Today Fran Haynes and I walked around the school and visited a number of lessons. It was great to see so much effective practice, that we will summarise in the ‘bright spots’ post. We think it’s important to talk about this as effective practice and not best practice. Is there a difference? Yes we think there is.
Best practice suggests that this is the only way to do it, by all teachers in all subjects and with all students. Of course this is not going to be the case. Effective practice on the other hand, suggests a teaching strategy that is likely to work in that particular context – for that teacher, in that subject and with those students – based on what the evidence suggests. We can look at this effective practice and consider how or if it could be used usefully in our own classroom.
So what did we see?
In Computing, Ailish Hannan was teaching Y7 computing. Students were producing a leaflet about safeguarding and staying safe. From feedback they had received in previous lessons, students had a good understanding of the success criteria e.g. using the same font, including the key information in the right place etc. Furthermore, they could explain why this was important. They were then using this to frame their work.
Over in geography, Sam Atkins was teaching Y7 about 6 figure grid references. Having explained this to the class, one student came up to the board and was modelling to the class how to do this. What was particularly impressive, was the way in which Sam was questioning the boy who was modelling to his peers, to encourage him to articulate his thought processes (metacognition) e.g. ‘Why have you divided that box into ten? Are you sure that is 2?’
Moving up the school, in art Y11 were preparing for their exam. Our Head of art Gail Christie was giving very specific and personalised feedback to individual students by modelling particular techniques. As Gail modelled to the student how to paint a face, she was explaining the various techniques she was using and why e.g. starting with the background; using solid lines with a thin brush to show structure; blocking with a large brush; asking the student to look at how she was holding the brush; asking the student to spot the direction that she was moving the brush and how. A fantastic example of the power of verbal feedback.
There was another example of great and personalised feedback in PE with James Crane. James was teaching basketball to Y9 and he had a very able player in his class, who plays at a good level outside of school. In order to challenge him, James had to analyse his performance closely and give him very specific feedback about his performance. He approached this by explaining and modelling to the student ‘aggressive run ins’ he wanted him to make towards the basket and precisely when to jump. He then watched to see how the student performed with this, and then gave him further feedback. The lesson here? In order to give good, challenging feedback to students, we need to know them well.
In maths, John Mulhern was challenging his Y10 students with some very powerful use of retrieval practice. Students were completing a starter task in which they had to remember mathematical techniques learned in Year 9 in order to answer a set of questions. One of John’s students said that the lesson was ‘a little tricky’, indicating how well the content was pitched for this group of students: challenging but accessible at the same time, whilst making them all ‘think hard’. Similarly, in science Bex Owen was asking her Y7 students about food groups at the start of the lesson before going on to teach a different topic. Bex also used the retrieval questions to test students’ ability to use Tier Three vocabulary accurately. This is a perfect example of how literacy is integral and useful across the curriculum.
Along the corridor, Kate Blight was also teaching y10 maths. In this lesson, Kate was using very effective modelling at the board to work through a mathematical problem with the whole class, whilst also using precise questions to gauge students’ deeper understanding of the processes involved in completing the task accurately. In addition, Kate demonstrated an excellent example of how to support higher-level vocabulary use through her friendly insistence that a student improve their verbal response by using ‘multiply’ rather than ‘times’.
Michael Kyle was providing great challenge with his y7 science class through a fantastic whole-class discussion on the specialisation of cells. Students were using Tier Three language such as mitochondria with confidence and accuracy, and were pushed through follow-up questions that developed their thinking. What was impressive about this lesson was how Michael created challenge through his use of KS4 content, which he explained and used to frame questions that developed students’ scientific knowledge and understanding.
Finally, in English Russ Shoebridge was delivering a focused lesson in which he talked y11 students through a GCSE writing question. The students had practised the question type several times before, so students were realising the benefits of deliberate practice. In this particular lesson, Russ was supporting students by giving clear time limits for specific parts of the response process. This will result in the class having a much better understanding of the process involved in extended writing as well as the content knowledge required.
This was an enjoyable hour in which we saw many examples of effective practice across subject areas, demonstrating once again the wealth of knowledge and expertise that our students experience every day.