Researchers in Schools TeachMeet: Demystifying teaching strategies

“Which teaching and learning approaches have the biggest impact on pupils’ progress?” This is one of the biggest questions in the teaching profession, which the participants on the Researchers in Schools (RIS) programme have been engaging with during their teaching training.

RIS held our first ever TeachMeet in collaboration with Lampton School, a large mixed secondary school in the London Borough of Hounslow. The focus of TeachMeets is for teachers to exchange curriculum and learning ideas and practical classroom management strategies which will have a positive impact on pupil attainment.

A selection of our 2014 participants presented talks on a range of topics, including, wait-time questioning, low-stakes testing, to analysing the benefits of written exercises in maths lessons. All the presentations lasted between 5–10 minutes and gave an engaging overview of topics and the potential impact they had on pupil’s attainment. Over fifty teachers and educationalists across the London region attended. Some highlights of feedback from attendees at the event included:

  • “It was refreshing to see young teachers presenting their research and applying it to their teaching practice, loved it!”

· “Excellent sharing of practice, refreshing and leaving me enthused about trying these techniques in my own classroom”

· “All really practical strategies that I can see implementing with my classes”

Below, we provide an overview of a selection of sessions which were showcased on the evening.

Attendees intently listening to a presentation on wait-time questioning from Dr Richard Branch

Dr Richard Branch completed his doctorate in biophysics at the University of Oxford, before serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University for four years. He currently teaches the sciences in Key Stages 3 and 4 and physics at Key Stage 5 at Lampton School.

Richard started his presentation explaining that teachers ask, on average, 400 questions a day. He noted that teachers will very often wait for less than a second for a pupil to respond to their question before directing it to another pupil, reframing the question or providing the answer. He explained that all teachers have been guilty of answering their own questions if a pupil hasn’t volunteered to answer the question straightaway with an enthusiastic hands up!

Richard suggested that by an increasing the amount of wait-time can have remarkable gains for pupil responses such as:

  • More robust responses and inferences supported by evidence and logical arguments
  • Incidences of speculative thinking increased
  • Written test performance improved
  • Length of pupil responses increased by up to 700%
  • A wider variety of pupils attempting to answer questions

Richard explained that waiting for ten seconds, in some instances, between asking a question and taking an answer leads to dramatically improved outcomes. He noted that it might not be appropriate in all situations, for example when asking lower-order questions on specific facts such as “What year was the Battle of Hastings fought?” He set a challenge to all the teachers in the room to reflect on their own questioning techniques and to have the confidence to wait in future lessons.

Using low-stakes testing for effective knowledge retention

Dr Bryn James outlining the approach of using low-stakes testing for effective knowledge retention

Dr Bryn James lectured in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Manchester, and was a Researcher in Residence at Manchester Museum. He now teaches History at Lampton School.

Bryn explained that regular, low-stakes testing is one of the most effective ways of memory retention for pupils. He explained that in virtually all areas of learning, pupils develop better mastery of knowledge when using testing as a tool. Bryn explained that research suggests that taking notes in class to re-reading information is less effective for memory retention compared to testing yourself on a topic. He noted that frequent low-stakes quizzes verifies for teachers and pupils what they know compared to what they think they know. Bryn explained it that low-stakes testing also reveals the areas where extra attention is needed.

Bryn recommended the following ideas for effective low-stakes testing with pupils

  • Use frequent quizzing regularly in lessons. Testing interrupts forgetting
  • Design quizzing to reach back to concepts and learning covered earlier in the term, so retrieval practice continues and learning is cumulative
  • Cumulative quizzing is powerful for consolidating learning and concepts from one stage of a course into new material encountered later
  • One of the best habits to instil in a learner is regular self-quizzing

Bryn recommended the book, Make it Stick, The Science of Successful of Learning by Peter Brown et al for further ideas on low-stakes testing in schools.

Organising a literary conference for Year 12 English students

Dr Calum Mechie and Dr Ashlee Masterson discussing how to inspire pupils with a love of literature

Dr Calum Mechie has a PhD on George Orwell from Oxford University. He is head of English at Key Stage 5 at Brentford School for Girls. Calum explained how he has been organising a university-style literacy conference at his school with the theme based on the novel White Teeth by Zadie Smith.

Year 12 students will be presenting short papers on the novel which they have been studying for their A-level coursework. The inaugural literary conference will examine the importance of place to Smith’s novel by investigating the question, “Why could White Teeth only be set in Willesden?” Calum explained that be introducing university-style language such as ‘abstracts’ ‘call for papers’ and ‘conference’ it is readying pupils for the expectations which are set at University. He is hoping for over 150 pupils to attend and is hoping that it will showcase A-level English to prospective students in years 9, 10, 11. Calum noted that he hopes it will be seen as an ‘intellectual talent show’ and will inspire a love of literature to pupils at his school.

Literary conference poster designed by Dr Calum Mechie at Brentford School for Girls

At the end of the session there was opportunity to network and mull over the presentations over drink and nibbles. We will be hoping to host more TeachMeets with our participants in the future. Feel free to get in touch if you are interested in contributing to any future TeachMeets.

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