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.
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).
Resolutions? I think they are worthwhile: they help us to change the status quo of our teaching. But to make them workable and long-term, they shouldn’t be radical overhauls (marginal gains).They need to be straightforward (but effective) so that you can make them habits, rather than just intentions.