Sarah (our Head of Biology) has a strong background in Psychology, as well as in Science teaching, which means that she has integrated principles from CogSci into her practice for a while now. I’m sharing some of her ideas here.
When I started my PGCE in 2006, mini whiteboards seemed to be everywhere (although I got the feeling it was only recently that they had become so ubiquitous), and I was encouraged to use them regularly.
But I never really warmed to them, if I’m honest. I found them a bit of a faff, and I tended to assess learning in other ways.
Having said that, I do use mini whiteboards, and I do still use them regularly (if not frequently).
Despite the “faff factor”, I do think mini whiteboards have a number of positive points:
I have been using metacognition in my lessons to get students to reflect on their understanding in terms of exam technique and knowledge, so I thought it would be interesting to turn my ideas into something that could work for the masses (ie. not just History students) and specifically in terms of revision. All the students in the group were “High Prior Achievers”, so I felt I could use some more complex techniques with them, and encourage them to move away from “fail safe” methods, such as highlighting, reading over previous work, and producing flashcards, which students often rely upon in times of exam pressure.
I wanted to identify threshold concepts, which can be described as “portals” to greater understanding. I’ve also seen them described as “bottlenecks”, and I think this is a helpful description. It’s a concept that holds you up, and prevents you from developing a deeper understanding.
I compiled a list of tricky concepts using a variety of misconception sources, but I would describe most of these as “hurdles” rather than bottlenecks. Hurdles need to be cleared, but they don’t hold you up in the same way that bottlenecks do.
Harkness may not be the newest idea in the teaching world, but I feel it is one that has been unfairly overlooked.
It’s an idea taken from Edward Harkness, an early 20th century philanthropist and educational reformer, and the concept is based on Harkness’ own education. He felt that the traditional approach of sitting in rows whilst the teacher taught from the front created a hierarchy which did not support those who had less confidence or needed more support. Harkness came to favour a ‘conference’ pedagogy where students engaged in conversation on a topic they had prepared before coming to lesson, rather than answering specific, narrow questions directed at the few from the front. Harkness ‘gifted’ this idea to Phillips Exeter Academy in the United States, where they developed it and adapted it into a workable educational approach, and now use it as their sole teaching method.
Sitting in the growth mindset training at the beginning of term, I realised that this ‘new’ initiative had been taking place in PE for many years; we just call it “coaching”.
In each lesson, we give pupils the opportunity to show resilience, to learn something completely new and even to fail. Our pupils receive instant feedback that they can act upon straight away.
In our most recent meeting, we read a paper about nutrient deposition in the Atlantic Ocean, and one of the authors came along to the session. I thought it might be helpful if I shared the paper we read, along with some background information, and the questions I wrote to go with it. Please feel free to use any of the resources linked to here.
she said “it really stuck in my head that you once noticed that I was overwhelmed and took me out of the class… to tell me that I needn’t be so worried and needn’t finish my homework for you so that I could rest. Most year eights would probably love a night off of homework, to be fair, but you noticed that I needed that, and I did.”
The most important thing, for me, when designing any of these activities is to think about what I’m trying to find out, what the misconceptions might be, and what I will do when I’ve found out what students know (or don’t know).
I distinctly remember my first meeting (about atmospheric chemistry research) and having no idea what was being discussed around me. Up until this point I had no knowledge of CFCs and felt completely out of my depth around those who had read and understood the paper.
After being surrounded by specialist language for an hour, I still couldn’t blag my way through questioning so decided to learn to read a paper in a way I would find easy.
The concept of Hattie’s ‘visible learning’ is clever. It’s a meta-analysis of many educational research papers (a study of the studies). The key premise is that Hattie evaluates educational practice in terms of its’ effect size on progress. However, when you flick through the pages at the end of a long day (or at the beginning of a short day) you’re bombarded with statistical analysis, which can be a little hard to swallow.