What do teachers do to help the clever ones get even better?

Little Mr. Smarty Pants

Little Mr. Smarty Pants

On Friday, Andy Tharby and I walked around the school.  We visited lessons of Y11 high starter students, who were doing particularly well in that subject.  We noted some of the things that these teachers were doing, that would probably contribute to the success of these students in their lessons.  Here are some of our observations:

  • They make students think deeply by asking them challenging questions about their responses to an initial question e.g. ‘What was the importance of…?  How did this influence…?  What did this lead to?’
  • There is an expectation that students will use subject specific complex (tier 3) language to articulate their ideas and when they do, this is explicitly commented upon by the teacher e.g. ‘Thanks John, I really liked the way you used the word….because…
  • They ask other students to develop the responses of their peers to questions e.g. ‘Have you got anything to add to that?  How could that response be expanded?’
  • Through the strong relationships they have built with students, they establish a culture in their classrooms, where students are expected to work really hard and focus fully on their work.  There is an atmosphere of academia and common purpose in these classrooms.  This is not a stifled atmosphere though.  Students feel comfortable and able to ask questions and offer responses, even if they are not sure – because that is the norm.
  • When looking at examination questions and how to answer them, the teacher meticulously discusses, questions and models how to get maximum marks – and why students often miss out on marks.  Nothing is left to chance.  This process is used to co-construct a model answer together that students then have in their books, to act as a reference point for future questions.  They are able to do this because they clearly have an in-depth knowledge of the specification and the expectations of the mark scheme – they have made it their business to know this.
  • When tackling exam questions in class, they will ensure the knowledge required to answer the question is secure first of all and if not – go back and re-teach it.
  • Scaffolding is used judiciously.  It is used to set the standard in terms of high quality and subject specific writing, but does not constrain the students.  For example, students were given a model beginning to an answer, that they discussed and stuck in their books.  They then had to finish the answer – in the same style and detail.
  • Live marking is used during the lessons to make students think about and develop their written responses.
  • Knowledge retention and recall is supported through regular low stakes quizzing at the start of the lesson.

This was only a snapshot of the experience of these high starting point students.  That said, it appears that when they are taught well,  teaching is framed around high aspiration, academic challenge, focused support and a relentless belief and expectation that the students can and should get better and better – even if they are already doing well.

This is possible because the teachers are passionate about their subject, know their subject inside out, use effective pedagogy in a way that suits their context and have strong relationships with their students.

Linked articles – Another six things – stretching the high starters.

Posted by Shaun Allison

 

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