A summary of a post by Matt Bromley which explores why we should introduce variety and surprise into our lessons, even when these must be well structured. For the full post, click the link: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/a-design-for-learning-five-teaching-and-learning-keys-for-your-lessons/
My daughters regard cleaning as an unpleasant chore and their creativity knows no bounds as they invent new ways of shirking it. But, since the arrival of the New Vacuum, they have regularly volunteered – yes, volunteered – to hoover the carpets and are genuinely disappointed when I say no.
On those rare occasions when the New Vacuum has sufficient charge to be deployed, it brings a new-found excitement to a simple act. But it’s not really its effectiveness that delights us; it is the novelty value, the fact it is different.
And so it is with teaching and learning. Students are more likely to want to learn – and to actually learn – if their interest is piqued by newness, by the extraordinary, by the unfamiliar.
In short, we all grow tired of repetition, of the predictable and prosaic, of the monotonous and mundane, and we all need a frequent frisson of freshness in our lives. And the lessons we teach should be no exception.
Making it new: the sensory ‘hook’
In order to make ideas “stick” we need to make them concrete by grounding them in sensory reality. In fact, the more sensory “hooks” we use, the better ideas will stick.
Moreover, in order to ensure that ideas “stick” we need to make them tangible, because students find it hard to care about or understand abstract concepts. If we ground an abstract concept in sensory reality and thus engage our students’ emotions, our students are made to care about something, they are made to feel something and this is an important part of the learning process.
When we are exposed to new information, we process it and then attempt to connect it to existing information (in other words, we try to assimilate new knowledge with prior knowledge). The richer – sensorily and emotionally – the new information is, and the deeper the existing information is ingrained, the stronger we will encode the new information in our long-term memories.
A good starting point is to think back to your own school days – which lessons do you still remember and why? Now teach those lessons – or a variation of them – to your students. Pass it on.
But be assured that providing variety and novelty in this way does not mean your lessons cannot follow a regular, familiar structure. I am not suggesting you start each new lesson with a completely blank page, disregarding the need for learning outcomes and plenaries, say.
But what are the underlying principles of all well-planned lessons? What is the familiar structure supporting all varied and novel teaching strategies?
- Connect the learning
Ensure that students understand the learning goal (where the lesson and scheme is heading) and why that goal is important (the purpose of learning what they’re learning). Ensure that students’ starting points (what they already know and can do, as well as their misconceptions) are identified through pre-tests and then acted upon.
- Personalise the learning
Ensure that the lesson is tailored to meet individual needs and to match individual skills, interests, and styles. Ensure that the diagnostic data about students’ starting points – both from pre-tests and regular assessments – I mention above are used to inform the on-going lesson planning process.
- Grab their attention
Ensure that the lesson grabs and maintains students’ attentions from the very beginning by using sensory “hooks” and by ensuring that the learning is appropriately paced and that activities are appropriately varied and challenging.
- Teach less, learn more
Ensure that students are afforded sufficient time and space to acquire the necessary experiences, knowledge and skills that they need in order to meet the learning goal. Remember that less is more: aim to cover a smaller amount of curriculum content but in greater depth and detail – as well as from a range of different perspectives – rather than attempt to “get through” more content in a shallow, superficial manner.
- Take time to reflect
Provide students with regular opportunities to reflect on their progress, to revise their thinking, and to redraft their work, acting on the formative feedback they receive from teacher, peer and self-assessments.
So that’s my advice – try to teach lessons that students will never forget. But hang your novelty on a familiar structure – follow the five-point plan in order to ensure that your exciting, surprising and challenging lessons are also effective in enabling all students to make good progress. Make sure the learning is connected, personalised, grabs students’ attentions, covers the curriculum content in sufficient depth, and affords students the time to reflect on their learning and to act on feedback.