Reflecting on my practice in 2020 – what worked, what needs to be adjusted

This year has been like no other. I’ve previously blogged about the positives and challenges of teaching remotely during a pandemic, but even without a pandemic, this year was a year where everything I taught was brand new for me. This year, I taught Year 12 Chemistry, Year 12 Earth and Environmental Science and Year 7 integrated mathematics, science and geography (which we called Year 7 STEM). I have never taught any of these courses before, which meant prototyping new learning routines and practices. This post is a reflection on what worked and what I need to adjust in 2021.

What worked?

Retrieval and spaced practice

Almost every single of my lessons starts with a quick quiz (the exception is when we have a formal examination). The quick quiz is three to five questions from the current topic and previous topics. In my earlier years of teaching, I used the quick quiz routine as a classroom management strategy rather than a learning strategy. The quick quiz allowed me to get the students on task immediately at the start of a lesson and let me do things like mark the roll, deal with late comers, check uniform, etc. But in the last few years, I started to incorporate retrieval and spaced practice into the quick quizzes. While students moan the quick quiz, they also say it helps them remember content as it is like doing small revision sessions every day. One of my Year 12 students told he absolutely hated quick quizzes in my Earth and Environmental Science classes but eventually realised it greatly helped him in remembering the course content. When he signed out of the school after his final exams, he told me to continue doing the quick quiz routine in future classes, no matter how much students say they hate it.

An example of a quick quiz for Year 7 STEM

Homework and whole class feedback

My Year 7 STEM class had a weekly homework booklet. The homework was based on previous work they’ve done and was another way I incorporated retrieval and spaced practice. Instead of commenting on individual work, I dedicated half a lesson each week for whole class feedback and focused on explicitly explaining the questions that many students did not answer correctly. I felt the whole class feedback made the workload more manageable. There were times when I felt the Year 7 homework routine almost killed me. The weekly cycle of creating homework booklets, marking the booklets and collating data on the areas they need to improve on. I felt like I was always marking homework. But at least the whole class feedback meant there was dedicated time for students to process the feedback and act on it.

Example of whole class feedback for homework

Regular no-stakes tests with whole class feedback

I was able to build a culture of no-stakes testing with My Year 7 STEM class. This class became very use to pre-tests, mid-topic tests and frequent quizzes. They had an understanding that these tests allowed me and them to know their strengths, areas of improvement and whether we can move on the next component of the topic. I found this was more vital in mathematics than science.

Sample of whole class feedback

Regular opportunities for extension and small group remedial work

My Year 7 STEM class had every Friday as their “weekly check-in”. Every Friday, they had a double period to catch up on work they’ve missed in the week and depending on their progress for the week, some students did extension activities while other students worked with me in small groups. I found this made a big difference for mathematics. The gap for mathematics in my class was much larger than for science and geography. I had students who have very strong numeracy skills and can pick up new mathematics concepts very quickly, while others were the opposite. Then there are students who lacked confidence in mathematics. It was the students who lacked confidence in mathematics that really benefited from the small group instruction. It was during this time, when they felt comfortable in asking questions and “have a go” with questions that they thought was hard.

Example of weekly check-in lessons

What I need to adjust?

Faded work examples

In all of my classes, I spent a lot of time on worked examples, particularly with Year 7 mathematics and Year 12 Chemistry. What I want to adjust next year is to include faded worked examples. Most textbooks and resources do not have faded worked examples and I feel the jump from whole class instruction with worked examples to independent practice is often too wide for most students. I did play around with faded worked examples with Year 12 Chemistry but did not have the time to consolidate the practice.

Knowledge organisers

I started using knowledge organisers as another way to incorporate retrieval and spaced practice. It was going well until COVID-19 online learning. It was something that didn’t pick up traction this year, but something I want to revisit next year.

Choral responses

I started doing choral responses with my Year 7s as part of their quick quiz routine and as a classroom management strategy after reading about it in ‘Classroom management: Creating and maintaining positive learning environments‘. We had the choral response routine going quite well until COVID-19 online learning. I deliberately abandoned choral responses when we returned to on-campus learning to minimise potential infection spread. However, when we did do choral responses, it worked really well as a way to increase students’ opportunities to respond and it’s a practice I want to start prototyping again next year.

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