A summary of ideas on this blog

Here’s what I think is problematic…

Our education system isn’t working well enough.

Summative assessment is shackling schools.

Graded observations are straitjacketing teachers.

Confused ideas are undermining teacher training.

AfL has become hijacked, hoop-jumping gimmickry.

Snake oil is awash in the school system.

Inspections are inconsistent.

… and here’s what we can do about it:

Great education systems make teaching quality their north star.

Great teaching is effective instruction plus continuous improvement.

Effective instruction focuses on explanations, questioning, practice and feedback.

Cognitive science suggests knowledge, memory and practice are vital for learning.

So knowledge, memory and practice are central to improving the quality of our teaching.

Great school leadership improves the ethos, culture and systems of the school.

Great school leaders use cultural and instructional levers to help teachers improve.

A great school ethos is based on strong routines and good habits.

Effective behaviour systems are all about consistent consequences.

A great curriculum coherently sequences the best ideas of our global civilisation.

Knowledge and skills must be as interlinked as a double helix.

Mastery Assessment precisely determines to what extent students have learned what we’ve taught.

Effective CPD focuses on improving teaching and evaluates its impact on learning.

Improving ITT requires bridging the gap between scientific research and practice.

Teaching without social media is like playing tennis with a golf club.

Grading lessons is unnecessary.

All observations should only be formative.

It’s up to teachers to drive the profession forward.

I’ve also explored some education research here:

In short, what drives teaching quality – the vital factor in the school system – is leadership, ethos, behaviour, the curriculum, assessment, training and ideas.

Posted in System | 8 Comments

How to design multiple-choice questions

Taketheplunge

Our doubts are traitors,

And make us lose the good we oft might win


By fearing to attempt.

Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

 

Since taking the plunge and adding multiple-choice questions to my assessment repertoire, I’ve found they have refreshing and unexpected advantages.

They make assessment more reliable, marking less labour-intensive, pupil understanding and misconceptions more visible, and allow a wider breadth of knowledge to be assessed across a unit than just using essays or complex, holistic end-of-unit assessments. They save countless hours of marking downstream, and get pupils thinking deeply about subject content.

Both Alex Quigley and Cristina Milos have written perceptively about how tricky they are to create. How can we ensure that the advantages outweigh the limitations?

Research from Little, Bjork, Bjork and Angello (that Alex cites) suggests not only that they are as effective as short-answer tests for retention, but they also have an important advantage over them – that pupils have to think through incorrect alternatives. The key insight is that these alternatives must be plausible enough to enable pupils to retrieve why correct alternatives are correct and incorrect options are incorrect.

I’ve found these eight principles helpful in multiple-choice design:

MCQs

 

1. The proximity of options increases the rigour of the question

For instance, the question is, what year was the battle of Hastings? Options 1065, 1066, 1067, 1068 or 1069 are more rigorous than options 1066, 1166, 1266, 1366 or 1466. Of course, the question itself also determines the rigour: ‘80 is what percentage of 200?’ is much easier than ‘79 is what percentage of 316?’

 

2. The number of incorrect options increases rigour

Three options gives pupils a 33% chance of guessing the correct answer; five options reduces the chances of guessing to 20%; always create five rather than three or four options for multiple choice questions. A ‘don’t know’ option prevents pupils from blindly guessing, allowing them to flag up questions they’re unsure about rather than getting lucky with a correct guess.

 

3. Incorrect options should be plausible but unambiguously wrong

If options are too implausible, this reduces rigour as pupils can too quickly dismiss them. For instance, in the question: what do Charles Dickens and Oliver Twist have in common, an implausible option would be that they were both bank robbers. However, if answers are too ambiguously similar, this creates problems. For instance, in the question, ‘What happens in the plot of Oliver Twist?’, these options are too ambiguous:

a)     A young boy runs away to London

b)     An orphan falls in with a street gang of street urchins

c)     A poor orphan is adopted by a wealthy gentleman

d)     A criminal murders a young woman and is pursued by a mob

e)     A gang of pickpockets abduct a young boy

 

4. Incorrect options should be frequent misconceptions where possible

For example, if you know pupils often confuse how autobiographical ‘Oliver Twist’ is, create options as common confusions. These distractors flag up what pupils are thinking if they select an incorrect option:

a). Both were born in a workhouse

b). Both were separated from their parents and family

c). Both were put in prison for debt

d). Both had families who were put in prison for debt

e). Both were orphans

 

6. Multiple correct options make a question more rigorous.

Not stating how many correct options there are makes pupils think harder. For example:

Which characteristics of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” can be seen as Romantic?

A. It celebrates the supernatural.

B. It is written in iambic pentameter.

C. It emphasises emotion over reason.

D. It deals with the lives of common people.

E. It aspires to nature and the sublime.

 

7. The occasional negative question encourages kids to read the questions more carefully.

Once they get a question like ‘Which of these is NOT a cause of World War 1?‘ wrong, and realise why, they’ll work out they need to read questions again to double-check on what it is they’re asking.

 

8. Stretch questions can be created with comparisons or connections between topics.

What was common to both the USA and Germany during the Great Depression?

a)     Jewish immigration increased

b)     Membership of Ku Klux Klan increased

c)     Public works projects were implemented

d)     Government social programs were reduced

 

Good, Better, Best

Here is an example of honing a question to take into account the key insight that multiple-choice options must be plausible, but unambiguously distinctive. Pupils aren’t able to work out the good, better, or best options from context alone. They’d need to carefully think through the nuances.

 

What does the word ‘resilient’ mean in this sentence?

Her resilient attitude toward life enabled her to overcome difficult situations.

Bad multiple-choice options are not plausible

A. depressing

B. dishonest

C. flexible

D. anxious

Good multiple-choice options are plausible and not too ambiguous

A. flexible

B. energetic

C. positive

D. enthusiastic

Better options are plausible and less ambiguous

Her resilient attitude toward life enabled her to overcome difficult situations.

A. flexible and durable

B. energetic and enthusiastic

C. positive and creative

D. logical and calm

Best multiple-choice options plausible yet distinctive

Her resilient attitude toward life enabled her to overcome difficult situations.

A. flexible and durable, with the ability to bounce back from setbacks

B. energetic and enthusiastic, with the ability to turn negatives into positives

C. positive and creative, with the ability to make something out of nothing

D. logical and calm, with the ability to solve complex problems

 

So, multiple-choice questions require us to design options carefully if they are to become a valuable part of our assessment mix.

 

Deep roots produce sweet fruits

rootsfruits

If Heads of Department invest the up-front time to create them for their subject, their teachers stand to benefit from a strong return on that investment in terms of time saved and pupil thinking – for years to come.

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Three Applications of Cognitive Science

Here’s the second part of what I said yesterday at the ResearchEd event near Birmingham.

From a hundred years of research, there are three deceptively simple insights that when applied well in the classroom, have very powerful effects. They are not quick wins, silver bullets or revolutionary innovations. Instead, they offer something more modest: a chance to focus our teaching and help pupils remember what they’re learning. And expert teachers have been doing them since time immemorial.

Here they are in three words: examples, practice and quizzes. Worked examples, extended practice and frequent quizzes are much-underestimated and under-valued, but there’s a huge volume of scientific research behind them.

 

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Worked examples

workedexamples

Intuitively, using examples makes sense. Any time we learn an abstract concept, the mind yearns for concrete examples. For instance, when I was learning recently about the concept of reliability in assessment, I struggled to grasp it until I heard this analogy with a familiar device: weighing scales. The higher the reliability, the higher the likelihood that two weigh-ins of the same object will yield the same result on the weighing scale. Intuition tells us examples are needed. As Willingham says, ‘people find it hard to understand abstractions: they need concrete examples to illustrate what the abstractions mean.’

Counterintuitively, though, the worked example effect, replicated several times across several subjects since 1985, shows that learners required to solve problems perform worse on subsequent test problems than learners who study the equivalent worked examples. Studying and comparing lots of worked examples reduces cognitive overload. Working memory is freed entirely for the study of the problem and solution steps. In 1987, Zhu and Simon found in a series of long-term studies that a 3 year maths course was completed in 2 years due a focus on worked examples.

So here’s how I use worked examples in English. Take complex procedural knowledge that I want pupils to retain in their long-term memories, like analysis of a poem. Here’s a worked example of poetry analysis that I’d share with my pupils.

 ozy1

It is the insight from these experiments about how to make worked examples work best that most intrigue me. Here is the key insight:

Worked examples must make pupils think hard to identify critical insights by annotating them with what they are supposed to illustrate.

For instance, in English, and other subjects with a heavy writing load like humanities, this means getting students to compare worked examples of model paragraphs, to criticise and improve, to annotate and aspire to. If they haven’t seen an example of what they’re aiming for, how can they work towards achieving it? The best teachers write lots and lots and lots of example paragraphs, introductions, conclusions and essays.

Using this insight, I can improve my use of worked examples. I can provide two or three, and ask students to compare them, annotate them, and work out which analysis of the poem works better and why. Here’s an example of what an annotated worked example would look like.

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Why don’t we do this more? It requires a lot of time – and no little expertise.

 

Extended Practice

practice

Intuitively, we recognise practice as vitally important. We can’t imagine anyone improving at tennis, golf or any sport, at piano, in an orchestra, or in any form of music, without extensive, deliberate practice.

The research shows how much better distributing extended practice over time, rather than massed, blocked cramming is for long-term memory retention. This has been tested and demonstrated in hundreds upon hundreds of replicable scientific and classroom experiments, across learning conditions (reading, listening, writing), student characteristics (age, ability & prior knowledge), materials (problems, texts and questions across subjects) and tasks (recall, problem-solving and comprehension). As Willingham says, the three key benefits of practice is that it ‘reinforces basic skills required for more advanced skills, it protects against forgetting, and improves transfer’.

It is the insight from these experiments about how to make practice work best that most intrigue me. Here is the key insight:

Compared to conventional problems, completion problems decrease extraneous cognitive load, facilitate the construction of schemas, and lead to better transfer performance.

Using this insight, I can design completion problems to hone in on what pupils find hardest in their practice. For instance, here is a completion problem I’d use with my pupils to guide their practice of analysing a poem before independent writing practice.

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If extended independent writing is the ultimate aim, pupils must be given the opportunity to practice that with less guidance:

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What’s exciting is how cognitive science dovetails with expert practitioners. Siegfried Engelmann held that pupils need ‘five times more practice than many teachers expect’. In Doug Lemov’s book Practice Perfect, based on decades of work with expert teachers, codifies how to improve practice. And my veteran colleague Barry Smith has always advocated pre-emptive planning that starts from what students find hardest.

Counterintuitively, longer lags and intervals between practice sessions improve retention. This is an insight more for curriculum design than for classroom instruction, which I’ll leave for another time. I just want to focus on what classroom teachers can do in their day-to-day teaching without changing the entire curriculum.

 

Frequent Quizzes

quizzes

Intuitively, we know that being quizzed on something helps us remember it. That’s why actors memorising their lines don’t just highlight them or re-read them; they test themselves on them again and again and again until they’re automatic in long-term memory. We can remember poems off by heart if we quiz ourselves on them line-by-line.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the research shows that quizzing is better than studying for long-term memory retention. More than 100 years of research has yielded several hundred peer-reviewed, replicated experiments that testify to this. For instance, 4 blocks of study with practice tests outperformed 8 blocks of study without. Practice testing outperforms restudying. The advantage of practice testing with feedback over restudy is extremely robust. Distributed practice testing is better than distributed practice alone. So here’s an example of a quiz I give to my pupils to start a poetry lesson:

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The insights about how best to use quizzes or practice tests are fascinating.

In terms of dosage, it turns out more is better. Shorter and more frequent tests (one a week) are more effective than longer and less frequent (once every six weeks).

On timing, it’s interesting to note that longer is better: sizable benefits are observed when repeated tests are spaced: longer lags produce greater benefits.

To improve on this, I prepare weekly homework quizzes. The more practice testing, the better the impact on long-term memory retention.

Lots of questions remain. Here are a few: how do we create enough worked examples and completion problems, given time constraints? How do we work out how to best space and interleave practice and practice tests? There were some excellent questions from the audience, particularly from David Weston about evaluating impact, and how all this applies to teacher training. David even adapted his own ResearchEd talk in the light of this, which I’m looking forward to seeing – and will hopefully write about.

I ended with an anecdote. My dad’s a prostate cancer surgeon – and he got prostate cancer last year. When I ask him what’s changed most over his career in medicine, he says without hesitation, scientific research has changed surgery. And it saved his life. The screening and operation that cured him were based on applying scientific research to the medical profession. Perhaps when we look back on our careers in education, we’ll say, scientific research has changed teaching.

The scientific revolution has brought us mastery over the world and our bodies: vehicles that permit flight and surgery that allow us to extend life itself. The promise of cognitive science – the science of the mind – is that it could bring us similar mastery over how we learn.

A hundred years of replicated scientific research can begin to tell us not only what works, but what works best, and why.

***

Many of the references I’ve collated above are from the peer-reviewed paper of five cognitive psychologists (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan and Willingham) that synthesises over a century of scientific research evidence.

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ResearchEd: cognitive science in the classroom

 

This is the first half of a talk I’m giving today at the ResearchEd Birmingham event…

 Cognitive science might help us understand what works best in teaching and why

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Imagine this: a super-intelligent interstellar species discover planet earth and humankind.

The first question they ask is: ‘Have they discovered evolution yet?’ A major landmark of intelligent civilisation is understanding why we’re here: evolution by natural selection.

The next question they ask is this: ‘Have they discovered how intelligence works?’ A next major landmark of intelligent civilisation is understanding intelligence itself.

That’s what cognitive scientists do. They seek to understand how the mind learns.

Today I’d like to share three ways that cognitive science has made my teaching simpler and clearer.

What I found most confusing when I started teaching, was students not remembering things they’d learned. I hear this question in the staffroom all the time: ‘why don’t they remember what they’ve been taught?

 

To understand why this happens, there are two models of memory and the mind that I’d like every teacher to know.

 

The first model of the mind is from Dan Willingham.

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The crucial cognitive structures of the mind are working memory, a bottleneck that is fixed, limited and easily overloaded, and long-term memory, a storehouse that is almost unlimited. If nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned. Our teaching should minimise the overload of students’ working memories and maximise the retention in their long-term memories.

 

The second model of memory is Robert Bjork’s.

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Storage strength and retrieval strength explain why we remember some things better than others. Storage strength is how well learned something is. Retrieval strength is how accessible it is.

 

For instance, do you remember your credit card number off by heart? Me neither. This has low storage strength; we never learned it in the first place; and low retrieval strength; we can’t access it at all. Another example: GCSE exams. If you were asked to re-sit your GCSEs tomorrow, would you be able to get the same grades? I wouldn’t! I crammed for them, so I could retrieve them for the exam but never consolidated all that physics very well. Cramming for exams is high retrieval, low storage strength. Take another example: languages. Have you ever spoken a language fluently? Are you’re still just as fluent as you were at your best? Hardly anyone is. It’s buried with high storage strength but low retrieval strength: you can’t access it as easily as you could, but you could pick it up quite quickly if you spent a small amount of time in the country. A final example: your phone number. Can you remember your own phone number? That’s mastered: it has high storage strength – you’ve learned it well, and high retrieval strength – you can easily recall it. Ultimately, we want to increase storage strength so that pupils can pick up whatever they need to later, even if it’s buried. Achieving fluency works better than cramming. Fluent French was mastered; is now buried; but can be quickly remastered. An A achieved in French GSCE by cramming can’t be so quickly remastered.

 

For today, I want to focus not on implications for curriculum design; or on the implications for teacher training; instead, I just want to focus on the sphere of influence of every teacher up and down the country: I want to focus on classroom instruction.

 

Out of a hundred years of research, there are three startlingly, deceptively simple insights that when applied well in the classroom, have very powerful effects. They are not jazzy, whizzy, flashy or sexy. Quite the reverse: veteran, old-school teachers have been doing them since time immemorial. They are not quick wins, silver bullets or revolutionary innovations. One drawback of them is that they require substantial subject expertise. They don’t promise to be the magic beans that will suddenly and dramatically cut our workload overnight. Instead, they offer something more modest: a chance to focus our teaching and improve our impact on learning…

 

I’ll post the second half of the talk tomorrow, with some of the questions and ideas raised in the discussion.

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The research-practice paradox

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If research already shows what works well, why isn’t it put into classroom practice?

 

A little while ago, I was asked to take part in a Guardian online panel on evidence-based education. Here are some of the questions asked:

 

1. How do we work out what works best, and why it works best?

 

2. What are the best routes to getting research into practice? 
How we can help teachers learn lessons that are useful for their teaching practice from research?


 

3. What role should school leaders play in applying and developing education research for evidence-based teaching practice?

 

The panel consisted of Emily Yeomans, grants manager at the £125 million Education Endowment Fund; Ben Durbin, head of impact at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER); Mike Bell, secretary of Evidence Based Teachers Network (EBTN) of 4,500 members; and others including contributions from Geoff Petty, author of Evidence Based Teaching. Thanks to Holly Welham for organising it. Here are some of the comments:

 

1. What works best and why

 

“Nearly everything suggested in education can claim to be ‘evidence-based’ because, in research, nearly everything works!
The trick is to ask the next question: “how well does it work relative to everything else?”
 When we ask this one we find that the debate is dominated by methods which work, but only have a tiny effect. While much more effective things, like ‘linking to prior knowledge’ are little used.”

 

“It’s not just what works, but what works best; not just what works best, but why.”

 

“The greatest contribution science can make is in explaining why some teaching methods work much better than others.”


 

2. Research into Practice

 

“The teaching profession needs an evidence-informed, scientific approach to what really works in the classroom. We need to become a more critical profession, challenging the status quo.”

 

“It’s great that funding is now available for new research, but we need to be careful not to feel we need to ‘sit back and wait’. While there is lots to learn, there is also lots which we already know. It would probably take a whole teaching career to become proficient in the methods we already know work well.”

 CEMgraph

“Almost no teacher has the time to read research papers – and they should avoid doing so (unless they have piles of time) – because they can only read a few and cannot get the general picture from all the evidence.
That’s why meta-studies are so useful for teachers.”

 

“Trialling things on a large scale and communicating the results means that not all teachers have to invent things for themselves. Practitioners can use the toolkit as a starting point for decision making so they don’t need to trawl through the original research.”

 

“Ask teachers what the problems are;
 ask them what they want to aspire to;
give them the research evidence in that direction; 
let them choose what research to use to adapt; 
let them experiment with this whilst talking with colleagues about how their experiment is going.”

 

3. School Leaders

 

“The first thing leaders should do is to introduce their staff to the existing knowledge – what we already know works well. Then teachers need to try out the proven methods in their own teaching. The research shows that teachers will need to practice with a method for at least 6 months and share ideas.”

 

“A theme seems to be that we already know what works well in education. 
From a teacher’s viewpoint, this is the research-practice paradox: though we might already know what works well from the research, in practice school leadership aren’t even very good at avoiding what doesn’t work. 
For instance, research suggests graded observations are unreliable and inconsistent; yet many schools persist in using them for performance management, and are now locking grading in to PRP (performance-related pay) policies.”

 

“Teachers – would be great to hear any suggestions for how organisations like NFER can better support you in finding relevant research and putting it into practice.”

 

“The scary thing is – there seem to be a dozen organisations who claim to be making evidence available to teachers, but which few teachers have even heard of. Several make the mistake of linking teachers with research papers, rather then with the big-picture, the 10-20 things which work best, the 10 most common myths of low-effect methods or policies. The most helpful thing which NFER could do would be to join with all the others and become teacher-centered: a National Institute of Clinical Excellence for education. The fact that this hasn’t happened is a concern.
If the funds which maintain these organisations were directed to communicate the big-evidence-picture to classroom teachers, the job would be done in a couple of years.
EBTN would then be redundant.”


 

“We need the NFER to support, fund and publish practical summaries from emerging teacher-led initiatives like ResearchEd and the Touchpaper Problems”.

 

The way forward

 

What’s the way out of the research-practice paradox? One of the most promising avenues is the independent convergence of a century of scientific advances in cognitive psychology with decades of statistical meta-analysis – to clarify once and for all what works best in teaching.

 

Next weekend at the Midlands ResearchEd, Daisy Christodoulou, Katie Ashford, Kris Boulton and I are speaking about applying the insights from cognitive science to classroom practice.

 

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It’s time for teachers to set the research agenda.

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The Essay Emporium: crowdsourcing English essay titles

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See a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence, 1803

 

Like a butterfly or a wild flower cupped in your hand, essay titles are small and delicate. Seen differently, though, they are a microcosm of our entire subject.

Chris Curtis eloquently makes the case for the humble essay. Essays are not only a sleek way for teachers to assess understanding; expressing ideas both extensively and concisely sharpens pupils’ thinking and helps them remember what they’re learning.

I began thinking: how might I craft my essay titles a little more deliberately?

 

So I asked English teachers on twitter to share essay titles they’d recommend. It’s quick and easy to share a question or two, so crowdsourcing seemed a good way of comparing lots of concrete examples.

  

Poetry

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  • How does Robert Browning reveal the state of mind of the speaker in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’? (Year 8, @Xris32)
  • How does Sylvia Plath present her views on motherhood in the poem ‘Morning Song’? (Y9, @JamesTheo)
  • Explore how Owen presents the effects of war on the youth of society in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and ‘Spring Offensive’. (Year 9, @Englishsamwhit)
  • Compare a poem that glorifies war with one that vilifies it: how do the poets convey their contrasting attitudes towards war? (Year 9, @agwiliams9)
  • In (the unseen) sonnet Hour, how does Carol Anne Duffy explore love and loss? (Year 11)
  • Compare how Wordsworth and Forster communicate their feelings about the city in their poems ‘Composed Upon Westminster Bridge’ and ‘Winter Night: Edinburgh’? (Year 11)

Plays

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  • How does Oscar Wilde present the themes of morality/secrecy/duty and respectability in The Importance of Being Earnest? (Year 9, @JamesTheo)
  • To what extent is Eddie a tragic hero in Arthur Miller’s A View from The Bridge?
  • How does Arthur Miller represent the themes of fear and intolerance in his allegorical play The Crucible? (Year 10, @joe__kirby)
  • ‘Arthur Miller makes it impossible to feel much sympathy for Abigail Williams’. How do you respond to this view of the way Miller constructs this character in The Crucible? (Year 10)

 

 

Shakespeare

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  • How does William Shakespeare present Lear’s descent into madness in King Lear?  (Year 8, @JamesTheo)
  • How does Mark Antony’s rhetoric after Caesar’s assassination incite the Roman mob? (Year 7)
  • How is the theme of jealousy presented throughout Shakespeare’s play Othello? (Year 9 @katiesarahlou)
  • How is Iago presented in the play Othello? (Year 9 @katiesarahlou)
  • Who is most to blame for the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet? (Year 9)
  • To what extent is Friar Lawrence responsible for the deaths of Romeo & Juliet? (Year 9)
  • What is the significance of the prologue in Romeo and Juliet? @katiesarahlou (Year 10)
  • How is conflict caused in Shakespeare’s tragedies Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth? (Year 11)
  • How does the language in Macbeth’s soliloquies reflect the character’s state of mind? (Year 8, @xris32)
  • ‘This dead butcher and his fiend-like queen’. How far is this a fair judgement on the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? (Year 9)
  • How do the witches’ prophecies influence and affect the eponymous protagonist in Shakespeare’s Macbeth? (Year 10)
  • To what extent are the issues and tensions over power and authority resolved or reconciled by the end of Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest? (Year 11)
  • Tudor families were based on formidable theories of patriarchy and male supremacy’ (C Russell) To what extent do both the speaker in The Laboratory and Lady Macbeth adhere to the patriarchal societies of their time? (Year 11, @englishsamwhit)

Novels

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  • To what extent is justice done in Oliver Twist? (Year 8)
  • How does Dickens ensure his characters, settings and plot in his serialised novel Great Expectations are not forgotten over the weeks and months? (Year 8, @Xris32)
  • How does Dickens set the tone and themes in the opening of Great Expectations? (Year 8, @Xris32)
  • Children are born savages and adults make them civilised.’ How does William Golding reflect the theme of savagery in The Lord of The Flies? (Year 9)
  • Elsewhere, Orwell has written that: ‘Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’ To what extent does George Orwell demonstrate this view in Animal Farm? (Year 9 @JamesTheo)
  • Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ How does Orwell’s allegory Animal Farm explore power and corruption? (Year 8)
  • Who is most responsible for Animal Farm’s downfall in the novel? (Year 8)
  • How do Orwell’s dystopian novels Animal Farm and 1984 use symbols and motifs /reveal rhetoric as problematic? (Year 9)
  • How does Mary Shelley explore revolutionary romantic themes of innocence and loss in Frankenstein? (Year 9)
  • Compare two themes or characters of your choice in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stocker’s Dracula or Robert Louis Stevensons’ Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? (Year 11)
  • How does Steinbeck use language and structure to present Crooks, Candy and Curley’s wife as outsiders in Of Mice and Men? (Year 10 @tillyriches)
  • Of Mice and Men’ is not sufficiently critical of social injustice’. To what extent do you agree that John Steinbeck’s portrayal of marginalisation reinforces injustice? (Year 11)
  • Compare how John Steinbeck and Harper Lee critique racial prejudice and injustice in Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mocking Bird. (Year 11)

 

The full, flourishing and organically evolving emporium can be found here. Big thanks to Chris Curtis, James Theobald, Katie Ashford, Anne Williams, Phil Stock, Tilly Riches, Kerry Pulleyn, the Samuel Whitbread English Department and others. Keep contributing – the more the merrier in the crowdsourcing bazaar! It is currently a little lacking in non-fiction essay topics, especially on biographies and speeches.

 

Options

To me, there seem to be three dimensions for carefully crafting essay titles:

  • Comparison: do you want pupils to analyse one text, or compare two (or three!)?
  • Choice: do you want to specify the character(s), theme(s) or extracts, or let pupils choose?
  • Complexity: how much complexity do you want to build into the title?

The main insight that I take away from this is to craft essay titles on literature that might bring the best analysis and deepest thinking out of the text.

 

What else might we crowdsource?

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Suggestions have been whizzing about for what we English teachers might crowdsource next via social media. Possibilities include: exemplar pupil essays; essay marking rubrics; multiple choice questions and options; conceptual hinge questions; scintillating debate motions; combustible speech topics; provocative creative writing challenges …

We’ve set up a new shared document, the Debate Bazaar, to crowdsource non-fiction debate motions and speech topics: have a look and contribute your ideas!

English teachers: what else would you like us to collate?

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We, the teachers, must hold OFSTED’s feet to the fire

watchingwatchmen

Policy Exchange today publish a report calling for OFSTED to be more like a hygiene inspector, and less like a food critic.

In brief, the report recommends:

  • a 2 stage inspection process
  • a 1-day, data-driven ‘health check’ inspection every 2 years with an overall grade, and a capability grade merging leadership, teaching, behavior & achievement
  • a tailored inspection for schools with inconclusive data, or at risk of requiring improvement, with an overall grade, and the 4 separate current sub-grades
  • a shift of manpower away from good and outstanding schools to those at risk of requiring improvement and below

2stageinspections

Strikingly, it also advocates:

  • the total abolition of all routine lesson observations by Ofsted
  • abolishing or drastically reducing the dependence on Additional Inspectors

redesignOFSTED

Facts in the report show:

  • Achievement grades correlate with overall grades in around 99% of cases
  • OFSTED spend £30m of £127 a year on outsourced contracts for Additional Inspectors
  • There are around 400 HMIs and 3000 AIs, who have no requirement to have taught in the last 5 years or expertise in data
  • 57% of schools who’ve had four or more inspections judged inadequate or requiring improvement are not yet good
  • Only 2% of (self-selecting) respondents felt accountability from OFSTED was positive
  • 72% of teachers said that they’d change their practice when OFSTED inspected

99%PXOfsted

 

So the report further recommends that:

  1. Inspectors should have recent experience in primary, secondary or special schools
  2. Inspectors should pass a data interpretation test every five years
  3. Ofsted should introduce moderation to test reliability and validity of inspections
  4. Schools’ internal assessment should be externally moderated regularly
  5. Ofsted should pilot and publish student surveys, including on teaching, bullying and safety.
  6. Ofsted should remove mixed messages on teaching practice from the handbook and reports
  7. Ofsted should improve the way ParentView surveys work
  8. Ofsted should design a system for inspecting Academy chains

 

As a teacher and prospective school leader, I whole-heartedly endorse the recommendations, especially the total abolition of lesson observations, and the shift to OFTSED mainly validating schools’ self-evaluation.

Policy Exchange rightly envision an inspectorate that:

  • Encourages and supports a system in which schools are the primary judges of 
their own progress, and primary drivers of their own improvement – albeit with Ofsted playing an external check and validation
  • Encourages – or at a minimum does not discourage – innovation amongst schools
  • Doesn’t drive perverse behaviours, or other unhelpful responses, which 
include a disproportionate focus of school time in advance

But I have some questions as to whether Policy Exchange’s report goes far enough in its reform agenda. In particular, it locks in judgements on teaching, 1-4 grading of schools, and inspectorate unaccountability.

 

1. Why judge teaching methods?

Should OFSTED be judging the quality of teaching at all? Schools clearly need to focus on improving teaching quality, but given that pupil data drive the overall grade with a correlation in 99% of cases, is the teaching judgement necessary? Couldn’t behaviour, leadership and achievement capture it? Might data from pupil and parent surveys remove the need to have snapshot lesson observations at all?

 

2. Why grade schools out of 4?

Should schools be graded between 1 and 4 at all? Is the ‘outstanding’ label (and its criteria) helpful? Won’t keeping it mean schools will keep chasing and obsessing over ‘what Ofsted want’ as ‘outstanding’? Given that some 80% of schools are good or outstanding, wouldn’t a simple threshold of good/requires improvement suffice, freeing schools to innovate in their own way?

 

3. How can we hold OFSTED’s feet to the fire?

What makes a schools inspectorate most effective, internationally? What does world-class regulator accountability look like? To what extent are OFSTED matching up to best global practice?

 

Most importantly, on all these questions, what do headteachers, school leaders and teachers think? Who could independently commission a survey to find out?

 

In their detailed recommendations, Policy Exchange are setting the agenda. Ultimately, though, it’s not up to think tanks; it’s up to the profession to improve the intelligence of our accountability system.

OFTSED say they’re open to listening. Their Director of Schools Mike Cladingbowl has met headteacher and teacher bloggers, has already accepted the need for a new blueprint, and welcomed the recommendations. The blogosphere is gaining momentum. The time is ripe.

 

We, the teachers, must rethink what we want from our regulator.

Posted in System | 5 Comments

How to evaluate a knowledge unit

Ask questions that help improve the unit right away

 

stitch

A stitch in time saves nine

English proverb

 

In teaching, we seem to spend plenty of time planning and evaluating lessons. But we don’t spend much time evaluating units. I’m yet to see a blog post evaluate the impact of a scheme of work on pupils’ learning. By the time we’ve finished one unit, we’re rushing on to the next, and the previous unit probably won’t be taught til next year. Improving it straight after teaching it would be ideal, but who takes the time to do that? And so the humble unit evaluation gets marginalised.

A simple unit evaluation is just a set of questions, designed to improve the unit straight away.

  1. IMPACT: To what extent have students learnt what they’ve been taught?
  2. SEQUENCE: To what extent did the sequence aid or inhibit mastery?
  3. EXAMPLES: Which examples could be improved?
  4. MISCONCEPTIONS: Which were the most frequent misconceptions?
  5. TASKS: Which tasks had the most and least impact on learning, and which are missing?
  6. QUESTIONS: How can the (multiple choice) questions be improved?

These allow precise changes to be made quickly. It’s best to get multiple perspectives on these questions, so this blog is a dialogue with Katie, who co-planned and co-taught the unit on Oliver Twist with me, designing many of the resources. The aims of the unit were for all pupils to understand and remember the plot, characters, context, themes and Dickens’ social commentary.

 CharlesDickens

1. IMPACT

The kids I taught Oliver Twist to a year ago still remember the plot, characters, themes and much of the context – it’s secure in their long-term memories. This year, I taught two lower sets: 97% in one set achieved 80% mastery, but only 70% from my bottom set, who required considerable re-teaching. Here’s the correlation between their mastery of content knowledge and their essay performance:

 masteryessay

Katie: ‘By the end of the unit, my pupils could articulate their understanding of the text in both writing and speaking. They could make links between the context and the text, and remember lots of details about the plot, but were less secure in their understanding of Dickens’ intentions.’

 

17Oliver

Low ability Year 7 example conclusion

 

2. SEQUENCE

Selecting 15 episodes from a 53 chapter book is tricky, but I think we’ve found the right selection – apart from the sub-plot revelation at the end. Sequencing the concepts (e.g. injustice, prejudice etc.) will require more thinking.

Katie: ‘The beauty of teaching a novel is that the plot naturally creates a beautifully interwoven sequence. Characters, episodes and concepts are continually referred back to, securing understanding and building up a rich picture of the text. Vocabulary could have been sequenced more strategically, as this was what led to the majority of misconceptions.’ 

3. EXAMPLES

Preparing a model exemplar for each lesson is a good way to expose pupils to analytical thinking. We should now include pupils’ own exemplary paragraphs.

Katie: ‘Paragraph examples were fairly basic, meaning that pupils were able to master the structure quickly. Next time, I would like to introduce more complex paragraph structures later on in the unit, to ensure that all pupils are continually stretched.’

4. MISCONCEPTIONS
Most misconceptions were over complex vocabulary like ‘vigilante lynching‘, and the extent of how autobiographical Oliver was to Dickens: some thought both were in prison or orphans.

Katie: ‘Dickens’ language is notoriously difficult; pupils regularly misinterpreted the meanings of some important words, which hindered their understanding of the text. This prompted me to adjust the approach mid-unit; instead of explaining the meanings of words as they came up during class reading, I tried to preempt the words they might struggle with and teach them explicitly upfront. This is something we are still refining.’

 

UnitSequenceOT


5. TASKS

Weekly multiple-choice quizzes work well for testing the full breadth of the novel. Extended writing practice almost every lesson challenges pupils to think more and more deeply about the connections between characters, themes, concepts and context. Pupils comparing more examples is a next step.


Katie: ‘Comprehension questions gave pupils the opportunity to review what they had just read and practice writing in full sentences. They also allowed me to see the extent of their understanding of the basics before we moved on to deeper discussion and analysis. Hinge questions were also useful, but perhaps we could add more, to assess understanding more quickly.’
6. QUESTIONS

Katie: The options for the multiple-choice questions were not always as rigorous as they could be. We need to make sure that options reveal what pupils were thinking if they select an incorrect answer. 

Daisy Christodoulou suggests adding quotations to the repertoire of questions (mostly on knowledge of plot, characters, context and themes).

What is the best description of this quotation?

‘But even if he has been wicked, think how young he is, think that he may never have known a mother’s love, or the comfort of a home; and that ill-usage and blows, or the want of bread, may have driven him to herd with men who have forced him to guilt.’

a) If children are not looked after properly, it doesn’t matter that much.

b) Criminals should be severely punished.

c) The individual is always responsible for their own actions.

d) If children are not looked after properly, they might turn to crime.

e) All children have human rights.

 

I also think adding rigorous comparative questions can stretch pupils:

What is the most accurate similarity between Nancy and The Artful Dodger?

a) They are both enslaved to Bill Sikes.

b) They both remain loyal to Bill Sikes.

c) They both betray Fagin.

d) They were both trapped into a life of crime.

e) They were both transported for life.

 

Next steps

The evaluation has guided us to make these improvements:

  • 10+ concept explanations: with example series
  • 60+ hinge words: vital & extended vocabulary list
  • 15 summaries: a three-sentence summary of each chapter
  • 15 stretch exemplar models: ‘maximum quality expected’ to stretch top sets
  • 1 stretch exemplar essay: ‘maximum quality expected’ to stretch top sets

Evaluating units after teaching them, and acting instantly on the insights, is well worth the time it takes. It sows the seeds for a plentiful harvest next season: a bountiful crop of student success in the subject.

 Sowingseeds

Ask questions that help improve the unit right away

 

A stitch in time saves nine

English proverb

 

In teaching, we seem to spend plenty of time planning and evaluating lessons. But we don’t spend much time evaluating units. I’m yet to see a blog post evaluate the impact of a scheme of work on pupils’ learning. By the time we’ve finished one unit, we’re rushing on to the next, and the previous unit probably won’t be taught til next year. Improving it straight after teaching it would be ideal, but who takes the time to do that? And so the humble unit evaluation gets marginalised.

A simple unit evaluation is just a set of questions, designed to improve the unit straight away.

  1. IMPACT: To what extent have students learnt what they’ve been taught?
  2. SEQUENCE: To what extent did the sequence aid or inhibit mastery?
  3. EXAMPLES: Which examples could be improved?
  4. MISCONCEPTIONS: Which were the most frequent misconceptions?
  5. TASKS: Which tasks had the most and least impact on learning, and which are missing?
  6. QUESTIONS: How can the (multiple choice) questions be improved?

These allow precise changes to be made quickly. It’s best to get multiple perspectives on these questions, so this blog is a dialogue with Katie, who co-planned and co-taught the unit on Oliver Twist with me, designing many of the resources. The aims of the unit were for all pupils to understand and remember the plot, characters, context, themes and Dickens’ social commentary.

1. IMPACT

The kids I taught Oliver Twist to a year ago still remember the plot, characters, themes and much of the context – it’s secure in their long-term memories. This year, I taught two lower sets: 97% in one set achieved 80% mastery, but only 70% from my bottom set, who required considerable re-teaching. Here’s the correlation between their mastery of content knowledge and their essay performance:

 

 

Katie: ‘By the end of the unit, my pupils could articulate their understanding of the text in both writing and speaking. They could make links between the context and the text, and remember lots of details about the plot, but were less secure in their understanding of Dickens’ intentions.’

 

Low ability Year 7 example conclusion

 

 

2. SEQUENCE

Selecting 15 episodes from a 53 chapter book is tricky, but I think we’ve found the right selection – apart from the sub-plot revelation at the end. Sequencing the concepts (e.g. injustice, prejudice etc.) will require more thinking.

Katie: ‘The beauty of teaching a novel is that the plot naturally creates a beautifully interwoven sequence. Characters, episodes and concepts are continually referred back to, securing understanding and building up a rich picture of the text. Vocabulary could have been sequenced more strategically, as this was what led to the majority of misconceptions.’ 

3. EXAMPLES

Preparing a model exemplar for each lesson is a good way to expose pupils to analytical thinking. We should now include pupils’ own exemplary paragraphs.

Katie: ‘Paragraph examples were fairly basic, meaning that pupils were able to master the structure quickly. Next time, I would like to introduce more complex paragraph structures later on in the unit, to ensure that all pupils are continually stretched.’

4. MISCONCEPTIONS
Most misconceptions were over complex vocabulary like ‘vigilante lynching‘, and the extent of how autobiographical Oliver was to Dickens: some thought both were in prison or orphans.

Katie: ‘Dickens’ language is notoriously difficult; pupils regularly misinterpreted the meanings of some important words, which hindered their understanding of the text. This prompted me to adjust the approach mid-unit; instead of explaining the meanings of words as they came up during class reading, I tried to preempt the words they might struggle with and teach them explicitly upfront. This is something we are still refining.’

 


5. TASKS

Weekly multiple-choice quizzes work well for testing the full breadth of the novel. Extended writing practice almost every lesson challenges pupils to think more and more deeply about the connections between characters, themes, concepts and context. Pupils comparing more examples is a next step.


Katie: ‘Comprehension questions gave pupils the opportunity to review what they had just read and practice writing in full sentences. They also allowed me to see the extent of their understanding of the basics before we moved on to deeper discussion and analysis. Hinge questions were also useful, but perhaps we could add more, to assess understanding more quickly.’
6. QUESTIONS

Katie: The options for the multiple-choice questions were not always as rigorous as they could be. We need to make sure that options reveal what pupils were thinking if they select an incorrect answer. 

Daisy Christodoulou suggests adding quotations to the repertoire of questions (mostly on knowledge of plot, characters, context and themes).

What is the best description of this quotation?

‘But even if he has been wicked, think how young he is, think that he may never have known a mother’s love, or the comfort of a home; and that ill-usage and blows, or the want of bread, may have driven him to herd with men who have forced him to guilt.’

a) If children are not looked after properly, it doesn’t matter that much.

b) Criminals should be severely punished.

c) The individual is always responsible for their own actions.

d) If children are not looked after properly, they might turn to crime.

e) All children have human rights.

 

I also think adding rigorous comparative questions can stretch pupils:

What is the most accurate similarity between Nancy and The Artful Dodger?

a) They are both enslaved to Bill Sikes.

b) They both remain loyal to Bill Sikes.

c) They both betray Fagin.

d) They were both trapped into a life of crime.

e) They were both transported for life.

 

Next steps

The evaluation has guided us to make these improvements:

  • 10+ concept explanations: with example series
  • 60+ hinge words: vital & extended vocabulary list
  • 15 summaries: a three-sentence summary of each chapter
  • 15 stretch exemplar models: ‘maximum quality expected’ to stretch top sets
  • 1 stretch exemplar essay: ‘maximum quality expected’ to stretch top sets

Evaluating units after teaching them, and acting instantly on the insights, is well worth the time it takes. It sows the seeds for a plentiful harvest next season: a bountiful crop of student success in the subject.

Posted in System | 4 Comments