Month: November 2015

Metacognition Series: 1 of 6

Metacognition Series: 1 of 6

 

In my recently-appointed role as a Lead Learner, I have been charged with delivering a series of six enquiry sessions for teachers on the theme of Metacognition*. Both a challenge and a privilege to lead such a great, diverse group of teachers with varying levels of experience and responsibility, I’ve been taking my research very seriously.
(*For more information on our CPD Programme, designed by my colleague, Phil Stock, see his blog post here.)
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The sequence of posts I intend to write over the course of this year will 1. outline key areas addressed in sessions, 2. share questions that have arisen from our group discussions (sometimes as a result of the pre-reading that has been set), 3. offer points of interest from research studies that I continue to contemplate at each stage.
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I should make it clear from the outset – I have no doubt in my mind that metacognitive strategies can significantly enhance the learning of an individual, be they 5 or 95. With a grandparent of 89 who recently completed a BA degree in Humanities, I (and I know he does too) fully adhere to the notion that a high dose of metacognition and self-regulation can vastly improve the educational journey for a learner. It is the whos and whys and whens and hows that I believe need further thought.
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Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15k.jpgaa
8 themes from session 1:

  1. We defined the term ‘metacognition’
    Put simply, metacognition is ‘thinking about thinking’. It is the process by which a learner becomes aware of their own cognitive processes and, as a result of this, makes a deliberate response to any given stimulus.

  2. We considered the theoretical background
    A summary of Jean Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development were shared, comparing the similarities and differences between this earlier work and the later work of John H. Flavell on the Theory of Mind; namely that Flavell perceived metacognition as a skill that occurs much earlier on in development than Piaget first thought.
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    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15maa
  3. We acknowledged the distinction between cognition and metacognition
    Cognition
    = all mental processes and abilities in which people engage on a daily basis such as memory, learning, problem-solving, evaluation, reasoning and decision making
    Metacognition
    = thinking about thinking. It allows us to complete a given task well through planning, monitoring, evaluating and comprehending, making a person more aware of his/her cognitive processes
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    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15daa
  4. We identified the two main strands of metacognition
    a) knowing about cognition and b) regulation of cognition
    We considered learning activities that would fall under each of these two headings, understanding that many cognitive psychologists would not consider metacognition to have taken place unless the regulation of cognition stage had been completed. If knowing aspects of one’s own learning does not lead an individual to adjust their working habits in order to lead to greater learning capacity, then the full process of metacognition has not yet finished.
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    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15z.jpgaa
  5. We analysed research ratings of metacognition
    Sharing the Education Endowment Fund’s (EEF) Toolkit rating, we acknowledged the positive impact that metacognition can have on learning, aware of the low cost and high strength of evidence in employing metacognitive strategies in the classroom.
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    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15laa
  6. We recognised the importance of teaching metacognition explicitly
    As teachers, we cannot possibly assume that all learners possess an innate ability in metacognition, a skill often determined by inherited traits or exposure to various models witnessed in the home. There is a real need for us to demonstrate how to employ metacognitive strategies in order to enhance the learning journey. Back in 1999, the DfEE stated,
    “There is a need to be explicit about what we mean by better forms of thinking. If students are to become better thinkers – to learn meaningfully, to think flexibly and to make reasoned judgments – then they must be taught explicitly how to do it.”
    I then illustrated this by showing a video clip on John Tomsett’s blog post (the student-student clip at the bottom of the post), where a student verbalises his own thought process, which he undertook to reach a correct mathematical answer. It is this environment of sharing thoughts and strategic steps that will give students the opportunity to question and reflect on their own thinking.
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  7. We considered effective formative assessment techniques
    Drawing on the wisdom of educational researchers such as Dylan Wiliam, we looked at why and how multiple choice questions can act as a great metacognitive teaching strategy for learning, posing a demand on learners to adopt higher order thinking techniques to reach a particular answer.
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    Metacognition Session 1 04.11.15p.jpgaa
  8. We learned that metacognitive strategies MUST be rooted within a subject domain
    A tecnique that requires students to step back from the learning process and consider their own thinking can not be taught as a discrete tool, isolated from a subject area. The purpose of metacognition is to reflect on your own learning in order to enhance understanding and, by the nature of learning, this can only be attributed to a particular subject area at any given time. Without the foundation of subject knowledge, metacognitive tools could be considered somewhat redundant. As Joe Kirby, Assistant Headteacher and Head of English at Michaela Community School, Wembley, states,
    “Over the last three decades, cognitive science has come to a conclusion that is scientifically robust: critical thinking skills require broad background knowledge. This is the reason why teaching abstract skills devoid of facts such as ‘evaluation’, generic strategies such as ‘skimming’ and unchallenging content like celebrities, TV, Twitter and Cirque du Freak doesn’t help academic achievement: the opportunity cost.”
    He goes on to say,
    “When my class struggles to think critically about a text, it’s often because I’ve starved them of the deep knowledge they need.”
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Questions that arose during the session:

  • Aren’t some of us employing some metacognitive strategies already in our classrooms?
  • Do some learners already possess strong metacognitive strategies and therefore require little instruction on how to employ?
  • Is there time to teach these strategies on top of curriculum content pressures?
  • How great is the role of genetics and do we have much influence?
  • What is the role of executive functioning in relation to this?
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It was a super first session with a great range of contributions from the teachers present. Biased for sure, I struggle to think of a better way to enhance our own classroom pedagogy than through collaboration with other teachers who possess a wealth of knowledge and experience that is different from our own. Surely gathering as a group of professionals to wrestle with these complex but game-changing concepts could potentially have significant impact on the lives of our learners.

My Starter for Five Contribution: SEN at Secondary

My Starter for Five Contribution: SEN at Secondary

Starter for Five is a UK based advice blog for new teachers. You can find it on twitter here. Each post gives 5 quick pieces of advice on a particular topic for new teachers and trainees submitted by experienced teachers.

Here’s mine:

Name: Josie Mingay
Twitter name: @JAMingay
Sector: Secondary
Subject taught (if applicable): English and Literacy
Position: Literacy leader / Lead Learner
What is your advice about? SEN at Secondary

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1: No SEN label should cause you to lower your expectations of students. Do all you can to remove specific obstacles to learning in order for students to reach ambitious goals.
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2: Be explicit about praising students for effort and hard work, rather than achievement. Students with SEN need to see that the journey to the destination is rewarded too.
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3: Make use of your SENCo/Learning Support dept – a great resource, often with a wealth of knowledge. Utilise their expertise to aid your planning/teaching.
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4: Talk to your students! More than any official document listing suggested strategies, students usually know their obstacles best and can tell you what support they need.
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5: Model using metacognitive strategies. One of the best tools for students with SEN is the ability to think about their learning and select strategies to apply to given tasks.
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If you have a topic you’d like to contribute advice about, click here.

Should reading ever be discouraged?

An article written in the TES News this week caught my eye and got me thinking. John Boyne, author of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, claims that we should be encouraged to read well, or not at all. He believes that there is little point in reading for its own sake. Citing titles such as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, he asks, “Reading for its own sake – what’s the point of that, if people aren’t reading interesting or challenging books?”
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Teenager reading on the couch

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It’s a tough one, isn’t it. On the one hand, we have a duty as teachers to encourage students to find intellectually stimulating texts with challenging vocabulary and grammatical accuracy. As Literacy Leader, I am careful not to direct students to books that I feel would offer no opportunity for progression on their reading journey. We SHOULD be encouraging readers to embrace texts that demonstrate beautifully constructed sentences, take us to exciting and unfamiliar places, test our opinions and open our minds to new ways of thinking. With that, I don’t disagree.
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What I would question, however, is the idea that a text that does not challenge is pointless. Boyne’s viewpoint neglects all those readers who read for enjoyment. Consider a student who has a very difficult home life and needs something to escape to. Or a struggling, weary teacher who finds reading a peaceful exercise, but doesn’t have the energy to be questioned or face anything too testing after a long day at work. Surely there is merit in the practice of reading in those instances?
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Long_Distance_Running-1

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I wonder if the analogy of running might help here. Suppose a runner has a marathon to undertake in a month’s time and is currently in the training phase. If the runner was to attempt a marathon-long run every day in the lead up to that event, they would surely reach a point of exhaustion before the event. Any experienced runner knows that a good training plan alternates run days with rest days and other forms of interval training. What’s more, many experienced runners without an event in the pipeline enjoy a short jog every now and then. It’s good for the mind and soul.
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Could we not apply the same idea to reading?
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As a teacher, I question what right I have to discourage a student from reading, if it gives them pleasure. While I would, of course, encourage students to be mindful of the text choices they make, asking them to review what a certain book may or may not offer, I would be concerned that having an opinion where students should ONLY read if it will pose challenge might put them off reading altogether.
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Like any hobby, one must take ownership of a practice in order to develop a love for it and, I believe, there is no harm in reading, sometimes just for the sake of reading.

ROOT MAP: A Vocabulary Instruction Model

ROOT MAP: A Vocabulary Instruction Model

Last July, I wrote the first of a two-part blog post (see part 1 here) sharing some early musings around the best approach for a new vocabulary model that we wanted to introduce at my school. This generated much interest and a number of people since have asked for the second instalment. As a result of the programme’s ongoing evolution, there have been alterations along the way. Nevertheless, I finally present to you the sequel, in the form of a write-up from my session at ResearchED last Saturday. My colleague, Phil Stock, has also written about this here.

Footage of the session will be available here soon.

Slide01

On Saturday 7th November, I was privileged to speak at the first ResearchED Secondary English & Literacy conference at Swindon Academy. (To see my Top 5 takeaway points from the day, see here.) My session explored the importance of direct vocabulary instruction.
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To begin, I asked those present to spend a few minutes discussing where they would rank each of these actions on a scale from least energy required to most.

Slide04

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When feeding back as a group, two members of the audience beat me to my own teaching point, making the case that this task would be impossible without the semantic knowledge of the words in bold. I then displayed the following slide, which I had composed to exemplify how unfamiliar words can instantaneously become unwelcome hurdles that students must face when trying to comprehend a given text.

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“Those who know 90 percent of the words in a text will understand its meaning and, because they understand, they will also begin to learn the other 10 percent of the words.” (E.D. Hirsch, 2003)

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I proceeded to explain that a study conducted by Beck et al. into the acquisition of new vocabulary resulted in the speculation of a continuum, whereby different texts can present a reader with a variety of scenarios, some which offer the necessary clues to help us learn a word meaning and, for others, no clues at all. More information is given in the PPT slides embedded at the foot of this post.

Slide07

As a result of their studies, Beck’s team resolved that “…relying on learning word meanings from independent reading is not an adequate way to deal with students’ vocabulary development.” Beck, McKeown & Kucan (2013)

I’m in full agreement with this, not least because there are a great number of students who won’t necessarily come into contact with unfamiliar vocabulary through independent reading anyway, as a result of a lack of interest in books, or they may be reading texts that lack enough challenge.

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Next, I outlined the memory process we believe to be true when acquiring new information. I shared Anderson’s theory (1994), asserting that information is stored in biomodal packets, separated into linguistic packets called ‘logogens’ and non-linguistic packets called ‘imagens’.

Slide22Both Anderson’s theory and that of Sadoski and Paivio’s Dual Coding Theory (1994), support the notion that experiences are stored in language terms but also in ways more connected to senses, feelings, emotions, visual perceptions etc. From these theories, it can be ascertained that an individual learns new information by initially creating an episodic memory of an event (ie. a one-off experience) which, with repetition, can become a semantic experience whereby the learner begins to assimilate new information as part of a deeper network of knowledge around a particular idea or theme.

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I noted the importance of Graham Nuthall’s working memory model here, stressing that three conditions that lead to effective processing are:

  1. Strength – multiple exposures to new information (at least 3 or 4 within a limited time) is essential in order to embed knowledge
  2. Depth – ensuring students think ‘hard’ about new information so as not to allow it to just hover on the surface, instead challenging learners to wrestle with new ideas and concepts to ensure they are deeply rooted
  3. Elaboration – providing opportunities for learners to make connections and associations with previously acquired knowledge, in order for this to ‘latch’ onto something

Slide28

In discussing which words should be targetted for direct instruction, I made reference to three sources:

  1. Rolfus and Ackerman (1999) asserted that subject knowledge has a high degree of specificity i.e. little transfer. The five particular areas they recommend to teach are:
    a) Subject specific words and phrases embody deep, underlying concepts e.g. condensation, genre
    b) Roots and suffixes e.g. gen, anti-
    c) Proper nouns e.g. Carl Lewis
    d) Compound words e.g. drummer boy
    e) Subject and verb phrases e.g. book review
  2. Beck’s contribution of the tiered vocabulary pyramid suggests that words can be categorised into three tiers.
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The advice from Beck suggests that it is Tier 2 words that should be taught explicitly, since these are the words that arise less frequently in conversation, more in writing. This theory would suggest that, as a result of teaching Tier 2 words, Tier 3 words can then be accessed more easily by the learner. While there is some sense in this approach, much of the research undertaken in the area of memory would dispute this method, arguing that the teaching of words need to be deeply rooted within their subject domain, in order to connect new information to already-learnt knowledge.

  1. The final source was taken from a synthesis of research studies undertaken by the National Reading Panel (NRP) in the US, 2010. As a result of their analysis, they identified eight findings that provide a scientifically based foundation for the design of rich vocabulary instruction. These were:

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These findings, as well as the great research undertaken by Robert J. Marzano in his book “Building Academic Vocabulary“, have directly informed our delivery of vocabulary instruction at Greenshaw.

All too aware of the gap between word-rich and word-poor students, we recognise the crucial importance of providing all students with direct and indirect experiences, broadening their understanding of the world, enabling students from both privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds alike to obtain and retain new words taught.

[There is an] estimated difference of vocabulary knowledge of 4,700 words between students of high and low social economic status.” (Templin, 1957)

It is through the mediums of those listed below that we might be able to develop students’ vocabulary in a way that meets their individual needs.

Slide40

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Taking direction from Marzano’s work, we have implemented 6 steps of effective vocabulary instruction in our Year 7 research trial.

Slide41See slides 41-60 of the PPT shared at the bottom of this post for more information and the filmed session, which will be available here shortly.

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In closing, I will attempt to outline the structure we have designed, in order to deliver two strands of vocabulary instruction, namely subject-specific English words (Tier 2&3) and roots, prefixes and suffixes.

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As you can see from the image above, one tutor time session a week is reserved for a morphology and etymology focus on words. During this time, tutors across a range of different curriculum subjects deliver 15 minutes of intensive vocabulary delivery, teaching the meaning of common roots required at KS3 and beyond.
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Slide68

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In addition to this, students are also explicitly taught Tier 2 and 3 subject-specific words in their English classes, directly linked to the text being studied at the time. See the slide below for our first cycle of Autumn term words and roots taught.

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Here is a rough idea of how much direct instruction students might receive over a fortnight’s cycle.

Slide65 As I explained in my talk and, as is the reality for so many teachers, there is never enough time to teach the content of the curriculum, let alone trying to cram in additional vocabulary content. This is why we have moved some of the definitions and connections tasks originally designed to take place in English lessons to our online learning platform, giving students the opportunity to revisit information multiple times by completing multiple choice quizzes and games online between lessons, set as homework. (When I figure out how to share the demo of this on here, I will!)

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I hope this has given some insight into the development of our vocabulary curriculum design, but would encourage you to check out the footage from the session when it becomes available for a complete walk through.

PPT slides here: 

My Top 5: ResearchED Secondary English and Literacy

My Top 5: ResearchED Secondary English and Literacy

Saturday 7th November saw the first ResearchED Secondary English & Literacy event at Swindon Academy. It really was a fantastic day. Whether you made it to the event or not, here’s my top 5 moments of the day:
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  1. Professor Ray Land opened the day with a keynote talk on Threshold Concepts, revealing why new knowledge can be so troublesome and unsettling for learners at any age. It would be foolish for me to even attempt to summarise Ray’s presentation as it was brilliant in many ways. His research-rooted insight into why students struggle to understand or take hold of such large scale concepts in the classroom was fascinating.
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  2. The structure of the day; the travelling, the cake breaks and the pockets of times waiting for sessions to begin, offered welcome spaces for some geeky, intellectually provocative and nutritious conversations about teaching and learning matters with colleagues both familiar and new.
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  3. The menu of sessions on offer was packed with so many great choices. There was real opportunity to hear some fantastic teachers and leaders share their knowledge of research and how they are applying this to their curriculum design and pedagogy in the school where they work. For me, this included:
    a) listening to Summer Turner share the English curriculum design with a heavy focus on rich literature that she and colleagues have put in place at the East London Science School
    b) learning from Katie Ashford about the importance of rigorous grammar instruction – something we are evolving at our school, so it was great to see that Michaela Community School is one step ahead
    c) soaking up the wisdom offered by Eric Kalenze on the importance of background knowledge (was sorry not to see the end of this, but grateful for technology!)
    It was a shame to miss other great speakers including Phil Stock, Andy Tharby, James Murphy, but am looking forward to catching up with their sessions online when they’re available.
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  4. The priviledge of delivering a session myself alongside some excellent speakers, on the importance of direct vocabulary instruction. I do believe this is one area of literacy that has huge value in the classroom and enhances students’ deeper learning, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to lead on this (blog post soon to follow on here).
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  5. Not wishing to wrestle any credit away from Tom Bennett or David Didau, there’s a warm sense of achievement that I believe those involved can enjoy on days like this. It’s worth reflecting that the ResearchED community is central to this ever-growing grassroots movement, snowballing solely because those people who live and breathe education are passionate enough to ensure that this super profession remains transparent, research-driven and authentic.
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I will blog about my talk here in the next couple of days.

Here’s to the next one!

Vocabulary Matters – My contribution to ResearchED Literacy, 7th Nov 2015

Vocabulary Matters – My contribution to ResearchED Literacy, 7th Nov 2015

Next Saturday, I will be one of a number of gathered teachers and researchers who share a common aim – hopeful that, through organic grass roots events like @researchED1, it might be possible to reduce the considerable chasm between educational research and classroom practice.
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Attending this event for the first time last year, I was surprised by the number of delegates present who had sacrificed a day of their weekend to travel, ready to participate in the workshops on offer and be willing to engage in educational conversations with others there. It was refreshing to experience an approach to teaching and learning so rooted in research and, after a powerful day, I left feeling positively challenged.

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That’s why this year I’m really pleased to have been invited to lead a workshop at the @researchED1 Literacy event on Saturday 7th November at Swindon Academy, run by event directors David Didau, Tom Bennett & Hélène O’Shea.
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As Literacy Leader in my school, and also recently appointed as a Lead Learner in research too, I will be delivering a workshop on the importance of teaching vocabulary in order to enhance students’ understanding across the curriculum. Incidentally, the session itself is far more interesting than the somewhat tedious title I gave it: “Improving students’ understanding through direct vocabulary instruction”.
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Many months ago on my blog, I wrote Part 1 of a 2-part post on the new vocabulary programme we were soon to implement in my school as a result of the research we had carried out called ‘Root Planner’. See here. It was always intended that the second part of the duo (‘Root Map’) would be published soon after, outlining the implementation of the programme. For a number of reasons this failed to transpire and, so, albeit a year later, I will be posting Part 2 of this post following my presentation next Saturday.

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A great colleague of mine, Phil Stock, has shared the journey of this whole-school language intervention with me and has recently written about this on his blog here, following the presentation he gave at #TLT15 earlier in October.
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I’m very much looking forward to the day; to hearing some super speakers, to reflecting on my own practice and to embracing the possibilities an event of this nature can bring to teaching and learning.

Hope to see you there!