Cramlington Teaching & Learning Model (Issue 8, January 2011)

– Apply to Demonstrate

In the fifth stage of the Cramlington cycle, students have the opportunity to show that they really do understand what they have been learning by applying it. We must design activities in which students apply their new understanding within a different or unfamiliar context. Certainly this should be about more than simply repeating back information – knowledge is the lowest rung on the ladder in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The opportunities here are vast and varied.

“If you really understand it you can explain it to your grandmother” – Albert Einstein

Students may find themselves simply answering an exam question, or an online quiz, but they might just as well find themselves preparing questions for others, preaching a sermon, recording a podcast or presenting a TV show. The demonstration of a students’ learning can be achieved in many ways: visually, kinaesthetically and orally, and individually, in groups or as a whole class.

The role of the teacher in this stage of the lesson is to provide these opportunities. We should prompt, check for understanding and be a guide or coach for students. We should encourage thinking and interaction through carefully crafted questioning, and the activity must be designed so that it allows students to achieve the previously agreed learning outcomes.

“…like me with my lump…Perhaps he’d actually worked out how he would do it…identified the ventilator grille, tested its strength…and kept a lead ready in the drawer… In theory I was prepared to do it myself, but fortunately I wasn’t put to the test. In a way I almost feel as if he died instead of me…No that’s silly, delete that…And yet if I were superstitious… there was a strange symmetry about yesterday evening…”   – David Lodge in Thinks (published by Penguin)

The above is an attempt to record a stream of consciousness, to write down the thoughts that pass through somebody’s brain at a given instant. As teachers, we are reasonably skilled at processing these random thoughts in to logically stepped sentences, though, when word-processing we will frequently go back over what we have written to amend it.

This linear process of presenting information has its place in schools at all levels, and it is necessarily important in preparing our students for written exams. But many of our students struggle with the written word, and when asked to apply and demonstrate their understanding in this way, they will labour to give quality responses. We must provide choices, text being just one of them.

“Ohhhh, now I get!” It is a great feeling when that Eureka moment of discovery and understanding occurs in our students. Often we strive to explain things in many different ways to get students of all preferred styles of learning to understand specific concepts.

Using the Cramlington cycle, opportunities are built in to every learning experience to allow students to show they really do ‘get it’. If they do, then explaining why, to their teacher, their peers, or the wider community really helps to embed understanding. The fourth and fifth stages of the Cramlington cycle are often confused and it worth taking a moment to see how they are distinct.

Imagine a horse and cart. How we fill the cart is of supreme importance. If we load the cart too quickly and without thinking of a stable base and sensible structure, the contents are likely to be shed. The Activity (4th stage) time is vital to students so that they can organise information into their ‘carts’ in their own way. If the cart moves off too quickly learning may be lost. Before saddling up and riding into the Demonstrate Understanding section of a lesson, students must make their understanding on the cart secure.

The two stages will, however, often go hand in hand, and sometimes form mini loops within a whole cycle. Consider the Artist’s Easel activity. Students have to read and understand text in order to ‘translate’ it into images. In the Activity section of the lesson the teacher will spend time circulating amongst students helping them to make meaning from information. Students will probably find themselves talking to each other during this type of activity, getting ideas and sharing understanding.

What they have produced can be used in the Demonstrate Understanding phase. Questioning is key here. The type of question asked will determine the quality of the understanding being assessed. At the lowest level asking ‘what do your pictures mean?’ will prompt regurgitation of the information you provided them in the first place.

To gain a better insight into the students’ understanding they must be asked to use the information they have translated to answer better questions. ‘You have drawn this……. what would happen if……, how would this affect …….if we changed this what would happen to……..how could this be made much larger? The latter are questions that require students to apply their understanding. The information students provide at this point will directly inform the planning of the next learning cycle.

“ Mistakes are like scraps of fertiliser scattered through our lives – they encourage us to grow and sprout new leaves ”- Mariella Frostrup

A good example from food technology involves students constructing & applying understanding in different lessons (remember the Cramlington framework is a planning tool that must be applied flexibly). In the first lesson students make scones using different recipes and methods. More liquid or a lower cooking temperature perhaps. They then analyse these scones for appearance, texture, smell and taste. This process helps them to understand the different effects different cooking factors will have. In the next lesson students apply this knowledge to design their own scones.

This example clearly illustrates the difference between the two parts of the CLV learning cycle. Firstly there is an opportunity to explore and develop new understanding and then a chance to apply this in a different situation. We are not regurgitating information, but applying understanding to create a real and tasty outcome!

Referring back to Dale’s cone of experience, see opposite [below], tells us that the most effective learning takes place when students are active and when they have opportunities to teach each other. But there are many ways of getting students to apply what they have learned. Students can effectively employ ICT in this stage of the cycle. Young people invariably have a greater aptitude for using ICT than many of their teachers, and it is unreasonable to restrict them to demonstrating understanding through mediums which we, as teachers, are familiar with.

Many students have advanced skills when it comes to using, for example, PowerPoint, Moviemaker, Publisher and Photoshop. And if they have not we should encourage students to explore digital  media when it comes to presenting their learning. We must therefore become skilled in these applications ourselves. The key is to vary activities constantly, to develop new skills and keep lessons fresh and appealing to all learners.

Whether students have answered an exam question, been in a role-play or have presented to the rest of the class they should receive feedback. We should reflect on the reason for feedback, though, to ensure it is as effective as possible. If we are to spend our time and energies responding to students we want to be sure that our efforts are worthwhile.

The role of feedback is to move people forward in their understanding. It should comment on how they have done, often against previously agreed criteria, and offer strategies that compel students to progress further in their learning. Even if students have met all criteria to a very high level, we can still provide feedback in the form of a question or task that really stretches their understanding.

“ Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t – you’re probably right ”

Having the sentiment ‘there is no failure, only feedback’ as a central classroom tenet is a great way to engender a positive, enquiring, safe and low stress ethos.

A safe and encouraging environment is particularly important if we are to develop peer- and self-assessment in our classrooms. Students should be actively involved in the feedback process. It is vital that they are active in all aspects of their learning and appreciate the next steps required to move forward. They must know how, as well as what, to improve. The Demonstrating Understanding section can be a real motivator when students can see that progress has been made.

End of Topic Test

A classic and constant tool used to enable students to show what they know is the end of topic test. These bastions of assessment will be with us for a long time to come, but the timing of them should be flexible and come anywhere but at the end of a period of learning. More often than not tests are administered in the last lesson of a series.

The teacher takes them home and marks them, which can take a little while, and by the time students receive the feedback they are well into another topic. In some subjects classes may rotate amongst teachers, in which case it is even less likely that students will engage at all with any helpful comments that have been provided.

The major assessment should come before the end of a topic. Then there will be time to explore misunderstandings, set more stimulating extension challenges, and redirect time and resources to different students’ needs appropriately.

Adapted From TEEP

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