Selecting A Focus

PEEL In Practice, page 0

January 2004

Ian Mitchell, Monash University


Background

The first version of this article was written for a high school that had created space in their meeting cycle for a regular meeting of teaching and learning groups and placed all teachers in a group. Each group was (within the realities of grouping all staff) based around either a Year 7 or a Year 9 class. This approach had several advantages: it involved all staff in the school, it clustered teachers of one form together and it gave teaching and learning a high priority with very visible support from the administration. It also had some tricky aspects, one being that, unlike PEEL, the groups would not be composed of volunteers with some commitment to risk-taking, sharing failures and thinking about practice in terms of ideas of learning and change. This meant that multiple entry points were needed; offering a menu of foci designed to include foci of interest to as wide a group of teachers as possible. Each of these needed to be link to ideas that could get groups off to a productive start. The database provided the resource base to do this and I wrote a version of this article to help the teachers get started. The positive reaction of the staff and subsequently elsewhere suggests that what follows is a helpful guide to using the database, especially for those users not familiar with PEEL.


Overview

Teaching and Learning groups are far more likely to be productive if they operate from some agreed and shared focus, concern or interest. All of the following are foci that I have seen work well over a period of months with groups feeling a sense of real (albeit always uneven) progress in their own teaching and in their classrooms. A weakness of this document is that it implies that the different alternatives in levels II and III are independent and separate. This is not true - they overlap and interconnect - but they are sufficiently distinct to keep the focus of a group manageable.

As the structure of the document indicates, the foci are arranged in an order that becomes more ambitious, commonly involves more reflection, a greater interest in thinking about learning and an increasing willingness to move away from some traditional classroom practices. This is not intended to denigrate the first focus: building a more varied teaching repertoire. This is a very professional and worthy goal. It can lead to real classroom change and can also be the best entry point to the foci in the latter part of this list. It is important that any group choose a focus that is both interesting and not too uncomfortable (though all extension of practice involves some anxiety and discomfort).

Two final points:

1. The list is, of course, not the last word - many foci are possible.

2. The references to the PEEL database are not intended to imply that this has all, or even most, of the answers, nor that it is the only source of answers. It is a useful and rich starting point, but, over time, group meetings become most rewarding when many of the ideas are originating in the group.


Using the database: Selecting and combining search fields

AThe brief description of each focus is followed by ways of assessing relevant ideas from the database. This advice always begins with selections from 26 Classroom Practices, 18 Teacher Concerns and 12 Principles of Teaching for Quality Learning. Used alone, most of these select too many articles to be read in a convenient time. Combining pairs of them usually results in a manageable number of articles with a very tight focus (e.g. Practical Work and Students dive into tasks without planning).
All of the foci (after the first one) also include advice on teaching procedures that are relevant to that focus. The much larger number of possible procedures (229) means that most procedures select fewer articles than (say) a Teacher Concern and may not need combining with other fields.
While it can sometimes be useful to include your subject area (e.g. Science) as a field to help reduce a large selection. You will miss most of the value of the database if you always start with your subject area. A feature of PEEL that has been crucial to its success has been the extent to which good ideas can cross subject boundaries. A list of types of searches useful to new users is given in Types of Searches


Level I: Focus on extending your teaching repertoire

1. Building more variety into your classrooms by trying new teaching procedures.

Variety in classroom practice can be an important source of interest and stimulation for both students and teachers. From our experiences, a teacher who, over the course of a school year, incorporates one new procedure into their repertoire every two weeks, is maintaining a very substantial rate of professional growth. Remember that both you and your students will use a procedure more effectively and efficiently with practice.

An advantage of having several teachers of the same class meeting regularly and often using the same new procedures is that your students become familiar with what to do more quickly (do not overdo this).

Using the database:

Go in via Procedures (use the eight groupings to help selection) or select a Classroom Practice (e.g. Note-Taking, Using Videos) where you would like more variety in your practice. Each of the 12 Principles of Teaching for Quality Learning provides a focus on a different aspect of teaching; Principle 8 (Use a wide variety of intellectually challenging procedures) selects articles where teachers report a range of procedures in that article. Principle 2 (Ask students to work out part of the content) will also appeal to teachers looking to move away from always presenting content.

Try using Search by Word or Phrase and enter words or phrases associated with a topic that you intend to teach (eg. graphs, nouns, particles, "world war"). Please do not expect anything like all topics to be covered -that is not a goal of the database. You can increase your coverage by entering several related terms linked by or eg. entering landforms or coastlines or river will call up articles containing any of these words.

2. Increase your use of procedures that allow a wider range of students to experience success:

This focus includes:

• providing different types of success (oral, pictorial, etc., as well as written);

• catering better for different learning styles (there are resources available on learning styles);

• providing flexible levels of challenge where more able students can do the same task in a more sophisticated way.

Using the database:

Combinations of:

Concern 13 (Coping with mixed ability classrooms): this selects articles that include explicit reports of success with a range of students, and 15 (Students are reluctant to take risks in creative tasks).

Principles: 4 (Provide a diverse range of ways of experiencing success) and 7 (Build a classroom environment that supports risk-taking);

with:

Your Subject or a Classroom Practice that you are about to use.

Useful Procedures:


A7 Creative Writing
A8 Role Plays
A9 Other Translation Tasks
A10 Model Making
B3 Interpretive Discussions
B18 Link Ups
B23 Before, Before/After, After
C7 Communication or Feedback Sheets
C12 Students Monitoring Other Students
Good Learning Behaviours
C1 Promoting and Using Students Questions
C2 Pinning Questions On the Wall

C13 Students Select Their Own Problems
C3 Question Dice
C17 Writing in the Round
C24 Senate Inquiry
C22 Deep Thinking ChallengeF1 Work Out What You Need to Find Out
F12 Reading Logs
F26 L Files
G1 Assessing Question Asking
G13 Marks Formative vs Summative
G18 Smorgasbord
G20 Students Choose the Form of
Assessment
G21 Bloom or Bloom/Gardner Grids


Level II: Focus on an aspect of class culture

Here you will focus on building the scripts and skills needed for the class to routinely work well in one (or more) of areas such as:

1. Whole Class Discussion

Focus


You intend that most students will become willing to offer, justify, defend, disagree, extend, listen and react to/use other students’ ideas

Some Consequences

Are you happy with these?

Some teacher behaviours kill good discussion, e.g., judging (even tactfully) answers as right or wrong.
A need for more flexible and reactive teaching, modifying or even abandoning your original plan in response to student comments, questions, ideas and suggestions



Using the database:

Combinations of:

Classroom Practices: Classroom Discussion, Debates

Concern 1 (Students rarely contribute ideas), 14 (Students do not believe that their own beliefs are important)

Principles: 5 (Promote exploratory, tentative and hypothetical talk), 6 (Encourage learning from other students' comments) and 7 (Supporting risk-taking)

Useful procedures:

A23 Evidence and Assumptions
B1 Predict, Observe, Explain
B3 Interpretive Discussion
B7 Listening Discussion
B8 Probe of Prior Views
B6 Return to the Discussion
B21 Taka a Stand
B10 CUP -Conceptual Understanding Procedure

C12 Students Monitoring Other Students
Good Learning Behaviours
C1 Promoting and Using Students Questions
C2 Pinning Questions On the Wall
C4 What If Questions
C19 De Bono s Six Thinking Hats
C20 Affinity Diagrams
C22 Deep Thinking Challenge
C5 Five Whys
G1 Assessing Question Asking



2. Group Work



Focus

 

Students learn to work in a team, not necessarily of their friends, to co-operate, collaborate, use each other as a resource (the co-operative learning movement has produced many ideas here)

Some Consequences

Are you happy with these?

The classroom is (quite often) less teacher centred. You need regularly to set tasks that cannot be done by one student alone - that require a co-operating group.
The best desk arrangement is not rows
Assessment sometimes involves all students in a group sharing a mark for a group product.



Using the database:

Combinations of:

Classroom Practices: Group Work;

Principle 6 (Encourage learning from other students comments);

There are some procedures that require and stimulate good group behaviours:



B9 Post Box
B27 Five Out of Three
B12 Think, Pair, Share
B10 CUP -Conceptual Understanding Procedure
B24 Graffiti Sheets

>C14 Jigsaws
C23 Writing Races
C17 Writing In the Round
C24 Senate Inquiry
C22 Deep Thinking Challenge
G19 Brainstorm To Project



There are also a number of procedures that can be used as a focus for group work - try combining Group Work with:



A8 Role Playing
A10 Other Translation Tasks
A24 Hypothetical Judgement
A29 Grouping Bits Of Information
B34 How Is This Like/Not Like...?

B35 Circuses
C3 Question Dice
C18 Peer Tutoring
D9 Sort Out Jumbled Notes or Instructions
G5 Students Set the Test
G16 Limited Word Poster



3. Library and internet research



Focus

 

Students learn to use available resources; to scan texts quickly for relevance, to discriminate between more and less useful sources, to summarise, paraphrase, synthesize and identify bias.

Some Consequences

Are you happy with these?

The way you set and present research tasks is crucial here: library teachers see some very ordinary assignments. You need tasks that require students to select, process and reshape the information in the sources they find.
You commonly need to build in some choice and flexibility about what to research and perhaps how to present it.



Using the database:

Classroom Practices: Library Research Skills

Concern 2 ( Students don t think about the meaning of what they read or hear)

Subjects: Information Skills

There are several procedures that are useful in different aspects of the process of Library Research:



A5 Constructing Grids from Row and Column Headings
C11 Modify the Task As You Go
D12 What Have I Learnt?

G12 Negotiating Checklist/Marking Criteria
G15 Students Evaluate the Sources
G16 Limited Word Poster
G18 Smorgasbord/Students Select from
Multiple Levels of Challenge



It is often fruitful to begin with procedures that promote questions that can form the basis of student research



C1 Promoting and Using Students Questions
C3 Question Dice

C5 Five Whys
D1 Write On the Reading



4. Student-Teacher Collaboration



Focus

 

There is less emphasis on the teacher always determining exactly what is to be done, when, how and for how long. The students learn to focus on the goals, purposes and big ideas of the curriculum and collaborate in devising or selecting ways of achieving, learning and assessing.

Some Consequences


Are you happy with these?

You will build a sense of shared intellectual control; this means regularly (but not invariably) accepting and using students ideas and suggestions. Often it means placing more trust in the students over aspects of assessment and giving them genuine choices over aspects of what they do.



Using the database:

Combinations of:

Concerns: 5 (Teachers find negotiation difficult), 9 (Students don't take responsibility for their learning) with:

Classroom Practices: Assessment, Group Work, Problem Solving Tasks, Library Research Skills, Units of Work

Principles: 1 (Share intellectual control), 3 (Provide opportunities for choice and decision- making)



Teaching Procedures

Almost all the Procedures in Group C (Procedures to enhance communication, participation and collaboration) and Group G (Procedures to make assessment more formative and collaborative) are relevant to this focus.

Other useful procedures:



A30 Inner and Outer Circles
D8 No Explanations Without Questions
F1 Work Out What You Need to Find Out

F2 Deduce the Practical Design From Limited Information
F14 Students Maintain Their Own Report
F29 Students set weekly goals



Procedures that elicit students' ideas such as B3 Interpretive Discussion, B8 Probe of Prior Views and B32 Brainstorm Bingo can be used as very successful starting points for subsequent collaboration.



Level III: Focus on one or more aspects of student learning

Here the focus is on improving the quality and nature of the thinking the students engage in and in changing the widespread perception that schooling is about completing tasks. PEEL Groups typically operate at this (and the next) level.

1. Thinking about what they are learning



Aspects of Learning

Some Changes in Student Behaviours

Do you want these?

Some Consequences for Teaching

Are you comfortable with these?

Students think about the content: what are the main points on this page? What is the big idea today? Do I understand this? This is a form of monitoring, in this case monitoring of their understanding.

Questions that you may not be able to answer on the spot or that may challenge a teacher who wants total dominance.
Some successful rote learners will object - just give us the answers.

Strong pressures to eliminate superficial busy work such as: copy and complete, answer the questions at the end of Chapter 6, word searches, etc. You need a clear sense of the big ideas you are intending to teach.
You need more variety when the tasks require intense thinking



Using the database:

Classroom Practices: Analysing Non Print Materials, Drill and Practice, Games and Puzzles, Getting Started/Introducing New Information, Note Taking, Reading Literature, Revision/Feedback on Understanding, Understanding Other Text Material and Using Videos.

Combinations of:

Concern 2 (Students don't think about the meaning of what they read or hear) with

Principles: 2 (Students work out part of the content), 9 (Target specific aspects of quality learning); and 10 (Develop students' awareness of the big picture).

All of the procedures in Group A (Procedures for building understanding of school knowledge) and Group D (Procedures for the processing of text material) are relevant.

Other useful procedures:



B4 Summarizing a Discussion With Diagrams
B5 Taking Notes From a Jumbled Summary
B19 Completing Statements From the Stem
B26 Media Watch Sheets
B2 Other Uses of student Prediction
B33 Predict the Topic
B23 Before, Before/After, After
B14 New Dictation
C5 Five Whys F1 Work Out What You Need to Find Out

F3 Topic and Task Questions
F5 Dirty Tricks
F7 Prior Warning of Poor Learning
Tendencies
F8 Open Revision Sheet Test
F12 Reading Logs
F27 Thinking Books
H11 Fact In Fiction Stories



2. Seeking links to other ideas and experiences



Aspects of Learning

Some Changes in Student Behaviours

Do you want these?

Some Consequences for Teaching

Are you comfortable with these?

Students make links, often offbeat and lateral, between different lessons, different topics, different subjects, to their personal experiences and to the beliefs and conceptions that they brought into the classroom.

Students tend to respond well to making links to personal life, they resist linking subjects.

A huge increase in questions that you may never have thought of or may previously have regarded as red-herrings: If this then why does How come…

Student talk becomes more tentative, exploratory and hypothetical

You need to show that you will value and use many/most students questions and share some intellectual control over what happens during lessons.
Teaching becomes more reactive and flexible; lessons are less tightly planned, less predictable.
Some joint tasks may be planned across two (perhaps more) subjects.



Using the database:

Combinations of:

Classroom Practices: Field Trips/Excursions

Concerns: 3 (Students don't link different lessons), 12 (Students don't link school work with outside life) and 14 (Students do not believe that their own beliefs are important) with

Principles: 5 (Promote exploratory, tentative and hypothetical talk), 9 (Target specific aspects of quality learning), or 10 (Develop awareness of the big picture).

Many procedures in Group A (Procedures for building understanding of school knowledge) focus (or can focus) on linking ideas from different lessons:



A1 Concept Mapping
A4 Linking Very Different Parts of the Work
A5 Constructing Grids from Row and Column
Headings
A13 Venn Diagrams
A14 Change the Organising Principle

A16 Incomplete Notes
A2 Concept Grids
A22 Dominoes
A23 Evidence and Assumptions
A26 Cross-Subject Linking
A29 Grouping Bits Of Information



Other procedures that promote this form of linking are:



B6 Return to the Discussion
D4 Linking Sub-Headings
D10 Linking Examples to Principles
D11 Textbook Preview
D16 Relationship Map/Literacy Sociogram

E4 Building Old Procedures
E5 Problem Classification
F18 Print Walks
F20 Posters as a Resource
F25 Preliminary Thinking Sheets



Many procedures in Group B focus (Procedures for retrieving, restructuring and extending students ideas) focus (or can focus) on linking the lesson with personal experiences or beliefs:



B1 Predict, Observe, Explain
B3 Interpretive Discussion
B8 Probe of Prior Views
B9 Post Box
B17 Return to Prior Views
B16 Redefining Familiar Terms
B18 Link Ups
B25 Two Minute Bursts
B11 Semantic Maps

B20 Making the Familiar Strange
B28 Mind Maps
B21 Take A Stand
B30 Visual Prompts Reflection
B34 How Is This Like/Not Like...?
Also
C24 Senate Inquiry
C4 What If Questions
F12 Reading Logs



3. Thinking about what they are doing



Aspects of Learning

Some Changes in Student Behaviours

Do you want these?

Some Consequences for Teaching

Are you comfortable with these?

Students monitor their progress while doing tasks: they identify the purpose, think about instructions, plan strategies and edit their work

Students become less dependent on the teacher, they get started and show initiative when stuck.

They will seek links between the tasks/activities and the big ideas/theory that (should) lie behind them.

Students may challenge aspects of set tasks: they may suggest or even demand modifications or alternative approaches

These (very valuable) changes are not easy, there are no simple fixes.

Giving even more prescriptive recipes and instructions is counter-productive. Often less specific direction is needed.

Some sharing of intellectual control is needed with some activities or aspects of activities variously being suggested by students, negotiated with students or left to students to decide.



Using the database:

Classroom Practices: Field Trips/Excursions, Problem Solving Tasks, Practical Work and Writing Skills

Concerns: 4 (Students don't think about why or how they are doing a task), 6 (Students keep making the same mistakes), 7 (Students don't read instructions carefully), 10 (Students dive into tasks without planning), 11 (Students have no strategies when stuck), 15 (Students are reluctant to take risks in creative tasks) and 16 (Students are reluctant to edit or check their work).

Combinations of these with:

Principle 1 (Share intellectual control), 3 (Choice and decision-making) and 9 (Target specific aspects of quality learning).

All of the procedures in Groups E (Procedures to improve numerical problem solving) and H (Procedures for learning writing skills) promote this sort of monitoring as do many of the procedures in Group F (Procedures for monitoring and control of learning):



C18 Peer Tutoring
F2 Deduced the Practical Design From
Limited Information
F4 Question Answer Analysis
F6 Cross Out Unnecessary Data
F9 Identify Answerable Questions
F11 Checklists
F10 Structured Thinking
F13 Weekly Progress Sheets
F15 Freeze and Discuss

F18 Print Walks
F19 Inserting a Delay
F20 Posters as a Resource
F21 Read, Look Left, Look Right
F22 Help Tokens
F23 Frequent Learning Points
F24 Written Steps
F25 Preliminary Thinking Sheets
F27 Thinking Books
F28 Moving on Map
Also
B 9 Challenge of Ideas

 



4. Moving assessment into the process of learning



Aspects of Learning

Some Changes in Student Behaviours

Do you want these?

Some Consequences for Teaching

Are you comfortable with these?

Students regard assessment as part of the learning process (not just a summative grading exercise) and take more responsibility for their own assessment and performance.

Students seek to learn from wrong answers; coming to believe that wrong answers can be more useful to their learning than being right.

Students regard their grades as reflection of what they did, not of what the teacher decided to do to them.

Students self-assess.

Assessing for recall is very counter-productive, you need to assess for high order thinking - new sorts of tasks and questions are required.
(Again) some sharing of intellectual control: some tasks negotiated, some marking schemes negotiated, students may set some questions.



Using the database:

Combinations of:

Classroom Practices: Assessment, Revision/Feedback on Understanding

Concerns: 6 (Students keep making the same mistakes), 8 (Students don't learn from mistakes in assessment tasks) and 9 (Students won't take responsibility for their learning) and 16 (Students are reluctant to edit or check their work).

Principles: 1 (Share intellectual control), 3 (Choice and decision- making) and 12 (Promote assessment as part of the learning process).

Useful procedures:



B6 Return to the Discussion
C8 Comments on Comments
C9 Building a Meaning for Teachers
Comments
F4 Question/Answer Analysis
F7 Prior Warning of Poor Learning
Tendencies
F11 Checklists
F14 Students Maintain Their Own Report
F25 Preliminary Thinking Sheets
F27 Thinking Books
G2 Open Book Reflective Thinking Test G5 Students Set the Test

G6 Students All Set a Test
G13 Marks Formative not Summative
G8 Students Assess Their Own Answers
G14 Discuss Your Answers
G3 Set Tests in the Middle of Units
G17 Students Teach the Whole Lesson
G20 Students Choose the Form of
Assessment
G9 Students assess other students work
G19 Brainstorm to Project
G10 Tell Me What You Know



Level IV: Focus on promoting metacognitive learning

The same four aspects of learning in level C apply, but an additional goal is to build the students level of metacognition - the knowledge, awareness and control of their learning. The students build an understanding of what good learning can be, are more aware of their own learning and purposefully seek to engage in appropriate types of thinking. This does not produce a fourth level so much as the classroom talk shifts to more overtly include talking about learning.



Extra Aspects of Learning

Extra Changes in Student Behaviours

Do you want these?

Extra Consequences for Teaching

Are you comfortable with these?

Students become more aware of their own learning and take more independent action to improve it.

Students build and use a vocabulary of learning. There is increased evidence of monitoring.

In addition to the subject curriculum, you have a parallel curriculum of learning. Some regular discussion of learning is needed.



Using the database:

Principle 11: Raise awareness of different aspects of quality learning

Most of the procedures provide opportunities to talk about aspects of student learning. Inserting Sub-Headings, for example, can easily lead to a discussion about searching for the main ideas in text; Link Ups requires discussion of seeking links between school work and personal life. Many of the procedures in Group F (Procedures for the monitoring and control of learning) are relevant here as you cannot monitor your learning without some level of metacognition. Procedures that have a pronounced emphasis on reflecting on learning include:



B17 Return to Prior Views
B11 Semantic Maps
B29 Y Charts
B30 Visual Prompts For Reflection
B15 PMI
C12 Students Monitoring Other Students’
Good Learning Behaviours
C19 De Bono s Six Thinking Hats
D12 What Have I Learnt

F3 Topic and Task questions
F5 Dirty Tricks F7 Prior Warning of Poor Learning
Tendencies
F11 Checklists
F16 Student Generated List of Good
Learning Behaviours
F17 A Shared Vocabulary of Learning
F24 Written Steps
F26 L Files
F27 Thinking Books
F29 Students Set Weekly Goals

F 36 Debriefing





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