Sharing Good Practice

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As Teaching and Learning Assistant Co-ordinator at my school I am tasked with taking over the SGP program our school. Sharing Good Practice is obviously a process that happens naturally in all good teaching, but we’ve set time aside to allow teachers to talk to each other about an area of their teaching that they’d like to improve and focus on. I love this idea, as it has so many benefits: a few quiet moments in the school day to reflect, a renewed focus that can be based around an area of teaching, a specific class or even an individual student, and it’s really re-energising and inspiring talking to teachers from outside my department that I don’t always get a chance to chat to. I hope that the teachers involved feel that sharing good practice is a little re-boot to their motivation, something we all need from time to time.

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The way it works in our school is that we meet three times in a cycle and teachers are emailed a personal target beforehand that is based on observation feedback and whole-school focuses. Meeting one is for sharing and planning. Meeting two is for reflection and sharing evidence and the third meeting is back in departments to spread good ideas within the department so that they make it into the shared schemes of work and don’t fade away into the recesses of our busy minds. We use forms like the one below to record the process

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I like to think of the whole process using the comparison of the butterfly effect: the idea that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause an earthquake on the other side of the world. Or, in other words, we are looking for small changes in our practice that make a big impact on our students. When we have so many demands on our time and attention, I know that feeling as a teacher of being pulled in a million different directions.

Differentiation

After a recent OFSTED, there’s been a whole-school focus on directed differentiation. Many of us use differentiation activities where students get a choice of tasks or where there is an optional extension task or supportive resource to help students who are struggling. Much to our horror, the inspectors seemed to be looking for heaps of evidence in their observations of teachers naming students specifically and asking them to do particular tasks during the lesson.

This makes me a little uncomfortable.

I believe there is definitely an argument for challenging our students to do work which we know is within their capability through directed differentiation, however I cringe inwardly at the idea of students who are already in ability sets being labelled as being at the top, or bottom of the class. I’m leading a research and development group at my school which aims to look into this issue. For now, here are some tips on thing you can do to differentiate, although for my part, I may sick to the more subtle options until my mind is changed!

Here are some things you are probably already doing in your classroom, which can be highlighted on the lesson plan as differentiation:

Thoughtful groupings
Seating plan – placing students where they can focus best
Setting flexible tasks that allow for creativity
Providing examples / modelling
Teacher circulation
Thoughtful questioning
Follow-up questions
Including examples in your explanations that are relevant and interesting to your students
Paired work for peer support
Choosing students to answer specific questions
Differentiated learning objectives and success criteria
Use of challenging word banks
Whole-class feedback and consolidation of learning
Carousel activities
Use of a range of learning styles
Personalised target-setting
Self and peer assessment
Personalised formative feedback
Recap previous learning

Tips on encouraging meaningful dialogue in the classroom

  

Use the classroom environment:

  • Use the interactive whiteboard. Pictures, videos and music are great for encouraging discussion and creating a memorable atmosphere or theme to a discussion. For example, playing wartime music during discussions on WW2, or display a starry sky on the board in Science.
  • Mystery box – fill a box with interesting items and use as a starter activity to encourage discussion or creative writing. The mystery object may be linked to the lesson, or could simply be an intriguing curiosity.
  • Have a ‘no pens’ lesson where all contributions must be spoken, acted or drawn.

Adapt your questioning:

  • Use all your might! Replace questions that suggest to the students that there is only one right answer, and avoid the ‘guess what the teacher is thinking’ pitfall. E.g. “What is the answer” = “what might the answer be?” The meaning of the sentence is significantly altered by the word ‘might’.
  • As ‘What if?’ questions. The teacher writes a series of ‘What if?’ questions that create a series of hypothetical scenarios around a topic you want them to think carefully about. An interesting homework task could be to come up with these types of questions which can then be used as a basis for discussion at the beginning of the next lesson.
  • Involve as many students as possible. Use a random-o-meter, pick lollypop sticks out of a tub, use any strategy you can think of to keep students engaged!

Structure and scaffold discussion:

  • Appoint roles in group discussion. See next page for ideas for role cards that can be adapted to any discussion. In whole-class discussion, the teacher may choose to take on a role from the role cards, making this intention clear to the students. Alternatively, the teacher might choose to circulate around groups and challenge them by taking on one of these roles.
Time-keeper: It is your job to keep track of the time. You must ensure that the group completes their task in the allotted time. You will need to encourage the group of when it is necessary to move on.  Scribe: You should note down key points from the discussion. You don’t need to write down everything that is said, just listen carefully and choose which you think are the most important points.

Leader: The leader keeps everyone focused on the task and politely makes sure that everyone takes part. 
Devil’s Advocate: It is this your job to challenge the ideas of others. You should do this by suggesting the opposite of what has been said, looking at things from a different viewpoint.

Stingray: It is your job to challenge the rest of the group by stinging them with unusual and original contributions.

Helper: The Helper helps others to explain their ideas by asking questions such as ‘What do you mean by this?’ or ‘Could you give me an example?’ You may also help to explain what others say by saying ‘I think what ___ is suggesting is… is that right?’

Gadfly: This irritating person picks away at the discussion by asking questions to make sure people are making precise points rather than generalisations, wild comments or things that are vague and unclear.  Observer: As the observer, you do not contribute to the discussion. You observe and give a summary to the group at the end, or feedback to the whole class.

Motivator: You must be super-positive and keep the group motivated and on track.

Other ways of scaffolding discussion:

  • Snowballing (think, pair, share): Students are allowed time to think on their own about a broad discussion point. They begin a discussion in pairs for a given amount of time. The pairs then join with another pair to make a group of four, and share then add to each other’s points. This can be a purely verbal task or contributions can be noted down.
  • Value Continuum: The continuum line can be made from string and pegs, pieces of paper blue tacked on the wall or it can be a double-ended arrow shown on the whiteboard. Show a statement on the board. One side of the continuum should read ‘Strongly Agree’, the other ‘Strongly Disagree’. Students should discuss where their views lie on the continuum line. The teacher now has the following options: they can ask all the students to leave their seats and stand at the front in a position that represents their views. The other option is that paper, post-it notes or initials drawn on the board can be used to represent the views of each student. The teacher can now deepen the discussion by choosing students with a range of views to explain their reasoning and defend their positions on the line.
  • The Goldfish Bowl: Students are seated in two circles, one inside the other. The inner circle should begin to discuss a topic or question with the person sitting next to them. The outer circle observes silently, taking notes on what is being said or the way the discussion is taking place. You might choose to give the students on the outer circle a peer assessment sheet so that they can assess the quality of the discussion, and so that you have evidence of the learning to stick into students’ books. When the teacher gives the signal, the students on the outer circle present their feedback to the inner circle, summarise the points already made, then pick up the discussion from there and the roles are reversed.
  • Silent Debate: In a silent debate, students are asked to take part in a written dialogue that is a little like comments on an online discussion board. The debate can be used to introduce a new area of learning to the class and to initiate independent thinking that can then lead to group or class discussion in the next lesson. To prepare for the silent debate, stick up 1-4 large sheets of paper with starting points for discussion on the classroom walls. During the course of the lesson, students take turns getting up and silently adding a comment to the discussion sheets. This works best when the class is engaged in work that they can be getting on with with minimum teacher-input, such as an extended writing piece or group work. The sheets can be collected at the end of the lesson and kept as evidence of the learning that has taken place.
  • Viva:  A viva is an oral exam that is usually undertaken by PHD students. It involves one or more examiners asking a candidate questions so as to assess their knowledge on a subject. The viva is best used at the end of a topic or as a revision strategy. Students are paired up and given 3 different areas of the topic each. The students then work independently to develop a range of questions for each of their areas. The questions should be open-ended, allowing the candidate to respond at length. The pairs then sit opposite each other and take a turn each to be the examiner and the candidate. The examiner should be encouraged to add to the responses the candidate makes, and to ask additional questions that prompt their candidate to give the fullest answer possible. As an additional element, the examiners could be given a peer-assessment sheet to fill in and give to the candidate after the activity is complete.
  • Showcase: This activity recreates a museum or art gallery set-up in the classroom. After a large project that involves a series of different tasks, everything is cleared from the desks and the work is displayed on the tables. Students walk around the displays in pairs, discussing the different approaches to the task while filling in a joint questionnaire answering questions such as: What do you like about the work? What are three key strengths you feel the work possesses? What one way do you think the work can be improved? Students return to their seats and a whole-class discussion ensues. This might work well with art projects or design tasks, but could be adapted to any project work that contains different visual elements such as posters, designs, pictures, newspaper articles, collages etc.

 

Encouraging competition:

  • Create your own interactive Blockbusters-style quiz online at Teachers Direct. On this free website teachers can search for quizzes on different academic subjects as well as create their own. Just don’t forget to click right through to the quiz then save the webpage link.
  •  Play Pictionary with a twist by splitting the class into teams and asking them to takes turns drawing a symbol or image that relates to your topic. The team that guesses the picture being drawn first receives one point, then they can earn an extra bonus point by answering a question on that area of the topic.
  • Play Speed-debating by asking students pair up and time each other talking non-stop about a topic without repeating themselves or taking a breath. The winners go through to round 2, then 3 when the winners are then complete one final round in front of the class.