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Darren Mead

Darren Mead is an experienced science teacher who has been described as ‘the Jimi Hendrix of teaching’ and ‘perhaps the most intellectually engaged of all British teachers’. Based in the north-east of England, he shares his classroom-based interpretations of research through his highly respected blog, Sharing Pedagogical Purposes.


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www.pedagogicalpurposes.blogspot.com

Publications by Darren Mead

The Expert Teacher

In The Expert Teacher: Using pedagogical content knowledge to plan…

Author Blog

How to give and receive feedback from students about learning.

June 20 2019

There is no simple answer to planning great feedback that allows your students to thrive. It is as complex as they are. I am at pains to point out that what I am about to outline is far from a complete set of ideas, but the following list may act as focusing lens to help sharpen what you see as important for the lesson you are currently planning. The culture of the classroom and the institution’s, your and your students’ perceptions are very much front and centre in the realms of feedback, so we will start with that.
Developing a culture where feedback is valued, wanted and well received?
  • What routines, systems and procedures do you use to ensure that ‘threat’ is reduced and feedback will not be interpreted as a personal affront?
  • What have you done to help students understand that feedback is part of the learning process?
  • Do you use self and peer assessment strategies to develop student error detection and self-regulation?
  • How do you value honest student responses so that errors are readily offered?
6 steps to planning receiving feedback from students.
Step 1 - Remind yourself of the lon learning intentions?
What was important last lesson?
What is important in this lesson?
What will be important next lesson?
What will be important at the end of the academic year?
Is this a threshold concept?
Step 2 - Where is the best place to focus the assessment?
Are you working on a long-term outcome that brings together many ideas and involves more complex thinking?
Are you working on short-term outcomes so repeating the information is key to longer-term learning?
What are the misconceptions, known difficulties and common errors associated with this concept or this task?
Step 3 - What exactly are you looking for?
How important is the idea? Is it a threshold concept? A known concept? A Long term learning intention?
How might student knowledge change over time or over the teaching sequence?
How will you know if the students are getting to grips with this idea? How might this change as they become more confident or understand it better?
Are you looking to see if they understand the idea, if they know the idea or that they can apply the idea?
Step 4 - Constructively align tasks and assessments.
Are you interested in them developing or constructing meaning of the idea or assessing if this has been learned?
Is there any chance for means end thinking or guess work?
Step 5 - Design assessments that you can trust.
Have I assessed the big idea more than once?
How big is the decision I will make based upon this information?
How much trust is necessary?
Do I trust that they know it? Or have they just worked it out from the clues in the assessment?
Step 6 - Make the information manageable.
When do I need this information? Can it wait for in between lessons to be processed and used?
Will sampling the class suffice?
Does having a valid assessment matter at this point in time?
How does the gathering of information fit with the flow of planned activities/ learning or the lesson?
Can a computer do the compilation of the evidence for me?
8 steps to giving students feedback.

Step 1 - Establishing the purpose of the feedback.
  • Are students developing an understanding? Applying or building on knowledge? Producing work where quality matters? (Are domain skills involved)? Are they struggle to complete a task?
  • Is there an opportunity to develop their self-regulation?
  • Who or what is the feedback for? The student? To fulfil a policy? For observers?
Step 2 - Consider the form of feedback (or if more Instruction is needed?)
  • Do students know enough for the feedback to be helpful?
  • Are the tasks constructively aligned enough for task level feedback to be helpful?
  • Are answer sheets, guide sheets or rubrics needed?
  • Will marking codes be a useful time saver?
Step 3 - Establish a context for feedback.
  • How does the teaching sequence support the current learning?
  • What prior knowledge do they need to be able to act on the feedback given?
  • Are the learning intentions shared, agreed or owned by the students?
  • How can you make the goals clear to the students?
  • Is exemplar work used to set the direction and quality of the student work?
  • Is a rubric established early in the sequence of producing the work?
  • Is there a way of making the feedback something that is sought by the students rather than offered by the teacher?
Step 4 - Consider the timing of the feedback.
  • Is the potential feedback needed for this task or concept best if provided immediately during the activity, or might some delay be beneficial?
  • Is the task best defined as a construct, demonstrate or assessment task?
  • How would testing and tests be structured in this topic to aid long term retention?
Step 5 - Establish the correctness, or not, of the student learning?
  • What are the signs, evidence and clues that this piece of work is on the right track?
  • Is there a hinge point opportunity?
  • Is the hinge point activity robust enough to exposure misunderstandings and gaps in understanding?
Step 6 - Consider how the feedback will induce thinking.
  • How does the feedback narrow down the range of potential answers or solutions?
  • Does the feedback avoid leading the student to use a means end or a ‘trial and error’ approach?
  • What are the purposes of your planned questions? Are they to assess, to induce thinking or a convoluted form of social control?
  • Is there an opportunity for students to ask high quality questions?
Step 7 - Consider how the feedback develops self-regulation.
  • Is student knowledge secure enough to add potential extraneous cognitive load?
  • What is the balance between securing knowledge and developing self-regulation?
  • Is there a choice of meaningful tasks to follow formative assessment?
Step 8 - Set targets.

  • What might you have to re-teach? How will you represent the ideas differently?
  • What are the long-term goals for students with this concept?
  • Is there any opportunity for “feed-forward” between tasks?
  • Do some targets take precedence over other?

Further Reading

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A brief summary of selecting visual representations for teaching.

June 07 2019

In this summary, adapted from my upcoming book, "The Expert Teacher". I look at how teachers choose to represent and augment the ideas being taught can help and hinder student understanding. This vital part of our teacher expertise is therefore a part part of our pedagogical content knowledge,

Visual representations or illustrations can foster an understanding that words alone can’t manage. They are helpful by

  • engaging curiosity and empathy,

  • helping teacher clarity,

  • creating a context for learning,

  • elaborating on or highlighting specific aspects of an idea,

  • helping to organise written information.

We have five, distinct, purpose types of visual representation we can use. (see Mayer and Gallini 1990; Carney and Levin 2002)

Type of illustration

Definition

Examples

Decoration

Images that are not directly related to the content.

A picture of Windsor Castle when talking about the monarchy.

Representational

Show one useful element.

A drawing of the tissues of a leaf.

A diagram showing the layers of the earth.

 Organisational

Show the relationships within the content.


A timeline of the events during the Cold War.

A table to compare and contrast plant and animal cells.

Explanation/interpretational

Show how the system works.

An illustrated sequence of words and pictures that show how to perform a task.

A weather map.

Transformational

Images that make the material more memorable.

A labelled diagram of an avocado representing the proportional sizes of the layers of the earth.


Be aware each type does not have the same value when it comes to ensuring student understanding.

The methods of showing students information “non-linguistically” range from symbols to graphic organisers, to computer simulations, to hand drawn sketches and diagrams, to info-graphics and pictures and photographic images. Teachers commonly supplement their talk with images , and rightly so: if an idea is shared both verbally and with an image, the likelihood of the idea being learned is better retained .

Strong learning occurs when words and images are combined . It is the combination of a well-selected image with decent labeling and a honed teacher explanation that helps to ensure that students begin to understand the new information being shared. Considering the ubiquity of the slide show presentation as the interface of choice (or management diktat) between teacher planning and student experience, we must give great thought to how the ideas and concepts are represented. It is the capacity of the slide show to be a repository for a teacher’s whole lesson that makes them attractive: everything can be sequenced so the lesson will flow (allegedly). However, in this large scale lesson slide show, a teacher can get lost while searching for appropriate and quality images for the students to interact with. As can a student. If an image is too complex and requires too much ”reading” students will not be able to assimilate all the information. We must therefore think about what makes a quality image.

What does research tell us about choosing useful visual representations?

Visual representations might be best used when teaching more complex ideas since our visual system is better at dealing with complexity than our linguistic system . When ideas are complex, seeking an image to simplify them is a useful technique: illustrations can help to highlight differences between ideas and spatial relationships and can help us to isolate individual components of a broader idea or concept. However, not all forms of image lead to the same degree of understanding. Illustrations that are too realistic tend to provide ancillary information that can obscure the central idea we are trying to communicate. In terms of developing understanding, simple line drawings can often be the best solution at an early stage and may form a decent basic representation of knowledge before we move on to more complicated and realistic representations as the students’ knowledge grows.

So in selecting an image teacher must be aware that:

  • students perform worse on retention tests when images are merely entertaining or decorative, (which seems like a classic case of engaging students in tasks rather than concepts.)

  • images that have been designed to improve motivation and interest in topics have also been shown to be ineffective

  • although novel images are great for drawing student attention, they suffer when used too frequently.

  • selecting images with a suitable level of complexity not only gains students’ attention but also holds it rather better than a more simple image

  • images that show how a system works lead to cognitive interest (rather than emotional interest) and are therefore more useful when we are attempting to develop students’ understanding.

  • images that are too elaborate can be problematic as they may be too difficult to read or might be interpreted in too many different ways by the students to support the ideas being taught. As always here, we must consider what our students already know and what they can do, and we must maintain the development of student understanding as the central factor behind our image choice.

  • although providing a picture may help factual recall, it can diminish the student’s ability to describe the overall purpose of a text.

  • location of the image also makes a difference: a picture that comes after the text may improve the comprehension of the information in the text better than a picture placed before it.


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