How can teachers ensure they are presenting subject matter clearly, promote discussion, critical thinking and identify misconceptions to inform next steps in their teaching?
If you want to watch a video walk through of this blog post on how to improve teaching and learning in the classroom, click below:
In content heavy curriculums, it can feel that direct instruction is the only option to cover sufficient content to ready students for an exam.
Highly skilled teachers combine what Tom Sherrington dubs Mode A and B teaching. With Mode A referring to teacher-led instructional teaching and Mode B relating to a broader scope of activities that provide opportunities for students to experience ambiguity, creativity, choice, agency and experimentation.
For me, quality education experiences will include both Mode A and B, so let me show you how this can work in practice.
As a Politics teacher in the UK, I've found many of my lessons have been dominated by the causes, course and consequences of Brexit.
This is perhaps a unique subject matter that lends itself well to a mesh of Mode A and B teaching. This is because the very nature of Brexit is ambiguous, uncertain, and some might say, experimental.
Teaching controversial topics like this solely in Mode A could result in a biased presentation unless multiple perspectives and evidence are used by the teacher.
So I gave the students a timeline of the process of Brexit. This was a fact based document that identified the course of Brexit in terms of the referendum date, the result, the prorogation of Parliament, the Supreme Court ruling etc.
Then we moved onto a range of prompts about the topic. I used a short TV news report from YouTube, political cartoons, images and newspaper articles that conveyed different perspectives. This enabled us to discuss the importance of understanding the provenance of these sources of information and think critically about bias, relevance, and credibility.
All students could access the prompts and there was no requirement for elaborate differentiated materials.
Of course, some students will know more about a topic than others, so where this was the case, I used Socratic questioning to draw out more from them and to help other students understand more nuanced points. Asking simple questions such as 'Can you tell us a bit more about that?' and 'Do you think there are any alternative perspectives to that view?' are two examples.
Next we moved on to Mode B teaching and for this I used a number of Harvard Graduate School of Education Project Zero Visual Thinking strategies.
First off, I used the Compass Point Thinking Strategy.
I projected 4 question prompts and gave students a few minutes to note their ideas on some scrap paper. Show me boards could also be used here.
This task presented an opportunity for students to relate the content to themselves and make personal meaning which is when the learning becomes deeper rather than surface level.
The second task required students to brainstorm a range of questions about Brexit. I gave them question starting prompts. Such as 'How would it be different if....' and 'What would change if...' This is one of my go-to Mode B teaching strategies and is adapted from McTighe and Wiggins fantastic book, 'Essential Questions'.
The students were asked to highlight the questions they believed were the most interesting, important or controversial. We then discussed them as a class and they realised that not all were answerable but they were all probably quite interesting and they could practise hypothesising using evidence and weighing up different perspectives on the issue.
Next I used the 'Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate' strategy. I really like this approach and it can transfer across subject teaching making it a staple in any teacher's toolkit.
The students generated a list of initial ideas and thoughts that came to mind when they thought about Brexit and its possible implications.
They had to sort their ideas according to how important they believed they were. They placed these important ideas in the centre of their paper with more tangential ideas towards the outside of the page.
I asked them to connect their ideas by drawing connecting lines between them. They were then asked how their ideas connected.
In small groups they had to elaborate on the ideas they had written by adding new ideas that expanded or extended their ideas.
They continued to generate ideas until they believed they had a map of ideas that was a good representation of their understanding.
We then moved on to a strategy called 'Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light for Truth'.
The students were asked to look at the sources of information that we began the lesson with again. Within these sources they had to look for 'red lights' and 'yellow lights' to denote specific moments with signs of a possible puzzle of truth, such as sweeping generalisations, blatant self interest and inaccuracies.
Next they had to look for 'green lights' or information they were confident were truths. They had to explain why they were sure about their green lights.
The final task required students to visually map the implications of Brexit on a map of the UK. They had to identify the impacts in terms of category such as political, economic and social. They annotated this map with their ideas.
I then asked them why this task was actually quite limited in usefulness and scope. They were able to identify that the impact of Brexit had far reaching consequences that extended far beyond the borders of the UK.
This segued into the next lesson where the students had to look at the international implications of Brexit. They had to identify the possible positive and negative international impacts of trade deals, freedom of movement, funding for scientific research, data sharing, and much more.
So what you can see in this example is how Mode A and B can be entwined to include traditional direct instruction, but also metacognition and self regulation. This approach supports students to think about their own learning and teaches them strategies to evaluate their understanding.
Through these lessons, students develop their cognition - the mental process involved in knowing, understanding and learning, their metacognition, sometimes defined as 'earning to learn' and their motivation as they are willing to engage their cognitive and metacognitive skills.
This teaching flow can be used for almost any subject teacher exploring a current issue. It can also be used in PSHE when exploring topics such as relationships or in Citizenship lessons when discussing changes in laws for example.
Here's a summary of the teaching flow.
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