The 15 minute forum tonight was led by Chris Woodcock (@c_woddcock100). As well as being a Deputy Headteacher, Chris is also teaches geography. Over the last couple of years, he has been trying to develop strategies to support and challenge the low ability students he teaches. Being a content heavy subject, these students struggle to recall the knowledge required to answer exam questions effectively. As a result, they have been missing out on valuable marks. With this in mind, Chris wanted to develop a quick and easy strategy they could use to improve their recall of information. He has been doing this by using very simple diagrams as visual prompts.
So, having taught a topic, a simple diagram is used to summarise the main ideas. This can be easily memorised and then used to recall the main facts – an example follows:
Topic: How do humans use mountains such as the Alps?
Some of the key ideas covered in the diagram above:
- Tourism – 100 million tourists per year
- Forestry – making furniture
- Farming – cows for cheese.
- Mining – iron
- Hydroelectric Power – dam built across the valley.
- Transport – tunnels and hair pin bends.
- Jobs – summer and winter
- Farming – small scale, move cows up the mountain in the summer.
The diagram is initially built up and discussed with the class and teacher as a summary of the learning. The key points are emphasised and then questioning is used to develop the ideas – Why is that there? What would happen if? What’s the link between….? What might be the impact of?
Students then have to draw it themselves (without looking at the original) and write a sentence explaining each of the key points. They can then check what they have produced with the original – adding in any omissions. They then cover what they have done and draw it again, usually at the end of the lesson – this time hopefully without any omissions. Usually after 3 attempts they are drawing it perfectly, including all of the key facts.
The real test is then asking them to produce the diagram again after a few weeks, once you have moved on from that topic, and seeing what they can recall.
Tips for making it work
- Keep the diagram simple and uncluttered – makes it easier to remember.
- Repetition is key – get them to draw the diagram a number of times and over a period of time.
- Emphasise the key points.
- Adding colours as a key can be confusing.
- Use simple symbols e.g. + or – for advantages and disadvantages.
- Question the students to develop their thinking.
- Make sure they translate the diagram into writing – and then check that they have included all of the key points.
What has it done?
- Increased their capacity to retain and recall knowledge – especially low ability students.
- Enabled them to include the key points and evidence such as statistics when answering exam questions e.g. Tourism is popular in this region, with over 100 million tourists visiting every year. This adds depth to their written responses and maximises the marks they achieve for longer answer questions.
- Developed their confidence – they realise that they can remember and so can use their knowledge to answer questions.
- Many low ability students are now achieving 1 or 2 grades above their target grade.
Chris stressed that this is a tool for remembering the key points of a topic – it is not a way of teaching the topic.
Due to the success of the strategy the department has, with the help of the Learning Support department, produced a series of diagrams to cover all of the case studies in GCSE geography.
NB: No mention of ‘Visual Learners’ or VAK during this 15mf!