Monday, 11 February 2013

Be Precise Yet Concise

One of my goals this year as well as improving my own writing skills is to really push for improvements in each and every student in my geography lessons.

A core skill for 6th Form geography students is the ability to write descriptions and explanations in a concise yet precise way. 2 of my classes today wrote a paragraphs littered with 32 key geography words specific to a flood.

(This space will be filled with an example from Jess when I get in tomorrow morning. I'll just picture her work so you can see it and believe it:) )

This got me thinking about my year 8s and I decided to tweak my idea for there lesson to incorporate of of last week's successes of using Jenga blocks for writing key terms on them. But instead of using the key terms to test students understanding of them like last week via a game of Jenga (students pulled out a block related to their target and then described with as much detail as they could that term and then do 6 degrees of separation against the previously drawn brick) students used the bricks to structure their written answer.

First we need a platform to progress the lesson from. The starter task involved the students listening to a video audio, which described and explained the process of 'How a waterfall develops' I set the main focus for students to listen out for as many geography keywords that in their opinion were purely linked to the process of a waterfall. The video audio did have a couple of cheeky terms that could have deviated students. If that was to occur the collaborative nature of the next elements should remove the misinterpretation of what was or wasn't linked to a waterfall by students think, pair and sharing. I could have given students all the key terms and I could have said don't talk about the pot holes on this occasion. But you have to leave it for on occasions students to make these mistakes and decipher them in a team.

So we listened to the 1 minute 17 second clip and I watched students listening in silence no jotting down words just listening to keep entire focus on listening to the words mentioned. Students then wrote on a whiteboard how many they had counted. The highest at this first step was 16. I told the students I had picked out 29. Many we're shocked.

"No way did you get that many sir" my reply was simple "I challenge you to find more!" I bet I can as I'm sure I missed some. My choice of words was important here. I was highlighting to students that a) they shouldn't accept their first answer especially in a listening task as the job done. The term 'challenge' excited some as they like the thought of a competition especially against me:) 30 brains V 1 I keep telling them are a powerful beast! Also the fact I had set a high expectation AND more importantly hadn't phrased it as the ceiling by leaving students with the thought there were more terms there to be included.

So students began the process of listening again. It was amazing seeing the difference in how many listened to the audio. A sense of a more steely game face was evident. So why didn't I do this the 1st time round and set higher expectations? Well my thinking was for students to self identify with passive listening skills and identify the difference when they are fully focused word for word with what is said. I then relayed the message that I had identified another 4 terms and was now at 33. So the supposed expert had risen the bar AGAIN! (Setting high expectation).

This second time students applied some Kagan strategies. Think, pair and share. The groups were split. One group had identified 23, 2 had 25 and 4 groups 28 geography keywords that were specific to a waterfall.

"Sir we didn't beat you:(" said a disgruntled girl.

"Ahhhh not yet, not YET"

Now for some more Kagan grouping. I have my tables set out as 4s so for this class 7 groups of 4. During group work I use a group effectiveness tally chart I have blogged about this in a previous post. See the picture at the bottom. This tool is proving to be a behaviour for learning great management strategy where students see me bring it out and know these will be linked to the class Classdojo scores that the students are very competitive with.

(I'll add hyperlink here)

I did contemplate each student having a different letter and collecting all the words for their letter but some were not used and I thought this would lead to some not working. So I took the decision for grouping the students as followed:

Letters A-G 1s from each of the 7 tables; H-M 2s; N-S 3s and T-Z 4s.

Students wrote the words from their table for their group on their whiteboard. They then met with the other 1s from each group etc to identify if the other groups had identified any other words.

The students by the end of the process had identified 38! They wrote them on the board as a collective.

The girl who before felt a little deflated was a picture:) as we're the class.

Next the important bit could any of the terms be linked together. CORRECT now how many of the terms can you connect to specific stages of how a waterfall develops.

So the students watched the video with no audio identifying how many core stages they could identify.

This time the groups identified the core 8 I wanted.

This they were consolidated with by the 8 diagrams with no labels I distributed via my resource distributor team (one from each table haha).

Now over to the link with the previous lesson of using the Jenga (Tesco Stack Em) blocks. Students wrote the key terms onto the blocks and then use them as labels for the diagrams. I got students to take pictures of each diagram with blocks for a reference to them so they could create labelled sketches of the process as well as a written answer.

Now over to the concise yet precise element to the task.

Students could have written up an answer some 100 words others 2 pages 500+

So I set the ceiling of 150 words.

Students then sequenced the Jenga blocks in an order top down. Top the 1st part of the process down to the bottom and the 8th step. So students had to order the bricks in 3s per row and then once a step was complete they put a post it marker to divide the stack for each stage so they knew when to start a new paragraph. I have a wall display of terms to use as connectives and for sequencing writing for the students and I made it explicit that I wanted to see students using them.

Now over to the writing with the word limit. I have found boys seem to like numbers. If I said write the answer some would have struggled but by psychologically imprinting that number for some in this class it becomes manageable. I'm intrigued to find out if anyone else finds this???)

The students then fell silent and got cracking as time was ticking:)

Then the bit that thrilled me the most! A girl said to me,

"Sir I'm finished." my reply "wonderful so how many keywords have you used? Can you show me how you ordered?"

"well I was good with the key terms I used 31 of them, but Alex had to help me with the connections as I got muddled. She showed me using the Jenga blocks how I could start building my answer with the first 9 terms then I did the next set so I need to work on my linking sir as not quite ordered. I hope that is ok?" I replied "I wish I had recorded that" haha. When I read her work it was precise and concise with no waffle. I checked with each table what I call the Strongest link to check theirs and was again very happy with what I read. These would become mini managers for the critique the next lesson.

Then got her to go and be monitor for the rest of the class in the final minutes and she was a star checking how many key terms each student had used. So by the end of the lesson I had that as evidence, I had the group effectiveness chart as evidence, the sequenced diagrams labelled as evidence, the ordered blocks as evidence and then for peer assessment feedback using Critique next lesson the written answers.

Next lesson should be great and I will be interested to see if others struggled with the linking and what strategy I could have implemented to strengthen that.

Give it a go:)

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