Preparing for linear exams course – Day three

20 March 2018

Author: Kate Mouncey

Last week, we held our third and final day of our ‘Maximising achievement in linear exams’ course. Having covered memory, metacognition, feedback, vocabulary and writing in the first two days, we were keen to move our focus outwards and wanted to look towards planning the curriculum and implementing change effectively in our settings.

James de Winter from the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge joined us to look into aspects of curriculum planning which we need to consider in the effective organisation of linear courses. We looked at the following areas; Sequencing of topics/concepts, prior knowledge and misconceptions and threshold concepts. We returned to the feedback model from Harry Fletcher-Wood, which has the ‘curriculum’ at the start of the effective feedback model. It is important to consider the actual material that we are covering and the order in which it is covered for students to engage fully and understand the goal, task and then feedback associated with it.

To start thinking about sequencing, each of us wrote out five key concepts which students find difficult in our subject area and then sequenced them in order to state which we would sensibly teach first. This led to further discussions of concepts that we think we need to teach before certain topics, even though they are not listed on the specifications. For example, in my subject of geography, I have found that I need to teach a basic geology lesson before tackling coastal processes and environments. This is not in the exam board specification. It was acknowledged amongst the group that the the consideration about how to place concepts and put together the curriculum order is a large challenge now that we have more autonomy in how we teach subjects and without the breakdown previously provided with the modular structure.

From this consideration of subject order, we then looked into misconceptions. James differentiated mistakes from misconceptions as follows:

Mistakes: The student knows what to do (knows the algorithm) but makes a computational error. Usually a one-off.
Misconceptions: The student has an alternative view of the concepts or algorithms that are appropriate to the question. Frequently observed.

The appreciation and consideration of misconceptions in our subject area is a key part of the planning process and can be seen as a part of ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ – one of the most important aspects of successful teaching identified in the Sutton Trust and University of Durham report ‘What Makes Great Teaching’ which states; “As well as a strong understanding of the material being taught, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions”. Another useful evidence source is ‘Understanding Misconceptions, Teaching and Learning in middle school physical science’ by Philip M.Sadler and Gerhard Sonnert.

Threshold concepts were the third aspect of planning the curriculum which we investigated. These can be defined as “akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress.” Meyer and Land (2003).

Further helpful information is found in Didau and Rose (2016) ‘What every teacher needs to know about psychology’, they list the characteristics of a Threshold Concept as;
• Transformative, they open up new ways for the student to see the subject,
• Irreversible, once learned they are not easily forgotten,
• Integrative, they provoke students to ask new questions of the subject
• Troublesome, they are difficult to understand and often counterintuitive.

Another very useful article can be found in the latest edition of the Impact magazine (February 2018) from the Chartered College; ‘Threshold Concepts and Cognition in Science #CogSci‘ By Niki Kaiser.

Following this excellent and in depth insight into these aspects of planning, we were keen to share practical ideas about how heads of subject had planned for the new linear exams. We welcomed Mark Allday, Head of Computer Science, and Andy Cracknell, Head of PE, to talk to us to explain their practical approaches in leading their teams in the planning of the new GCSE and A level courses.

The second half of the day was dedicated to looking into planning for effective and sustained practice in each of our schools. There had been a huge amount of input over the three days and so we wanted to spend time really thinking through how to prioritise and manage desired actions and changes based on the evidence that had been reviewed.

Key to this was the use of the new EEF Guidance Report, ‘Putting evidence to work – A School’s Guide to Implementation’. Published last month, this offers a detailed framework with explicit guidance on planning and managing change.

The stages which the report details are:
• Foundations – setting the environment for good implementation.
• Explore – define the problem you want to solve and identify appropriate programmes or practices.
• Prepare – Create a clear implementation plan, judge the readiness and prepare staff and resources.
• Deliver – Support staff, monitor progress, solve problems and adapt strategies as the approach is used for the first time.
• Sustain – Plan for sustaining and scaling intervention from the outset and continuously acknowledge and nurture its use.

This was modelled through the stages and actions that Sandringham has taken with implementing the ‘Memory Clock’ – a strategy which has been created to communicate and model more effective study techniques with students and staff based on evidence. Delegates then thought through the processes in terms of a specific change that they want to focus on following the course.
Finally, we spent some time looking into evaluation tools so that teachers could leave equipped with tools to measure their interventions and the impacts/outcomes that they are having on student learning. This included student survey tools and a consideration of Guskey’s work on evaluation.

This was another very full and productive day, with many detailed discussions and debates. It was a real pleasure to work with the teachers involved and it was hugely encouraging to hear about the planned actions and interventions which will be taking place as a result of our look into a wide range of evidence. There was great encouragement from the teachers involved, with one stating; “The course as a whole has been invaluable. I have been introduced to so many concepts and ideas that I will disseminate, all of which should improve outcomes for students.” We look forward to hearing about the results and outcomes in the near future!

Posted on 20 March 2018
Posted in: Blog

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