As you may know, I’ve prepared the year 7 science lessons for the Oak National Academy last term. By the end of term, I finished 44 lessons, each one featuring a pre and post quiz, an instructional video and at least one practice set.
I taught the lessons according to a method broadly construed as “explicit instruction,” which involves the teacher explicitly giving students all the information they need, but chunking it down to cognitive-load-friendly bites, providing lots of practice, opportunity for retrieval and feedback. For more about the general approach see here, or buy this excellent book (if I can say so myself) here.
For a long time, I wanted to do explicit instruction, but didn’t really have any models of explicit instruction to look at. The teachers in my school didn’t teach in the way that I wanted to teach so I was sort of making it up as I went along. Ironically, given the importance of expert instruction and feedback to explicit instruction, not only was I having to work it out myself, but I wasn’t getting any feedback that aligned with the approach either. This meant it took me a hell of a long time to make marginal gains. I got plenty of feedback, but it was from a different paradigm of teaching – a language that I didn’t share. Where I wanted feedback on the clarity of my instruction, I was given feedback about the need for students to put their thumbs up or down to signal understanding. Where I wanted feedback on the challenge a particular problem set, I was given feedback about getting students up and active.
So when I say model here and throughout, I don’t mean “the best or most perfect possible example” – I just mean someone who is thinking the same way and trying to do the same thing, who has then gone and done it in a way that I can see and learn from.
I’ve long maintained that teachers observing each other and giving and receiving feedback is one of the best ways for them to get better at their craft – provided the observer is working within the same paradigm as you. Feedback that ignores or undermines your entire pedagogical approach isn’t really going to move you forwards by all that much. Even during the best of times, I think there are lots of teachers out there who are in contexts just like the one I was in: wanting to work on their modelling, chunking, sequencing, clarity of explanation, quality of independent student practice…but have nobody in their school who can really help them. These are the worst of times, when we are even further isolated from our colleagues and deep thought about pedagogy becomes an internal process bereft of the beneficial levers of models, feedback and challenge.
As such, I thought that, bearing in mind the videos are public anyway, it would be good to try and get the videos out there with two aims.
Aim 1: to get feedback myself
Feedback is a gift, and if you watch my videos and think “oh I think he could have done x better by doing y” then that gift would be absolutely welcomed. I want to get better, but that’s a lot harder without that feedback and challenge as above.
Aim 2: to serve as a model
Again I reiterate – when I say model I don’t mean “the best possible example.” I just mean something you can look at and think “oh that’s a cool way to do things maybe I could try that.” No more, no less. I’ve had to do an absolute ton of hard thought before each of the videos, and if I can spare you that thought or help push it along then I would be honoured to do so. It is a privilege to give teachers useful ideas, and this may achieve that.
I also do not know how long the videos will be online for. With Oak’s plans changing for September, I don’t know which, if any, of the videos will continue to be used or hosted online. That means if you do want to watch them, the window is narrow.
I’ve catalogued the videos under the headings below:
- Modelling abstract concepts
- Building on zero knowledge
- Goal free tasks
- Because, but, so
- Increasing complexity with an example sequence
I did the videos a while ago and am only now cataloguing them, so please let me know a) if there is something in particular you’d like to see that I haven’t included here but might have covered in a lesson and b) if I’ve made an error in the cataloguing anywhere.
I hope you find the videos helpful and please, feedback is a gift.
Modelling abstract concepts
I guess I try this in pretty much every lesson, but I think my favourite example is in the diffusion lesson, where I model how different variables can affect the rate of diffusion.
Building on zero knowledge
The very first lesson I did had to assume that students didn’t know anything at all about the topic as I couldn’t assess knowledge or rely on material I had taught previously. So I had to be super careful about the language I used and the way I phrased everything to avoid introducing new content before I was ready
Goal free tasks
A goal-free task is like a super open ended task. Fitting one in to a remote classroom was pretty challenging but I had great fun scaffolding the approach
Because, but, so
I have a lot of these sentence builder activities sprinkled throughout, and a bunch in the radiation lesson. They are a good way to test understanding of declarative concepts.
Most of the lessons have a strong story telling element aimed at building a picture up over time. My periodic table lesson is a good example of this where I use narrative and manipulatives (and no analogies) to explain what Mendeleev did.
In the lessons on group 1, 7 and 0, you can find me reading poetry, telling stories and reading from more academic texts. This is how I ground thecore knowledgeof the science in a wider context.
The way I teach equations is a bit unconventional and I’m hoping to do a webinar for CogSciSci on it soon. In the meantime, the videos here may give a taster. It’s not perfect at all as I only started doing it like this recently, but you may find it interesting.
Increasing complexity with an example sequence
Probably the best example of this is where I use a series of distance-time graphs to teach about speed. Note how there are a number of ways to make the graphs more complicated (multiple lines, changing scales etc) and I try to vary only one at a time.
Fading is basically about how you pull support away as students’ knowledge increases. In the variables lesson, as I move from example to example I reduce how much detail and explanation I give of the examples, taking account of my students’ increasing expertise.