Elsewhere, I have talked about the unusual summer transition of this year – the first in a while without significant timetable, structural, staffing or specification change. What I’ve had an opportunity to do with that continuity is to reflect on our teaching and learning, and start applying the reading and research I’ve been doing in to some kind of practice.
So, at the end of the last academic year, I sat down with my Year 10 and Year 12 students, and talked about the ideas of supporting learning in different ways.
What was the context?
Previously, I’ve taught in lessons. Each lesson had a set of resources – normally I’d keep it only to the handouts I wanted to give (e.g. a map, or some diagrams) and my teaching resources. My scheme of work had a clear sense of what was being taught in each lesson, and so what I’d typically do is print the resources for each lesson. This tends to chunk out the lessons – when I’ve only got one set of resources, it’s very difficult to “move on” to the next bit of the unit, even if I’ve got through everything I wanted to teach. Additionally, because I was focused on lesson delivery, the opportunity for questions and context-based reviews of knowledge were limited – I didn’t come to each lesson with a set of linked exam questions.
Student feedback highlighted the following considerations:
- Each lesson was clear, and they understood the context of the work that we did in each lesson. However, while it was obvious that I knew where we were going – and they were happy that I was organized and knew the ‘direction of travel’, it was harder for them to see the links as they were learning it. Often, it made sense in revision and retrospect – but I needed to be clearer about the schema I was building with them, rather than just keeping it implicit.
- Students were spending a lot of time reproducing diagrams or key knowledge, with varying degrees of accuracy. What they wanted was excellence in those areas, so they could repeat and practice from the best possible platform: not an initial, slightly unconfident starting point.
- Students wanted the opportunity to review knowledge more regularly, and to practice questions tied specifically to each section of the course – rather than having all of the questions in a single resource. This was felt to be a bit ‘overwhelming’ and intimidating – though helpful in revision mode.
- In addition, what I wanted to do was have a better clarity over the connections, debates and discussions that we had. I knew that we talked about them in class – but I wanted all of the students to have all of the points of consideration.
On reflection, I think that the best of my students – those who had well developed study skills, and were proactive in their ability to connect my teaching together to build their own schema – were getting an excellent experience from my lessons. However, I wasn’t convinced that all of my students were taking the same outcomes away – and I wanted to change it.
What did I do?
Having read – and been convinced – by various subject experts on the value of booklet design, ranging from Freya (@fod3) to Adam (@adamboxer1), together with my own Science colleages (@amyjv), I wanted to trial the work using booklets to bring together the learning more coherently. However, with an exceptionally high opportunity cost, I focused my attention on Key Stage 5. This is a result of a few factors: i) I knew the content and stability of the specification best; ii) it was an area where I thought the biggest improvement and ‘closing of gaps’ could be made, and iii) I am the only teacher of Physical Geography – so I could write the content, without having to discuss, review and negotiate ideas with colleagues. While this would be exceptionally valuable, it’d also take a lot more time – and attention – than we could spare. So KS5 Physical Geography was my focus.
My aim – because I love absurdly ambitious targets – was to write all of the booklets in advance. This hasn’t happened. I’ve been able to plan 3-4 weeks in advance, and do ‘units’ of work at a time. Even this has been transformative in my teaching and student learning – but having them in place for next year is a concept that I can’t even get my head around right now.
Booklets have been prepared with a mixture of resources – including the diagrams, maps and key images that I would previously have handed out as single sheets. However, I’ve also provided far more in the way of writing frameworks, key questions, and the exam practice questions for each section. I have printed each ‘unit’ at a time – students have the bundle to start with, and we just work through the content. At the same time, I’ve consolidated my teaching resources in to a single slide show – rather than having an individual power point per lesson – and so I have streamlined and reviewed that resource, as well as building the booklets. These materials are easier and simpler to upload on to our VLE!
I do feel like this has changed the way I teach at KS5 – so much so, that I’m considering biting the workload bullet, and extending it out to KS4 as well….
What has gone well?
- While it comes at high time cost, the process of reviewing and really thinking about what, when and why I want to teach the varieties of components for each unit has been incredibly valuable. In lots of cases, I’ve shuffled and edited the focus of my work, and thought about different approaches and angles. That’s been great!
- I am also in a fairly unique position of having multiple KS5 classes: I teach two Year 12 and three Year 13 sets, so there is actually a decent time benefit that comes back. It’s also been interesting to see how iterations of the teaching (effectively, I’m able to teach the Year 13 material three times, and adjust each go!) have adjusted and shaped expectations of what I can do with the material.
- I feel like the planning and preparation to include questions and structures has been really beneficial. I already know where I will take students, and so do they: the unit questions are clear and set out at the start. It also provides opportunity for review and reflection together, and a much clearer sense of practice. It’s not quite SLOP-style; but the questions are now explicitly tied to the content material.
- My teaching style has changed. Instead of “lessons”, I’m talking about units of work and connecting things all the way through. It’s much easier to make the schema visible, and to connect the ideas from the beginning. Students can see what we’re doing, how it connects and why – and I don’t really have ‘lesson plans’ any more. Instead, I just pick up with a Rosenshine-esque review of previous content, and turn to the new page in the booklet.
- Handing out the sections of the booklet at one time – rather than pre-printing the whole thing – was originally a workload strategy: I simply didn’t have that level of preparation and material. However, I think it’s benefitted the students. They haven’t been overwhelmed with “all the stuff” we’re going to do: they have just done ‘the next thing’.
- Students’ work is much more organized. They have clear pages, headers, and even page numbers. When it’s all pulled together, then I anticipate being able to provide a ‘table of contents’ that is significant steps above the average level of organization in previous years.
- I feel like the integrative approach of the visualizer to demonstrate and model analysis – on images, diagrams and key ideas – is still really powerful. The booklet has provided clear space and structure for me to do that – and this is something I want to work on. In the next iteration, I think I want to have pre-prepared the diagrams and annotations to a certain extent – I’ve done some live modelling, and it’s helpful – but I would like to be able to get around and see student work more!
- The pace of my teaching and content coverage has changed significantly. I am 2-3 weeks ahead of where I was this time last year (remember, no structural change), because there’s far fewer “wasted” lesson time opportunities. No padding out, or looking for something to do to finish the last 15 minutes – just on to the next component! Not quite finished? No worries, we’ll just pick it up as part of the review next time. At times, this has felt frighteningly quick: I have been worried about what I’m missing out on, and what I haven’t taken the time to look at with the students – but their learning suggests that I needn’t be terrified of the pace.
What do I need to think about and improve upon?
- Unquestionably, the biggest change that I’d like to make is in having them all ready in advance: rather than working 2-3 weeks ahead of the students. However, I do recognise the perhaps unhealthy level of expectation this puts on my shoulders: I’ll try and manage that appropriately!
- I think the content delivery is working well: but I’d like to actively plan more AfL and review stages in the booklets and teaching. I have gained a lot of time from streamlining the teaching: I’d like to buy some of it back in really consolidating and assessing that knowledge. I am considering setting aside a full lesson to do review and recap of old (and potentially very old!) content as a building platform.
- I’d like to improve the delivery of modelling and the integration of how these things work for visualizer teaching. At the moment, it’s improvised – I hadn’t considered it when I started – and I should have! I would have considered refining some of the structures if I’d thought it through in advance.
- Copying costs have potentially increased. It’s hard to see where I can reduce that – I’ll have to look carefully at what I use this year, compared to previous, and how I can possibly streamline it (e.g. double sided, look to reduce colour implications vs black & white)
I am very much at the beginning of the journey to teaching like this: only a half term in, but I feel very positive about what I could go on to do. I need to be mindful of the opportunity-cost components, and to really assess the *value* of the impact, rather than simply the shiny booklet that I’ve produced.
Would love to have feedback and thoughts from those who are further along the booklet pathway! What are the likely journeys? What are the next stages, and common challenges?