Are we effectively stretching students to get A*/A’s? Do we just focus on the more able? Are we getting differentiation the wrong way round which makes tasks easier rather than making them think harder? The afternoon INSET session on Wednesday 25th March focused on how we could apply simple yet effective strategies into our lessons. It looked at how we can push all students to get A*/A’s, or at least help them aspire to get the highest grade possible.
The following activities were all designed to develop consciously deeper thinking about a subject before writing about them with any authority.
Using functional English enables students to share conceptual understanding as a class. As a learning community they develop the terminology to understand and explain key terms in a way that they are all happy with. This is fundamental to deeper thinking and can impact upon reading and writing skills equally
Odd one out is a way of forcing students to evaluate and explain their thought process using contextual knowledge. Using a taxonomy approach enables students to engage where they feel capable with the task. However, the true A* student should be able to use their own contextual knowledge to recognise one or more possible odd one outs. The game can be played just as easily with dates or key terms. The ultimate goal is to generate discussions in class which encourage deeper thinking and the skills of evaluation.
Using hexagons or other shaped tiles to make connections is another way to achieve the goal of deeper thinking. The more associations that can be made then the more likely that an A/A* answer can be produced. The activity works best if the hexagons are cut up to allow movement. This way multiple associations can be established quickly and in a kinaesthetic way the student can evaluate the strength or importance of those connections. This contributes to higher quality evaluation between factors or key concepts.
The final activity I presented once again concentrated upon the written skills of the student. By using sentence starters then it is possible to extend an already good piece of writing into an outstanding one. The example demonstrates this very well and there are suggestions about other options for starter sentences suitable for a number of subjects. As with all of the activities I have mentioned the best way to judge them is to give them a go with one of your classes. They are all engaging for the students and the results you get will pretty soon speak for themselves.
Subject Specific Sentence Starters – Use three word sentence starters with students when they are completing essays or long answer questions. The use of well designed starters mean that students may be prompted, stretched or forced to think about possible themes to include in their writing. The use of academic words in the starters also help students to continue writing in an academic manner. Easy to think of but make sure they are rigorous!
The art of the sentence – Borrowed from Mark Millar and Doug Lemov, ask students to summarise or write a statement about a complex topic in one single sentence. The process means that students have to think about how to communicate the complex idea in a clear and concise way. They will also need to use technical language to minimise the word count and keep the sentences succinct. Initially use a scaffold and then progress to get students comparing or evaluating topics when they become more confident in the strategy.
Model, model, model! – Show what great work looks like. Show them past students examples. Show them an answer that you came up with. Take a photo of student work as it happens and project it on the screen. As a class dissect and then develop the answer to make it better. Show them the thought process and procedure. Show them how to write to a high standard and the steps it takes to get there.
Literacy upgrade – When peer assessing or critiquing work, get students to apply a ‘literacy upgrade’ where they need to pick out words and improve the academic standard of them. For instance, students make read the words “to work out” and upgrade it to “to calculate”. Easy to do at any time in the lesson to improve students academic vocabulary.
Format Matters – Again borrowed from Doug Lemov. Set high standards for the verbal answers that students give. We are very critical in what they write, so make it clear that spoken answers need to be of the same high standard. Help scaffold the process and set the expectation that what they say is as important as what they write.
The top grades should be a natural consequence of an excellent education.
A range of strategies to ensure pupils are exam ready, independent and enthused. These ideas need to be embedded into lessons and schemes of work.