‘Remember and Remember and Remember’: How I’m boosting recall and retention of ‘Macbeth’ by Zoe Taylor

In the past few weeks, I’ve been working with my Year 11 class on recall and retention of key quotations from ‘Macbeth’- keeping in mind Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning for Literacy’ and Hattie/Donaghue’s Learning Strategies. Essentially, I wanted to do the following with my class:

  • Increase student retention of key quotations
  • Increase student knowledge and understanding of the whole text
  • Boost confidence with low stakes ‘easy win’ testing, especially where my more challenging students are concerned
  • And finally- get the balance right between surface and deep learning by establishing a ‘rhythm’ to the lessons. Or, as ‘Visible Learning’ puts it:

If you turn too quickly to the next set o’ facts, without giving students sufficient time and tools to go deeper, they will quickly learn that surface learning is what you value, and in turn, surface learning is all you will get.’ ( Hattie, Frey, Fisher ‘Visible Learning for Literacy’ (2016))

Screenshot 2017-12-03 at 15.43.07

The Process

Firstly, each student received a little yellow ‘test’ book. They loved these, and came over all nostalgic for primary school spelling tests.The notebook is where they record answers to a series of tests that (hopefully) fall into a rhythm over the course of a week. To get students used to the process of using their test book, I started simple by gauging prior knowledge of ‘Macbeth’- students wrote down anything they knew about the play in their main workbook. I wrote down any misconceptions (e.g. King Duncan kills Macbeth…) with a view to crossing off any ‘mistakes’ when our knowledge of the play had improved. We then read a text on the historical context of ‘Macbeth’, looking at details like the Gunpowder Plot. During this stage, students were encouraged to highlight key information/underline important facts- for this I looked to a blog from @PeterMDeWitt which helpfully outlines the best strategies to use for surface/deep learning. Next, students had to shut their books. This terrified them- I think they had a sense that their knowledge was going to be put to the test.

  1. They had to summarise what they had just read in their workbook. Most of them hadn’t been prepared for this, so we had to repeat this stage. This wasn’t a problem as it led to some useful discussion about how quickly we can forget information we read.
  2. They then looked back at the original text, using a red pen to add any information they may have missed.

Then, as we read, we continued the process of closing the text, summarising, then checking our knowledge and discussing what we missed.

At the start of each lesson, students would be retested on their knowledge of the scenes covered in the previous lesson. But each test would be gradually more open ended. E.g.

Test 1

  1. ‘Fair is foul and ____/_____/_____’
  2. The Great chain _______/_______
  3. Thane of _________

Test 2

  1. ‘Fair is _____ and _____/_____/_____
  2. The Great _____/______/_______
  3. Th___ of ________

Test 3

  1. This quotation from Act 1 scene 1 symbolises the inversion of the natural order
  2. An Elizabethan concept of social hierarchy
  3. Macbeth receives this title

Once students had consistently started scoring 9/10 or full marks, we moved on to the next scene and started testing on that. Amongst this, I was conscious that if I only focused on surface level knowledge, I would end up with a group of students who could recall information from the play but wouldn’t be able to analyse the text in any depth or make connections.

Screenshot 2017-12-03 at 15.45.36

So to build on the low stakes testing at the start of each lesson, we:

  • Summarise constantly. Students use information from each test as part of 5 minute written summaries throughout the lesson.
  • Make connections. Students write about a new scene, but are required to make links back to information recalled in their test books.
  • Use blank extracts and close copies of the text when we write

In addition, I’ve set high expectations for homework. Students have pre reading before each lesson (not much- this may be only 1-2 paragraphs) and take their books home to revise following each lesson, ready for a test.

Finally, I raided my son’s toy box for one of these:

Screenshot 2017-12-03 at 15.45.42

We’re also learning quotations by chanting them together. Every time they hear the bell, they have to stop whatever they’re doing and the whole class recites quotations from Macbeth. A different student takes charge of the bells each lesson and we gradually build up the number of quotations used in each chant. A new quotation is added in each lesson- we’re currently up to seven.

Impact so far

Compared with similar classes I’ve had (this is a middle ability group), this group have been able to demonstrate a far more varied knowledge of the text. Rather than written responses focusing on picking apart the little bit of the text they can recall, they’re moving through different points, linking to new evidence. Also, they’re far more confident. When a challenging student with a history of poor confidence with Shakespeare gets 10/10 on a recall test in the first ten minutes, it’s a springboard into producing something later in the lesson that demonstrates ‘deeper’ learning.



Talk right; write right by Cathy Williams

A couple of years ago, when Geoff Barton did our conference keynote, he showed us this quotation, from Myhill and Fisher: “Spoken language forms a constraint, a ceiling not only on the ability to comprehend but also on the ability to write, beyond which literacy cannot progrcw2016ess” This idea really stuck with me; I hadn’t been teaching long and as a non-Geordie I think I was especially nervous about correcting students’ speech. At the same time I was expecting them to write much more accurately than they spoke, perhaps unfairly. Since then, I have made an effort to correct students’ grammar in speech as well as their writing, whenever errors cropped up. 

Early this term, I was yet again correcting a Year 7 student who had asked to “lend” a pen and ended up explaining my reasoning more generally to the whole class. We came up with the slogan “Talk Right; Write Right” to act as a reminder of how important formal and correct speech is in the classroom. Then, to follow this up more explicitly, I started all of my lessons on Monday with this activity.


It was interesting that different groups focused on different negatives in this very typical conversation. My bottom set year 10, some of whom have a tendency to demonstrate a poor attitude to learning themselves, all decided that Jenny was being really rude when she says “dunno”. Whereas, Year 7 were just concerned that she didn’t know how to articulate this as a complete sentence. Each class then came up with their own rules for speech in the classroom that we have tried to follow too. In Year 8 lessons, we decided to take a hint from Jamie Thom’s excellent blog and nominate a ‘full sentence monitor’ who would point out that an answer was incomplete. The best way to do this turned out to have the monitor silently stand up until the student completed the answer, this way seemed slightly less critical and certainly less likely to interrupt the flow of discussion. In my year 10 lessons, where poor grammar and slang are more of a concern than developed answers, I have just been pointing to the ‘Talk Right, Write Right’ sign to prompt students to correct their answers. While the standard of talk in my class discussions is still not perfect, students do now understand why I am expecting them to correct their speech.

Praisealitus by Jamie Thom

As an NQT I suffered from a tragic and deadly case of praisealitus. At every possible moment I would exclaim loudly and gleefully: “fantastic”, “outstanding”, “brilliant”, “superb”, “wonderful”. They were tossed around like confetti, sprouted in response to even the most incoherent of grunted answers. My students’ workbooks would be scrawled with more hyperbole: “I absolutely love this” was a particular favourite. Then one day, my arch nemesis Danielle decided to inform me about the reality of my condition. Rolling her eyes with impeccable talent (again) she looked at me scathingly: “Is anything not excellent?”

While I admit that Danielle intimidated/terrified me on a number of levels, she really had me there. How do you counter that? Other than letting the ground metaphorically open me up, I decided there and then that I would no longer be so thoughtless with my praise. No: I would now become a sophisticated, nuanced user of praise. How to reach those lofty heights was another question.

Fast forward five years and I am intrigued to see how far, or if, I have developed on this mission. Before I do, a point of clarity: I am very aware of the value of praise in the classroom and I am by no means rejecting it. It is vital in both building successful relationships and motivating students, crucial in creating a positive and optimist classroom culture. We all love being praised, we all love being recognised for things we have  done well. It is a huge part of nurturing our self-esteem and confidence. We all, however, can spot disingenuous and flippant praise a mile off – and we know how it makes us feel about our efforts. Young people are no different; my conversations with students this week have, somewhat disconcertingly, reiterated to me their capacity to see through any lack of sincerity in the classroom.

Now to the ‘Praiseometer. I asked a student in each of my classes to complete the ‘Praiseometer’ for an identified twenty minute period in the lesson. They had to listen

 carefully to dialogue I was having with students and the whole class and write down the forms of praise they noticed; the final result was a tally of each form of praise employed.

Looking carefully at the results of this (I am aware this is not the most sophisticated of evidenced based endeavours!) it was clear was that I continue to fall into the trap of unspecified praise. In one twenty minute section I used “good” fifteen times. Fifteen times! Also being more self-conscious about my own use of praise this week than usual, I recognised my desire to reassert the positive, to be relentlessly optimistic and to seek to find the things to praise in the classroom.  That youthful desire to please and fear of crushing students motivation is still very much a part of my lessons.

There are worse things to be doing, but my reflections this week have left me with six key priorities. They are also taken from brief conversations with each class about what they valued in terms of praise (I did do some teaching this week, not just talk/think about praise!) It represents a final and conclusive list that can drive my praise mission:

Honest praise: Over-inflation is dangerous and detrimental in any context. If I tell the students they are “outstanding” when really they have given me something mediocre I am only serving to confuse them about my expectations.  My praise needs to be seriously tempered and a focus on the reality of what is being offered to me. I need to communicate high expectations about what “outstanding” looks like in my classroom – and make this something that students are relentlessly striving to attain. The ubiquity of “good” in my classroom is something for me to reflect on. It will only serve to confuse my pupils: how do they know when I think something is really effective? What is my criteria for “good work” and are they really matching this?  The cognitive scientist Daniel T Willingham surmises: “To motivate students—especially older students who are more discerning and better able to appreciate the differences between what is said and what is meant—teachers need to avoid praise that is not truthful, is designed to control behaviour, or has not been earned.

Specific praise: We know that high quality feedback is vital to learning and clarity in the classroom. Any praise that is offered has to be specific: “that is good because… that is strong as you have used… you have responded to that well because…”.  Training students to do this to their own and each others’ work is also useful and vital in moving peer and self assessment from perfunctory to effective.  As an English teacher I also feel responsible for developing students’ literacy: offering detailed and precise verbal responses is something I am coaching young people to do, so I should also be modelling this in my own praise and feedback. This is also clear in marking: writing “good” in the margin is utterly pointless. They need to recognise why something is good – even if they go back themselves afterwards and write down what they did effectively.  Linking the praise to the objective of the lesson (one of Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach like a Champion techniques) is also very useful for clarity: it helps in ensuring there is a consistency and a drive to the lesson and so that students know exactly what you want them to achieve. Daniel Goleman’s masterful ‘Emotional Intelligence’ clarifies: “specificity is just as important for praise as for criticism. I won’t say that vague praise has no effect at all, but it doesn’t have much, and you can’t learn from it.

Behavioural praise: Praise for behaviour is hugely illuminating and useful in the classroom. It also prevents the diatribe of negativity that can dominate in more challenging groups. It models to students expectations and celebrates a positive classroom culture. Spotting what is going right, rather than going wrong and specifically praising it models the behaviours that I might want my harder to reach students to demonstrate.  This needs to be based on high expectations – I am not advocating praising students for merely taking a pen out. It is about setting the bar very high then recognising when students are striving to achieve it. This excellent post by Tom Sherrington captures this approach.

Effort praise: Praise needs to be earned and to be richly deserved. More importantly it should be about process and effort rather than what might be perceived as ability. My naive NQT self was actually demotivating students quite drastically – making them at the very most ambivalent about striving to achieve their very best but certainly unclear about what they could potentially achieve. Carol Dweck’s TED talk on praise and mindset will, of course, explain this far better than I could attempt.

Differentiated praise: Sensitivity and empathy is again core when considering how to praise students meaningfully. In my own classes I know the students who would curl up into a ball of embarrassment if I publicly acknowledge and praise them. They are my students who need quiet and focused moments of sincere praise. Despite being so fixated on praise this week, I got this horribly wrong on Tuesday when I showed the wonderful Amy in Year 11’s homework, four pages of research on ‘Inspector Calls’, to the class. She was mortified! Conversely, I also know I need to feed some of my other students’ desire for public recognition – using moments to recognise their efforts in front of their peers is what they need. Ryan – in the same class – was beaming when I later in the week showered him with praise for his knowledge of ‘Moonshine’ (he knew it was homemade and illicit alcohol, I had no idea!)

Unexpected praise: Predictability is the curse of any classroom. Students in my classroom are probably keeping their own tally of how many times I say “good” in the lesson. Praise will now be much more spontaneous and earned, not predictably at the end of all responses offered. I want students to be working hard to gain some positive recognition, not expect it.

Praisealitus is a condition that needs careful monitoring. Praise needs to be a part of our genetic makeup as teachers; I am certainly not hunting for a vaccination (last one, promise). Rather, we are looking to regulate and reflect on its impact; allow it to seep in only of moments of true merit and not for triviality. It serves its function in many different levels, most profoundly when it enables and encourages effort in its different forms.

Thanks for reading; some useful points of reference:

Doug Lemov ‘Teach like a Champion 2.0’

Daniel Goleman: ‘Emotional Intelligence’

Carol S DweckMindset

How Praise Can Motivate—or Stifle by Daniel T. Willingham (see link) 

What World Challenge Expeditions have taught me: failure is the way forward by Cathy Williams


We all learn the most when we’re challenged. Those of you who listened to Will Ord’s key-note at the school conference a couple of years ago heard lots about putting students in the ‘pit’ in order to help them out, to encourage a growth mindset and demonstrate that learning begins with confusion or even failure. The beauty of a World Challenge expedition is that the ‘challengers’ have to help themselves out. They are well and truly outside of their comfort zones, dealing with language barriers and culture shock in developing countries where sometimes very little goes to plan. They lead the expedition, with two of them taking charge each day and organising team decisions. Two become accountants, take all of our money at the beginning of the trip and work out how to spend it. Each evening, they lead a reflection on that day’s progress, on things they’ve achieved and things they need to improve. While it is clear that employers and universities value the skills developed (one student was accepted on a university course she didn’t have the grades for as soon as she mentioned World Challenge), we have seen expeditions have perhaps a more profound impact too.

cw1Girls in Morocco washing clothes by hand for the first time ever!

cw2The next day’s team leaders planning late into the night…

Epic Fails:

There have been a number of times during the five expeditions we’ve ‘led’ when students have managed to ‘fail’ in sometimes spectacular ways. In every single case, the fact that we restrained ourselves from intervening meant that they were much more independent and careful for the rest of the expedition, and hopefully beyond.

  1. Waiting for a bus in Malaysia for nearly two hours, despite the fact that the buses weren’t running in ramadan (as it clearly said on the timetable).
  2. Poor map reading leading to going into Spain instead of onto Gibraltar and wondering why people only spoke Spanish in a country that was part of the UK.
  3. Turning a 6 hour trek into a 14 hour one, during which three students cried continually. (All later apologised to the team.)
  4. Writing the word ‘one’ under the number ‘two’ on the mural on Peace Perfect School in Ghana.
  5. Forgetting to book accommodation until they asked where we were staying.
  6. Leaving litter behind on a campsite the day after they had taught a lesson about littering to the rural community in the Himalayan foothills.
  7. Not waking anyone up on the night train to Delhi until we were already pulling into the most chaotic station in the world at 2am.
  8. Forgetting to book a bus until it didn’t show up.
  9. Losing the team leader pack, including the budget sheets, contacts and itinerary.
  10. Not picking up the money at Heathrow for our Malawi expedition.


At times it has been a struggle for both Laura and I to take enough of a step back, but this struggle has definitely improved my practice in the classroom too. These examples of ‘failures’ are all things that the students continued to talk about long after the event, so the learning sticks in a very useful way. The Malaysia group read everything carefully from that point on and the Malawi accountants were so meticulous that they saved enough money to fund an extra safari activity for the whole team as well as provide more resources to the nursery school before we left. This has definitely changed the way I behave in a classroom too; while we need to make students experience in school positive, letting them fail, as long as we reflect on and make use of these failures, can only be a valuable thing. When I first started teaching I was definitely a little afraid of telling students that they’d made mistakes, but now I like to embrace and celebrate them as a first step to doing better. This is surely the best way to develop a growth mindset, especially in the high achieving sixth formers who we tend to take on expedition, since this group are often least familiar with failure and most fixed in their mindsets.

cw4Callum and Gyan proving they could be resourceful.

Last year, I looked at the impact of our expeditions for the PEG looking at learning communities. We surveyed students before and after expedition. One of the most interesting findings of these surveys was the difference between the things they said they were looking forward to before the expedition and the things that they said were the best part of it afterwards. Beforehand 78% said they were looking forward to “making a difference” or “helping people less fortunate”, whereas, after the expedition, they clearly demonstrated a much more realistic understanding of their experiences during a very short community project. 85% mentioned something about “learning from” or “getting to know” the people. They also mention working “with” rather than “for” in almost all responses. Most satisfying though, was that 78% also used the words “reflect”, “learning”, “pushing myself” or “difficult” to describe what was best about expedition, while none of them expected this to be the best thing about the experience before they went; the expedition had made them realise the value of learning through challenges.


Working “with”- students learn skills from local workers.

Some musings from ‘challengers’:

“I don’t think I could ever have learned so much in two weeks at school, these lessons will last me a lifetime.”

“Being pushed out of your comfort zone, being uncomfortable, makes you realise what type of person you are.”

“It sounds cliche, but it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that teaches you valuable life lessons. You develop as a person and create unforgettable memories!”

“It was the hardest but most rewarding thing I have ever done.”

“I didn’t realise I haven’t ever really pushed myself before, so it was hard. There were times on expedition that I didn’t think I could go on, but I did, so now I know that I can.”

Cw6Overcoming the language barrier with smiles.

cw7“A real sense of satisfaction that we’d managed to do a good job in the end.”



Time for reflection…


“It just makes you realise how greedy humans are doesn’t it.”You might expect that the best thing about safari in Liwonde National Park at the end of the exhausting two week expedition would be the close encounters with beautiful herds of elephants and incomprehensibly graceful hippos in the wild. Perhaps it would be waking up in a tent to the sounds of bee-eaters and barbets. Or maybe taking a sunset boat journey. Yet the moment that stands out involved no wildlife at all. Sitting in the jeep as the guide explained why they had to make a rhino enclosure within the National Park to protect dwindling numbers of black rhino, Laura and I listened in to a conversation between two students who weren’t really friends before expedition. It was the kind of conversation we all love to hear in a classroom; they were linking things they’d learned in Science at school to new information that our guide Tom was so keen to provide, they were questioning each other and linking their experiences in the community to their lives in the UK. Without any prompting, they had taken this quiet time in a natural environment as a chance to reflect and review their own experiences.


Kemp’s Musings – Part 2

Due to the popularity of last issue, here is a second collection of Dr. Kemp’s musings to peruse:

Image 1- We all need a reminder from Rita. If you haven’t already, watch this!


Image 2- Key messages for the students and maybe even the adults?

Image 3- Next time you are planning a lesson, remember this: If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.

Change it up, take a risk.


Image 4- Do teachers who make mistakes make better teachers?

I guess they do, but only if they put effort into correcting the mistake.


Image 5- Which one can you have a big say in? More than one hexagon? Have a think on it.  Follow @headguruteacher


Image 6- A big bag of balls.

Put answers on them, lob them at the students and then ask the students to generate appropriate questions.


Image 7- How many ways could you use  whiteboard dice? 4000?


Image 8- Students shrink their learning, another student then expands it.


Helping students help themselves!

Activities designed to develop learner independence

In recent INSET we have raised awareness of how our students can develop as effective learners, by asking teachers to reflect on how their students approach learning, and putting them in the position of learners in challenging situations. The response to the question below often does not need prompting, but it is a valid way to start thinking about changing the poor learning tendencies of many of our students.

“What frustrates you about the way your students approach their learning?”

By now, just a few weeks in to term, I guarantee even those teachers who have just started their careers will be able to compile an accomplished list!

This section contains a short discussion and review of the recent INSET sessions on developing effective learners and assessment. Some of the classroom activities that were employed can be found, with specific classroom examples being used in each case.

The rationale behind these activities will be revisited as well. Others that merit a deeper discussion will appear in subsequent editions.

Some key aims for the sessions were:

  • To see assessment for learning strategies as integral to student activities rather than as something extra.
  • Look at several activities that are designed to inform teachers of student progress and skills.
  • To see how reflective questioning can reveal student thinking.

“When was the last time you learned something from your students that informed your next teaching step? ”

When considering the tool that follow, look to see how the following questions are addressed:

• What is the role of student work in informing the teacher of progress?

• Self and peer assessment strategies

• What can a teacher do to facilitate self and peer assessment?

• What must students do to make the most of self and peer assessment?

Vocab Grid

A particularly useful activity is the Vocab Grid. This is a simple activity that encourages students to have a go at ‘guessing’ or showing off their prior knowledge of certain words. They do this before being given access to some further information – whether this is text based, a map, a recipe, or video does not matter. This gives the teacher a great idea of where individuals are at the start of the lesson. Having interacted with the new material the students return to the grid and complete the second column.

The example here has been taken from a GCSE science lesson, but this activity, as with each of the following are entirely generic and transferable. The grid does not have to have the titles in this example; depending on the group you have it may be appropriate to change the headings a little.

The vocab grid informs the teacher as the activity progresses of the current level of understanding, allowing carefully targeted support. As students work their way through they chart their progress; this can be motivating as they identify areas of new learning as well as more difficult ideas.

Quality Quantity Graph

The Quality Quantity graph [see below] can be a powerful tool to look at the role of students in both self and peer assessment. On completion of any task, be it a major project or a simple five minute activity, ask students to draw a line from the origin to reflect the progress they have made. A target over time would be for the line to at 45°, meaning a quality product of decent length. A line nearly horizontal reflects more production at the expense of accuracy or rigour, while a more vertical line might indicate one point well made at the expense of the bigger picture.

There are, of course, problems with this, especially if we look too deeply into the semantics of graph construction, as a number of us experienced. The main issue comes when giving feedback on to peers. QQ graphs are highly personal and students should not be comparing them. But they should be able to ask questions of each others graphs. Two pieces of work of very different quality might well have similar QQ graphs depending on the students that created them. This does not mean that these students cannot offer constructive feedback to each other using the graphs as a starting point. Some opening gambits to model for this feedback could be:

“Hi Bert, I see you have placed your line nearer Quantity rather than  Quality, can you explain why.“

“Can you explain why you are happy with amount and the detail Belinda? ”

The very act of being involved in this sort of feedback has implications on the individual. The discussion will lead to the person giving feedback to reflect on their own work more, and this is a centrally important role of peer feedback. Whatever form feedback takes it should be given an appropriate amount of time so students can reflect effectively and adapt / evolve how they do things.

Sort it out Yourself! – Moving on maps

Introduced to us by Jill Flack and Jo Osler from Victoria, down under, this procedure was born from the frustrations that teachers the world over experience when dealing with passive students. Invariably when students get stuck their first course of inaction will be to turn to their oracle of all things (teacher) and in one way or another say ‘I’m Stuck’.

More often than not these low level interactions are time wasting, engaging the teacher in exchanges that need not happen. And worse there is the ‘have you got a sharpener, can I lend a rubber’ phenomenon that has been engrained in young people since time immemorial. The limited amount of time we see each student at secondary level should be of the highest quality.

Well, no more we say! More often than not, and this will apply from year 7 right up to sixth form. This terrible learning tendency should be preceded by ‘before I came to see you Miss I’ve tried these myriad other things and still….’ In other words the students consistently had no strategies when they were stuck except to call on the teacher to fix them up.

This often results in a long queue of students needing teacher help. It also reflects a very high dependence on the teacher and a very low level of metacognitive awareness of learning.

It should be noted that this sort of resource cannot simply be given to students. It becomes effective only when the need for a different way of working is identified and agreed with the students. As Jill says “It is not a recipe, and should not be dumped on a class “cold turkey”. It should be a culmination of what is already known and valued by its users”.

Over time, as your learners become familiar with the notion of active over passive learning, taking responsibility, being reflective and making decisions, they will find the moving on map a useful extra resource that allows them to take further responsibility by giving them a strategy for getting unstuck. A similar procedure, the getting started map can be found on the PEEL in practice database.

Trajans column and the 5 from 3 quiz

Small group and whole class challenge

This lesson took place towards the end of year 9 as the students’ collaboration skills were becoming more refined. This task was designed to develop the skills of planning, researching, problem solving and collaboration further.

Trajan’s column, in Rome, is often referred to as the very first action picture, as it tells the story of the Roman emperor Trajan and his conquest of Dacia (Romania). It is basically a 3d spiral storyboard. I chose it as a presentation tool / product for students as it would require careful planning to construct and decorate with the story of the changes in the earth’s atmosphere. I also thought it could throw up a few potential problems for the students to solve along the way.

After an initial review of what they already know about the atmosphere, the students were put into groups of 4 or 5 and issued the challenge. They were given a little time to discuss the task, then we reconvened to discuss what they were going to do during the lesson. The students were shown some images of Trajans column in Rome to clarify what they were working towards. With this idea in hand the students set of to complete the challenge.

The students correctly attempted to divide the task up, most groups assigned each other roles along the lines of researcher, constructor, artist and sculptor for the object that had to be placed on top. This would lead to difficulties for these groups, as very little planning of the actual task took place. It is clear that some students were not even thinking about the science, especially the student who had been given the job of constructing a sugar paper tube with a pair of parallel lines spiralling it.

A lack of planning became apparent when the students could not draw on to their columns without flattening it. So problem solving task number one was revealed and most groups abandoned their roles to solve the problem together. Some students backtracked and unravelled their tubes, and figured out where the images would need to go, while others just drew the pictures onto paper and glued them on! In terms of the science being taught the students had now begun to sequence the information.

The tricky construction of the column forced the students to collaborate and share the information amongst the group. If the product was a conventional poster, these restraints would not be there; students could have divided the poster up into their own sections and not collaborated or shared the information.

The penny drops!

After these problems students began to value a more careful planning procedure and actually went back to the beginning of the task and started again, reassigning tasks. Groups researched before they sketched out what they could produce. One of the students who had previously been in charge of creating an object to summarise the information, had found this onerous to the point of frustration. This student had asked each member of their group what he should make to symbolise the history of the earth’s atmosphere Each student in turn duly scratched their chins for a moment and replied, “mmm, I don’t know yet”. They gave a truly honest answer! How could they summarise their learning, when they had not yet gained an understanding of the topic. The students therefore decided that this job was best left until the end. Although I must add that despite this rethink, I was a little disappointed by the quality of these objects. In fact some groups failed to place an object. Those that did, tended to be simplistic such as a cloud or the earth itself. This was partly due to time and partly due to the difficulty of the task itself. Next time, I would consider giving an example of a richer object; for example a ‘half earth, half watch’ image with clouds around the middle to represent the change of the atmosphere on the earth over time. I hope this would encourage the students to think more deeply about the construction of the object. It must be stressed, though, that the purpose of this activity was not one of presentation, but of collaboration, planning skills and scientific content. On completion of the task the students used the success criteria to assess and feedback to another group. This also allowed the students to review their own learning by looking for specific bits of information in the work of others.

Five from Three Quiz

This technique, discovered through PEEL, was employed next as a way for students to demonstrate their new learning and receive feedback to enhance their understanding of the topic. A full explanation of this procedure can be found on the PEEL website.

It is essentially a group quiz, where the students are provided with a few questions, in this case six, to be answered in any order. They are told that each question will be scored out of three points, so one sensible contribution will gain one point. A fully answered question will gain three points out of three. If the students include more relevant information to enhance the answer an extra point will be awarded, bringing the score to a possible four points out of three. This idea really got the students discussing what good answers should look like. At the end of the quiz all of the answers to each question were to be compared and the best answer was awarded an extra mark to make five out of three.

The students now had a competition on their hands, which worked wonderfully in motivating students to discuss their learning and gain feedback from their teacher. I must admit it was a pleasure to sit and watch students scramble across my classroom and say, “Sir, how can I improve my answer”. Now, that doesn’t happen every day!

This was one of those lessons that you are never sure the students have learned what you want them to, until you give them a different task to do using the same information. I chose to use a 5 from 3 quiz as it maintained the group work ethos and it gave an opportunity to give students feedback instantaneously. They were designed to cover the important aspects of the content. Comment only marking helped the students move beyond simple responses. I was satisfied that the constructing activity allowed the students to make their own meaning, and that the demonstrate activity was sufficiently different, so that the students did not have to regurgitate the information, but use what they had created.

Darren Mead

Whole Class Challenge!

Following on the from the success Darren had enjoyed with his Trajan’s column, I decided to up the ante with my year 11 and create challenge that would involve all 32 students. They got on reasonably well and had worked together in a variety of groupings previously. By coincidence the topics I wanted to revise was the development of the atmosphere and the changing surface of the earth since the dawn of time, or there about. I have included the challenge which has been annotated to explain the careful thinking that went in to planning this challenge, so that it was as effective as possible. On the face of it the challenge seemed insurmountable but, having had group work discussions before when we look at the number of person hours available to a group, they realised that their 80 minutes in the chemistry lesson was effectively over 40 man-hours, the challenge becomes more feasible – as long as it is managed effectively.

I offered no guidance to this group and, as expected, they all set off working on different parts of the task with no cohesion whatsoever. About 15 minutes in Jo, who had been getting increasingly agitated, yelled to everyone in the room “Right everyone get back in a circle, we’ll never get it done like this”. It was to the palpable relief of everyone in the room, myself included, that someone was willing to take control. I read through the key requirements of the challenge and went through the criteria checklist with the whole class (this had not yet been done). She them asked people to volunteer for certain jobs that they felt they would be good and formed teams to concentrate different aspects of the science. Later, in good time, she got everyone back together to reform into new groups according to the timings at which the geological events occurred. This was necessary in order for the final column to be chronologically accurate. The feeling of pride and the respect she received from the group was immense.

One important aspect of this type of large group activity is that roles emerge that do not present themselves in everyday smaller group work. Especially leadership and the responsibility for completing individual tasks that might otherwise scupper the final project.

Included below are a couple of reflections, including Jo’s. This consolidation brought closure to a hectic learning experience and is an essential part of the session.

Following this there are some examples of the five from three quiz, which shows how progression was easily made using this fun assessment strategy.

Fergus Hegarty

The Muse will be taking a break next week because of half term.  Back on  the 10th June!  -Ed.