Routines to kick off a lesson

I’m big on learning routines. I’m a strong believer that predictable lessons that follow a similar structure every time allows students to learn more effectively. I started at a new school last term and learning routines have been particularly important in establishing my expectations with my students.

I always start the lesson in the same way. Every lesson kicks off with a “Quick Quiz”. For most of my classes, the Quick Quiz involves me writing three to four sentences on the board with missing words (key vocabulary or concepts for the topic). These sentences are based on the concepts of the previous lessons or topics. The Quick Quiz is always on the board before students enter the classroom. As soon as they enter the room, they have to copy and complete the quiz. The quiz takes about 5 minutes to complete. I’ve been doing the Quick Quiz in 3 different schools now and have found it to be effective. I really like the Quick Quiz routine because:

  • Students are regularly revising the key concepts.
  • It’s a great settling routine. It encourages students to take out their equipment immediately as they enter the classroom.
  • It gives me sufficient time to do administrative tasks like mark the roll, check uniforms, lend pens to students who need them and settle students who need additional assistance.
  • It’s accessible to all students. If they don’t know the missing words, they can still copy the sentences. I also encourage them look back in their books to search for the answer if they don’t know.
  • It’s a form of formative assessment. I end the Quick Quiz by randomly selecting students to provide their answers (I have a no hands up rule for answering questions and use the Randomly app to select students to answer). It lets me gauge how well they have remembered the key concepts from previous lessons.
  • I have had to adjust the Quick Quiz routine at my new school for my Year 9 class who told me they found the filling in missing words too easy. The limitations of using a cloze passage style quiz is that it mainly allows revision of key terms and concepts based on recall. So I’ve changed the Quick Quiz for Year 9 to be on a worksheet with a combination of multiple choice questions, cloze passages and open ended questions. I place the worksheets near the door so as the enter the classroom, they take a worksheet and complete it. I still use the Randomly app to randomly select students to give the answer to each question. So far the Year 9s have said they prefer the worksheet version of the Quick Quiz.
  • This version of the Quick Quiz requires more effort and preparation from me and I don’t think I’d be able to do this for all of my classes on a long term basis. But so far it has worked really well for Year 9s.
  • How do you start your lessons? Do you have lesson starter routines that you find particularly effective?
  • Using exams as formative assessment

    Exams are often seen as summative assessment. From my experience, students often seen exams as high stakes and only want to know their grade. The most common question students ask me when they get their exams back is “Did I pass?”. Most of them don’t seem to be interested in using exams as a way to know where they are at and how they can improve. So I wanted to do something different to encourage my students to see exams as one way of them knowing how they are progressing and a window into what they should do to improve. I also wanted them to use exams as an opportunity to reflect on their revision strategies.

    I stumbled across exam wrappers and decided to implement it with my Year 9s. My Year 9s just finished their half yearly exams. When I returned their papers, I also got them to use an exam wrapper and a Dedicated Reflection and Improvement Time process to facilitate the processing of feedback and self reflection. Overall, this strategy was very well received by students. Many of them were able to identify the syllabus components they need to focus on and revision strategies to try next time. It also gave me, as their teacher, an insight into how they studied and how I can explicit teach revision strategies to them.

    Here’s what my exam wrapper and DIRT feedback looked like with links to editable versions of both documents.

    exam wrapper

    DIRT feedback

    Links to editable file

    Another chapter in my teaching

    Tomorrow I will be starting another chapter in my teaching journey. I will be starting a new role as Head Teacher Secondary Studies at Concord High School. It is the first school I will be moving to where I’m not an early career teacher but as an experienced teacher and leader. However, all job changes come with challenges regardless of experience. I will have new relationships to establish with students, colleagues, parents and the community. There are new administration processes to get use to like roll marking, printing, new timetable times to remember, etc. These are some of the more specific teaching challenges for me at my new school.

    Moving to a bigger school

    My previous school was at just the size where all the science teachers had their own classrooms. Many of my learning routines and teaching strategies has been developed with the assumption of having my own learning space. My new school has a much larger student population so learning spaces are shared and I will be in multiple spaces each day. Things like scaffolds and project timelines on the wall will need to be adapted. I’ve already created new sets of formative assessment cards that are smaller and easier to carry around the school. At my previous schools, I used traffic light cups and A4 sized multiple choice cards that stayed in the classroom.

    Teaching a new subject

    At my new school I will be teaching Year 11 and 12 chemistry. I’m approved to teach chemistry but did not teach it at my previous schools where I mainly taught physics and senior science. I’m really looking forward to this as I love learning new content.

    I am really looking forward to this change but also a bit nervous. What are your tips on starting at a new school?

    Facing the glass ceiling

    I have always been passionate about girls education.

    I had the privilege to give the occasional adddress at Randwick Girls High School this year. I decided to talk about the glass ceiling. As teachers, we often tell girls that they can achieve anything. Of course they can, but they also need to be aware of the structural barriers that women face. Below is a transcript of my occasional address.

    Good afternoon Ms Andre, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, parents and caregivers, and most importantly the young women in front of me today. I would like to pay my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place, and also pay respect to Elders both past and present. I am absolutely honoured to be part of this presentation day ceremony with you.

    May I begin by congratulating all of you on reaching the end of a wonderful year of learning. This is a momentous time for you as you celebrate your academic, sporting and extracurricular achievements. Today is a day of acknowledgement of the sustained commitment to your schooling. Congratulations on the young women who are receiving prizes and congratulations to those who are not yet receiving prizes. Every one of you should be celebrating your successes, achievements and progress this year. We also need to acknowledge those who have supported you. Your teachers, parents, carers, families and friends all deserve recognition for their commitment to your education.

    Sixteen years ago, I was just like you, sitting in the MPC. I graduated from Randwick Girls High School in 2001 with a UAI, which was the ATAR back then, of 94.40. After I graduated I went onto study a double degree in Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney. At the end of Year 12, I was awarded the TeachNSW scholarship by the NSW Department of Education which meant my two degrees were paid for and I was guaranteed a permanent position in a NSW public school. After graduating from university, I was appointed as a science teacher at Auburn Girls High School. After 3 years, I became the science head teacher at Merrylands High School. After 6 years at Merrylands, I moved to my current position as Stage 6 Advisor where I lead all aspects of Year 11 and 12 across NSW public schools.

    I chose to become a science teacher because I had a brilliant science teacher myself. Her teaching made me love science, especially biology. I had this teacher every year as my science teacher in year 8, 9 and 10 and then as my biology teacher in year 11 and 12. That teacher was Ms Andre. You have no idea how lucky you are to now have Ms Andre as your principal.

    It was not only Ms Andre who instilled a love of learning in me. While I’m passionate about science, I enjoy learning about anything, and this is because of the fantastic teachers I had at Randwick Girls. Some of them I know are still teaching here. Ms Posener was my deputy and wrote the reference that got me my TeachNSW scholarship. Ms McLean was my geography teacher in year 7. Ms Baker was my English Advanced teacher in Year 11 and Ms Neroutsos was my Year 12 software design and development teacher.

    Despite what is often said in the media, I became a teacher by choice. My university entrance score was more than enough to get into my teaching degree. I love being a teacher. It is the best job in the whole world. Being a teacher means you are constantly creative. Constantly learning. No one day is the same. While it may sound stereotypical, teaching is a job where you do make a difference. Every. Single. Day.

    However, when I announced I wanted to be a teacher at the end of Year 10, I was told by countless people I was wasting my UAI by choosing teaching. “But you’ll be wasting your UAI.” I ignored that. I have never regretted becoming a teacher. There was another response I got, which I’ll classify as interesting as it can be interpreted in many ways. “Teaching is a great career to raise a family.” That kind of comment only became interesting to me as I grew older and understood the assumptions behind it. Would they have said that to me if I was boy?

    I also remember other comments that I didn’t understand when I was younger that is also interesting. My male cousins teasing each other because I beat one of them in handball. “Sucked in. You got beaten by a girl.” He said.  Do we ever hear, “Sucked in. You got beaten by a boy”?  As I got older, I came across other interesting comments: “Why is there an international day of women? When is the international day for men?” It’s not fair. We don’t need quotas for women in leadership positions. They should get there by merit.”

    Growing up at school, I always knew there was equity issues facing girls. I heard something called the glass ceiling but I didn’t know what it was. Fast forward 16 years. I’m just beginning to understand the glass ceiling. When I got my current role as Stage 6 Advisor, someone said to me “Really? But you’re pregnant.” I was pregnant with my second child when I was selected for my current role.

    Here are some statistics from the Australian Human Rights Commission to give you more of an idea of the glass ceiling:

    • Women make up about 46% of the workforce but they take home on average $280.20 less than men each week. The average Australian woman has to work an extra 66 days a year to earn the same pay as the average man. This pay gap has been stuck around this number for the last 20 years. This means it hasn’t changed much since I was sitting in this hall as a student.
    • Women’s superannuation payout is on average 57% of men’s. Just over half of men’s.
    • Australian women are over-represented in part-time, low-paid industries and in insecure work. They are underrepresented in leadership roles in the private and public sectors.
    • Mothers spend 8 hours and 33 minutes per day looking after children. Fathers spend 3 hours 55 minutes per day.
    • Australia was ranked 15th in the world on gender equality in 2006. In 2013, we fell to 24th.

    Women are also underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and engineering fields. A study conducted by the United Nations University found that female scientists were more productive than male scientists but they were perceived to be less so, and were rewarded much less for their achievements.

    I also read a news article this year about two women who were starting up an online business. They won’t being taken seriously. People won’t replying to their emails or took a very long time to do. So they ended up creating a fake male partner called Keith Mann. When they sent emails as Keith Mann, quote “suddenly everyone was dropping everything to make sure they were responding and keeping him happy.”

    I also remember this quote from Jane Caro, a journalist, who said “men are assumed to have merit unless proved otherwise. Women, no matter what boxes they tick, are assumed to have no merit unless they can prove otherwise.”

    So what can we do?

    I wish I now had a list of dot points that I can read out. I wish I could say if you do this and this and this, the glass ceiling will be gone.

    As young women, it is very likely that you will come across the glass ceiling. My advice to you is to keep learning. Put your energy, resources and efforts into your education. Listen to your teachers. It is through a quality education that you will develop critical thinking skills, the ability to see structural inequity and the ability to break down those barriers for yourself and others. A quality education will enable you to be financially independent.

    Facing the glass ceiling is tough. Develop emotional resilience and stay strong when you meet unreasonableness.

    Expect the best for yourself. Always remember your career is as important as your partners.

    If you are aware of any kind of discrimination, do something about it. Support the person affected. The next time you hear something like “you got beaten by a girl”, say something. The standard we walk past is the standard we accept. It is all of our responsibility to protect the rights of others.

    Even though girls and women still have a lot of equity hurdles to cross, we are making progress. Every one of you will have tremendous possibilities. You go to a great school. You have great teachers.

    Once again, I’d like to congratulate today’s award winners each one of you on your progress this year. Thank you.

     

     

     

     

    I have an idea … instructional leadership in secondary education

    In 2015, I was fortunate enough to have an instructional leadership role for technology as part of my school’s BYOD program.  I worked with every faculty in the school across Year 7-12 to build the capacity of teachers to use technology to transform learning. A Twitter conversation led me to revisit a more formalised instructional leadership strategy, Early Action for Success (EAfS). EAfS involves instructional leaders working in schools to build capacities of teachers in teaching literacy and numeracy. A look at their online resources revealed some interesting ideas to me, particularly the progressions of how children learn early numeracy skills like place value, mental calculations and using symbols. I also really liked the idea of instructional leaders building collaborative cultures of inquiry and supporting teachers in collecting, evaluating and using data to inform their practice.

    So I started thinking about how a similar strategy of instructional leadership would look like in a secondary school context. Instead of literacy and numeracy, what would subject-based instructional leadership look like in secondary schools, particularly in Year 11 and 12?

    Some of the challenges facing secondary schools include low numbers of students choosing to study Year 11 and 12 physics and higher levels of mathematics, lower numbers of girls studying Year 11 and 12 science and high level mathematics and implementation of integrated learning. How can we further improve curriculum instruction in these subjects to better meet the needs of students in local school contexts? What does quality physics instruction look like? Can instructional leaders play a role in this?

    I tweeted this and it led to a very rich and diverse conversation about instructional leadership in secondary schools (click on the embedded tweet below to see the thread of conversation).

    What if there were instructional leaders who work alongside head teachers, deputy principals and principals to support the school (or community of schools) for a specific need in time (eg. curriculum instruction in mathematics extension, science extension or integrated STEM)? These instructional leaders are selected by schools. They want to work with, and grow with the school. They aren’t experts parachuted in.

    These instructional leaders work with school teams to build collaborative cultures of inquiry where teachers work together to use data and evidence to improve their practice. These instructional leaders are school-based and will continue teaching themselves (at a reduced load, say, 1 class).

    How is this different to existing systems? How is this different to the role of existing head teachers, deputy principals and principals? These additional instructional leaders are for areas where the school may not have existing expertise. For example, a school implementing marine studies for the first time may not have anyone with expertise in that subject except for the classroom teacher of that class. An instructional leader for a community of schools requiring instructional expertise in marine studies can work with those teachers (and their head teachers) to build their capacities,

    Like my tweet said, it is just an idea that came to me at 5am. And I like documenting and sharing crazy ideas.

    What are your thoughts? Do you have instructional leaders at your school that are in addition to heads of department and are specific to a subject or area (eg gifted and talented; integrated learning)?

    Why do teachers feel guilty when they look after themselves?

    I got shingles last week. Shingles is the disease you get when you’re overworking , stressed and have lowered immunity, which causes the chicken pox virus that has been lying dormant in your nerves to break loose and cause havoc. It’s not pleasant. Look it up if you’re curious.

    I guess I have been overworking. While I am on maternity leave, I have been doing a lot of work while also parenting a baby and a three year old. The work was voluntary. I chose to do it. I enjoy working. 5 days a week I would work try to squeeze in what I usually do in a 7 hour work day into 3 hours, while the children napped, plus concurrently making puréed baby food, washing dishes, laundry and all the domestic stuff. No wonder I got shingles.

    So for the last week, I haven’t done any work. When the kids napped, I napped or watched TV. But I felt guilty. It’s a special kind of guilt called teacher guilt. It is a feeling many teachers get whenever they are not working and taking time to look after themselves. I’ve been having teacher guilt since I started teaching. If you’re sick you feel guilty for not showing up to class and causing inconvenience to your colleagues. When you’re at home sick, you feel guilty for not checking emails or marking or working on the school plan or something else. You feel guilty in the holidays if you’re not making programs, marking, etc. If you search the hashtag #teacherguilt on Instagram hundreds of photos of teachers saying the feel guilty because they are sick or relaxing on school holidays. I don’t think other professions have this guilt. I haven’t heard of accountants saying they feel guilty whilst on holidays because they aren’t doing tax returns for their clients.

    Perhaps teachers can sometimes love their jobs too much and care about others too much that they neglect themselves. So from now on I’m going to make a conscious effort to look after myself more because I’m no use to students or my colleagues if I don’t.

    (I still have shingles so today I went out for coffee instead of working while the baby napped.)

    Asking the right questions

    effective questioning sketchnote

    I presented at the 2017 NSW Secondary Deputy Principals Association Conference this week on embedding effective questioning into assessment for learning. According to research, teachers ask 400 questions a day, wait under 1 second for a reply from students and most of these questions are lower order questions that require students to recall facts. The research also shows that increasing the number of higher order questions leads to increases in on-task behaviour, better responses from students and more speculative thinking from students.

    There are other reasons why teachers ask question, like asking a question to wake up the student daydreaming at the back of the class, or asking students to repeat instructions to an activity to make sure they know what to do. These are fine, as long as teachers know the reasons for those questions (and these types of questions do not dominate the majority of class time).

    tenor

    Strategic questioning is key to assessment for learning. While questioning is essential for students in all grade levels, teachers can take the opportunity of new syllabuses and school based assessment requirements for the HSC to re-think how they design and implement assessment for learning in Stage 6. However, questioning is often viewed as an intuitive skill, something that teachers “just do”. At a time when many teachers are creating new units of work and resources for the new Stage 6 syllabuses, it may be a good opportunity to look at strategic questioning and embed some quality questions and questioning techniques.

    What do good questions look like?

    For assessment for learning, there are two main reasons why teachers ask questions:

    1. To gather evidence for learning to inform the next step in teaching
    2. To make students think

    For these questions to be effective, it depends on how the question itself is designed, how the question is asked, and how response collected and analysed, to inform the next step in teaching and learning. Here are some strategies:

    Hinge questions

    Hinge questions are often multiple choice questions (they don’t have to be). They are asked by the teacher to the class towards the middle of the lesson for the teacher to decide whether the class has understood the critical concepts of the lesson to move on. Hinge questions have four essential components:

    1. The question is based on a critical concept for that lesson that students must understand.
    2. Every student must respond to the question.
    3. The teacher is able to collect every student’s response and interpret the responses in under 30 seconds. (This is why many hinge questions are multiple choice).
    4. Prior to the lesson, the teacher must have decided what the teaching and learning that follows for:
      • the students who have answered correctly
      • the students who have answered incorrectly

    Here is an example of a hinge question:

    hinge question example

    The question assesses students’ understanding of validity, reliability and accuracy in scientific investigations. Many students confuse the 3 concepts. This hinge question can be used for a lesson on investigation design where validity, reliability and accuracy have been explained. Towards the end of this explanation (typically around the middle of the lesson), this question can be asked to all students. Then the teacher can decide on the next steps for students who “get it” and those who don’t. For this question, the correct answer (key) is B. Note that the wrong answers (distractors) in a hinge question must be plausible so students do not answer correctly with the wrong thinking. A really, really good hinge question would have distractors where each distractor reveals a misconception.

    Here is another example of a hinge question from Education Scotland.

    hinge question maths example

    For this question, the key is B. The annotated blue boxes show the wrong thinking behind each distractor.

    So how do you implement hinge questions? How do you ask them so that every student responds and you can collect and interpret their responses, and decide the next step in under 30 seconds?

    No hands up

    The first thing to do is to create a class culture of “No Hands Up”. Students can only put up their hands to ask questions, not to answer questions. Either everyone answers or the teacher selects who answers. When the teacher selects who answers, it must be done in a random way so that everyone is accountable to answering the question. This ensures that it is not just the “Lisa Simpsons” or the daydreaming student who answers the questions. For this to happen, teachers can use mini whiteboards and a randomisation method.

    Mini whiteboards can be purchased or cheaply made by laminating pieces of white paper. For hinge questions, students write down their response (A, B, C, D, etc) and holds up their whiteboard for the teacher to see when the teacher says so. This allows the teacher to scan every board (so every student’s response) to see approximately how many students have understood the critical concept. The teacher can then decide what activities they can do while intervening for those students who do not understand. The key to hinge questions is to intervene during the lesson.

    As Dylan Wiliam says,

    It means that you can find out what’s going wrong with students’ learning … If you don’t have this opportunity, then you’ll have to wait until you grade their work. And then, long after the students have left the classroom.

    Alternatively, you can use digital tools like Plickers, Kahoot and Mentimeter. I personally find mini whiteboards the easiest to implement.

    While hinge questions require everyone to respond, other questions are more suited to randomly selecting a student to respond. Teachers can use these strategies:

    • Digital random name generator from tools like Classtools and Class Dojo.
    • Writing each student’s name on paddle pop sticks and selecting a stick out of a cup

    paddle pop sticks

    Higher order questions

    Selecting a student at random to answer is more suited to higher order questions. the key is to create and pre-plan higher order questions to take to class to avoid asking too many lower order questions. To plan a sequence of low order to higher order questions, there are numerous strategies. There are heaps of resources for using Bloom’s question stems (just Google it). The strategy I find less popular, but more accessible to students, is the Wiederhold question matrix.

    question matrix

    Questions are created by combining a column heading with a row heading. Eg. What is …. , Where did … , How might ….

    Teachers can put a stimulus in the middle of the table for students to create their own question, like this source I found via Kate Littlejohn for Stage 6 Modern History.

    question matrix history

    Some sample questions include:

    • What is an ally? What is an opponent?
    • Who decides who is an ally and who is an opponent?
    • What is WWI? Where did it happen?
    • Why did WWI happen?
    • How would you decide who paid the highest price in WWI? What criteria would you use?
    • How might the numbers in each category compare if a world war happened today?

    Both hinge questions and creating a sequence of questions are not easy. It is worthwhile for teachers to look at building a bank of hinge questions and higher order questions as they collaboratively create units of work and resources.

    You can find more information and resources on questioning in assessment for learning here.

    Wait, wait and wait

    Lastly, regardless of what questions you are asking (hinge, higher order questions, questions to wake up students), remind yourself to wait. Wait at least 3 seconds for lower order questions and more than 3 seconds for higher order questions; the longer the better.

    Potential of hinge questions in flipped learning

    As an interesting note, I think hinge questions can be very useful in flipped learning. The hinge questions can be asked at the start of the lesson to assess who has understood the concept from the instructional videos and who hasn’t so the teacher can decide on how the rest of the lesson should run. Hinge questions can also be incorporated into the instructional video at key points so that the video continues in a certain way if students answer correctly and in another way if students answer incorrectly.