Can you have a good lesson without questioning? I think the answer is no. Let's examine this further.
The real learning takes place when students talk to each other. High level questioning and collaborative learning activities are a must for a good lesson.
There are several ways that students will learn – and make progress – in your lesson.
Firstly - what is learning?
This is a big question which educationalists have researched, analysed and debated for years. Consequently, there is no one answer – but in essence it is
Most importantly for teachers is how do we ensure learning takes place?
Learning for progress has to be information which is embedded. That is, it becomes something which remains in our memory either in the short term or the long term. We need to make sure that new knowledge finds its way into students' long term memory so it can be recalled at a later date for examination purposes!
When it comes to planning lessons then, our choice of activity is vital. So how do we plan effectively? Some of this has already been examined in three earlier lesson planning blogs (Learning outcomes; Starters and Plenaries; Differentiation). Here we will look at the impact of certain types of activities on learning.
In the chart below I have plotted certain types of activities against the potential for learning of each. Note the role played by the teacher in both lesson preparation and lesson delivery.
We need to carefully balance teacher-led activities with those where the students can contribute more fully.
Chart examining type of activity and its learning potential
Here's a question for you - if an activity does not lead directly to learning – how long should you spend on it? What percentage of the lesson can afford to be teacher led, if the students are not actually able to make progress during this time? If you only have an hour – should you spend 30 minutes of that hour talking to the class when there is too little learning potential from this alone?
Here's another way of looking at it. Ultimately we want students to have the opportunities to make connections between new information and existing knowledge or experiences. This is what helps us to learn.
When you are planning your lessons therefore, consider the amount of teacher input compared to the amount of student input and its relationship to learning potential.
The chart below looks at both teacher and student input in relation to learning.
Teacher and student input v learning potential
Examine each of the boxes below - remember the aim is to get a balance between teacher and student input - with the aim of ensuring high learning potential.
Suggested tasks for your evidence portfolio:
1. When observing others next week, try to examine the percentage of teacher and student input, the types of activity and the learning potential of each.
2. Take a look at one of your earlier planned lessons and see if you can adapt it to enable a greater potential for learning and student input.
There is much discussion about the purpose of the starter
The answer is – any and all of the above!
But whatever your aim, the following are definitely true
There are plenty of websites dedicated to examples of starters, but here are a few ideas to get you …started!
Questions - ask the class some questions about a new topic to gauge their understanding and existing knowledge.
Students are invited to ask questions which could be answered through the lesson (or through the unit of work)
Three things they want to learn about a particular topic
Three things they learnt last lesson
Present information they have prepared for homework to a partner / another group / the class
Equally as important as starters are the plenaries.
The aim of the plenary is to determine the level of learning that has taken place. This should not be confused with the completion of the tasks. Just because a student has finished the work, it does not follow that they have learnt the information.
Also don’t be fooled into thinking plenaries can only come at the end of the lesson! If you remember my post about AfL (assessment for learning) we talked about the need to check learning intermittently throughout the lesson. If you wait until the end it may be too late to discover that several students didn’t learn as much as you hoped!
Wherever they are placed in the lesson, plenaries – or mid-lesson mini plenaries – are designed to check and reinforce learning.
They work best when the students have a chance to articulate their learning. They are not as successful if you tell the students what they should have learnt, and ask them to agree they have learnt it!
The act of articulating something you have learnt has the dual role of reinforcing that learning.
Think about the times you have discussed a new idea with someone: the more you explore a topic, the more it makes sense to you as it makes stronger connections in your brain. Additionally, it will be more likely to move into your long-term memory though repeated examination. (This will be covered in a later post on Recall and Revision)
Plenaries – like starters – are for ALL students. They will not be successful if you only engage with a handful of students.
So although many plenaries take the form of question and answer – make sure you are involving ALL students in answering.
There are several ways of doing this…
Use mini-whiteboards – students all write down the answer / idea / draw the diagram… and all show you at the same time by holding the mini-whiteboards up.
Traffic lights – students tell you how confident they feel in their newly acquired knowledge by holding up red (not confident); amber (quite happy but would like to go over it again) and green (got it!). You will need coloured cards for this, but it is worth making a set that you can use again and again.
Write down three things you learnt.
Write down three questions you still have about the topic.
Complete a crossword on the topic. You could create this yourself, or set a task for the students to make one for homework - and use it as the starter next lesson by swapping with a partner!
Plenaries should be given the time they deserve – they are part of the learning process! Articulating learning helps to embed knowledge. Consequently, anything less than 15 minutes is not sufficient.
As a new trainee, you will undoubtedly miscalculate the time your tasks will take – time management will be a target for many of you, for some time! And as a result the plenary is often the thing which gets left off. Obviously you cannot jump ahead to the plenary if you haven’t given the chance for the students to learn the topics, but perhaps you could have some speedy progress checks in hand that you can finish the lesson off with.
This will help you to reflect with your mentor about the success of the lesson in terms of the progress made by the students.
Progress line – students mark where they are on the line at the start of the lesson, and again at the end...
Progress checklist – you give the students a checklist of elements they will be learning in the lesson. They grade themselves red, amber or green at the start – and again at the end...
Get the idea?
Perhaps you can share some of your progress checking ideas with me through the comments box, and I will post them on a future blog.
Next blog post
Lesson planning 3 - Differentiation; what is it and how do I do it?
Depending on what course you are following to achieve your QTS, you will all be at slightly different starting points. Don't worry - you will catch up very soon!
Some of you will have had the opportunity to observe plenty of lessons and will have seen examples of how a good lesson should be planned.
Some of you may have been studying the theory of lesson planning and how this should look in the classroom.
Some of you may have even started to deliver part of a lesson, or even a whole lesson.
Certainly by Christmas, you will all be planning lessons and delivering them to one or more year groups in at least one key stage!
The most important part of designing your learning intentions is that the students need to know what they are too.
It is all very well deciding what you want them to learn and then just delivering the lesson...but if the students aren't included in this knowledge you will be missing a large learning opportunity!
We learn best when we
- Know what we are going to be learning
- Know what success looks like
- Understand what we are going to be doing to be successful!
So you need to share these outcomes with the students.
Different ways of sharing outcomes
- You may want to have them listed on the board when the students arrive,
- You may want to do the starter activity first, and then discuss what they will be learning
- You may want to set a question as a starter and tell them they will be finding out the answers during the lesson...
How you do it is up to you - and variety is important too, so don't do the same thing every lesson! The key though is how you will know if the students have met the outcomes you set: what is the success criteria?
- They can share their knowledge in a presentation to the class
- They can successfully compete in a quiz at the end of the lesson
- They can complete a chart which asks for certain elements that they will be learning about
- They can show their knowledge in a piece of independent work - possibly something you set for homework.
Once you have shared the outcomes, and the success criteria - you should explain what they will be doing in the lesson to be able to reach that stage.
We can relax into the learning when we know the route we will be taking to get there. Sometimes you may want to surprise them - this is exciting too - but you always need to think about what will help them to remember what they will be learning.
Connect – lesson outcomes are described and connections are made to prior learning or existing experiences.
Activate – students make sense of the knowledge through specific activities. This is the bulk of the lesson to enable the students to engage in the learning.
Demonstrate – the students can now demonstrate their new knowledge. They have learnt something and are expected to apply that knowledge.
Consolidate – also known as the review or plenary. Students articulate what they have learnt and how they have learnt it.
Some examples of how you may share this with the students.
1. A group task to find out information, followed by some independent learning and then presenting their information to the class.
2. A task based on source material in the book which they will complete with a partner, followed by a group activity to find out more information, finishing with a quiz – where they set the questions for the other groups
Working in this way, where the student is aware of how they will be learning and what success looks like, means they will be able to take more responsibility for their own learning – a position that you should work hard to achieve as a teacher.
Note how in each of these examples it explains what the students will be expected to do to show they have met the outcomes.
I find it useful to consider how I learn best. I did not enjoy being set an assignment, for example, without knowing - before I started - what I needed to do to get a good grade!
And still, when I go on courses, I like knowing how long we have for each task and what it will lead on to. Then I can make the most of each minute!
When planning, ask yourself
- What will the students have learned that they did not know before?
- How will they demonstrate that they have met the learning intentions?
- How can I share with the students what success will look like (and avoid simply focusing on task completion)?
1. How the lesson structure fits into the model outlined above. In your reflections consider how successful this was, and if there are occasions it does not work.
2. How the starter connects to either the previous lesson, or to the current lesson. Examine different types of starter and which engage the students the best.
3. How does the teacher share the success criteria? How to students make sense of this?
EVIDENCE: Each of these will be good evidence for your portfolio when you link what you have observed with lessons you plan yourself.
Dr Sharon Williams
Sharon has spent many of her 33 years in secondary education working with trainee teachers.
She has mentored trainees, trained mentors ... and has developed and delivered mentoring and coaching programmes in schools.
Countless trainee teachers have benefited directly from working alongside Sharon, or the mentors she has trained - and all have successfully passed their training year!
How to make the most of observing.
Behaviour management - there are two ways of looking at it...
Behaviour management - some tips to help you.
It's all firsts!
Planning for positive behaviour for learning.
Where the real learning takes place.
How to observe - questioning.
How to observe - collaborative learning.
Using video to increase the power of your mentor meetings.
Assessment - what does it mean to you? What does it mean to your students?
Lesson planning 1: Learning outcomes and success criteria
Lesson planning 2: Starters and plenaries and why they are so important to the learning process
Lesson planning 3: Differentiation - what is it and how do I do it?
Establish routines for you and the students - and have a calm week
Student routines - another step towards becoming a good teacher
What is learning and how can I plan for it?
Collaborative Group Work
Keeping On Top
Starters And Plenaries
Video Observations: An Eye On Learning