Games for Understanding: why and what?

Along with the Fundamental Motor Skills unit that our Yr7 boys undertake at the start of the year, this unit forms part of a “non-sports specific” element of our KS3 curriculum.

It isn’t my intention in this post to discuss the benefits, drawbacks or pedegogical tripe involved in G4U; if that’s what you’re searching for, try someone more intelligent than me. This is very much in the flavour if the #PETotD (PE tip of the day). Real ideas, you can implement in practical PE. Which is really what you’re probably paid to do.

Why do G4U?

Many of you will have seen or experienced a similar idea before. I remember being on PGCE and doing a couple of sessions on “Teaching Games for Understanding” and it became quite a popular concept in the early-mid 2000’s.

At CLV we decided to dedicate a full 6 lesson unit to the concept & write a specific scheme & lesson plans.

The basic aim of the unit is to develop tactical & strategic awareness & thinking in game situations. There are definite motor skill requirements included but the content is delivered entirely through games, with no drills/practices.

We often expect kids to “know” what to do in a game situation, even though we don’t always make it explicit during our teaching. The nature of delivering via games lends itself better to stopping, questioning, explaining & developing a working understanding of what is going on. It is the hope that this understanding can then be applied to the range of games delivered throughout KS3 & 4.

What? How?

We timetable this as an indoor activity, usually in the smaller of our Sportshalls. On occasion, 2 groups might be timetabled on the activity together. Rather than being inconvenient, this often adds more of a competitive element & buzz to the lesson (just my opinion lads!).

We find that those pink, soft volleyballs (OK, Dodgeballs) are invaluable when delivering the unit. They burst easily so buy loads.

Activities

When planning, we worked in reverse. We end the unit with 2 Dodgeball lessons. Reason for this is if we start with DB, all the kids want to know every lesson is “are we playing dodgeball sir?” No. We originally kept lesson 6 as a “kids plan their own games” activity. The girls still do this I believe. Personally however, I think this runs the risk of becoming a classroom/paper-based/planning heavy lesson. If you’ve got 60 lads, absolutely bursting to get active & ready to work their nuts off; don’t put them in a classroom. As my new pal Ben Horbury would say; “we’re educating the physical”.

I’ve included a basic overview of the activities below. These are not extensive instructions/rules. I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in any blanks & do it better than I do anyway!

Lesson 1: Matball/Endball

Set out a “scoring zone”. I like to use gym mats or coned area. Ball can only be moved by passing. Score via pass to teammate in scoring zone. Tonnes of variations here.

Lesson 2: Benchball

Or “screamball” if the girls are teaching it. Set out benches at opposite sides of SH. Start with X number of players on opposing bench, players attempt to throw ball over opponents to bd caught by their teammates on bench. H&S; if your kids are muppets & likely to fall off bench & sustain horrific injuries, get them to stand behind, not on, benches. Ball caught = thrower joins teammates on (of behind) bench.

Lesson 3: Well, we call it “Kicky Rounders”, you might call it Longball etc.

This one is nice to split into 3 teams, kids bibbed-up. 2 teams field, 1 team kicks & runs. Bowler from each team rolls ball out to 2 or 3 kickers. Kick or miss, players have to run across SH to “safety zone” (remove this for extra challenge). Points are scored when runners return over a “home line”. On way, fielders attempt to catch kickers out, or hit them with ball Dodgeball-style below waist. Differentiate points for a run “there & back” or players who chose to stay in safety zone before returning. Fielding teams accumulate points for catches/hits. Good to keep fielding teams active & encourage kids to make good decisions about risk; points are only scored at the home line; is it worth throwing at a runner on their way outwards?

Lesson 4: Corner/Hexiball

Set up goals in corners of SH; we use the tabletennis partition dividers – don’t tell CTTC please, but benches on their sides do the job as well. Or alternatively 6 goals in hexagon shape. Split into 4/6 teams (can do this with massive groups; still 4/6 teams but each has an A & B team with one off the court when other is on).

Ball can only be moved via pass & intercepted in air/on floor. Teams attempt to prevent opponents scoring in their goal whilst attacking all other opponents. If a team concedes, their team is out & their goal is turned over. Last 2 teams play-off in final, defending 2 goals each.

Adaptations: 1) teams start with 2 players. When they score, another player comes into the game. 2) When a team is knocked out, 2 players stay in, attempting to “regenerate” their team. You might use a direct hit on a basketball backboard as a target. 3) Allow dribbling… There are loads more! This game is great. Original idea was pinched from one of the worst teachers I have ever seen – but what a game! Great for tactical discussion, attack vs defence, playing multiple opponents; the kids will often form “alliances” with opponents – @Ticktock80 would love this an an opportunity to discuss historical detantes.

Lessons 5 & 6: Dodgeball

I’m not even going to discuss this here. Have a read of my dodgeball post if you’re after ideas. In a nutshell, it’s brilliant for teaching everything.

Thoughts & suggestions welcome. Big thanks to the lads at CLV: this unit was a joint effort, created at Longhirst Hall, Morpeth. Ah, those were the days.

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Making Rugby Enjoyable

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For this post, I’m emphatically staying out of the classroom. I’ve recently fallen into the trap, to which we all seem to have been lured; focusing heavily on our classroom practice and not so much on our bread & butter.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of the fact that we teach PE. I’m sure if we look back on our PGCE (or PE with QTS) days, we were motivated heavily by the lure of teaching out on some field with a bunch of kids, whatever the weather. We all used the same lines in our first interviews; yes we are first and foremost educators, but the practical, physical element is what pushes our buttons. Core PE for me is the most important part of the job by a million miles.

Rugby

Whether you timetable proper rugby (like what I learned thanks Creeky), or posh girl’s Rugby (like I now teach); League or Union for those devoid of humour genes, you will encounter at least one of the situations outlined here:

You will find that some kids are absolutely buzzing about the activity. They might never have had the chance to legally smash people around in their lessons pre-secondary school and are now very happy to be doing Rugby with you.

Some kids will get on with it with a hint of enthusiasm, but not necessarily love the sport.

Some kids will hate the idea of having to lay hands on another human, let alone have someone do the same to them.

So there you have it; we’ve got the jocks, the inbetweeners and the softies. What you’ve now got to do is make Rugby lessons enjoyable for all of them. Good luck.

First things first:

Timetabling is important. If you want your little Year 7’s to take away positive experiences, put Rugby as the 1st or 2nd activity on your curriculum calendar. If you start the activity after October half-term & have never done any Rugby with a group before, chances are the weather will kill you. In the Northeast, once you get to that 1st half term, it’s time to put the shorts away & stop pretending to be hard as nails. It’s Baltic. Imagine how an 11 year old is going to cope with contact skills for the 1st time when his hands simply won’t work in the cold. Leave the character-building & “hairs on the chest” to the private schools.

At our place, year 9 and 10 boys core PE is ability grouped. The bottom sets simply don’t get timetabled on Rugby after half term 1 for the same reasons as above.

Introduce contact work early:

This might sound ridiculous but I think it works. Contact isn’t just tackling, ruck, maul & scrummaging. You need to encourage kids to hit the deck properly, hit contact shields & become comfortable with physical contact with other pupils and objects. I like using contact shields loads in warm-ups. Get kids punching the pads like boxers to warm up shoulders & arms. Lay out as many pads as you’ve got in a grid and get kids to drop onto them “knee, hip, shoulder” as the jog past. In your warm-up, pair kids up – play “follow the leader”. When shouted, ball carrier drops onto ground/shield and pop passes from the floor (union only please!). These ridiculously simply warm up activities all help build confidence.

Relevant Warm up:

Sounds obvious, but there are still times you’ll see a warm up at the start of the lesson with some kind of running around aimlessly, whilst the teacher sets up their cones for activity 1. I know this because I did it on Friday morning.

If teaching contact skills, always try and incorporate some elements of contact in your warm up. Press-up wrestling is one of my favourites (assume press up position facing partner, attempt to get partner to put elbow, knee, torso, full body on ground).

Groupings:

It goes without saying, your kids will almost certainly differ in height, weight & physicality. Kristian Jowett at my school was a 6ft 1inch man in year 7. Imagine being paired with him in your 1st ever lesson (Jon, Tick, you know that he was a big lass as well as I do but we’ll keep that secret).

Encourage kids to work with a pal; someone of similar size, strength or ability. Give choice. You might set up a few different activities or practices with a variable amount of physical contact. Let students pick which one they’d like to attempt. Hey, if they improve, they could move on to the next stage of challenge. Oh is that you Mr Ofsted inspector? Did you see that progress there?

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Mix things up:

When introducing tackling, I usually start with a pad/shield-based warm-up. Getting kids adopting good body position (“Aeroplane swoop” – get them to swoop on approach, touching the grass with one hand to get low), make it competitive by putting a cone behind the pad-man – see if you can drive the pad man behind his cone.

Rather than just moving straight onto tackling a partner, stick with the pads. Instead of standing holding the pad, put the pad upright on the floor with pad-man supporting it from the side. Get kids tackling the pad; using all your teaching points, body position, head, shoulders/hips, arms, drive, landing.

Once kids are ready, then move onto 1-1 tackling. Again give three or four different “stages” through which kids can progress/pick a starting point. It’s a bit like if you use SOLO taxonomy in your classroom – you aren’t expecting all kids to start from pre or uni-structural stages, so do the same in your practical.

Switch things up between using non-competitive/passive practices like the examples above and more challenging, competitive situations. Our lads seem to love “Kabaddi” games “Last Man Standing” and “Ball Steal” (examples of these can be seen in the old exemplar scheme linked at the end of this post). These games are great for removing the “Rugby” from the lesson, should you encounter a group of students who are switched off.

Do fun stuff:

Use games like Kabaddi or “Escape from…” to make contact fun. I tend to use “Escape from CLV” with yr7’s. Arrange groups of 5; 3 attackers, 2 defenders in a 20 x 10m grid. Set up 2 pairs of cones on the try line as “scoring gates”.

1st defender is a tackler (name them after one of the heads of year/deputy heads etc). This tackler can only operate in 1st 10m. If attackers pass into 2nd 10m, tackler is defunct. 2nd defender is a “blocker” who can stand in either “scoring gate” to prevent attackers from scoring a try (I always get the blocker to be the headteacher – the last line of defence you have to cross in your escape from school). This set up helps you differentiate defensive roles as well as using a game situation to deal with the inevitable “can we play a match?” questions. You can give the blocker a shield and introduce more contact should you wish. Tell the kids that they’ve found a magic egg (the ball incredibly) and they’ve got to bust out of school past the teachers. They can only use the exit doors (scoring gates). Mad, inappropriate, but fun.

I want to assess the kids in a game; it’s the end of the unit

Use differentiated pitches & modify rules. Pitch 1 might be Twickenham (or Headingley if you teach proper Rugby) – this might be “touch” or “grip” tackling. Pitch 2 might be Murrayfield (the Jungle at a push) – there might be tackling but rucks might be uncontested. Pitch 3 – well you get the idea.

You don’t have to play 15 (or 13) a-side to assess kids in game situations. Have you ever seen that on A Level moderation day? Cater for your kids.

Enjoy it

Even if your own experience is crap, don’t pass that onto the kids. Rugby has the potential to offer so much more to kids that things like football ever could. Use it & get your kids to love it.

Sample lesson plans:

Rugby Year 7 Scheme

Rugby Year 8 Scheme

Edutainment – Chat shows in lessons

Basis:

I’d had a similar idea to this a while back, but had never been able to get any further than that, an idea. It was my old pal Paul Taylor (@ticktock80) who put me onto Kate Bancroft (@klbancroft88) at Penistone Grammar School, who then inspired me to try the lesson I’m about to describe.

Kate is famed at their place for her innovative use of chat-shows/reality TV in creating engaging lessons. I’d read a few bits and pieces about her lessons and started to think more seriously about how I could do something similar. Another old pal, Jon Nicholls (@JonNicholls81) had mentioned on Twitter that he had an idea in the pipeline and this sealed it for me – I was definitely going to give it a whirl.

I had already decided on my reasons for using this kind of delivery method with my AS group; for a while I’ve been concerned about their struggles with extended questions – especially where they are asked to “critically evaluate/analyse/discuss”. I would use this idea to help the kids generate argument, discussion and highlight opposing viewpoints.

Guest Spot: Kate’s Experiences – AS PE: Rational Recreation

Jeremy Kyle definitely got my class buzzing about learning! They took on roles of the working class and it was fantastic to see them using so many key points that we had learnt in lesson during the ‘arguments’! Luckily we had a bouncer to step in when it really kicked off between the couple over the amount of time that he was working in the factories and then watching football on the ‘half day’ Saturday.

 
This particular group got so into character that they did the filming in one take, with no script…and amazingly still hit so many relevant learning points!! Definitely up there with my best lessons. What kids come up with when you give them the chance amazes me!
 
It really was a hit with my class and I can’t wait to do my next one!”
After a recommendation like that, it was easy to see the huge potential of planning something very similar.
My Lesson:
The lesson focus was on the impact of different factors on Coronary Heart Diseases. I knew I wanted the kids to answer a 10-marker for homework, so I picked the rather challenging “Critically evaluate the effect of lifestyle factors on CHD’s”.
In my planning for the lesson I decided that I’d try and keep things quite structured, rather than go all-out and turn things completely over to the kids to arrange. I wanted each pupil in the group to have a set role/persona and I also wanted to give them the opportunity to plan their response to the homework question during the lesson.
The Plan:
I spent a bit of time looking at the ability of kids in the group along with their personalities. Once I’d got my head round this, I tried to match up kids with appropriate roles. As I’m sure is the case in most groups, there is a good mix of geniuses, numpties, performing seals and kids so introverted you alsmost have to pay to hear their thoughts.
roles and jobs – document. Names in red were the kids I gave the more challenging roles and responsibilities. I emailed each pupil with their own role, with instructions to research their part and, if necessary, liaise with any others mentioned in their part. I gave them a good few days in order to ensure nobody was left with nothing to say.
I used an A3 version of this sheet Exercise and CHD 10 mark planning sheet
As a connect activity, I showed a compilation of the more extreme clips from the show and encouraged the group to attempt to replicate it in their efforts.
I set scene at the start of the lesson in character as Jezza, posed the question they kids would be answering and introduced to group to the horrible charver who they’d be watching/speaking to during the show. He was a guest from a previous episode of the show and was a disgusting looking chap. After hearing from him, I introduced our resident twins who were eating at McDonald’s 3 times each day and they got the ball rolling. In my role as Jeremy, I managed who would be speaking and in what general order. My homemade microphone and boom served as a visual aid to let everyone know who had the floor. Obviously if debate ensued, the structure opened up and a bit of organised madness raged.
The Good Bits:
The main positive of the lesson was the level of engagement. The kids genuinely seemed to love the idea that we were doing something a bit different. Had I simply set some preparatory homework as I often do, I’m sure plenty of the kids would have gone through the motions the night before, found out the relevant information in the course textbook and mindlessly copied something down as a means of answer. However, because each pupil had a differrent homework prep task, they put in some real effort. Some kids had generated pages of notes and scripts. One lad, who played the obese man in his 50’s, had brought in bags of crisps and chocolates to eat throughout his part, whilst wheezing away and simulating chest pains.
The quality of delivery from the kids was unreal. The “doctors” really had a pompous, arrogant air about them and at one point, started arguing with each other as a grudging relationship was hinted-at in their role descriptors. My “antagonist” did a great job of winding people up and making controversial, sweeping statements when other characters were trying to explain their points. We had a couple of characters thrown off the show.
The quality of information shared was outstanding. Rather than simply being just a bit of fun and chaos, the kids had really gone to town on becoming an “expert” in their specific field. There was stuff kids had brought from their Biology backgrounds (I’m lucky in that 16/19 kids do both PE and Bio).
After the “show” had finished, we allowed time for kids to go and find an “expert” in whichever field they still had questions. For example, if you still weren’t sure what the implications of HDL and LDL cholesterol were, you could go and speak to Dan and Luke who could tell you. This was propbaly my favourite bit.
The Bad Bits:
On the day of the lesson, I was already suffering from the Gastro-Intestinal infestation that put me out of school for the next 4 days. Basically I felt like shit. I was sweating like a pig and my guts were killing me. I found out the night before that 2 of my colleagues would be systematically taking kids out of the lesson to do their mock EPIP talks. This really didn’t help with continuity. I had been moved classrooms out of the block for the first lesson of the day, this meant that I had to leg it from main school back to PE to dump my gear, then peg it back outside for my break duty and then back to PE for my lesson. This didn’t allow me time to get changed into my suit. I was gutted about this bit. Having rushed around at the start of the lesson and struggled with the growing nausea, I completely forgot to pick up the 4 video cameras I’d charged up that morning for my film crew to use. Idiot. It was a bit like I’d planned the lesson for over a week and it was going tits-up before my eyes. Once I was chasing my tail, I felt I’d lost a bit of organisation along the way.
Overall:
Aside from being a bit annoyed with myself at forgetting the cameras and feeling pretty minging throughout the whole lesson, I was dead chuffed with my 1st effort at this type of lesson. There was clear differentiation in the roles kids assumed; the planning sheets and the notes the kids had prepared beforehand showed the progress made throughout the lesson and engagement was through the roof.
Yes, things could have been much better. I would certainly recommend getting more input from the kids in terms of structure of the show – I’d either let things be much more free flowing, or use a panel of kids to direct/produce the show in future. I might even let it go wild and then book the IT rooms (some expert advice) and then let the kids edit a revision video from the raw footage.
I’m already thinking about the next one. I fancy doing a “Question Time” themed show with kids coming up with their own issues and posers for a panel who would be answering in character. That’s as far as I’ve got with it I’m afraid.
The 10 mark question homework was handed in yesterday. At first glance, they look to be pretty good. I’m actually looking forward to marking them – which quite frankly is a bloody miracle.

Doubled-up Dodgeball anyone?

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Is Dodgeball any good? Well let’s be honest, how many wet-weather PE toss-off activities have a film made about them? You didn’t go to the pictures to watch “Danish Longball; the Motion Picture” did you?

All joking aside, after the great evening of shared teaching & learning in PE at the CLV Teachmeet last week, we came back to work this week faced with rain of biblical proportions. As good as we might think we are as PE teachers, we’ve never really solved the issue of what we do when it pisses it down. For our recent whole-school 2 day review, I’d planned a couple of wet-weather contingency lessons; all singing & dancing. But would they really be practical when faced with the mad rush of 90 kids piling into a sportshall? I think not. And more importantly, would the kids enjoy them?

So is it OK to use Dodgeball as a wet-weather activity, or is it simply sacking it off?

Well we do like our Dodgeball at Cramlington. The activity forms part of the “Games for Understanding” unit in Year 7 and reappears as one of the 18 options available for Year 11 to choose in their core programme. If we’re being brutally honest with ourselves, it started off as a bit of a fun, engaging activity, in which you could pay lip service to a few games principles – but really it was just something the kids loved.

The problem with any “fun” PE activity however is that if there’s no real substance to it, it can get tedious – both for you and the kids. Because of this, we started to come up with a whole variety of dodgeball based games. I’ve tried to outline these below:

1) Elimination: in its most basic form – if you’re hit or caught, you’re out. Keep this quick (2 mins max). Good for decision making like when to try & catch/when to dodge

2) Regeneration: more like the Dodgeball from the film. Make a catch and one player comes back in Good for encouraging players to attempt catches in order to bring back teammates

3) 4 Corners: rather than playing one team against another, split area into quarters. Teams then play opponents adjacent, opposite & diagonally across Good for encouraging spatial awareness & principles of attacking multiple opponents

4) Backboard Team Regeneration: if like us, you have basketball boards on your Sportshall wall, use these as “Regenerator Boards”. When a team is left with “x” number of players the team can attempt to hit to regenerator board to bring back their whole team. Good for; continuity of games, teamwork & more controversial tactics like sacrifice (deliberately “getting out” to enable your best thrower to have a shot at the backboard, bringing back the whole team.

5) Terminators: as in the 80’s classic, Dodgeball terminators are difficult to get rid of. Each team has one Terminator. They cannot be “killed” by being hit with the ball, only by being caught out. I usually give each Terminator a Rugby contact shield for protection (if it’s with the littlies I give them some of the Velcro-on body armour & a cricket helmet as well – they love it). If your Terminator gets caught, they lose their powers – the player can be regenerated but the team no longer have a Termy. Good for team decision making, defensive tactics, positioning skills.

6) Kings/Queens: sounds like it could be a bit camp but disappointingly not. As in chess (highbrow eh?), the King is the key to your team’s success/failure. Bib up a player (or 2) from each team. If they are hit/caught, the whole team is out – this could result in instant win for a team or see no. for an alternative. Good for; team decisions, team defence, attacking strategy

7) Take-over: I usually use this in conjunction with 4 corners. If you allow the game to go on long enough, a team might be completely eliminated. Should this occur, the team that hit/caught the last player out takes possession of the defeated team’s quarter. Good for; adapting tactics to a larger playing area, spreading play, attacking from different angles.

8) 2-in: if you’re not playing “take-over”, this game gives you an option once a team has been eliminated. Two players from the eliminated team remain on court. If they hit a backboard other than their own, all players on their team are regenerated. Good for; decision making, individual target-striking skills

9) Skittles: as a by-product of an experience week project (ask @paulsteanson for more details!) we ended up with about 100 bowling pins. Any kind of object with the capacity to stand up/be knocked down would substitute nicely. Teams get a number of skittles which they must place around their court; they must be free-standing and away from walls etc. If a team has all their skittles knocked down, all players are eliminated. Good for; thinking skills, linking to other games above, group decision making, team defence.

10) Spies: teams nominate one player who will be the Spy. When in possession of a ball, these players can enter opponents’ area and attempt to tag opponents with ball. If they throw their ball of lose possession of it, they must return to their own area. At any point, the defending team can eliminate the Spy by the usual methods. Good for; sneaky tactics, planning, deception/faking, good teams will realise early that if they are in possession of all the balls, they are pretty much guaranteed to win

Bonus 11) Extreme Dodgeball: god knows why we call it this. Basically we use Gymnastics apparatus for creating barriers, crash mats for landing areas (the older kids get all Matrix when we play this version), springboards for extra height and so on. Good for; allowing teams to plan and position their own barriers/defences, introducing/linking jumping/rolling/diving skills

NEW! 12 – Ghosts: Can be played as 4-corner or (as we’ve recently done) in 6ths of a Sportshall. Teams have a skittle to defend. If this is knocked over, all players in a team are out. One player (the Ghost) remains in the game. The Ghost cannot be killed (he’s a ghost, he’s already dead), the Ghost cannot kill other players (he’s a ghost after all). The Ghost’s job is to hit a target (we’ve used the Basketball backboards again) to regenerate all his team. Nice to ensure continuity & avoid players sitting out for prolonged periods.

New! “The Stuntman”

Best when combined with 4-corner as it makes the playing area smaller. One player on each team becomes “Stuntman”. Give them some sort of protective equipment – we used Rugby contact armour & a cricket helmet. The Stuntman actively tries to take hits from opposition throws. If he/she is hit, the thrower is out. I found this made throwers more selective in terms of where they were throwing – not simply trying to chuck the ball as hard and fast as possible. Also good to encourage defensive play as Stuntmen could help protect weaker players. Ridiculous fun.

So why bother?

There are a ridiculous number of variations, combinations and mash-ups that you can create. The point of this post is simply to make you think about how one simple activity can take on a whole new purpose if you put a bit of thought into it.

Dodgeball has often saved us from the Crammy weather, we repay that debt by trying to use the activity for learning and not just playing.

Hopefully the games briefly outlined above will let you start thinking about how you could use Dodgeball in order to develop skills and attributes other than dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.

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A, B, C

Admission

Right, first things first; I pinched the vast majority of this from the excellent post below…

http://physicallyeducated.org/2012/11/04/a-b-c-p-e/

Problem

I have often been left frustrated at the fact that in several lessons, I’ve been unable to get information from the kids without “spoon-feeding” them. This can be painfully apparent when questioning a group and trying to think up challenging, probing questions and being met with flat responses. You often end up giving away cheap answers after panicking that the lesson has lost pace and you need to get a shift on.

Solution?

Some might suggest that the solution to this is to pre-plan structured questions, to pose at specific points in the lesson. This is certainly a good habit to follow and questions to specific groups/pupils should be made explicit in lesson plans, but it doesn’t help when a kid stares at you blankly after exhausting their response-capacity with a 3-word answer. You could then get after the kid and ask “why? How? Can you tell me more about…?” But it’s now up to you to painfully draw out some form of communication from the kids. And if we’re genuinely honest with ourselves, we can get a bit bogged down at this point.

Enter the stolen idea

So, here’s where the idea of using A, B, C comes in. I’ll admit, after reading the article above, I scrapped the idea of using the ball. I’ve often seen or read about throwing the ball/bit of paper/other inanimate object to designate the next speaker – it all comes across as a bit like a cheesy sales rep training course to me, but hey, whatever works for you.

I also changed the meaning of A, B, C to “Apply, Build, Challenge”.

In Practice

I introduced the A, B, C activity with my AS Anatomy & Physiology group a couple of weeks ago. I’d set a 10 mark question at the start of the lesson, then taught the lesson as usual; reviewing at 15 (ish) minute intervals allowing the kids to bullet point more ideas for their answer.

During these mini-reviews, I asked a simple question simple, leading question to a lower TG student like; “identify a positive effect of aerobic exercise on Osteoporosis”. After allowing the student time to respond, I then directed the spotlight on another student, asking them to Apply this idea/concept, Build on it/expand the previous answer or Challenge it – this fitted in nicely as the 10 marker required the kids to “critically analyse”. By moving from student to student, the questioning/conversation was able to keep developing as the kids could pick what they wanted to talk about next. The only times I removed this choice was when I really wanted to bring in an opposing theme/idea; I simply picked a higher ability student and asked them to challenge what had just been said.

Simplicity

The great thing about using A, B, C is that you can adapt the requirement of each letter to suit your goal that lesson; A could be Adjust, B could be Because? C could be Create Hypothesis (for really bright thinkers!). It is simply giving your students focus when being asked to respond.

All I’m after now is a nice display to put next to my board that I can keep pointing to…

Assertive Hinge Questions

It is with some trepidation that I write this blog entry. Not only do I admit to being no expert in this area of teaching & learning, but with all the jargon flying around, I could easily violate my “no bullshit” policy if I don’t tread carefully.

Sceptic

I’d encountered “Hinge Questions” years ago. I always shrugged and passed them off as common sense really. The idea that at key moments in lessons we should judge whether or not the kids “got it” through questioning; well, I just supposed it was something I did automatically.

Hinge Festival

But when I learned a bit more about hinge questions, I realised a didn’t really understand the concept fully. We recently took part in the Cramlington Autumn Staff Conference, run over the two INSET days before October half term. Tricia Wright from CLV delivered a session on Assessment for Learning (or was it Formative Assessment?!) which highlighted the need for quality hinge questioning during lessons.

Tricia’s key messages were simple yet thought provoking; the question posed should be difficult, the question format should be simple (multiple choice works best) and teachers should be able to gauge instantly how many/which kids do or don’t answer correctly. Perhaps the key to the whole concept is that teachers should plan for what happens next depending on possible responses to the question.

Whole-class

I had also been doing a bit of reading about whole-class Assertive Questioning. After INSET led by Geoff Barton (@RealGeoffBarton), I realised I was asking far too many “what” questions in lessons and nowhere near enough “how” and “why”‘s. Assertive questioning involves posing a tough whole-class question; asking students for their responses, listening to and thanking students for their responses and reasoning – but being careful not to give away the answer. After giving students opportunity to identify and discuss similar/contrasting answers, the teacher then asks the class to formulate a whole-group answer upon which they agree. It’s a consensus you’re after as it’ll not always be easy for all the kids to agree with one another. Only when the whole-class answer is agreed do you reveal the answer you were after. The master at this is Ken Brechin at our place. If you’ve ever been in CPD led by him, you’ll know what I mean.

In practice

I tried combining these two concepts during a GCSE theory lesson to start with. It felt like the safe route as one of my groups only has 15 kids in it (puts feet up & smokes cigar); it is relatively easy to do whole class discussion with them simply due to numbers – and the fact they’re good kids.

The lesson was on exercise methods (from the OCR syllabus – not to be confused with the less wishy-washy training methods later on) for encouraging active, healthy lifestyles. After a Connect activity, new info (video input) and a carousel of activities including mix/match, “blag-it”, and a mistake spotting exercise; I decided on the hinge question below:

Which of the following is not a method a SEDENTARY person might use to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle?

a. Going swimming regularly

b. Attending a Spinning class
c. Doing a sprinting session
d. Pilates sessions
Pupils firstly answered this on mini-whiteboards enabling a “show-me” situation. Once they had decided on their own answer however, I asked them to write underneath WHY they had come to that conclusion. As anticipated, some of the kids had simply taken a guess. Others came up with a whole host of interesting theories. I questioned a cross-section of the group as to why they had made their choices and noted down some responses on the whiteboard. These notes then provided the platform for others to challenge or build upon their peers’ responses. Whilst still in “Ken Brechin” character, I just listened to the kids arguing/debating and thanked them for their thoughts. Once they’d all blow-out, I agreed with one pupil on their suggestion that “not”, “Sedentary” and “healthy, active lifestyle” were key words in the question. This then opened up another class discussion, during which I again let the kids hold court.
Hunger Games
Once the discussions had dies down again, I asked the kids to nominate a spokes person – a bit like a “tribute” from the popular, ultra-violent Suzanne Collins kiddies novel “The Hunger Games”. This spokesperson would provide me with the correct answer – but also with an agreed, reasoned justification as to how they got to the correct answer. They chose Jake as the sacrificial lamb, bless him. Two further minutes were allocated for agreeing upon a final answer and the justification.
Although the group did indeed pick “C” as the right answer, their justification was a little shaky. They hadn’t really understood what Sedentary meant or that sprinting was really a specialist type of running suitable for sport-specific training. This meant that although they’d “got it right”, they hadn’t done it through the right methods.
Back to the Drawing Board
I’d got a fall-back slide in my lesson PowerPoint with the definition/example of the word Sedentary and also some pictures of “normal” people at exercise classes/spinning/aerobics etc. I’d also got a few images of Usain Bolt training. This was the first real bit of teacher-led stuff in the lesson as I pointed out who would be most likely to use the exercise methods we had been learning about and pointing out the differences between athletic training and exercise for healthy lifestyle. Through further Q&A, I was satisfied that the kids now “got-it” and moved on.
The process might seem long-winded but to be fair, the whole process took around 15 minutes max and covered the crux of what the lesson was about. Also worth pointing out was the one thing I hadn’t really expected (ish); that the kids would agree on the right answer, but not know why.
Worth trying again? Definitely. As I get better at the questioning techniques, I’m sure it’ll develop into a common feature of my lessons.

Blag it…

“Blag it” is an idea I’d had for a while since seeing a colleague use something similar for revision sessions with A level kids.

I got a mark scheme for some AS level Anatomy & Physiology questions on effects of warm-up/cool-down. We use ExamQuest at our school (http://www.examquest.co.uk/sec/index.asp), if you haven’t got it installed already and have a spare £90ish, you need it!

For the question I decided to use, there were 12 potentially acceptable answers. I printed these answers off on cards, with a pack of 12 for each table of four.

The AS kids had not “learned” anything yet, they were attempting the task blind as a short starter activity. Using a stopwatch, students in each group had between 20 seconds and 1 minute (according to differentiated ability groups) to try and explain or “blag” how the answer on their card would be of benefit to a sport performer. Students were not allowed to “pass” or repeat what they had said – they had to fill that time with information they thought was relevant. For example; you might turn over a card saying “reduced blood viscosity”. How might this benefit a performer?

The concept behind the activity is not revolutionary or even nearly-new, but it reinforces a message I keep trying to get across to the kids “you might not know, but what do you think?” For some reason our kids seem to resign themselves to saying “I don’t know” and then moving on. I always find it frustrating when this happens in exams or mocks; the students leave a question blank or write a couple of lines, but when you question them (properly), they KNOW quite a lot of the answers.

Used as a connect/starter activity, Blag it works well with A level students; it can be funny, it can get them thinking and talking about the lesson ahead, it can get kids out of their comfort zone – which can seem strange bearing in mind they’re just talking to their mates.

The nice thing about the lesson from here on in was the fact that by attempting to “blag it” in the starter, the kids were already familiar with the key words & concepts, even if they didn’t fully understand them yet. When the “proper teaching” started, students could compare what they came up with and the “real answers”.

During this lesson, I went back to the cards as a review activity in the last 10 minutes. Students had to pick 3 cards they found difficult/impossible to Blag at the beginning of the lesson & try again with a partner. I wandered and listened in to what was being said – admittedly I focused on the lower ability students to make sure “they got it” – it was noticeable that the kids sounded more confident and genuinely had things to say. I’ll probably try this again as a review activity in the near future.

“Illegitimi non carborundum” PST