve and then another positive. Remind colleagues that they have more good points than bad, but don’t shy away from being totally honest. Over the long term, it’s important to make sure that colleagues feel supported and encouraged. Even teachers who are completely honest in their self-evaluation won’t feel motivated to fix problems if they feel their positive attributes aren’t valued.
5. Keep in regular contact with each other
This one is my own particular failing (hence why I put it at the end!) but it makes a huge difference when I get it right. Far too easily we can become engrossed in a never-ending checklist of day-to-day tasks. It’s important, now and again, to let others know what you are up to. Also to engage them in a conversation about how they could participate, or how you could help them. In my own experience, it prevents problems down the line, where I’ve ended up duplicating the work a colleague had already done, or where I could have offered help before a problem reared its head. One very short email every week or so is all it takes and the shorter it is, the better!
Call to action!
The best teachers will always act on advice, even if they only focus on one tiny snippet at a time. Don’t get left behind! Take one small step from those outlined above and spend no more than five minutes on it TODAY. You know fine well if you leave it until tomorrow then it will never get done. Be outstanding and raise achievement NOW!
Disrupting education is essential to bring schools into the 21st Century. Why? Schools are old. Really old. The system isn’t much different now to how it was during the Industrial Revolution. The aim of schools back then was to create a population fit to work in a variety of factories. Subjects were taught in isolation from each other, with no differentiation. Today, we have differentiation, but largely the same model. Only now, we are moving people out of factories, as robots are moving into them. We aren’t needed in factories anymore! Schools need to address this urgently, or we will become irrelevant.
Why is disrupting education the solution?
Ask yourself: Do we maintain the status quo in education because we already have the best possible model? Or are we afraid (or just unwilling) to change the current model because the new one might not work?
I like the word “disruptive”. When something is disruptive it focuses our attention on it. We think about it properly and act on it. When was the last time we properly considered disrupting education, eg. how and why we plan our school buildings, timetables, technology and lessons the way we do? I think we should. I believe we should completely revolutionise what a school’s purpose is, who it is for and how it operates.
Last week when looking for something to read this summer I came across founder of Wired magazine and “Futurist” Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly). In his new book, The Inevitable, he discusses some of his ideas about how the future is likely to look in 10 to 30 years time.
We already know that there will be new devices that our lives will revolve around, like mobile phones today. These devices probably won’t even be invented until a few years time. We also know that Artificial Intelligence will be so sophisticated, cheap and widely accessible, that much of today’s “education” in schools will be largely redundant. The result? We won’t need to learn things that computers will do automatically and much more efficiently for us.
I always remember my Maths teacher telling me that I should put my calculator away because I’m not going to have one in my pocket at all times when I’m older. Ha! So, is new and emerging new technology already making some of our subjects obsolete? Let’s see…
How do we use technology already?
1. Google Translate: can translate languages at the click of a mouse
In Modern Foreign Languages lessons, we learn how to spell, pronounce and understand different languages. We do this primarily because if we didn’t, then it would be difficult to communicate with others around the globe. What if technology removed that barrier? Would we still teach and learn other languages? Would there be any point? My heart is saying yes, but my head is saying no (for the vast majority of students). Would it become a luxury rather than a necessity to be able to speak fluent French in future?
2. Augmented Reality: apps can project holograms of the people you are speaking to on Skype
What if we didn’t teach students from our catchment area, but from around the world instead? Imagine each student, from countries around the world, sitting in your classroom (if a physical classroom is even needed), in holographic form. It sounds far-fetched, but there are companies all over the world who are already adopting this technology for holding meetings and training events. AR is already disrupting industry. It will disrupt education. I think that AR will become a feature of top performing “global schools” at some point in our lifetime. As teachers, we need to begin thinking about how we can best utilise this technology, although perhaps on a much smaller scale at first!
3. Virtual Reality: can simulate practical learning environments in standardised and measurable ways
In many industries where the work is physically demanding, involves an element of risk, or requires a detailed and standardised analysis of techniques used, we use simulators to train workers. These simulations used to take place in huge physical machines – think of the flight simulators you see at fairgrounds. Nowadays, simulators rely less on machinery and more on software to simulate the ‘sensation’ of our physical environment. Consider this: some schools in our inner cities have little in the way of outdoor space for athletics training. What if we could train students on a physical technique in a classroom environment, where a ‘virtual’ javelin was used instead of a physical one? Data could be gathered and analysed immediately using inbuilt software and could give personal feedback, in real time, to 30 students at once. No marking required!
My question to you:
If we could implement any of these (or other) technologies now, at no cost, how would it change the way you taught your subject?
Top students often go beyond what they’ve been asked to do when it comes to producing extended pieces of work, especially if given the chance to conduct research. It’s a virtuous circle, helping students become top students and then because they are top students they continue to learn independently as that is now their new ‘normal’ expectation. Depth and frequency of independent learning typically lead to better results in formal assessments. So the question is, how do we get the rest of the students to conduct independent learning?
Below are three handy tips you can use to encourage students to engage in independent learning.
1. Guide your students
Most students don’t use independent learning to complement the required tasks they are given. Sometimes they just can’t be bothered. However, many students don’t bother because they haven’t the foggiest idea where to start. One thing you can do for them is to provide a simple and unintimidating list of sources they can use for specific topics. Break it down to page numbers and even paragraphs if need be, just to get them started. You could give the students this menu of options at the beginning of each topic, each term, or as I’ve done, at the beginning of the year to glue onto the inside cover of their folders. I give a copy of a Wider Reading List to my A Level students at the beginning of their final year. They should aim to use at least one of the sources in addition to the textbooks and other materials they receive in class when they submit an essay. I also encourage them to add a source to the list, to demonstrate even greater independence. The list offers guidance to those who don’t know where to go for information, but allows them to be independent learners too.
Choice is important too. If the students feel as though they can pick whichever source they like, they will feel a greater sense of ownership over their learning. This is a well-documented way to boost engagement. Not only that, but once students are offered a choice, they are able to consider a range of alternatives before finally deciding upon a source to use. Their skills of source-selection and evaluation become more refined, allowing them to be even more independent in the future.
2. Choose your sources carefully
If independent learning is not a common feature of your class, then ease yourself into it. Don’t pick a stack of weighty titles from the bookshelf, or the top ten ranked pages on Google – the students won’t thank you for it and will most likely just not read it.
Instead, choose two or three easy-to-access resources and not necessarily written ones either – YouTube is brilliant, so are Vimeo and Slideshare. Students who have conducted independent learning before are much more likely to do it again, compared with students who have never done it before. Remove the barrier to starting independent learning by making it less demanding first round.
3. Set your expectations and monitor them
Students must know that independent learning is not an optional extra, but a required part of the course. Those of you operating a Flipped Learning model will understand how homework can be used to gain huge advantages. Here, the student gets to choose what, when and how they use the independent learning material. They choose how much advantage they want to take and in what direction.
How do you know they’ve done it?
At the bottom of the options menu, create a box where students can write down each time they’ve used one of the sources. You could even give a termly reward for those who have made the best use of the menu, or for those who have shown the most progress. Make it meaningful to students and they will adopt it.
I would love to know how you promote independent learning in your classes. Send me a message!
Also, if you want to see an example of a menu that I’ve used then leave your email address below and I’ll send you a free copy.
“Why do I need to know the difference between Plato and Aristotle? I’m not going to be a philosopher!”
Thus began my Friday afternoon a few months ago. A group of A Level students was finalising some revision for their final exam on Philosophy of Religion. They had been learning the content for months by this point and had no problem with the main points. However, now that the exams were almost upon them, the students were beginning to feel frustrated, scared and annoyed by the fact that they hadn’t quite mastered everything quite yet. Time was running out. Fear and frustration are commonplace amongst students and it often leads them to ask why they are studying the subject in the first place. I replied to them that I was teaching future leaders the skills they would need to change the world. Only I’ve thought more about it since then and there’s an issue: we don’t know what the future will look like, so how can we possibly prepare for it?
How do we prepare students to work in future industries?
When students reach a certain point, they choose a range of subjects to continue learning. This is either because they enjoy them, or because they see those subjects as valuable in helping them get a job in the future. But how do we guide our students to make good choices for the future when we haven’t a clue about industries that don’t exist yet? Not only that, but what if students pick subjects related to one industry, but then after a few years of employment they want to move out of that industry? Many people have been left high and dry due to a lack of alternative career paths related to their education and skills. We need to move away from that.
Below I’ve given the five areas that we teachers should focus on, in combination with high-quality subject content, so that our students are prepared for a variety of opportunities that will come their way in the future:
Critical thinking skills
Critical Thinking Skills
Making wise choices does not come naturally to many students. They have neither the skills, the experience nor the patience, in many cases, to truly examine an issue in depth. This is a quality that is earned through practice, so we should try to give students as many opportunities to practice as we can. I find that beginning a lesson with an open question, such as “Assess how far…”, “To what extent does…” and revisiting the question every 10-15 minutes from a new angle, helps students to develop their critical thinking skills. Top tip – get students used to making a case for a viewpoint. Then have them argue in defence of it whilst other students pick holes in their arguments. They will love it and it will prepare them well for resolving conflicts in the future- a very useful skill.
All successful leaders have problem-solving skills. That is how they succeed – they identify a problem that someone has and they provide a solution. Within their own organisations, they will encounter problems too, be it with processes, products or people. In lessons, I try to simulate scenarios where solving a problem is the main success criteria for the activity. It could be done as a role play, as a Dragon’s Den episode, etc – whatever works for your subject!
Most employees work in teams to complete goals. They usually have individually defined roles within their teams, but in order to work effectively, they must collaborate. This was a prominent feature of a previous post of mine – There’s no “I” in iPad. I build collaboration into most of my lessons in some way, shape or form. The crucial thing to remember is that each individual must know what their own role is and why they are collaborating. This is as opposed to working individually. Understanding the value of collaboration will only serve to help students adopt it willingly.
A key feature of managerial positions in most companies and for independent entrepreneurs is the ability to manage projects effectively. But this isn’t usually a key feature of most curriculums so if we want our students to succeed further up the career ladder, then we should at the very least lay the foundations for them whilst they are with us. Tip: Set students projects that require a number of simultaneous tasks to be completed using a range of resources. This will help simulate the world they will enter in the future. Adding complexity to project management is also a particularly useful tool for challenging the most-able students in your classroom.
Learning doesn’t finish when you leave school. However, you typically won’t have someone around to teach you what you need to know once you’ve left. This is why it’s vitally important to be taught, whilst at school, the value of and some methods of independent, self-directed study. I try to implement self-directed study for each of my classes at least once a term. This is usually on something beyond their typical homework tasks. Examples have included:
learn from scratch how to create a movie trailer on an iPad
find a good YouTube video that teaches you about Asimov’s laws of robotics and assess what makes the video “good”
use www.thestudentroom.com to create a list of the best revision sites for studying and revising for your AS Religious Ethics paper. Use one of the sites to create a mini-revision guide for a topic of your choice.
I’ll be posting soon on how and why I think education systems require a revolution, to keep pace with an ever-changing world. I’d love your thoughts on this.
“Boys are treated like defective girls”, so says psychologist and author Michael Thompson. I think he’s right. Have you noticed that boys are frequently compared to girls with regards to exam scores, classroom behaviour, the standard of work produced and neatness of presentation? Many boys fail to perform as well in these areas, leading to ‘poor’ performance in formal examinations where it counts the most. Engaging boys to raise their attainment is clearly a huge challenge.
So, are boys just not as good as girls when it comes to formal assessment? Or is the system unfairly rigged to favour girls over boys? Let’s see.
Myth: “All boys are the same”
Not true! Just look at the last group of boys you taught and their wide spectrum of attributes. Boys are often excitable, creative, loud and headstrong. However, there are quiet boys too, who lack confidence, struggle creatively and who seem distant when you try to engage them. There are even quiet boys who are incredibly confident and loud boys who are overcompensating due to their own perceived weaknesses. It is often difficult to decide which “category” they fit into. However, the real challenge for educators is to move away from “categorising” boys at all but to understand how differently WE treat them.
So what’s the solution? Should we just train the boys to be like the girls?
The problem with boys and girls…
Many of the boys I teach typically read less often and consequently read fewer books than the girls – particularly fiction books. Why is this? Is it because boys don’t enjoy reading? No. Is it a lack of quality authors writing for male audiences? No. It’s more complex than that. Engaging boys differently to girls is crucial and here’s why:
Girls are typically brought up in a different way to boys. Their toys and games are different. The heavily gendered characters and storylines in the cartoons they watch are very different. The roles they are expected to play, due to their genders are extremely different. This causes a knock-on effect: at school when boys and girls are given the same task to do, they will naturally approach it in different ways, due to the way they have been conditioned by their environment.
Girls are often more collaborative in their approach to tasks, seeking guidance and support, constantly engaging in a feedback loop with their peers and teachers. Girls are encouraged to do this through the type of play where conversations are a key element.
Conversely, boys are often more solitary, waiting until they have completed a task (to whatever standard) to then present their finished product to others for feedback. Once given feedback, boys then get on with solitary work again. Boys are not encouraged by fellow boys, nor do they seek encouragement. The need for support is perceived by boys as a weakness. Their style of play is heavily dominated by competition and shows of individual strength.
Girls are also better prepared for tasks involving empathy, evaluation of evidence and being diplomatic, as those skills are built into the types of “play” activities they participated in when they were younger. Have you ever witnessed a dolls tea party? Compare that scene to a boy smashing a Lego house with a dinosaur. Which skills do you think will benefit those children in a formal examination? Boys are expected to grow up to be brave, resilient, confident leaders who take no prisoners. These are useful traits in many areas but less so in formal examinations.
The solution to engaging boys is threefold!
1. Stop valuing “girly” attributes over “boyish” attributes
Let’s face it, in most cases neither of those terms are used in a positive way. However, we teachers often forget that stories about aliens destroying a football stadium can have as much literary value as a love poem. We arbitrarily celebrate the types of media that girls tend to gravitate towards and we negatively stereotype the media that boys gravitate towards. The result is that boys become used to hearing that certain things they value are worthless. They might love pirate stories, but after being told that they shouldn’t read them all the time, they eventually stop reading, because they aren’t interested in reading anything else. Boys then lose interest in their favourite things and many lose interest in general.
Boys often love competition. However, this is also a lazy stereotype. Some boys hate it and would rather work collaboratively, rather than in an adversarial way. Not only that but as I wrote earlier, boys need to learn the skills of collaboration in our classrooms, as they often won’t be taught this explicitly in their “home” environment.
Be patient with boys here, it often won’t come as naturally as it does with girls – the boys haven’t had anywhere near as much practice! Competition is great for engaging some boys but you must include opportunities for collaboration within the competitive environment too.
One book that I think you’ll find useful on strategies for boys is Gary Wilson’s Pocket Pal: Raising Boys’ Achievement [affiliate link]. It’s full of quick and easy tips, based on extensive practical experience in the classroom.
3. Feedback loops
Feedback is crucial for engaging boys. The earlier in their lives that boys learn to give and accept feedback, without any fear of perceived weakness, the better they will perform and the faster they will progress. The feedback must be a continual process, like a conversation – not just an event at the end of a piece of work. As by then, the feedback is too late in many respects.
Once boys are able to use the feedback process more naturally, they will begin to be able to develop deeper self-evaluation skills and may even engage more often in independent learning too. This helps to narrow the gap between boys and girls.
4. The Teacher-Student Relationship
In my experience, having a positive relationship with the boys you teach makes the biggest difference. This isn’t rocket-science, we should be aiming for this in all of our students. However, when boys are often boisterous, the positive teacher-student relationship we need and they often crave can be difficult to maintain. Keeping this at the forefront of your mind, though, can be the one thing that makes the difference in the long-run. Don’t expect the boys you teach to be as naturally compliant as the girls. Work hard at engaging the boys, through challenging work and even just by having a conversation with them as they work. Find out what makes them tick and show your interest in their lives. The boys I teach respond particularly well to this and it has made a huge difference to the attitude they show in my lessons and towards their work in general.
Do you have any tips on how you engage boys in your lessons? Leave a comment!