A potential epiphany….

“Jaws isn’t about a shark, and Tinker Tailor’s not about spying” – Mark Kermode (paraphrased)

This quote from one of my favourite podcasts struck me as I began planning for next week this morning. I was creating my objectives/SO THATs/success criteria, when I began to wonder whether SO THATs were actually pretty indistinguishable from success criteria. A quick glimpse at few of my ‘go to’ blogs in this area (here by Dan Brinton, and here and here by Zoe Elder) convinced me that there was sufficient difference to continue treating them as separate parts. So I began planning. But two different lessons, for two different groups, brought about the same observation in mind – “it’s not about that, it’s about something else!”

Example 1: Year 11 – WAL about estimating the mean SO THAT we can achieve full marks on estimating the mean questions.

Success criteria: a) we can calculate an estimate for the mean from a set of grouped data; b) we can calculate proportions from a set of grouped data

Example 2: Year 7 – WAL about area and perimeter SO THAT we can calculate area and perimeter of squares and rectangles.

Success criteria: a) we can calculate area and perimeter by counting squares; b) we can find area and perimeter of shapes not drawn on squared paper; c) we can explain the formulae for area and perimeter

Now you are probably ahead of me already reading that, and know what I’m about to say, but I can honestly say this is a bit of a Eureka moment for me which will change my planning from this day forward. I was using Zoe’s approach of the WAL as the ‘what’ of learning and the SO THAT as the ‘why’ of learning, with the success criteria being a ‘how will I know I have learned it?’ check. But a brief glimpse of my plans for year 11 would suggest the lesson isn’t about estimating the mean, it’s about grouped data, with estimating the mean providing a context for that learning. It’s what I believe Dan Brinton writes about in his blog (citing Shirley Clarke) which I have linked above. Similarly, if we look at my plans for the year 7 lesson, I’m not sure that is a lesson about area and perimeter; rather, I think it’s a lesson about formulae using the context of area and perimeter. And actually, that’s not what I want that lesson to be about.

So I made refinements. My year 11 lesson became:

WAL about grouped data SO THAT we can accurately answer questions on estimating the mean and cumulative frequency.

Success criteria: a) we can estimate the mean from a set of grouped data; b) we can draw an accurate cumulative frequency diagram and derive quartiles and the median from it; c) we can calculate proportions satisfying a condition from both types of representations of data

and my year 7 lesson became:

WAL about shapes SO THAT we can find the area and perimeter of squares and rectangles.

Success criteria: a) we can find area/perimeter by counting; b) we can find area/perimeter of shapes not drawn on squared paper; c) we can explain how to find area/perimeter for a shape where we don’t know the measurements

I think, particularly with the year 7 lesson, there is still an implicit tendency towards formulae at the end, but the lesson is now much more clearly focused towards area and perimeter. What are we learning about? Shapes. Why? So we can find the area and perimeter of squares and rectangles. How will we know we have been successful?….. and so on.

Having thought closely about this area this morning, I think there will be occasions where the WAL, SO THAT and success criteria may need to be closely linked, particularly towards the knowledge acquisition end of things. But equally, most of the time it will be appropriate to redraft the plans, even before the content of the lesson in considered.

What do you think? Have I got the wrong end of the stick, or does it seem like I’m on the right track? I’d love any feedback you may have, either here in the comments section or on Twitter via @Still_Improving. Thanks for reading!


My pedagogical plan for 2014-15 (or how I intend to teach…)

I’m feeling really excited and confident about the new term. Brimming with a whole new set of ideas I’ve got a grip on most of the issues I had identified within my practice as needing refinement. And I also feel, this year, that I have a solid structure for operating. It isn’t 100% complete, and I’m sure it will need refining once term starts, but allow me to present my grand pedagogical plan….

(Quick note before I begin: there are similarities between my ideas and those of David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) in his blog which can be found here. Whilst these are unintentional, I would recommend you read David’s blog at some point. It’s an excellent read).

1) It starts with ‘So that….’ and extends into visible success: This will surprise nobody. I have blogged extensively on this through the holidays and have had dialogue via this blog and Twitter with a couple of people. By taking the time, using Bloom’s Taxonomy, to think through why we are tackling a topic, and how we will know we have succeeded in that topic, I have a really clearly focused plan in the medium term which will allow me to plan day to day lessons easier. As a slight extension to this, I have revisited my medium term plans and started to add in key questions for each topic. David discusses this in his blog, and I have also seen the idea come up in Willingham’s ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ and Lemov’s ‘Teach Like a Champion’

2) The ‘So that…’ forms the basis for a pretest: I can honestly say that of all the blogs I have read this summer, the one I keep going back to the most is William Emeny’s Experiments with Visible Learning (this is the second part of a two part blog by William, so you might like to read part 1 for the context). One of the key issues I had from my teaching last year was about showing parents how much progress their child had made, particularly with the removal of levels. Well, now I have a ready made answer! Students will complete the pretest at the start of the block, I will then teach them the content, provide them with opportunities for revision through homework, and after a couple of weeks post-completion of the content, they will sit the pretest as a post-test. This will allow me, my line manager, parents, and most importantly the students, to see not what they have simply remembered, but what they understand and have committed to long term memory. I will also have the evidence right before my eyes! 

3) Day to day teaching: This is where I get to put all of my summer reading into action. I’ve already mentioned the key questions I will be planning into each topic, but I will also be making much greater use this year of Diagnostic Questions for hinge questions in class. I have created some answer packs (basically 4 cards, each labelled A, B, C and D, paper clipped together) for students to use and will be planning them into lessons on a much greater scale. The beauty of these hinge questions, particularly in Maths is that it is quite easy in many cases to provide convincing incorrect answers, revealing student misconceptions.

I also intend to implement a number of rules taken from Lemov’s ‘Practice Perfect’ – breaking down skills into smaller steps, and having 20% more practice than students need being just two examples. There are a range of resources out there (10 Ticks being one, although there are also a number of websites producing randomly generated worksheets) for this purpose. I also intend to continue, as I did last year, pushing students to use precise and technical language at all times. Teach Like A Champion provides some excellent examples of this.

Most importantly, however, is the need for factual knowledge. I wholeheartedly agree with Willingham that factual knowledge is the basis for skill, and so I aim to include factual questions in starters, in general questioning, and in homeworks, as well as in the pre- and post-tests, obviously. 


4) Making the maths explicit: Why Don’t Students Like School? was is an invaluable tool and has had a huge impact on my thinking for the new year. I had begun to consider at the end of last term the need to ‘interleave’ from some of the blogs I had read, and I am glad a now have a scientific back up for this. But equally powerful is the need to make the content explicit. ‘Memory is the residue of thought’ according to Willingham, and I intend to make a huge effort to lead students through at least one practical application of topics where applicable, highlighting where the maths occurs and showing that in all cases, questions can be thought of in purely mathematical terms. 

5) Reflections: This is, as I discussed in my previous post, a key aim for me outside of school (it is something I simply must practice, to avoid falling into the trap of merely being carried along by the busy school term), but I want it to be a huge part of my students’ learning, too. Whilst teaching I intend to ask students to consider why they have chosen a particular method for solving a question, whether there are any alternatives, and so on. And of course, I fully intend to continue using RAG123 with comments, to encourage students to let me know about any issues they may have had at the end of each lesson. 

6) Homework: Alongside assessment, homework is probably one of my biggest weaknesses. I have rarely set it in the past, and I want this year to be different. But I want it to be purposeful, too, not simply for the sake of setting it. A colleague in our department last year gave students an A1 sheet of paper and asked them to complete it on a weekly basis showing the work they had covered in class. This resulted in some excellent examples of student work and is something I intend to try with at least some of my students. In addition, I propose to use homeworks to encourage students to reflect on their learning. I also have a plan to encourage some students to teach topics to their parents, and then invite feedback as to how they did! 

I feel better prepared than perhaps ever before. I have a clear vision of how I intend this year to go. All I need now are some students! 

Visible success – developments

This is likely to be my last post on this topic before the start of term, but as I had promised to update you on how things were going, I thought I’d share this. 

Following post 3 (here) I revisited my existing plans and tried to update as much as possible with explicit success criteria. Where I have added and amended what I had before post 3, it is marked in red and underlined (as ‘Track Changes’). Anything else has been added since that post:

7Mt1 10Mt18Mt1 11Mt1

I will admit it has been easier to do for some topics than others, but at this early stage I guess that is only to be expected. The thing that has really surprised me (and excited me at the same time) is that I think it has led to increased creativity as I have thought about how students will show success. I will freely admit to being rather uncreative, and maybe it is this method of planning that has awakened my creativity. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the 2nd diagram (or top right, depending on how it is displayed) in the WAL sections ‘About 3D shapes’ and ‘How to show a 3D shape in 2D’. Because I had all of the ‘So That’ column filled in, I could see very quickly a link between the two which would allow students to produce one final, overarching piece of work (the report) which would satisfy all of the ‘So That’ criteria. My idea at this stage is that students will take a 3D shape and then prepare an expert’s report on it, meeting all the criteria set out. This then would seem to lend itself nicely to some peer teaching….! Added to this, and to my complete surprise, what was initially intended to help clarify outcomes and the assessment thereof has begun to take care of my lesson planning in some cases! What an unexpected bonus!

I don’t think I have much more to offer on this topic at this time. It is now a case of trying it out with students and seeing how it all works. But I would, as ever, welcome any feedback/comments/suggestions that you might have. This has been an interesting couple of days for me – I feel that at last I have finally ‘arrived’ in terms of blogging and tweeting teachers, and I am proud of the fact that I have finally been able to contribute something that many people have found at least interesting, and maybe even useful! 

My next blog(s) are likely to be a look back over this summer and a look forward to how my reading is going to inform my practice in the new term.

In the meantime, thanks for reading


What success looks like – further thoughts and reflections

In my original post (which can be found here) in this particular sequence on Wednesday, I posed three questions:

1) It is necessary to plan for what success looks like?

2) Is this even possible over one or two lessons?  

3) If the answer to both of the above is yes, what are the best/most effective ways of doing this?

I then followed this up later in the day with some initial thoughts, but it was very stream of consciousness stuff, and not very well developed. Having had further time to reflect, however, I think I have a much more reasoned response to the initial questions. 

One of my guiding principles as a teacher is ‘It’s not about me, it’s about them’. When I applied it to this situation, it makes sense that we should be planning for what success looks like – but it is possible to fall into a trap here (of which I myself might have been guilty). If we ask ‘What will/does success look like?’, we neglect the important issue of from whose viewpoint? If we focus on the students, and remind ourselves that we are framing our lessons in the ‘So That’ way to enable them to see clearly what it is they will achieve, then we need THEM to see HOW they will be successful at a certain criterion. In other words, the ‘So That’ deals with WHY we are learning, and the ‘Success looks like’ deals with ‘HOW’ this will be done. The alternative approach is to see the ‘Success looks like….’ as a criterion for us as teachers – which I think is what I was getting at in my second post. 

My thinking then shifted to my completed and previously shared examples – if we are letting the students know what success looks like, is it sufficient to give them an example of a question they should answer? This, I think, is as far as my thinking has got, as I do not yet have a clear answer to this point. However, a quick scroll through my ‘favourite-d’ Tweets (effectively bookmarks) threw up, as I hoped, two posts that I think are of some use and, if I’m honest, were probably subconsciously there all along. The first is this blog post from @dan_brinton which discusses, in particular, ‘Developing quality success criteria’. In my notes for this blog (I had the idea late last night, so made notes so I wouldn’t forget!) I have used the word explicit – we should be aiming to be as explicit as possible in showing students what success looks like. 

So examples could include:

  • “So that we can identify parts of a circle” becomes “to show success, you will be able to label a circle with correct diameter/radius/chord….”
  • “So that we can solve equations” might become “to show success, you will be able to find the value of y when 3(y+2) = 8(y-3)
  • “So that we can classify shapes based on their properties” might involve a display of 12 objects grouped in 2 or 3 different ways based on different criteria

The second useful Tweet I found (or rather rediscovered) is this picture from @TeachHeath, which I first came across in April but was reposted overnight. You can see clearly here the why (So I can/So that) and then the ‘Success looks like’ (here phrased slightly differently). It is not quite as explicit as I have proposed here, and indeed is maybe closer to my original attempts (i.e. you will be able to answer a question like this). If we are making the how explicit, are we not building in peer assessment to every lesson? By having explicit ‘hows’ available, students can see clearly what they are expected to achieve an crucially, whether or not they have achieved it. This in turn will make them more reflective learners, which will help with RAG123 assessment too! 

I can honestly say that this week has been a total revelation for me in terms of my teaching and Twitter – not only in terms of the discussion generated in relation to my initial post, but also through a number of the blogs, Tweets and articles I’ve read. The Dan Brinton post mentioned above was definitely worth another read generally, not just for the reasons I outlined above, but of equal value is this post highlighted in Damian Benney’s post here. The main thing I took away from Damian’s post is that by and large it describes my approach (or rather, my intended approach for the new school year) to teaching almost perfectly. There seems to be a consensus developing about using research literature (Practice Perfect, Why Don’t Students Like School?’, Mindset, An Ethic of Excellence, etc…) I intend to blog about my plans for the coming year in a bit more detail over the next couple of weeks, but what has struck me is that this is a fantastic time to be a teacher. Can you imagine how much poorer we and our students would be without Twitter and blogs to spread ideas such as So That and RAG123?