We had a visitor in the department today, so I took him on a learning walk. I go on a learning walk at least twice a half term and try to see as many teachers as I can. Giving teachers feedback and helping them improve is an honour and a privilege, and it is one that requires careful thought and planning.

As part of our walk today, we went into a lesson in which the students had just finished their Do Now, and the teacher was reviewing it. The board looked a bit like this:

We are very lucky in our department to have a good agreement on what constitutes effective teaching, so when I saw the teacher starting to review, these were the things I was looking for:
  • Do Now based on random content studied until now
  • Do Now delivered via Carousel’s Whiteboard function
  • Students have completed Do Nows in the back of their exercise books
  • Students with purple pens in their hands, making corrections to their work
  • The teacher moving one at a time through the responses rather than all answers displayed at once
  • The teacher Cold Calling students for their responses, but not leaving Wait Time (i.e. “What’s the answer to question 3, David?” rather than
    • “David, what’s the answer to question 3?” [not a Cold Call] or
    • “What’s the answer to question 3…[waits]…David?” [includes Wait Time])
  • Anticipation of common errors (e.g. “for question 3, some of you may have written 100 °C. This is wrong because…”)
  • Springboarding questions where appropriate (e.g. “No David, ribosome is not correct. Why is ribosome not correct…Daniella?”)
  • Using Ratio techniques when springboarding questions or when taking additional questions (e.g. “sir, would it be better to talk about the volume of an object rather than its size?”)
  • At the end of the Do Now executing a whole-class data gathering exercise to establish overall performance

On the face of it, this looks like a checklist. Tick, tick, tick, cross, tick etc. We’re very keen to avoid this kind of observation culture, so it’s important to not just have it as a checklist, but to add a rationale to every point:

Do Now based on random content studied until now

We deliberately use random content to give students the opportunity to do spaced retrieval practice, and to give us information about whether they are doing their homework properly. Following this quiz, we then do a “prerequisite knowledge check” on mini-whiteboards that is based on content due to be covered in this lesson.

Do Now delivered via Carousel’s Whiteboard function

Running the Do Now through Carousel serves three purposes: first it allows us to set quizzes with sections. We might want two questions on particles, two questions on cells and two questions on energy. Over time, this helps us get a feel for which topics students are strong in and which need to be revisited.

Secondly, we are strong believers in integrating classwork with homework. All too often students think of homework as something entirely separate to their classwork, failing to see its value or utility. Because our students do weekly quizzes on Carousel at home, doing a Do Now via Carousel is part of our overall strategy of integration.

Thirdly, it’s quick and easy to set. Workload: gotta bust it.

Students have completed Do Nows in the back of their exercise books

As above, one of the reasons for doing the Do Now is to check if students are doing retrieval at home properly. So I need to be able to quickly and easily see how well a student is doing in their Do Nows over time. It’s a lot easier to do this if they are all in one place: I just grab their book, leaf through the back few pages and look at how much purple pen there is. Lots of stuff correct: great. Lots of stuff wrong: need to investigate, this student might not be doing their weekly quizzes properly.

Students with purple pens in their hands, making corrections to their work

We want them to be holding their purple feedback pens, not their normal writing pens. This ensures that they have stopped answering the quiz whilst the teacher is reviewing it, and increases the likelihood of them listening to the teacher. It needs to be a different colour so when I leaf through the book I see how much is there. It needs to be purple, because it’s just the colour we use at a whole school level.

The teacher moving one at a time through the responses rather than all answers displayed at once

Put them all up and once, and students will immediately start working through them, marking their work and ignoring anything the teacher is saying. Their reflections and corrections are going to be a worse quality than if the teacher were talking through each one individually whilst they listen. Students will end up marking correct variations of the “board answer” as wrong, and incorrect variations of the “board answer” as right. So teachers should go one by one, directing attention and managing the conversation around correct and incorrect answers.

The teacher Cold Calling students for their responses, but not leaving Wait Time

Cold Call is always best for when students are expected to be listening as it drives up Ratio. Wait Time is normally best as it also keeps your Ratio up as it allows students to think. However, in this case students don’t need to think, they just need to tell you what they have written down, so leaving time leaves your classroom feeling slow and unenergetic.

In many cases, as soon as you call a student’s name, the other students stop thinking. So under normal circumstances, a student who waits to think after you have called their name sends a message to you that you should have left time before calling their name.

In this circumstance, a student who waits to think after you have called their name sends a message to you that they weren’t paying attention.

Anticipation of common errors (e.g. “for question 3, some of you may have written 100 °C. This is wrong because…”)

Students make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are common. Teachers should learn to anticipate those so that they don’t need to go round checking every students’ work or asking zillions of questions to find out which mistakes have been made. Eliminate the most common ones quickly, and you can then start hunting for less common ones.

Springboarding questions where appropriate (e.g. “No David, ribosome is not correct. Why is ribosome not correct…Daniella?”)

There’s a balance to be struck here. Springboarding allows you to develop student thinking and build Ratio, but do it too much and before you know it you’ve lost half your lesson.

Using Ratio techniques when springboarding questions or when taking additional questions (e.g. “sir, would it be better to talk about the volume of an object rather than its size?”)

Springboarding like this is prime ground for keeping the one and losing the many; students are focused very specifically in one task (marking their work) and if you want them to think about something else you need to employ a range of strategies to make sure they are focused on your new task (listening to springboards or other questions).

At the end of the Do Now executing a whole-class data gathering exercise to establish overall performance

The Do Now is retrieval, it’s also checking student homework performance, and it’s also a good way to gather data about student knowledge as it grows over time. This is best done as “put your hands up if you got question 1 correct…question 2 correct…” etc, rather than “hands up if you got 7/7? 6/7? 5 or less?” as A) it tells you about the content rather than the students’ scores and B) students are less likely to lie.

In sum, everything we are looking for – these aspects of good practice – aren’t just a mere checkbox. They are reasoned, logical, coherent and agreed in collaboration as a department.

All that, in just 4 minutes of teaching.