Teaching and Learning Blog
Welcome to the Teaching and Learning blog! This is a place for us to share the innovative and student centred work that happens across the school each and every day. We are proud of our teachers and the creative and challenging lessons they plan to help students develop their understanding and build life-long learning skills and curiosity about the world around them.
This blog will help us share insights into what our teachers are working on as part of our imaginative CPD programme, as well as a platform for teachers themselves to talk about the techniques and strategies they are using for the benefit of their students. This will include fascinating information about about how we meet the needs of, and challenge, all of the students in our classrooms.
We are committed to sharing students’ perspectives from inside the classroom, and our Teaching and Learning Ambassadors will also share their insights and experiences.
We hope you enjoy reading about this impressive facet of our school this year.
Teaching and Learning and CPD
10th January 2019
'Thinking about thinking'-the value of metacognition in the classroom
‘Metacognition’ is one of those concepts which remains slightly confusing even after you have sought a definition. When the dictionary asserts that it is the process of ‘thinking about thinking’ and ‘knowing about knowing’ it is quite easy to dismiss its relevance as something quite indulgent and unnecessary. Surely the thinking is the important part? Why bother stopping to put that process under consideration? Why waste the time?
But convoluted as the definition might seem, the value of stopping to reflect on the processes taking place while we and our students are learning is crucial, and spending time developing these skills can be transformative.
Research tells us that self-regulated learners are more aware of what they need to work on: they reflect more effectively and take more effective steps to develop their understanding. These skills amplify achievement, build confidence and foster resilience, but, like everything we try to develop in life, they require deliberate practice.
In a recent study, the Education Endowment Foundation condensed current research into metacognition into five suggested areas for schools to consider. I have summarised these below, with proposals for how we might make progress in these areas:
Teaching metacognitive strategies
Far from shoe horning lessons on self-regulation into the curriculum, much of what the EEF suggests involves crystallising processes which already exist in lessons and harnessing opportunities to increase the quality of the thinking which is happening. The three key facets of self-regulated learning are already hallmarks of effective teaching: planning, monitoring and evaluating, but often these processes aren’t specifically highlighted in lessons, with a clear focus on refining metacognition skills. The tweaks are small ones:
Planning: There is real value in realising the importance of taking time to activate prior knowledge before launching into a new task. Setting retrieval activities and asking questions which encourage students to reflect on linked content and previous attempts at similar tasks can help students to avoid making the same mistakes, moving forwards with gaps in their knowledge and slowing their progress.
Monitoring: Well-structured monitoring questions and resources encourage reflection during classroom processes and enables students to increasingly monitor their own progress, predict stumbling blocks, redirect their efforts and correct errors BEFORE the end point of the lesson or task.
Evaluating: Students are used to self-assessing their progress against PLCs and success criteria, but the real impact of this time depends on whether this evaluation is given time and precision and whether students are encouraged to increasingly set their own targets for improvement based on a developing confidence to reflect on their progress honestly, constructively and effectively. The better a student’s metacognition is, the more likely it is that they will be able to learn from their mistakes: seeing errors as growth opportunities and calibrating their results against previous learning and experiences.
Modelling your own thinking
We’ve talked for many years in CPD sessions about the importance of modelling and we understand how crucial it is as the ‘expert’ in the room to demystify the processes and knowledge we find so easy to access for the benefit of the ‘novice’ students we are teaching. We have to make overt what we often keep covert. Live modelling is an invaluable tool in this process. It allows us to lay bare the thinking we do; the links we make; the prior knowledge we call upon and the edits we run through. Far from wasting time, thoughtfully crafted direct instruction is one of the most valuable tools a teacher has to support their students on the path to subject mastery.
Getting the pitch right
The cognitive psychologist Robert Bjork popularised the term ‘desirable difficulty’ as a way of explaining the importance of challenge in teaching and building reflective learners. When students have to labour in their learning they are more likely to encode the new information, storing it in long term memory and finding it easier to retrieve later. Essentially when the pitch of a lesson is perfected, students are more likely to engage in formative metacognitive strategies: asking themselves questions, drawing on prior knowledge and recalibrating the processes they are using to ensure maximum success. Too little or too much challenge leads to disengagement, eroding resilience and leaving students floundering outside the zone of proximal development. As teachers we need to be aware of the takeaway lessons from Sweller’s ‘cognitive load’ theory: the importance of finding that ‘goldilocks like’ sweet spot for challenge which avoids overloading working memory, but pushes understanding forward.
Talk the talk
Questioning and oracy are whole school priorities and areas of real strength, and it is no surprise that the verbal interactions we have with students offer us an invaluable tool for developing their reflection and self-regulation. Metacognitive talk probes reasoning, seeks rationales and forces more pensive evaluation. This type of ‘dialogic teaching’ moves beyond simple call and response structures and increases the number of turns taken in an exchange as a means of deepening student thought processes.
Practice makes permanent
We have worked hard over the last three years to help students develop their independent working skills through the Revision Revolution and the expansion of student guidance time. We know that revision and reflection are skills which require practice and that students who are better able to regulate their learning have a better chance of hastening their progress. The ideas outlined above are -for the most part- suggestions for how our already exceptionally strong teaching and learning practice can be harnessed to put a spotlight on developing these reflective acumen, both in the classroom, during independent study and in interactions students have at home about their work.
Mrs F. Ashton
Assistant Headteacher for Teaching and Learning and CPD
SLE (CPD and English)
26th November 2018
Teaching and Learning Ambassador: My Favourite Lesson
My favourite lesson is Drama, mainly because I simply love being on stage performing, but it also has boosted my self-confidence. Drama allows you to use your imagination and think outside the box - especially when creating performances - as you have to listen to others and challenge your original thoughts. As well as this, you need to combine the creative ideas and abilities of all peers in the group for the best outcomes. This means that everyone is required to engage in discussion, feedback, rehearsing and the performance.
My drama teachers have always said 'anything that is happening outside of the Drama room, stays outside of the Drama room'. This makes Drama a safe and friendly learning environment, where everyone is included. It also reduces stress, as for me, it takes my mind of anything else that is going on.
As you would expect, Drama also improves verbal and non-verbal communication, however most people don't realise that by understanding different characters you get to see the world from different perspectives. This has really helped me realise why others around me make certain choices and actions.
By Ellie Hillsdon 8HEE
6th November 2018
Revision Revolution: Retrieval
'Twas the night before the exam, in the study café,
A student with a highlighter got carried away;
The textbook was read, again and again,
In hopes that the words would stay in her brain;
Until finally she made it to bed,
If only she had a way to keep it all in her head!
Equipping students with effective study strategies prepares them not only for GCSE and A-level assessments, but also with the skills required to be lifelong learners. Many preferred study strategies, such as re-reading notes and highlighting, lead to only short-term learning. They are not that effective when it comes to retaining information over a long period of time. Fortunately, a simple shift towards the use of a technique called retrieval practice can lead to big improvements in long-term learning.
Retrieval practice involves deliberately recalling facts or concepts from memory to enhance learning. Every time a memory is retrieved it is strengthened and less likely to be forgotten. Evidence from research demonstrates that retrieval practice is more effective than re-reading material that you want to remember. It seems unintuitive because when you re-read something you become very familiar with it very quickly. However, it is easy to mistake this familiarity for meaningful learning. Being familiar with textbook notes does not necessarily mean that you will remember them. Retrieval practice can feel much more difficult but it is exactly this challenge that improves learning more than simply looking up an answer in a textbook. The struggle to drag something from your memory also provides information about what you do and do not know. It is easy to believe that you know the names of the six wives of Henry VIII but you cannot be sure unless you actually try to come up with the answer yourself.
As teachers we support students to learn our subject content through the use of retrieval practice in lessons. For example, through the use of low-stakes starter quizzes, questioning and tasks that require students to think back to previous topics. But how can students use retrieval outside of lessons to make the most of time spent revising?
Retrieval practice can be as simple as writing down everything you can remember about a particular topic on a piece of paper. Many traditional revision activities such as mind-mapping and practising exam questions can be retrieval if they are completed from memory only checking answers afterwards. Here are two strategies that students can use to embed retrieval in their revision repertoire.
Retrieval when revising from a textbook:
When revising from a textbook condense key points and important information on a notes page. Next, form questions that could be used to test this knowledge. Write the answers in a separate list so that you can practice answering them later on. Regularly go back to these questions to strengthen your memory for the information. The revision revolution booklet contains templates for revision from a textbook and self-testing (pages 5-7).
Retrieval using flashcards:
Flashcards are a popular tool for revision and can be very effective if used properly. Flashcards should have a question on one side and answer on the other side so that they can be used for regular self-testing. When self-testing using flashcards, it is important to actually generate the answer to the question by writing it down or saying it out loud before checking the answer on the back. Flashcards can be shuffled to mix up practice so that lots of topics can be tested in one sitting. It is important not to drop flashcards from the pile if you think you know them. You might know it now but for long-term memory you need to keep coming back to it!
For more revision tips, resources and videos visit the Revision Revolution section of the Didcot Girls’ School Teaching and Learning webpage.
Miss A Kyriakides
Head of Biology
Why we care about Teaching and Learning: a student perspective.
As head Teaching and Learning Leaders, we feel as if it is our duty to inspire younger students to develop their learning skills so that they become the best learner they can be, as well as enjoying the experience. In this process we are working alongside the teachers at Didcot Girls’ School to ensure that all lessons are at the best standard possible – by which we mean adapting lessons to help students learn in a way that will suit them individually, as well as the class as a whole.
Our vision is that all students at DGS can have a more active role in how they learn, as well as giving them the confidence to take ownership of their learning. All the Teaching and Learning Leaders have started making revision strategy videos to help students refine their study skills as part of the Revision Revolution. These will be used in Student Guidance time next term to support independent work. In the future we hope to speak to more of the teachers at DGS to discuss how students learn best in lessons to ensure that every lesson is highly effective.
We both wanted to be Teaching and Learning Leaders in the school because we are so passionate about it and wanted to make a difference. This is because during our four years at this school we have felt like DGS have made such a huge impact on the way we learn, partly due to having an amazing support system to ensure you can understand everything you learn and receive help if not. As a result, we wanted to be part of the difference staff and students make to continue making the school a better place. We are going to do this by inspiring other students to enjoy the process of learning as an experience so that they can achieve their potential.
We will keep you updated with the exciting plans of the teaching and learning team in the near future.
Kimberley Turner and Clara Inglett
Lead Teaching and Learning Ambassadors, Year 11
24th September 2018
Dyslexia affects 15% of the population and is often a diagnosis associated with ‘not being able to spell’. In actual fact, Dyslexia is multi-faceted and varies from individual to individual. Some co-occurring difficulties include; motor co-ordination, language, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation but these are not, by themselves, markers of Dyslexia.
The definition of Dyslexia according to the British Dyslexia Association, 2009, is:
'Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
Characteristic features of Dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.'
A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to intervention.
Here at Didcot Girls’ we are aware that the term ‘Dyslexia’ can be used very loosely and can cause students to feel anxious. As a school we are determined to banish the negative connotations associated with Dyslexia, support students in finding strategies that work for them and also educate the wider community about the varied impacts Dyslexia can have on people’s lives. We are working hard to ensure that all classrooms across the school are Dyslexia friendly and that teaching strategies allow all learners to access the curriculum. Some examples of the strategies that teachers are using each day include:
- Having visual aids available for every lesson, or asking pupils to create some as part of the lesson, therefore making effective use of multi-sensory sources of information.
- Varying input and outcomes, such as through the use of small groups, discussion and audiotapes to maintain interest and provide memorable experiences.
- Avoiding long lists of instructions given verbally and providing clear lesson structure – using the board to provide information visually, where appropriate.
- Making sure that high frequency work lists and subject-specific key wordlists are available on each table for any writing task.
- Outlining the lesson at the start helps to remove uncertainty about the session ahead and enables learners to monitor and mark the different stages of the lesson
4th October – World Dyslexia Awareness Day