I think it’s generally accepted that teaching more-or-less boils down to a three-step process that might occur many times in a single lesson:
- Teach Teach students something new and challenging at pace; something they haven’t seen before in an engaging way.
- Review Look for evidence throughout the lesson that students have got what you’re teaching them.
- Respond Based on the above, extend students learning further or address emerging issues.
As a profession, we have done the teach step to death. We have interactive whiteboards, bell starters, we have students explain at the whiteboard, we’ve all been on courses, and have all developed many strategies to engage and enthuse our students. I’ve even seen a teacher tap dance in an English lesson – as far as the teach step goes, I think we’ve got it cracked!
The main problem I’ve observed in lessons, is how successfully we do the review step. Ever since Hattie’s research, we’ve become obsessed with how can we rapidly assess whether the whole class gets it, and if they don’t, who has fallen behind and what don’t they get?
As with the teach step, we’ve seen many new strategies aimed at helping us gain meaningful insights; thumbs up or down, traffic lights, confidence polls, post-it notes, checking questions in books… the best I’ve observed is the use of mini-whiteboards, however, in spite of all the strategies available to us, I remain unconvinced.
Thumbs up or down and traffic lights seem to tell us more about the student who does not want to be singled out. I’ve observed lessons with 100% thumbs up or green responses, and the teacher, happy with the class’s seemingly easy grasp of the concept, steams ahead wholly unaware of the true picture.
As for confidence polls and post-it notes, they are just two of many tools that could be telling us more about the student’s frame of mind than how well they’ve grasped the concept.
This leads me onto mini-whiteboards. If they are used well, they can assess single questions quickly. Whether this genuinely represents a conceptual grasp or a one question guess or copy is open to debate. If they are used less well, for example not all held up at the same time, from what I’ve observed they tend to represent the answer of the brightest student in the class.
While I sound scathing about these methods, I’m more than aware – from the good and outstanding observations I’ve done – teachers will use an array of methods to weed out the issues. However, I’ve always wondered, with the advent of technology, could there be a way of improving on this chancy selection of methods?
This is why I got involved in Questions for Learning. The structure of the questions and the number of questions that students answer on their tablets provides information in sufficient volume to genuinely assess conceptual grasp. Coupled with instant on screen feedback to students and teachers, teachers suddenly have rapid answers to the big questions Who gets it and who doesn’t? and more importantly Who doesn’t get what?.
In the lessons I’ve observed using Questions for Learning, the teach step has been pretty much the same; delivered with the animation expected of teachers these days. Other phases of the lesson have remained the same too, if it works then why change it?!.
However, integrating Questions for Learning into the lesson has not only replaced the tedium of textbooks, it has allowed teachers to move onto the respond step quickly and efficiently with either small groups, individuals or whole class.
The respond step is clearly the part of the lesson where interventions are made to address or complement particular areas of a student’s learning.
When asked afterwards, teachers and students were all confident that they had got it.