Structuring Lessons

I have recently been reading ‘Love to Teach’ by Kate Jones. It is always refreshing to spend time reading and reminding yourself of key successes within lessons. I often try to think of innovative ways to ensure that I can introduce a new topic effectively. Whilst thinking and researching about how to deliver new topics within my lessons, I came to realise it is important to give students the opportunity to recall and retain information. We must give them the vision to develop their knowledge and long term memory. This, in turn, has all the features to create a solid foundation of knowledge on which to build. I found the following information quite staggering:

‘Once information has been encoded students are then prone to forgetting the information within 20 minutes. Within 1 hour the majority of the new information will be forgotten. 90% of what students learn in class will be forgotten within 30 days.’

(Forgetting Curve 1885) [1]

Taking on board the forgetting curve as the main concept, I started to think how to introduce students to revisiting knowledge and practising skills from prior teaching. It made me truly think and consider how I should introduce new topics. I quickly came to realise that I needed to ensure students have as many opportunities as possible to revisit information and practise developing key skills within lessons.

Whilst introducing new topics, it is imperative that you find out what the student already knows. There are many ways you can do this, ensuring that every student has the opportunity to show you what they know. For me, the most effective way to find out what the student already knows is to first, tell students to mind map independently their knowledge, ensuring they write all of the information that they know. It is then important for students to share their knowledge, giving students the opportunity to pair up, share and discuss their mind maps. Give them time to expand their thoughts and share as a class. The benefit of sharing as a class is to address any misconceptions at the start of a topic. Through sharing as a whole class, students can then work collectively to create a whole class mind map. Students can sometimes surprise themselves with their knowledge surrounding a topic. Dependent on the new topic, the class mind map can sometime create areas of discussion to develop further the students’ starting point.

The next question I ask myself is: once I have delivered the new topic, how can I judge what the students have learnt? I have found that testing is the most effective way to immediately see what students have learnt and what information they are able to retrieve. Testing gives you the opportunity to re-visit any weak areas and any misconceptions that the class seem to have. It is important to allow students time as a class or individually to re-visit any challenging area of the topic. Allowing the class to re-visit an area will fill gaps in knowledge, creating a strong foundation for them to build upon, giving them the opportunity to grow as leaners. Although there is nothing wrong with producing a test on a sheet of paper, there are now many other forms that you could consider such as: Plickers which is good for creating quizzes and finding out immediately what the students know; Kahoot which is useful for a quick check of understanding using multiple choice answers – the leaderboard makes it fun; Google form  – a quiz template which allows a variety of questions from multiple choice to more detailed answers, ideal for exam style questions. I have found that using of a range of test formats engages the student and creates a healthy competitive edge.

It is important when testing, that students do not find it stressful or see themselves as a failure. It is vital for students to be informed prior to a test to ensure they feel ready. I found that making sure students knew that the test was purely to see what has been learnt collectively as a class, seemed to ease the students’ worries. I also made it clear that I would make time to re-visit areas that the class generally found difficult, had misconceptions or lacked knowledge. Students appreciated this as it gave time for students to ask questions. Sometimes students would have a ‘light bulb’ moment and say, “Oh, I get that now! Now, it makes sense.”

It is important to use a range of questions within your test. I found that if you continually use multiple choice, it doesn’t always give you an accurate overview of what students have learnt; they are able to have an educated guess. I found that providing students with exam style questions that do not give the students clues or the opportunity to select the correct answer, gives you a more accurate overview of the students’ learning. Through using exam style questions, it can sometimes raise students’ misinterpretation of subject specific vocabulary therefore helping you as a teacher. This gives you the opportunity to recap key words within the topic and ensures subject specific knowledge grows correctly.

We obviously don’t want to just test students. I found another effective way to know what students have learnt is to use a ‘challenge grid’[2]. I really liked this concept and found students enjoyed completing this for homework. I think students responded well with the challenge grid as it refers to most of the areas covered within the topic. It also gave them time to realise they had most of the skills and knowledge. Giving students the opportunity and time to refine and develop their knowledge throughout the topic, at their own pace, built students’ confidence within the topic.  A challenge grid is effective and simple to create. You have a range of questions that are worth a certain number of points. The harder the question, the more points it is worth. An easy question such as define the word ‘noun’ would gain 1 point. You can have as many questions as you like for each point value. A 4-point question could use terms such as ‘justify’ within the question therefore expecting a more detailed answer from the student. I particularly liked this concept as it clearly showed the gaps within students’ knowledge and it also allowed students to challenge themselves. You can use it throughout the whole of the topic allowing students to fill in grids as they learn.

Define the term context. Describe the role of women in the Jacobean era. What were the beliefs and ideas of those in Shakespeare’s society?   List 10 major plot points in order. State their impact on the play.
Define the term patriarchal. What are the witches also referred as within Macbeth? Why do you think Shakespeare used an additional name for the witches? How does the concept of original sin relate to Macbeth? How would this impact Shakespeare’s writing? Who is the most powerful, Macbeth or Lady Macbeth? Give quotes to support your point. Think about danger, deception and manipulation.
Define the term graymalkin. Explain why divine right is so important within Macbeth. Write a quote that uses iambic pentameter and trochaic tetrameter. What is Lady Macbeth’s reaction to her husband’s reluctance to murder Duncan? What do we learn about their relationship at this point in the play?
1 point 2 points 3 points 4 points

Challenge grid focus Year 8 Macbeth Act 1 and general knowledge.

I have also used a retrieval grid [3]: 1-point answers will relate to questions from last lesson; 2 points relate to last week; 3 points, 2 weeks ago; 4 points, further back. This is very effective for students to recognise the need to revisit work to ensure they are able to recall information. It was very clear that the lower ability students generally struggled to gain higher than the 2 point questions. This was a reminder that repetition and revisiting of work is key. Alternatively, it could be set as a very effective piece of homework as it will give students the opportunity to revisit information, developing their skill of retrieving information and working on their long-term memory. Through this homework, they may also discover the most effective way for them to remember key information.

The idea of developing students’ information retrieval/recall could be in many forms such as: grids with questions worth points; producing their own quiz; revisiting a previous quiz or completing a certain test 3 or 4 times throughout the year to see if they have improved or developed their ability recall key information, demonstrating that they are able to learn and retain information. It will also expose if students have embedded the information, creating foundations to grow as learners and improve their long-term memory.

One last thought to leave you with:  

‘A success rate of 80% shows students are learning material, and it also shows that the students are challenged.’

(The Goldilocks principle) [4]

                                                                                                Toni Walton

[1] Kate Jones (2018) Love to Teach, p. 25.

[2] Kate Jones (2018) Love to Teach, pp.36-38.

[3] Kate Jones.(2018)’love to teach’, pp. 38-40.

[4] Kate Jones.(2018)’love to teach’, p. 21.

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