As it was the first week back after half-term, I decided to take several mini-‘Bright Spot’ walks around the school. There was some fantastic practice taking place and there was certainly no concept of ‘easing’ the students back into school after their half-term.
Nathan Poole was leading a theory session in GCSE PE with his Year 10 students. He was demonstrating some great questioning, through challenging the students’ initial responses with lots of ‘why’ questions and stretching their thinking by forcing the students to demonstrate how different concepts linked together. What was clear in Nathan’s lesson was that the atmosphere was right – he had created an environment where students felt comfortable and were confident to express their ideas – even if those ideas were not initially correct.
In English, Bridget Norman had set a challenging task for her Year 11 students. Having shared the success criteria, Bridget had provided a task for students to debate the arguments for and against travel. Whilst students were writing, Bridget was engaging in an on-going dialogue with the students about their ideas and how they could structure their work. With one particular student, she was discussing their use of the word ‘fun’. Through careful questioning and a structured conversation this student was able to develop his initial, basic idea into an expanded and multi-faceted debating point which contained both positive and negative points. This task also allowed students to make links between different subject areas, as a number of Geography students were using their knowledge of tourism to enhance their debate, thus deepening their understanding.
Upstairs Ben Crockett was displaying an excellent questioning technique to dispel misconceptions related to Africa with his Year 8 students. The students had been set the initial question of ‘What do you know about Africa?’ and allowed time to formulate their ideas and discuss with their peers. Firstly, Ben was using the ‘cold calling’ technique (Doug Lemov) of selecting students to contribute. This meant that he was able to engage the whole-class but also to target specific students who may have been reluctant contributors. Secondly, Ben was challenging students misconceptions related to Africa by asking questions which challenged the students’ initial answers. When a student suggested that ‘all of Africa was poor’, Ben posed a series of questions to the class to allow other students to challenge this idea, using examples. As a result, a healthy discussion took place about poverty in Africa, but also the growing wealth of some areas of Africa. Ben was also using an outline map of Africa to locate students’ responses, which helped to model the areas of Africa which students had knowledge about and those areas that they didn’t.
Kate Blight was modelling how to calculate equations in Maths which involved brackets, with her Year 9 class. Using the whiteboard, Kate was modelling the equation in a very clear step-by-step process and asking students to provide the answers for each stage. She was also not afraid to identify the common misconceptions which students make with this process. In fact, she actively modelled the incorrect method of calculating the equation so that students were able to understand why this technique would not provide the correct answer. One aspect of Kate’s lesson which particularly struck me was that when she had asked a question, she ‘paused’ and waited for the students to think. She didn’t rush into providing the students with the answer or asked another question, but allowed students time to provide their own thoughts. Following the initial, modelled, explanation on the board students were provided with clear deliberate practice, in the form of a set of questions. After a period of time, Kate checked the students’ understanding by asking them to answer the first two questions on the whiteboard. During this phase, Kate had a specific focus on the use of students’ vocabulary, by questioning their use of ‘times’ and asking for the use of the word ‘multiplication’ as well as ensuring that students had structured their written work in a clear, step-by-step fashion. It was clear that Kate demanded the highest expectations from her students and that they were capable of meeting those standards.
In Science, Steph Temple was explaining the difference between fission and fusion. What was immediately obvious was the strong relationship between Steph and her Year 11 students, which was being demonstrated through Steph’s passion for her subject and the students’ eagerness to learn. Steph’s explanation was very clear and explicit. Whilst she was explaining the two concepts, she was filtering out the key elements and ensuring that students were including these (and only these) in their notes, in an ordered fashion. Through her questioning, Steph was targeting the ‘reluctant responders’ in her class, to ensure that they were as confident in their understanding as those more vocal students. Finally, Steph set the students a task which compared the two concepts. This was a simple, but effective way of checking the students’ understanding and allowed Steph to conduct live marking, which immediately addressed any misconceptions.
Natasha Bedford was also conducting live marking in her Year 11 Maths lesson. What was particularly evident in this lesson, was that conversations were important in developing students’ thinking and understanding – both student:teacher and student:student discussion. I intently listened to a discussion between two Year 11 boys (whilst Natasha was on the other side of the room) which was clearly focussed on the question they were working on and demonstrated their ability to lead their own learning, using the key steps that Natasha had provided in their exercise book.
There were more good examples of explanation in Natasha Newington’s Year 8 class. This time, however, the explanation was led by the students. Natasha had asked the question ‘What are the key features of a still image?’ The Year 8 students were able to provide a clear set of criteria to explain the features of a still image, which was then assessed against Natasha’s own criteria on the projector.
George Eastment was demonstrating effective and purposeful feedback with her Year 10 History class. George regularly uses this lesson with her KS4 groups following an assessment and it is very effective in increasing student outcomes. George had marked the students’ assessments and identified key questions where students had dropped marks or performed strongly. Through the use of student model answers, George asked the students to identify where students had been successful and what they should do to improve their work. This generated a clear discussion about where students had performed well, but also challenged students’ understanding of the topic. In addition, George stretched students’ use of vocabulary with a particular focus on the term ‘weregild’ within their answers. Following these discussions, students were able to re-write their answers to produce a high quality and full-mark answer.
It was great to see the six pedagogical principles being actively within so many subjects across the school.
Overall, there were high levels of engagement from the students within the lessons that I visited. Even when the work was challenging and students were struggling, they were able to show perseverance and ‘grit’ with the task to ultimately be successful. In addition, it was evident that all of the teachers were displaying a very strong passion for their subject which, coupled with excellent subject knowledge, was able to engage and challenge the students.