Welcome to my attempt to archive and share some experiences at making learning more visible in my classroom

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Visual Hexagons

All you #hexagon lovers out there using Google apps will enjoy the ability to create drag and drop visual hexagons within google draw or google slides.

Here's a 2 minute video to show you how from +JKeet - Teacher Tech Tips

Here's an example of how I've used it in the classroom - Year 8 are learning about development indicators.  They first have to interpret the meaning of the images and then categorise them into social and economic indicators.  Next they re-arrange the hexagons to show how they are related to underline the complexity of measuring a country's 'development'.

Related posts:

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

What might be happening here...?

I like to use this as connect the learning activity with Year 7 students.  It is Peter Bruegel's painting from 1562 called the "Triumph of Death".  Even though we're a few hundred years out in terms of the first outbreak of plague in Britain the scene conjures emotions at the idea that the world had been turned upside down by plague, war and famine.  There's so much rich discussion to be had about the imagery and the possibilities that the students come up with to answer the questions are a fascinating insight into their thinking....

Monday, 22 June 2015

Scale of Challenge in Source work

There is a definite hierarchy of skills, thought processes and mechanisms to working with historical sources.  Without getting into a debate about how GCSE courses force or feed a particular type of experience of sources for our students I thought I would publish my thoughts on the different ways in which we can ask students to interact with sources.  On reflection I have made it highly compartmentalised yet if you teach any history you will know this is not how historians think.  So why might it be useful?  Perhaps if you are planning a sequence of lessons with sources or planning across a key stage.  You may be considering writing Learning Targets for your students and looking for some indicators that students are able to do different things and write about sources in increasingly complex ways. 
Health warnings: 

1) If you try to make a student climb a ladder with rungs like this they'll never get off the ground.

2) It ignores the obvious ways in which to add complexity to a source task such as a) the nature of the source (pictorial, propaganda, length of text, reading age etc) b) the content / period of study c) the combination of sources selected d) asking the student to select the source.  Co-incidentally these are all useful ways to differentiate.

3)  Trying to assess using this will lead to a slow and agonising mark book and utter confusion.

Thinking / Question / Activity
Recognise Sources
I can identify the nature of a source
Is this a primary / secondary source?
Who created this source?
When was this source created?
What kind of source is this?
Is this source fact or opinion?
I can describe what a source tells me

What can you see in the source?
What does the source say?
What does the source tell us about?
What important features / parts are there in this source?
What do you know about X from this source?
I can make Inferences from sources
Is this source fact or opinion?
What does the source tell us about...?
What does the source suggest about...?
What else can we learn from the source….?
I can cross refer to other sources
Which sources agree about….?
Which sources disagree about…..?
Do all the sources agree about…..?
I can contextualise
What was happening at the time this source was produced?
Why was this source produced in?  (relate to context not provenance)
What does the source tell us about this period?
When do you think this source may have been produced?
I can cross refer to my own knowledge
As above and -
Is source X accurate about?
Does the source agree or disagree with your knowledge of …..?
Which sources agree?
Which sources disagree?
Do all the sources agree about?
Close analysis
I can analyse the language (tone) used in a source
Does the source support the view that….?
What words / features of the source suggest that…?
What is the tone of the author?
What does the use of the word/s “........” suggest about the view / author?
Why has the author included the phrase, “.............................”?
I can detect the purpose and / or the intention / and or message of a source
Who is source X aimed at?
What does the author want to draw your attention to with source x?

What is the message of source A?  Does that fit here??
Why was this source produced in ….(year)....?
Why was this source published / written?
I can evaluate the utility of a source for a particular question

Is source X accurate about ?
Is this useful source for learning about……?
How can we use this source for learning about………?
How useful is source x for learning about………….?
I can explain the limitations of a source (based on the content of a source)
What is missing from this source?
What does this source not tell us / mention?  (!!!)
What else do we need to know about this topic that the source does not refer to?
I can evaluate the reliability of a source

Who created this source?
Is source X accurate?
What is the author’s view of………..?
Why did the author produce this
How reliable / trustworthy is this source about…..?
Do you trust source X’s view about……?
I can evaluate the limitations of a source (based on the provenance)
Who created this source?  Do they have an axe to grind?
How accurate is source x?
What is the author’s view of………..?
Why did the author produce this?
How reliable / trustworthy is this source about…..?
Do you trust source X’s view about……?
I can comparing the content of sources (utility)
Which source is more useful for learning about…..?
Which source would you choose to illustrate……?
Account for the differences between source X and Y
In what way does source X support source y?
I can comparing provenance of sources (reliability)
Which source is more reliable?
Which source so you trust more about……?
In what way is source x more trustworthy than source Y?
Comparing content and provenance of sources
Which source is more useful for learning about…..?
How far is source X more useful than source Y about….?
Evaluation of sources
For all of above+

How far do the sources support the view that…..

“Statement”. How far do the sources agree about statement?
If you have a view on this add a comment.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Avoid being "thou eunuch of language"

Some (hopefully useful) links on communication, literacy, writing, reading, academic language in the context of the classroom etc.

Broader Ideas:

How do you get students to write like an expert, when you’re not a “writing” teacher?  Here are some tips

Subject Specific Writing

Use specific criteria / rubrics (these are not great, mind but tho'.)

Use Expeditionary Learning School Protocols focussed on literacy and take their advice:

  • Learn less key words
  • Learn fundamental conceptual words
  • Revisit these in different contexts
  • Own the vocabulary by using these tools:

and use these tools / graphic organisers to help unpack key terms

Teaching command words

Using nominalisation?  Beware the zombie nouns


How do we get students to connect to a text? Close reading

Deciding on what words you should teach in reading:  Two tier words

Errors prevention / exercises / Reviewing

Friday, 20 June 2014


Can't remember where this came from but it is a way to understand how confident students are in their knowledge of some key ideas.  It's a simple tick quiz.  Here's a version on Hitler's consolidation of power.

You can use it in a variety of ways -

1) ask pupils to make only one tick - tells you a great deal about their confidence if you see a repeated pattern of "I think..." responses. [Easier to mark and interpret]

2) ask students to tick each row - illuminating if students begin to tick more than "I am sure this is right" !

Why was the Enabling Act so important?

I am sure this is right
I think this is right
I think this is wrong
I am sure this is wrong
It allowed Hitler to become President

It meant that Hitler had won the election

It allowed Hitler to make laws without the Reichstag

It gave the Nazis a majority in the Reichstag

Planning learning around concepts

Talking with Darren this week about planning learning around the threshold concepts which unlock further learning in Science has been interesting.  These have been comprehensively mapped here so teachers can visualise the relationship between concepts used in science learning, but also consider what students find challenging about these ideas and where alternative conceptions get in the way of full understanding.

Here's an example of what it might look like for learners K-12 learning about the living environment.

Obviously this got me thinking about this in History.  Here's a 3 minute version for teaching a sequence of lessons from a recent project:  "How significant are the Lindisfarne gospels?"  Finding the starting point for pupils becomes part of the overall plan.  Pupils arrive with prior knowledge that needs challenging, validating and piecing together with new pieces of content knowledge.

I find this useful because it illustrates opportunities for connecting ideas and where skills can be brought in too. The question of how to judge historical significance is a useful way to engage students in "thinking like a historian" and so I think exploring the three dominant models with students will be a good starting point.  You can get a brief overview of what these mean here.   Here's another version for beginning to teach power and authority to Yr 12 students studying Richard III and Henry VII.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Language for learning

Increasingly I am finding that I am planning lessons to improve my student's use of appropriate, academic, carefully chosen language in their writing.  A major part of learning to be an effective historian (or learner), is to learn to effectively communicate your ideas on complex topics. For years I have tinkered about with strategies and templates, writing frames and prompts.  Many of these have been useful and worked in the sense that they enable students to write with a slight degree of refinement but usually only for that particular task and not beyond that.  I want to begin to build a clear approach in order that my students begin to apply strategies for improving their writing in the longer term.

Of course, I have students read again what they have written themselves, redraft and peer assess.  I often show students examples of quality work and we use this to analyse the phrases, vocabulary, connectives and style of writing to create quality success criteria.   But, more often than not, this is only skims the surface.  I have found it more challenging to get students to look at their own work in such an intense way. It wasn't till last week that I began to see that by using a more simplistic approach students could begin to see the complexity of what they were trying to achieve in their writing.

The approach is simple:  I asked students to count certain words that they had written and award themselves 1 or 2 points every time they used that word or phrase.  This simple strategy did quite a few things at once:
  1. Identified vocabulary required for the task
  2. Allowed students to critically analyse their work
  3. Initiated a whole host of discussion about the use of certain words and phrases and how best to explain an idea (something that I have only ever managed to engineer with a clear pre-planned intention)
  4. Reduced the need for me to "mark" students work in the normal way I would.
This episode began when I wanted students to respond to the comments I would be leaving on their work from a previous lesson.  During the previous lesson I had asked them, as part of an ongoing attempt to focus on their level of confidence, to choose a coloured piece of paper to write their initial answer to the question: "What was the most important cause of the economic boom in America in the 1920s?"  Selecting pinky/ red paper meant they weren't feeling confident (this helped me go to those students during the task).  Selecting the beige / yellow colour indicated increasing confidence and so on through green and upto blue which we labelled as "Shoot me now, I can write this piece standing on my head".  One person selected blue.

To complete the task students needed confidence in what to write (the reasoning behind the different causes and the factual knowledge required) and they also needed some confidence in how to write it (the format, style and conventions of that particular piece of writing).  In order to build understanding of "what" to write we had spent the lesson examining the factual knowledge used to answer the question, discussing different approaches and breaking down the reasoning behind it.  Students had used a diamond nine activity to help them frame their thinking. In terms of the "how" to write part of the task we used our classroom talk and discussion to draw out the phrasing used by students to explain their point of view, which included some examples of tentative language ("probably the most important reasons was....", "I would have thought that...." and "it was unlikely that...").  We discussed the use of these phrases in talk and how they might be phrased in written response.  This lead us to a particular reminder about the use of the third person, past tense in historical writing:  no such thing as "I think...."**.  We also used our connectives mat to help identify examples of connectives that we could use to help frame our responses.

Students completed their written response and I took them in to look at before the next lesson.  I spread out the responses on a table to look at the similarities between students who had selected the same colour piece of paper.   The variation between responses was immediately obvious.  But also the similarities in quality answers were leaping off the page - repeated use of key vocabulary, certain words which signalled that pupils were actively explaining and the use of abstract concepts in the most confident of explanations.

I began to gather together all the words or language markers which set apart the quality responses and formed them into some categories which eventually looked like this:

Next lesson I showed students the chart of words above, 1 column at a time, and they awarded themselves 1 point for each time they used the words in the top half of the chart - specific language which has a function in the explanation.  They had to knock off a point each time they used a word from the bottom half of the chart as this was too general and did not form part of the academic code we were seeking.  We discussed the reasoning behind this as we moved across the chart.  Occasionally we would stop and I would ask certain pupils to read from their responses, for example James who had written an interesting example of how a sequence of causes helps build up a causal explanation - he used the phrase, "This meant that...." 3 times in his response.

We also discussed why the "analysing" phrases and the "abstract" ideas got 2 points each.  This was a chance to emphasise the need to compare and contrast the level of importance of factors as an important feature of the writing.  Moreover, most of the students could see immediately see that trying to explain how abstractions like "laissez faire" attitudes from the republican government were harder to explain than the concrete effect of the First World War and therefore were rewarded more highly.

When the exercise was complete the students had a clear idea of the "words" they were missing from their explanations and we set about having another go at the writing, now with a bit more clarity on "how" to write. I further drew out what we were seeking by having a closer look at one example of writing that had many good features, but also some room for improvement.

None of this is revolutionary.   The exercise was useful in getting the students to examine critically their writing in a quick, sharp way.  But in fact, what I have just described is pretty poor practice because if I had provided adequate scaffold for the writing in the first place and modelled good examples first, then I probably would have drawn up that list of words with the students during the modelling.  What's more, they may not have made the mistakes they did.  But that is exactly my point - I don't yet have an ingrained approach to teaching the academic style of writing I want my students to do.  I'm beginning to see the real reason why Geoff Barton told us in an excellent literacy training event last October, "Don't call it literacy".

So what are my next steps?   I'm writing some materials to look at causal language with my classes more deeply.  More importantly, last night I read this excellent blog post by Lee Donaghy on the use of genre pedagogy and David Didau's series of posts which follows up on this fascinating approach which essentially put together all those fragments of teaching writing in your own genre and gives it total coherence.

[**By the way, if your students find it difficult to ditch this phrase in your history lesson because they are encouraged to use it elsewhere then don't get them to ditch it straight away.  Students who write "I think it was Lee Harvey Oswald who shot JFK from the book depository window...." often find it hard to begin this sentence without "I think..."  Just get them to put a line through "I think" when they finish the sentence.  They soon begin to see how the tone changes]