Tag Archives: Lessons

Fishy Revision

Revision. Argh! Love it or hate it this seems to be mostly what we end up doing at this time of year (in between filling in reams of exam paperwork). The challenge is to try to make it effective and interesting – a challenge if ever there was one. The internet has been invaluable for trawling for great ideas, but I have also been digging through my old resources to see if there are any gems.

Today was revision for Of Mice and Men for OCR A663 next week. The group know the text well but planning is a bit of an issue, especially in the tight time frame (45 minutes). The exam requires the students to analyse language and techniques as well as making links to context. I wanted to create a task that developed planning but also encouraged the group to hit the assessment objectives in the exam.

I started off by borrowing the excellent Nominative Determination task from Miss Ryan’s GCSE English Blog . This was a really effective opening task as it got the group thinking the characters and analysing the language, and they really enjoyed it. As they thought through the significance of the names and their connotations I could hear mental lightbulbs going on around the room – love it!

In our mock exam, quite a few students failed to write about the context of the text or link it to the question. To combat this I came up with the mnemonic CRAFTI (using the helpful anagram solver on the Internet Anagram Server).

A Crafti Mnemonic

I tried to make this something memorable but that also covered each key point.

The next step was to think about planning, how could I make sure that the planning was quick and easy, but also encouraged relational thinking?

My collection of random USB pens came to the rescue. Every so often, since I started teaching, I have saved all the useful resources on my school user space onto a USB. Some of them stay there forever, but I have a peek every now and then to see if there is something worthwhile. Last night I found it.

As I have been experimenting with SOLO HOT maps, I wanted something visual and simple that could encourage deeper thinking. My solution was a fish-bone analysis, or at least my variation on one. I decided that the horizontal line should contain the Idea – i.e. the key point in the passage and key words from the question. This would encourage the group to focus on the question throughout their planning. Each pair of ‘bones’ would include brief points on Context, References, Audience, Feelings and Techniques. I used a series of powerpoint slides to show the process, using the example from the mock (Lennie and the ketchup in chapter 1).

Fish-Bone Planning

The final task, and one I have advised them to do for revision, was to choose a section of the text at randon, or to invent a non-extract based question, and to produce their own Fish-bone plan:

Fish-Bone Planning Task

The class really seemed to get to grips with this as a planning method, and I liked the fact that it could be loosely linked back to the text (‘flopping like a fish’). Overall, I was really pleased with this, having tried it with my Y10s during their lesson. It was also used by another teacher in an afterschool revision session, and it reportedly worked well. So the next step is to try it with one of my more challenging groups.

HOT Maps – A Real Eureka Moment

Having had several successful lessons using the SOLO structure and hexagons, I decided that it was time to branch out a bit and to try a wider range of SOLO techniques. Again, I decided to try these with a range of classes.

Compare/Contrast Map

The first HOT map I looked at was the Compare /Contrast  map. I used this initially with my Y12 Film Studies class to explore the similarities and differences between their comparative study films. They had been, generally, fairly good at identifying key features about the films separately, however, were struggling to make direct links between the films. I used Word It Out to create a word cloud based on a synopsis of each film from IMDB, I then showed the group some examples and got them to work in pairs. I linked this to group planning of an essay where I used Triptico to sort the class into groups – they produced bullet points for each paragraph. I sorted them again and they had to add or delete bullet points. I sorted them one last time to write the paragraph. This worked well for those students who had studied the films carefully, less well for those who had not revised carefully (this was perhaps a bit of a warning for them). It did help to highlight the links between the films but at a fairly simple level – the next step will be a part whole analysis to extend their understanding of the roles and development of the points they identified.

I used the same HOT map with my Y13 Film students to develop their ability to make and analyse specific textual references (AO2) to back up the more generalised comments made in their essays (AO1). For the students to achieve the highest grades both areas must be covered in detail.

This time, I adapted the Compare /Contrast map by including a series of screen shots for one of their films; we also focused on a specific exam question to fully explore the level of detail needed in each paragraph within their essay.

Compare Contrast Map

The focal point was Mise-en-scene and I had chosen four screen shots from ‘The Story of the Apartment’ in ‘City of God’. We discussed the significance of the shots and the students annotated the images. I then asked them which specific shots we could use to compare from ‘La Haine’ – the class identified the scene in Hubert’s boxing gym, the housing in the banlieue, the apartment or the art gallery in Paris and the view of the Eiffel Tower from the top of the tower block. I then asked the group to explore the similarities and the differences in the mise-en-scene and to start making links to why this was the case. This worked well, and as it was focused on developing a very specific skill, I felt it was successful in making the group fully aware of the interaction between the two assessment objectives as well as the two films.

Whole/Part Analysis Map

My next experiment was to try the whole/part analysis HOT map. I decided that I would do this with two very different classes to assess the impact – a top set Year 10 and a bottom set Year 11. Both groups are in the process of final revision for English Literature GCSE exams.

The Year 11 group were working on ‘An Inspector Calls’ for OCR A662 and the focus was to develop their understanding of the text so they could answer in more detail and move towards the C grade. I used a whole/part analysis map with 3 parts.

Whole/Part Analysis

They filled in the ‘whole’ segment with their overview of the play with little prompting and often suggested relevant bits of detail to each other. As a class we explored the role that Setting/Context played and then the group used the second box to explore character – and used copies of the text to look up relevant details and quotations. This brought us to the end of the first lesson. I was pleased with the progress made by the group and the fact that they had recalled some very useful points, however, I was not quite sure about how ‘considering the impact of a part being missing’ would work, nor of its impact.

The Year 10 first lesson was similar to the Y11, this time the focus was ‘Of Mice and Men‘ for  A663 and, as they are a top set I extended the parts to 5 which we discussed and labeled as a group. They then completed the key elements for each part.

Multistructural Stage

The second lesson provided the ‘Eureka’ moment. I introduced the question – ‘What would be the impact if this part were missing?. We went through an example as a group, using the character of Slim as an example. They came up with lots of ideas about what would happen if Slim were not in the novel, from fairly straightforward points about there being no one to stop Lennie and George being fired in section 3, to more complex ones about George having no one to confide in or to present the arguments for killing Lennie.

Relational and Extended Abstract

They were already starting to  move onto the next question – ‘Therefore, can you evaluate the role of this part?’ – and continued to do so when they were working in pairs. This will be something that I will scaffold a little more with the lower group. The level of discussion amongst the group was amazing, they moved from these points onto detailed consideration of why Steinbeck had used the character or the setting and linking to his purpose. There were some real cognitive leaps, like the group who discussed the theme of religion saying that: the natural setting at the beginning and end could represent God in nature; that Slim’s empathy and understanding, combined with the religious connotations of his description, made him almost like a religious leader and that the men are not presented as religious as church goers are part of a community and the men are outsiders. Totally A* personal analysis and interpretation. I was blown away. This is when I ‘got’ the missing part question. Try it!

Using SOLO for Intervention (part 2)

As I explored in my earlier post, I have had the fantastic task of running a group for our intervention. We had selected several students, 50 in total to carry out controlled assessments. I had a group of 21 students, from the C/D borderline mostly, and one or two below. We had decided to extend the group we were targeting to ensure that, while we focus on the C/D borderline to boost our headline figures, we also targeted a number of the weaker students to ensure they also made progress (and obviously, this is now reported in the league tables).

The group I had contained a number of challenging students and we had our work cut out for us as we had 5 hours to complete the intervention, from scratch a piece on the spoken language study.

Structure and Resources

I had prepared a Prezi as I like the fact that YouTube clips can be embedded into the presentation, and play without delay, I also liked the fact that it allows you to physically show the ‘big picture’. I included a timeline of the day to make sure that the whole group could see what we were going to do during each of the 5 lessons. I also planned to use SOLO as I have found it really helpful in scaffolding the cognitive leap from the D grade and up.

Lesson 1 I set out a connect and activate series of tasks. The connect tasks were pretty simple and aimed to target the knowledge that the group already had on political speeches. From there we built to explore a small section of the text, working in pairs to analyse and identify features of the political speech.

This meant the group had a variety of points they expected to find in a political speech and had a variety of quotations already identified. At this stage I introduced the SOLO sheet, many of the group (those I teach) had seen this before, others picked it up pretty quickly. We discussed each of the levels and I asked the students to identify where they felt they were. Most felt that they were on either unistructural or multistructural – some were very specific and insisted they were on the boundary between the two. Two of the less confident girls thought they were prestructural, but when we explored this a little further they decided that they were actually unistructural moving towards multistructural. We then discussed what they needed to do to move their understanding on and target the B and C grades.

This brought the first hour to a close. For the start of the second hour, I decided that the group could do with something more physically active. We did an IWB quiz on persuasive techniques. The quiz was from the @TESresources and was a flash quiz – it was a matching persuasive techniques to the definition against the clock. Although a little reluctant at first, we had several volunteers and the group seemed to enjoy the change in pace and task.

The focus for the second hour was to view and analyse the speech and to consider the purpose. We watched the speech via the YouTube clip and started to annotate the text. I had set up the text in the form of Cornell notes with a broad margin down the side for annotation and a section at the bottom of the page for summary. This worked very well and the group seemed to find the layout easy to use, and for once, there were no complaints about a lack of space to write notes. This section was the most content heavy, we analysed and made notes on the speech ‘Yes we can‘. With the group highlighting the text and annotating. We finished by making sure that the effects of the speech were written onto the triangles.

After break we needed to move onto the note making phase, but also needed to make sure that the group had got a good range of ideas about the text, understood the effect being created and could make those all important links. I had decided to use triangles, as a variation on the use of hexagons, for two reasons, firstly that they were much easier to cut out (!) and secondly because they could link into groups. I think this worked fairly well, but would have been more effective if we could have spent a little more time on the task – because of our time constraints this section was rather more rushed than I would have liked. I tried to boost morale at this stage by providing some sweets and water in the classroom. This went down well, and had the additional benefit of keeping some of the more chatty quiet during my instructions as they were eating the sweets! The group used their triangle patterns to make their notes for the assessment.

The final section was for the pupils to write up their assessment. They had two hours, with lunch in between, and could continue into the 25 minute PM registration if needed. The group were obviously fairly tired by this point but worked well. As each student finished they were given a small packet of haribo (highly sought-after sweets at my school).

Results

I was keen to see how the group had done, the work I had seen as I supervised looked good, but I wanted to get a better view, so for once was looking forward to marking the pieces.  The three weakest in the group improved their work from F/G to a D grade. The majority increased their grade to a C, many moving 2 grades higher. 4 students managed to improve their work to a low B. So overall this was a huge, albeit stressful and tiring, success. Again, it is not possible to scientifically identify whether SOLO helped the students make the cognitive leap, but the results certainly make it look worth a go.

Using SOLO for Intervention (part 1)

One of the biggest challenges facing Year 11 teachers at this time of year is intervention. Whether we like it or not, we are judged on how our classes do in exams, the school is judged in it’s effectiveness and if you are a Maths or English teacher the pressure can be huge. From the students perspective, despite the inevitable nagging from teachers, parents and even the media, for some, the realisation that these GCSEs are important comes pretty late in the day and we as teachers are there to pick up the pieces.

Although the introduction of controlled assessment in English has meant that we are rarely chasing missing coursework, the large amount of class time, and the need for supervision, means that if a student does badly in an assessment the only option is to pick up the pieces later. In my earlier blog post, I wrote about the ideal being to pick this up in Year 10, or to work on creating a situation where the students are working so well that all pieces are great (fantasy land I know). However, the reality, this year at least, is that we have a group of students who have underachieved by several grades in the Spoken Language Study. There are numerous reasons why these pieces are lower: it is a new task for teachers, some of the students were ill or absent during the initial teaching and failed to catch up, the student didn’t really try…but the bottom line is that, in the short term, this is not important, producing a strong piece is.

So I find myself with a motley crew of about 23 students of varying abilities who have one day to complete a new piece of controlled assessment. Luckily, I have been granted a day off timetable (with agreement from the other staff members) to complete this – the aim: for all 23 to produce a piece of controlled assessment that hits at least a C grade, no mean task.

I have decided to approach this a little differently than we would traditionally. The group has several members who have the potential to be challenging, so there will be a zero tolerance for misbehaviour, but that also means that I have to make the work as engaging as possible, as well as catering for a broad range of abilities.

Following the success of using SOLO taxonomy with several of my classes, I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity for me to use this and for the students to benefit from the deep learning SOLO can lead to. I have also decided to try a few others things to make this as positive a learning experience as possible – for example an accelerated learning cycle and to make the lesson a little more like a training session. I want the group to be active and have some fun, to value their opportunity, and ultimately to produce a strong piece of controlled assessment. We have 5 hours, split into 5 lessons, two 2 hour sessions and a final 1 hour session. The last 2 hours (split by the lunch break) is going to be used for producing the assessed piece. That leaves 3 hours to complete the necessary learning – no pressure then!

The task I have chosen is exploring a speech by Obama. I have chosen this for a number of reasons, firstly it is a relatively short and accessible speech, secondly, it is available on YouTube, which makes things easier for the group. Finally, the speech is a political one, as the groups have been studying Animal Farm for their exam and completing speaking and listening tasks focusing on giving a formal speech, they will have an initial level of expertise which I will be able to tap into during the Connect phase.

The initial task will be to identify features of a political speech and to match up some technical terms, hopefully some easy gains to build confidence and to get us off to a flying start. These technical terms will be written down.The students will then look at an extract of the speech, in pairs, highlighting some of the features.

I have decided to experiment with the hexagons from my initial SOLO trials – this time using triangles my thinking is that a single idea can be written onto each triangle and then six can be linked into a group allowing a technique, quotation or effect to be fully explored, not sure if this will work . I have provided 3 different colours of triangle, one for techniques, one for quotations and one for effects. What I want the groups to do is to explore the speech with the final essay in mind from the start. To move to the C grade or above, the students will need to think in at least a relational way, and hopefully, some will go beyond this.

Can SOLO and hexagons help students improve their grades?

I have been using SOLO with my top set Year 11 classes for about a month so far, obviously not in every lesson. We have experimented working in groups and individually, using the hexagons to explore specific exam questions in preparation for OCR A664 section A on ‘Animal Farm‘.  The question is, has using SOLO and hexagons helped the students improve their grades?

Targeting A/A*

I have had some success in the past moving students towards the A* grade, but at times this has felt a little hit or miss, one of the difficulties is often explaining the difference between the top grades and, more importantly, how to achieve this.

In my recent series of lessons, I used the SOLO grid (thanks to Tait Coles @Totallywired77) to explain that, while a strong relational answer may well hit the top of a B, or even an A grade, to hit the A* there needs to be more evidence of independent understanding and interpretation – an extended abstract response. I also tried to encourage students to experiment with their interpretations, using the hexagons  independently, explaining their choices to their partner. The aim was to foster independent understanding and enquiry, but also to encourage the thinking skills needed to express their ideas in writing.

Analysing the Outcome

I have selected 2 pupils, in this very unscientific study, and looked at their work before using hexagons:

Student 1 – extract from C grade essay

Student 2 – extract from B grade essay

and after a specific higher grade, A/A* focused lesson:

Student 1 – second essay extract – a high B grade

Student 2 – second essay – a high A

Now, I am not saying that this is a scientific exploration. The sample I am looking at is not statistically significant, nor can I exclude the possibility that the pupils would have made these improvements without using SOLO. However, both students managed to improve their work by at least a grade. The second essays showed more thorough understanding of the text and a better grasp of characterisation and Orwell’s purpose. This is the case across the group and throughout the ability range. Certainly interesting results!

Next Steps

Having experimented with the use of hexagons and SOLO taxonomy with my Year 11 classes, I have decided to try it with my Year 10 class as part of their preparation for their controlled assessment on ‘Of Mice and Men‘ – for previous pieces, they have been anxious about planning their work under exam conditions. I’m hoping that this will improve their confidence. I am also planning a SOLO intervention session with Y11s who need to redo a piece of controlled assessment.

SOLO and Theory of Effective Learning (Part 2)

The Role of Speaking in Improving Information Processing

Since Vygotsky, it has been generally agreed that language stimulates thought. The nature of speech makes it very useful as a teaching method:

Strategies such as peer-pairing and small-group and whole-group discussion…important for the social aspect of learning. Wallace and Louden (2003)

Students are often hesitant to volunteer answers to questions directed to them by the teacher, however, if given time to explore ideas verbally with their peers they can reformulate their ideas until they have a response they are comfortable with. Using SOLO taxonomy gives students a framework to structure talk, allowing them to extend their discussion beyond the superficial. Using tools like hexagons gives an additional focus for those discussions as well as providing a means to record the ideas. This is a method which can give students the opportunity to explore alternative ideas, it is also less threatening as more than one person is responsible for the reply and embryonic ideas are not up for public scrutiny.

There has been considerable research into the types of task which promote effective information processing. Tsai and Huang (2001) identify 5 levels of  information processing (which show similarities to Bloom’s taxonomy):

  • Defining
  • Describing
  • Comparing
  • Conditional inferring
  • Explaining

These are all activities that can work effectively through speech. Speech also has the benefit that it is much more fluid; mistakes are not recorded and canhelp students construct their personal meanings” (Wallace and Louden, 2003).

Students With Poor Literacy Levels

While it is important to remember that speech-based activities are not a panacea:

Increased participation in classroom discussion has positive effects on course grades. Voelkl in Burchfield and Sappington (1999).

Speech opens up activities to those whose levels of written literacy are poor. However, this is an area of differentiation which is not fully exploited by many teachers. This was highlighted when, as part of a whole school project on oracy skills, I observed the experiences of two Year 10 students over the course of two days. Student A was in lower sets, Student B was in higher sets.

Student A’s lessons provided very few specific opportunities for students to have spoken involvement. Many of the questions directed to Student A and their class mates were simple closed questions, which did not allow for students to develop or show their understanding beyond simple recall of facts. Student A was rarely asked to expand on their answers.

Student B’s lessons provided much greater opportunity to use work-related talk. The fluency of talk, and the fact the students led the discussion, suggested that this was a common occurrance.

Comparing the experiences of the two students identified a key point – that higher ability students are often given more opportunities to demonstrate HOT skills and were therefore more confident in using them. This links to Cano and Cardelle-Elawar’s (2004) point that how we teach students has an effect on their epistemological beliefs. The student response reflects the way in which they are taught; therefore this is something that all teachers need to consider. If we want students to achieve, we need to encourage them to process information deeply by providing appropriate opportunities and tools like SOLO.

This prompted me to trial SOLO and the use of hexagons with my bottom set Year 11 group, rather than taking the safer option of a top set. As a group with poor literacy levels, some of whom were very reluctant to put pen to paper, and who could present challenging behaviour, this was a nerve-wracking prospect. However, the results, outlined in my earlier post, pleasantly surprised me and made me realise that effectively designed and supported speaking tasks could lead to excellent progress with this group.

References:

Burchfield, C. and Sappington, J. (1999). Participation in classroom discussion. Teaching of Psychology, Autumn 1999, Vol.26 Issue 4.

Cano, F. and Cardelle-Elawar, M. (2004). An integrated analysis of secondary school student’s conceptions and beliefs about learning. European Journal of Psychology of Education, Vol.XIX, No. 2.

Tsai, C-C. and Huang, C-M. (2001). Development of cognitive structures and information processing strategies of elementary school students learning about biological reproduction. Journal of Biological Education, 36 (1).

Wallace and Louden (2003). ‘What we don’t understand about teaching for understanding: questions from science education’, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35, 5

Using SideVibe in Class

In my last post I wrote about my experiment with SideVibe, as suggested by @coolcatteacher. I had decided to try it with two groups – a Year 9 class, during lesson time, and a Y12 class for revision homework.

I have now used SideVibe with my Y9 class, looking at some short stories – below is the verdict, mine and theirs!

The Lesson

I had selected two very short stories from Short Stories at East of the Web – the site allows you to search by genre, age range and length. I then prepared a series of relatively simple questions on each of the stories for the students to comment on. I used the ‘Written Response’, ‘Ranking’ and ‘Discussion’ task options. I also used the ‘Multiple choice’ option and a free text  to get feedback from the class.

Logging In

Getting the class onto the site was relatively painless. I had produced a Powerpoint showing them what to do and included the teacher reference. We did find that, when they went to the first ‘vibe’, the website did not show up. This was down to the school system not fully downloading the page and was easily sorted.

Classwork

The class worked through the tasks at varying speeds as the tasks allowed them to work at their own pace. I could keep track on their work by circulating and also by checking the feedback option on the teacher site.

Feedback

I had only spent a short amount of time producing the ‘vibes’ and some of the tasks were a little repetitive, however the group as a whole seemed to like what they were doing. They particularly enjoyed the ‘Discussion’ task as it brings up the responses of their classmates and allows them to respond. This would need to be used carefully and with clear rules, with some groups, to avoid rude comments, but each comment is logged to an individual student and therefore any misuse provides clear evidence! As it was, only a couple of the group made silly comments and they were daft rather than malicious.

The ‘Feedback’ option allows teachers to feedback to individual students – this is something I will explore with the Y12 homework task.

Via the ‘Feedback’ option, it was also possible to create reports of the student responses for all tasks or for each individual task – this could allow you to stick the work into their books. It also means that you could evaluate responses from a whole class pretty quickly, so if the tasks were designed to test particular skills you could use it as a snapshot diagnostic tool.

About 75% of the class said they enjoyed the tasks – although, I would certainly work on improving the tasks when doing this again. I also gave the group the chance to tell me what they thought could be  improved – here are a selection of their comments:

Comments From Y9

Overall

Definitely worth using. The tasks are easy to set up and allow students to work at their own pace.

Experiments With Hexagons

Twitter is an intriguing place. For all the general chat and points of view that most people associate with the format, there are also some real gems.

The Inspiration

A #pedagoofriday post from @LearningSpy about using hexagons for work for ‘An Inspector Calls’ piqued my interest and, via a quick tweet, led me to his blog post on Hexagonal Learning as well as a range of references to follow up on SOLO taxonomy from @Totallywired77 amongst others.

This seemed just what I needed to bridge the gap with my lower Y11 group between knowing things aboutAnimal Farm and being able to make the type of links they needed to achieve higher grades. So I thought I would give it a go.

The lesson

I decided to focus on the character of Boxer and used the SMART board (shapes and infinite cloning)  to give them a brief demonstration. At the start of the lesson I had given the group a sheet with the SOLO levels on it and discussed them briefly. The class were allowed to choose their own groups and were given a selection of pre-cut out hexagons. We started by identifying a range of points and quotations about Boxer (multistructural) and then I asked what they needed to do to move up a level – make links. This is a class, who can be challenging, with grades ranging from F to D.  They all worked brilliantly discussing the points and making links (relational) with only a minimum amount of input from me.

Hexagon Lesson Exploring the Question ‘Is Boxer a Hero?’

Part way through the lesson, a member of SMT popped in – they left and returned with another member of staff to show them what I was doing! Now that has never happened before.

Result

That was just the start. The use of hexagons and SOLO have spread throughout the English department in a matter of weeks, and were commented on positively during a mock OfSted inspection. This has definitely become part of my teaching repertoire; I have rarely found anything that works with pupils of all abilities and levels like this.

More Examples

Further Reading

Tait Coles’ Blog

Learning Spy’s Blog

Lisa Ashes’s Blog