Showing posts with label teacher development. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teacher development. Show all posts

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Thoughtful Questioning: Why Cold Call Is Not Enough

Cold Calling is the name given to the practice of asking a question and then selecting a child to answer. The theory is that it causes all children to think rather than just a single child who has been called upon to answer, or who has put their hand up. This is great because it lessens the likelihood of children, for whatever reason, opting out of the lesson and increases the number of children who are thinking about an answer.

But this alone is not enough - if that is all that is done in the name of Cold Calling then there are a couple of obvious problems.

Problem 1: Generic vs. Targeted Questioning

The first problem I assume here is that the questioning is generic. When you ask a whole class the same question it does not take into account the varying needs and understanding of the children in the class. Perhaps this issue is less prevalent in classes set by prior attainment (as in most secondary schools) however in such settings, each child will still have differing levels of understanding and knowledge.

Questioning will be more beneficial for both children and teachers if it is targeted. Targeted questioning allows teachers to get a better understanding of individual needs - it is a form of formative assessment. For children, it means that they have the chance to answer questions that are appropriate to them: if teachers already have knowledge of a child's current levels of understanding, they can pitch the question so that it is not too hard and not too simple, finding that sweet spot that gives the child a chance to experience success (a great motivator).

Of course, many great teachers out there will be Cold Calling and asking targeted questions. Although on the face of things they are asking a question to the whole class, they will have done something else first: they will have already decided on who to ask and asked a question that suits that child's needs. That's the way to tackle this first potential problem:

  1. Ask a tailored question of the whole class with a particular child (or children) in mind
  2. Provide some thinking time
  3. Name the child who you want to answer the question and allow them to answer
Problem 2: Inclusivity

Most proponents of Cold Calling will ensure that they pre-empt their questioning with a warning: "I'm about to cold call" or "I'm going to ask you all a question". But a blanket warning does not help to alert a child who might require a more specific warning.

Some children, for a variety of reasons, will not respond well to being chosen and then asked to try to convey their understanding out loud in front of the whole class. Sometimes it might be the case that they need more time to think, for others it will be difficult for them to articulate what they know, yet others may feel underconfident. Should we force answers out of these children without specific warning that we are going to ask them? (Should we force answers out of them at all?)

We warn because we want children to be prepared so that they can give the best answer possible. So, how can we help more reticent children to be prepared without singling them out and signalling to the rest of the class that they don't need to think or participate?

One answer to this conundrum is to provide further thinking time (once you have called their name) for a child who is going to find it more difficult to find an answer. However, this thinking time potentially just provides the rest of the class with the chance to switch off for while as they wait for the child to answer. This is not a sufficient answer.

A better answer is to add something else into the teacher's script:

"I am going to ask <child's name> to answer in 10 seconds. Everyone else must be ready with an answer too as I will ask <number> other people to provide an answer too."

There are added benefits to this approach. Having more than one answer to a question will allow answers to be compared and contrasted. Having several answers allows for a collaborative answer to be built from the component parts of different children's answers. These follow-up questions should also be tailored and targeted, based on teacher's assessment of prior learning. Other bits of teacher questioning would help here:

"Can you add to <child's name>'s answer... <select child to answer>?"
"What do you think about  <child's name>'s answer... <select child to answer>?"
"Is <child's name>'s answer correct... <select child to answer>?"
"Please can you summarise everyone's answers... <select child to answer>?"

In the above examples the ellipsis signifies a pause, and you will note that the question always comes before the selection of a child to answer, ensuring that the most children possible are thinking about an answer. Some of the above examples fit with TLAC's Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce routine.

A better version of the routine above then would be:

  1. Ask a tailored question of the whole class with a particular child (or children) in mind
  2. Provide some thinking time
  3. Name the child who you want to answer the question and warn the rest of the class that they will be required to answer too
  4. Provide further thinking time, according to the needs of the child who has been asked to answer
  5. Allow the child to answer
  6. Ask other children to contribute their additional answers

A Word On Lollipop Sticks

The primary purpose of lollipop sticks should be that they an aid to ensuring that a broad range of children are being asked to answer questions. As teachers we can often, without thinking, revert to asking the same children questions (often because subconsciously we know that they will be able to answer and therefore will not disrupt the flow of the lesson, also giving us a false sense of security that the lesson is going well and the children are learning). Lollipop sticks, used as they were intended (i.e. you don't put the stick back in the pot once you have asked that child), make sure that it is not the same children being asked all the questions.

However, there are problems even with this primary purpose: what if a child needs to be asked another question? What if further questioning will actually help them to understand more? Sticking rigidly to the lollipop stick process could mean that those children miss out because they've already had their question for the lesson. It's also worth mentioning that some children might not need questioning, or might benefit from more private questioning at another point during the lesson - not everyone has to speak out loud in front of the class.

Lollipop stick usage has morphed into something else though - they've simply become a tool of random selection in the Cold Call scenario.

When used in this way, for Cold Call, a common process is to ask the question, provide thinking time and then select the stick (this way, everyone thinks about the answer as it could be their stick that is picked). 

However, as already discussed, there are problems with this: the question can't be targeted. A better process for the use of lollipop sticks then would be to select a stick first, keep it secret, then ask the question, provide thinking time before finally revealing whose stick it was - a simple tweak allowing the questioning to be more targeted.

Essentially, lollipop sticks are only really necessary if teachers struggle to keep track of who they have and haven't questioned during the lesson.

A Word on Mini-Whiteboards

Mini-Whiteboards were all the rage in primary schools when I started teaching 15 years ago. At some point more recently, they've become a big in secondary schools.

The purpose of them is that you can actually ask children to provide written answers to the questions that you are asking. It is a much more visible way of ensuring that children are involved in the lesson at the point a question is asked. Instead of just providing thinking time, you can provide writing time. This is a good thing, of course (and there are added benefits to writing things down, for example, it can help us to remember things, either facts or processes).

However, there are practical problems with the usage of mini-whiteboards:
  1. They get dirty, and get everything else dirty (fingers, tables, books, uniforms, etc)
  2. The pens run out or stop working quickly, especially when oily fingers have been used to rub out (see 3.)
  3. The pens, boards and rubbers seem to go missing very regularly - there is always at least one child crying out for a new pen!
  4. They can present some storage/handing out issues (however you decide to do it)
  5. Everything recorded on them gets wiped
The above might not seem like huge problems, and they might not bother some teachers at all. Having said this, there is a simple alternative and that's jotters or notebooks. Using jotters and notebooks means there are fewer items to get lost or stop working, they don't cause the same amount of mess and - the most legitimate, non-pernickety reason - is that they provide a record of what has been done. This record can be useful for both children (they can look back to see a mathematical process or to find information or ideas) and teachers (they can, if they should choose, see how a child has been doing during whole class questioning).

To summarise, Cold Call is fine as an alternative to hands up, but making some simple additions to the process will enhance the questioning, ensuring that it is targeted and inclusive. Lollipop sticks can help and asking all children to participate in writing and having more children joining in by providing additional answers can improve both the questioning and the answers.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Questions To Guide Teacher Reflection

As part of the researchEDHome 2020 CPD series, David Weston, CEO of Teacher Development Trust, presented under the heading 'Schools that unleash teachers' expertise and how to lead them' - that's the video embedded above.

As he spoke, outlining for the first 20 minutes what it is that expert teachers do, I began to jot down some questions that a teacher, or a coach working alongside a teacher, might ask to prompt reflection on their practice.

I imagine these being used post-lesson, either by a teacher wishing to reflect on their own, or by a coach and a teacher - it could be that the coach has seen the lesson, but that might not be necessary. 

Where lesson observations are concerned, David Weston made it clear that many of the things that make an expert teacher an expert cannot really be seen by an observer. Later on he pointed out that SLTs often try to glean information from lesson observations (as well as book and data scrutiny) which they can then use to direct CPD - a fairly ineffective practice. Although he only touched on this, there was the suggestion that far more information about teaching and learning can be gained from a discussion-based approach to pedagogical coaching - this information can then inform CPD planning.

So, the questions that I began to jot down became perhaps more pertinent: these questions (not an exhaustive list by any means, but based on the effective practices of an expert teacher) could be used to develop how well teachers reflect on their own practice in order to gain insight and develop perception. In turn, via coaches, school leaders then might be able to gain a better insight into teaching and learning in their schools, allowing them to provide more pertinent CPD opportunities.

The purpose of using questions such as these would be to gradually develop independence: teachers might begin to naturally reflect on such questions before, during and after teaching, removing the need for such a set of questions to be asked in any structured way.

I've loosely grouped the questions - in this way, discussions might be guided by coaches, or self-guided, towards a particular aspect of the lesson. It might be useful to use some of the whole session reflection questions to begin with, before moving onto specifics. Obviously, when reflecting on a lesson no one would attempt to answer all the questions below - they just represent the broad range of reflection points that expert teachers think about subconsciously as they work.

Reflecting on the whole session: 

What were the main things you noticed happening during the session? Did you notice anything that wasn’t happening? Should it have been? What was the story of that session? What did you notice about the whole session? What was the main focus of the session? Does that match to the intended focus? Which parts of the session had the most impact? What was the cause of the successes in that session? What was the cause of any lack of success in that session? How were you feeling during the session? Did your feelings change? How did you deal with your change in feelings? 

Reflecting on specific identified incidents: 

When have you come across a similar situation? What did you do then? Reflecting on outcomes: What did you see that showed you they were learning? Which was the most effective part of that session? How much of the time did you spend doing the most effective things? Which parts of the session had the most impact? What was the cause of the successes in that session? What was the cause of any lack of success in that session? 

Reflecting on behaviour: 

What happened before that behaviour issue? Were there any signs that it was going to happen? How could it have been tackled earlier? Were children complying? Did this mean they were learning? 

Reflecting on questioning: 

What was your questioning like in that session? How and why did you adapt your questioning? What was the impact? 

Reflecting on differing needs: 

What variations in understanding did you notice? Which individuals did you notice? What do you know about them already? What did you do to address differing needs? 

Reflecting on responsiveness: 

At which points did you go off-script? Why did you do it? Did it help? Did you have to give extra explanations? What made you do that and did it help? How did you adapt the session as you went along? 

Reflecting on sequencing: 

How did that session link to prior and future learning? Where did that session fit in the sequence of learning? What did the children already know that helped? What didn’t they know that would have helped?

Monday, 10 February 2020

Losing The Teaching Flab (And Becoming An Expert Teacher)

Hands up who has ever tried to lose weight? And hands up if you've ever tried putting on weight? I'm very sure that if you asked a room full of people in the UK those two questions (I mean, why would you, and are they even questions?) then there would be significantly more people with their hands up in reply to the first one. In another place, or at another time, it absolutely wouldn't be the case, but for the purposes of the blog post we'll go with the original scenario.

You see, I want to propose that learning to be an expert teacher is like losing weight. And conversely, that learning to be an expert teacher is not at all like trying to put on weight.

Let me explain myself:

I suspect that we start teaching with a lot of excess weight - expectations, misconceptions and hang-ups - that actually we need to lose before we begin to be effective.

Almost everyone has a preconcieved idea about what a teacher should be, what they should do and how they should behave. After all, the majority of us in the UK have spent our childhoods interacting with teachers, observing their behaviours and imbibing a certain set of characteristics which we think a teacher should have. We'll most likely have come across multiple depictions of teachers in TV, film and books which add to our ideas about what a teacher should be. Some of us even spent time as children playing at teachers, either bossing around siblings, friends or cuddly toys. All of this shapes our view of what it is to be a teacher before we ever step foot in a training college or in a school.

It's all this excess flab that we'll need to lose before we come an excellent teacher. And although some of the experiences mentioned above may have influenced us in a positive way, what we remember are only outer manifestations of what made those teachers good. By aping their actions, we might not always end up aping what actually made them effective. It's very easy to watch a teacher do their thing and think that you can put your finger on exactly what it is that makes them successful. In reality, it is not that easy to tell which actions are the ones that make a teacher good at what they do.

And, if you're an early-career teacher, it is even more difficult to discern what makes a teacher great when you watch them work. Often, a more inexperienced teacher can walk out of a more experienced teacher's classroom with a bag of tricks to try, none of which are the things that actually made the lesson they just watched great.

One of the main downfalls is that a less experienced teacher can believe that a teacher's style (their personality, quirks and originalities) are what makes them good. In fact, those things are more likely just to be the way they go about doing the things that actually make them good. If an NQT then goes back to their classroom and tries to act like them, it can be quite confusing as to why they don't see the same results - I should know, that NQT (/RQT/RQT+1/+2/+3...) was me.

"'Tain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)"

Sorry Ella/Banarama/Fun Boy Three/whoever else recorded a version, when it comes to teaching, that does not apply. In fact, as you might have guessed, the opposite is true:

It's What You Do ('Tain't the Way That You Do It)

An introverted teacher can do the same as an extroverted teacher - both can be experts. A funny teacher can do the same as a serious teacher - both can be experts. Someone in a three-piece suit can do the same as someone in a cardigan - both can be experts. What I didn't get for so long was that I had to do certain basic things but in my own way.

And it's these more visually impressive aspects of teaching that can be the flab we carry around with us: the things that distract us from doing the things that really matter; the things that detract from the actual learning that could be going on: the comedy, the drama, the laminated things, the lavish displays, the volume - the things which all can lend a certain je ne sais quoi to lesson, but which certainly do not the lesson maketh.

To cut through the flab in order to discern what is really having an impact in our own practice and that of others, we can ask some simple questions by way of reflection:

Why did they do that?
What impact did it have?
If they hadn't done that what would have happened?
Which aspects of the lesson actually made the difference?

You see, an expert teacher might be doing lots of things that are only really the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. You might see them teach an all singing, all dancing lesson, but it's probably not the singing and dancing that does the trick (unless it is a singing or dancing lesson, that is). It's probably the really basic, dull, staid stuff that really makes the impact. Things that they do day-in-day-out: routine stuff.

What are these simple things? What do we need to strip it back to? It's things like clearly explaining concepts in small steps, giving children time to just practice a concept without distracting contexts, ensuring that equipment and resources are ready and available, revisiting past material as a matter of course, drawing links between concepts, allowing children who understand something to get on with it whilst providing more instruction to those who don't, guiding children through work they can't yet do independently, responding quickly, providing scaffolds, modelling, questioning, discussing...

OK, so often it will be a lot of simple things all at once, which can seem complex at first. But in reality, it all comes down to a few key ideas - a few more questions you can ask yourself whilst in the planning stage:

What do the children need to learn?
How can I break it down and teach it in the simplest way possible?
How can they practice it in the simplest way possible?
Is this aspect of the lesson really necessary to children achieving the indended outcome?

Hardly any of us walk into teaching skinny, eager and ready to put on the muscle necessary to become a  heavyweight teacher. No, most of us probably walk in to teaching needing to shed a few pounds. What aspects of your practice might you be able to lose in order to focus on the simpler things? Which of the things you do in your classroom really have an impact, and which are just things that take up a lot of time with very little impact? It might even be something you hold really dear, but if it isn't making a difference, is it really worth doing?

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

From The @TES Blog: Teacher Development: The Balance Bike Approach

So far, I’ve successfully taught two of my three daughters to ride a two-wheeled pedal bike. While I learned to cycle the traditional way, by using stabilisers and then ditching them once I was a bit more confident, I've eschewed that for my own children and instead followed the current trend for balance bikes.

It really does work, reducing the complexity of the learning process. And it made me think: when we develop teachers’ skills, either during initial training or as part of ongoing professional development, should we use a balance bike approach, or should we bolt on stabilisers?

Allow me to flesh out the analogy...

Click here to read the whole article: