A theme I explore in most of my CPD and coaching work is the challenge of teaching everyone in a class simultaneously and the pitfalls of allowing ourselves to assume some students’ responses represent the others’.
For a student to be learning they need several things to be fired up:
- they need to be thinking, focusing their attention where needed to achieve the learning goals
- they need the prior knowledge needed so that new learning can build on it allowing them to make meaning
- they need to engage in practice and receive feedback that moves them forward.
All this is supported by the simple model I promote in my CPD as explored in this post:
One of the most powerful ideas I’ve engaged with recently is using a diagram to visualise a shared model of the learning process; using it to get a feel for how learning works in general but also to…
The meaning-making element is described brilliantly by Sarah Cottingham in this post: – I have added the lightening to this image from her post, for emphasis!
This applies to each individual. Now multiply that by 30 and what is already complex is hyper complex, fraught with difficulties unless we’re ready for it! A powerful prompt and constant question for teachers is to consider whether each and every student has been able to make meaning from the ideas in hand – building on prior knowledge. We can hope.. but we must never assume.
I would suggest that the most common challenges or flaws in the lessons I observe fall into the area where some students are doing fine but not everyone is… and the lessons allow this to happen or to go unnoticed. I feel a focus in teacher thinking and CPD that can yield significant gains to focus on this explicitly. (It’s a theme I return to over and over – see The #1 problem/weakness in teaching and how to address it.
Here are six things to think about when trying to reach ALL not just some; for ALL students to make meaning successfully, not just a few; for you to adapt your teaching responsively based on the learning progress of ALL students, not just a few.
Securing attention from everyone is paramount. I”m not talking about ‘eyes on me’ – I’m talking about mental attention. Students will mind-wander naturally and inevitably just as adults do unless they have tasks or questions that occupy their minds, linked to some expectations that require them to provide some evidence of their thinking. This can be achieved by routinely setting up questions and tasks that all must do, with an ever-present level of accountability built around the expectation that you might be asked to share your work or your answer. Techniques like Show Call or Cold Call are essential for achieving this – the key questions are for everyone and anyone might be asked to share their answers. These techniques sit alongside active supervision of generative tasks that students should do individually – ie tasks that require thinking, not just procedural copying.
Without attention, without thinking – there is no learning. So it’s fundamental that we consider and check that everyone is thinking.
“Memory is the residue of thought”. As part of my work with Oldham College, this week we were revisiting the key…
Check prior knowledge
Students cannot make meaning in the direction you want according the demands of the curriculum unless, at every stage, they have the prior knowledge needed. It’s vital, therefore, to check your assumptions about prior knowledge – going back as far you need to allow all students to connect to things they already know. An example I often use is a recent lesson observed where Y9 students discussed how recreational drug use progresses to dependent drug use. In what was otherwise a great lesson, with some superb responses, I encountered a couple of students who did not know the meaning of recreational or dependent and so could not engage in the discussion, even though nearly everyone else could. A routine prior knowledge check might have flushed this out, providing some support around the key vocabulary and thereby allowing those two students to make meaning within this drugs education domain.
This issue is extensive.. you have to take students from where they actually are, not from where you’d like them to be or imagine them to be. Painful as it is, that’s the job… and checking can involve numerous processes including quizzing, pair talk and general assessment over time.
I’ve encountered so many scenarios across the curriculum where students’ prior knowledge just isn’t secure enough for them to handle the new content of the lesson – at least, not…
Systematic engagement in questioning
An inclusive classroom involves all students in questioning flows. If you combine whiteboards, think pair share and cold calling, you have three tools that work in combination better than they each work alone. You flex the questioning method to ensure every student can practise, can think and can reveal their thoughts to you. It’s possible to run lessons so that it would be impossible to opt out or for a few students to dominate whilst others sit back passively. Of course a silent student might be thinking – but you can’t know how well that’s going unless you involve them in the flow of giving responses.
Running a room with routine, habitual inclusive questioning, making everyone think, should be an absolute bedrock of a teacher development process.
Increasingly I find that it’s important and useful to explore teaching techniques through the twin-tracks of a) defining specific techniques so they are deployed with precision and b)…
Practice and rehearsal through talk and writing
So much learning is tenuous for our least confident students. Under pressure of curriculum coverage, they often experience school as one shallow confusing whizz through after another. Even if they are succeeding in keeping up in any given moment, the lack of consolidation means they don’t retain much and can’t build strong interconnected schema of knowledge. I see this happens every clearly with new terminology, for example. To make meaning with words and phrases, students often need to connect them to concrete knowledge they have – not just building abstraction onto abstraction the whole time. They need so use language, to say words, to select which word to use from a range… repeatedly, to the point that the knowledge sticks, making sense and allowing future appropriate recall.
For this to happen, very very obviously, EVERY STUDENT needs to practise using all the words. Not just some. And yet…… it’s just so common for this not to happen. Some students use some of the words, but not everyone. They might have a labelled diagram or copied paragraph in their books – but this does not represent their actual knowledge. Not yet anyway. It’s very hard to learn words you never say. Good lessons where everyone is learning involve all students practising, both in writing and through talk.
A very common phenomenon in many lessons is that students encounter new words. The way we approach this ought to be something teachers think about explicitly so that effective…
In December, Efrat Furst delivered a superb masterclass as part of our In Action series where she explained the stages of learning using the models used in her…
Responding to formative assessment outcomes
A vital aspect of teaching is that we adapt our teaching inputs in response to how well students are learning. We need short (in the moment) feedback loops and longer (week to week) feedback loops that allow us to address learning issues as they arise. The whole point of quizzing, for example, is to allow students to test their knowledge and understanding so that they and the teacher gain information about learning gaps so that these gaps can be addressed. And yet, it’s very very common to see routines whereby merely giving the answers after a quiz is all that students get as a response. If we want every student to succeed, including the least confident (which we do of course), then a bit of post-quiz green penning is never going to cut it.
Our routines should be about finding out where students struggle and then reteaching those areas, going back to some solid ground and rebuilding again: more examples, more practice, more concrete reference points, some visual aids, alternative explanations… whatever it takes. Part of this includes empowering them to develop some agency around self-study with good tools to support that. It requires effort on their part – but teachers can direct that effort.
#1 in the Teaching Problem –> Solution Series. The Problem: How do I deal with knowledge gaps? This problem has been posed in two categories: a) Where students are absent: here they may have…
This blog is the second of a set of ideas used as material for webinars delivered with Century Learning where I set out some key ideas about assessment that might be useful to support…
A big part of teaching multiple students at the same time is that some will make faster progress than others. How do we keep the level of challenge high while supporting other students to progress from a lower starting point. Often the answer lies in designing scaffolds – we provide help in the form of resources or routines that allow students to participate and make meaning within a lesson flow or a task, without needing to rely solely on their prior knowledge.
The explicit function of a scaffold is that it provides temporary support and doesn’t foster dependency but well-designed scaffolds can do wonders in bringing students into a conversation or allowing them to construct a piece of writing or to perform key learning tasks. The skill of a teacher lies in working out which scaffolds to use and when to reduce the level of scaffolding so that students ultimately no longer need them. This older post explores some of the issues:
One of the challenges we face as teachers is knowing how much help to give. There are so many examples of structured support across a range of learning experiences: arm-bands in swimming, stabilisers on a bicycle… the…
This post looks specifically at scaffolds for dialogue:
Five Ways. A series of short posts summarising some everyday classroom practices. The essence of scaffolding is that students are elevated to a level of performance and thinking that they…
As with so many things, no one of these elements is easy or sufficient. Success comes from weaving them all together over time, lesson to lesson. But it really does start with understanding that unless we do these things, gaps are widening day after day… students are falling behind, often masked by the successes of their peers. All means all… that’s the challenge.
- Attention – so that all can focus on meaning-making
- Prior Knowledge – so all can build schema
- Engagement in questioning – so that all can practise and reveal their thinking
- Practice and rehearsal – so all can consolidate
- Responding to formative assessment – to explore key knowledge gaps from all
- Scaffolding – so that all can succeed.