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Comprehending Texts & Acquiring Language… Reflections#1

This new series of post investigates the workshop Comprehending Texts & Acquiring Language in Science presented 4 Jan 2018 at the ASE annual conference by Naomi Hennah (@MrsHennahand myself. 

This first instalment focuses on how the Word-Round following the reading activity was used summatively to investigate the text and to develop questioning as a transferable skill.

Introduction for non-delegates

The lesson Naomi and I presented last week at the ASE annual conference in Liverpool is designed to furnish learners with two important strategies for reading technical texts, specifically to help them answer a technical question. The two strategies are:

  1. questioning the text
  2. summarising the text.

This article deals with the first one, questioning. Both strategies have been shown to be effective after only a few sessions of instruction.*

When questioning a text students learn to ask questions as they read as an interior dialogue. During the paired reading that forms the bulk of our lesson, we externalise this dialogue to give students the opportunity to develop their questioning skills. Then, after reading is completed, we then round off with a Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern (CLIP) known as Word-Round to formalise and prioritise and share “summative” questions about the entire text. Aside from the impact on learning, generating questions form an excellent assessment tool on a very different level than providing mere answers.*

(The context of the problem of reading specific science texts has been discussed previously in Comprehending Texts & Acquiring Language in Science: Resources and The Chemistry of Collaboration: CL & Science at the ASE Annual Conference. Non-delegates might wish to refer to these before proceeding).

 

Word-Round: Understanding a CLIP

To recap, Cooperative Learning consists of students in small hand-picked teams or pairs working in fixed Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (called CLIPs) selected and timed by teachers to achieve very specific aims – while affording students endless variation and excitement through changing materials and tasks. Cooperative Learning seamlessly integrates oral interventions, and fuses with meta-cognition and feedback, which potentially yield up to 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year according to the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit. (See Feedback strategies & Cooperative Learning).

Thus, keep in mind that while the CLIP discussed in the following, the Word-Round, is tailored in this lesson to support these reading strategies in general and acquire one science text in particular, it potentially has infinite application.

In its generic form, it looks like this:

Word-Round
  1. The teacher presents a task with several possible answers.
  2. Team members take turns presenting an answer or solution in their team.

Its deceptive simplicity belies its usefulness and versatility: It may be used for everything from brainstorming to reviewing. Here, we explain the strategy in greater depth.

 

Word-Round in the context of the ASE reading lesson

At the ASE conference, the Word-Round followed the 20 minute Pair-Reading where delegates took turns to read and summarise/questions/comment on one paragraph or image at a time. Delegates will find the full plan in their handouts. Both handouts and the edited article on the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry used is found among the resources in the previous post.

Delegates in Pair-Reading.PNGTongue in cheek – Pair-Reading delegates at Thursday’s session.

In effect, while the Pair-Reading may be the core of the lesson, the Word-Round is its pinnacle. This means that other reading strategies you are familiar with might be used prior to the Word-Round, including individual reading. However, you will likely find that the peer support provided by Pair-Reading will greatly affect the level of outcomes, because it has given all students a chance to reflect and acquire understanding and vocabulary. (Pair-Reading will be discussed in a separate article.  Get notifications of related posts on Twitter).

So, following reading in pairs, small groups were tasked to identify the paragraph that would best help answer the two basic hinge questions we asked delegates to focus on while reading the text – “What was the problem with water?” and “How was it solved?”

To be clear, Naomi spent a great deal of time picking out the most interesting hinge questions before settling on these two. Runner-ups included meta-questions about how the text demonstrated collaboration as a key to success in science. But in a lesson where objectives are defined by curriculum and schemes of work coming up with hinge questions should not present such a challenge – as you are likely to find them predefined in your teaching materials.

 

Staging the Word-Round

From the Lesson Plan:

Individual task:

  1. students individually write as many questions as possible about the paragraph.
  2. Individuals priority order their questions.

Word-Round:

Each student proposes and explains to the team why their question should be asked. (Can loop multiple times as required).

The balance between individual and collaborative work is discussed in detail below. But when individuals prepare input for a collaborative activity, it is vital the students are not discussing their questions. As I said, “This is your time for reflection. Forget your mate, for a moment. What do you wonder about?”

On a side note: One issue that thankfully got as much attention in our workshop as the reading itself were the complex set of ancillary, transferable skills facilitated in the lesson.  One such of value to any professional teacher or scientist is comprehending the benefits and drawbacks of individual vs. collaborative work – and their appropriacy in context. As I explained to one delegate after the session, I have worked with a school where Year 5 children with two years of Cooperative Learning under their belt are able to assess and pick relevant interaction fitting team composition, task and materials. What would they be like in university if their high school picks up on it?!

These are the slide instructions for the tailored Word-Round, including scaffolding language in red:

Word-Round ASE

A simple, fast and effective way to share ideas within teams without jeopardising individual accountability, devolving the CLIP into disorganised, worthless “group work.” However, as simple and fast as it is, as Naomi has pointed out on numerous occasions, you need to train students to do this. Consistency is the key to success.

Note again that the objective is not to discuss, nor even at this stage to answer questions, but for each student to inquire into their own understanding (or lack thereof) and formalise this into questions and to consider their relevance and value.

Individual work vs collaborative work

Cooperative Learning is not an aim in itself – It has value only as a surgical tool to drive objectives, whether in individual lessons or in relation to whole-school improvement (explained by one headteacher in the video interview below) and should be seamlessly interwoven with other elements of the lesson. 

Adam Mason video

Headteacher at Fakenham Junior School, Adam Mason, discusses Cooperative Learning as a whole-school approach (more videos in the gallery)

Therefore, unless it forms an integral step of the CLIP (such as the ubiquitous Think-Pair-Share) time needs to be allocated for individual work: The question the teacher needs to ask himself is when to use Cooperative Learning and when to ask learners to work alone.

Some of the advantages of Cooperative Learning are outlined below:

  1. ensures that every student makes a relevant contribution
  2.  supports every learner’s own understanding, as well as that of peers
  3. ensures the learners work towards your lesson objectives.

Generally, to encourage thoughtful contributions, many Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns benefit from a period of individual work before the collaboration begins. This gives learners the opportunity to reflect or solve problems before they share with the group.

 

Generating questions

In this lesson, the activity is preceded by students individually writing as many questions as possible about the text they have read. A ‘question placemat’ as seen in the following slide can provide support for learners to ask relevant questions. It is vital that they all have at least one, even if it is copied from the board. 

Question the key section

For many students even copying a question from the board and having the courage to present it is actually a step up and slowly paves the way for individual work as the team members reward thank and praise contributions, a given in any Cooperative Learning classroom (For more information, see On the subject of social skills

So, some students will write many questions, others fewer. Some will be reflective, some may seem superficial. Regardless, the individual element of the task combined with the Word-Round following it provides good assessment information on:

  • the student’s understanding of the text
  • language/vocabulary
  • oral presentation skills
  • listening and reflection skills.

The way you phrase the task may be subtly used to guide the questions, or support ancillary objectives. For example, instead of “Ask questions about the text” try “Ask questions about how this text connects to previous lessons on this topic” or “…questions that you feel this text does not discuss in depth” or “…questions about the ethical implications about this scientific approach,” etc.

Be aware that asking questions is more difficult than it sounds. When learners ask questions, they need to identify what it is they don’t understand, or what makes them wonder.

The first one is a challenge to many pupils because it demands metacognition, i.e. awareness of one’s own learning process. The paired reading activity that preceded the independent task gives learners the opportunity to rehearse questioning, however, at first, students may not be aware how much they need to make use of each other at this stage. The individual task leaves them alone and accountable. They need to re-consider their pair discussion for clues. “What was that thing Bob said that I didn’t get?”

The second one is a challenge because, in order to wonder, you need to use both your imagination and previous knowledge. There can be no wondering about the text unless the text is held up against something else that may or may not quite fit. “I am wondering how XYZ relates to ABC in yesterday’s lesson.”

Finally, we strongly recommend that every question is signed. This provides written evidence for assessment and also lets the teacher hold individuals to account for the quality of their work.

Get notifications of the next posts on Twitter.

More general information at werdelin.co.uk, the business end of cooperativelearning.works.

Other articles of interest include:

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Note: Elements of this article are adapted from an original resource pack by Jakob Werdelin w. Ben Rogers.

 ____________

*) Please see ​On transfer as the goal in literacy ​Posted on​ “​Granted, and…​– thoughts on education” ​by ​grantwiggins​ 20 April 2015) for more detail on these.

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The Chemistry of Collaboration: CL & Science at the ASE Annual Conference.

At January’s annual ASE conference in Liverpool, Naomi Hennah and I hope to demonstrate how Cooperative Learning can further her vision for oracy skills in Science.

Naomi Hennah (@MrsHennah) is a Teacher of Science/Chemistry at Northampton School for Boys.  I have previously written a dedicated article on her work.

Mrs Hennah says: The difficulties associated with the language of science has always been a matter of both interest and concern for me in my own teaching. I wanted to decouple literacy demands from scientific concepts and began using Socratic Questioning Technique  with small intervention groups as a tool for unpicking misconceptions. The power of student talk and how to harness its potential is a matter of ongoing research including its application in laboratory work, as a tool for constructing knowledge and lessening cognitive demand.

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Jakob says: Given the routine concerns from science and maths teachers that Cooperative Learning denotes imprecise “talking exercises” best suited to discussing poetry, this reflects precisely my own vision for Cooperative Learning in the subject of science. (Note that some of these concerns are addressed in the post Out of the Question from ASE’s London and Essex Summer conference Supporting Learning for all in Science).

Indeed, it seems there is a dire need for a different approach to science education. The special vocabulary, the mindset of enquiry and curiosity balanced against non-negotiable concepts and rigorous application of  precise procedures, all combine to put Science into a field of its own.

Even the language of Maths is violently re-framed when applied to science. I am still hoping to give the revolational Language of Mathematics in Science presented by Richard Boohan & Roni Malek at that conference its (over-)due attention; and no opportunity seems better than in connection with this new presentation in Liverpool.

Maths in Science.png
HINTS from Language of Mathematics in Science: This is some of the vocabulary you cannot count on transferring directly from Maths. (mathsinscience.uk)

If you have any doubts, just revisit Ben Roger’s 2015 survey of the reading habits of one hundred UK scientist. A central conclusions is that professional scientists and engineers had to teach themselves to read subject texts, at least until college.

Shockingly, only 10% of the professionals who responded to the survey were taught to read science texts at school. 84% said they taught themselves.

 

Oracy; the living counterpart to reading and writing

Mrs Hennah says: I am currently “studying” as an Oracy Leader with Voice21 and have been looking at talk for reading, talk for writing and my particular interest – social construction of learning and as a tool to rehearse vocabulary and lesson cognitive load.
What I had not appreciated was how much training kids need before they can talk and listen effectively!

To integrate this into classrooms “will require a shift in classroom culture from a more traditional, passive environment to that of active collaborative enquiry.” Our session will hopefully demonstrate how Cooperative Learning makes that shift easy to manage, for leadership, for teachers and for our learners.

Here, Jakob and I do not mean just drilling the definitions, vocabulary and procedures for the benefit of GCSEs. We want to facilitate transferable thinking and communication skills needed in the highly collaborative working environment of tomorrow’s Mendeleevs and Curries.

Delegates in our session will find themselves walking in the shoes of their students as they work together to unpick a PhD-level scientific text and experience the power of peer learning.

Our session will hopefully demonstrate how various Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns will expedite all required aspects of the learning process, including traditional individual tasks such as reading and writing and achieve automatic differentiation, comprehension, language acquisition and contextualisation – with virtually no teacher intervention.

 

Because, with Cooperative Learning, talking is not an end in itself.

_______

Comprehending Texts & Acquiring Language in Science
Thursday, January 4 • 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm

Limited Capacity seats available. Reserve here.

(link: http://sched.co/C59e)

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ASE Annual Conference 2018 at the University of Liverpool

Wednesday 3rd to Saturday 6th January 2018

The ASE Annual Conference, Europe’s Largest Science Education Conference,  is a unique opportunity for all teachers of science.

The conference programme offers over 350 sessions, covering all phases and all levels from NQTs to Heads of Department. Common to every session is the focus on the resulting impact on students’ learning and achievement including:

  • Updates from the exam boards
  • Assessment guidance
  • Curriculum development
  • Practical science ideas
  • Research into teaching practice
  • Insight into cutting-edge science

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The Chemistry of Communication; Oracy Skills in Science (and everywhere else)

Mrs Naomi Hennah (@MrsHennah) of Northampton School for Boys has created a clear and concise “visual summary of the complexity of chemical discourse” to boost oracy skills and language acquisition in chemistry.  (Link at the end of the page).

Teachers from other subjects should not be put off, however. This post should hopefully make Mrs Hennah’s considerations relevant not only to other fields of science (which would not require a huge leap of the imagination) but to all subjects, as remote from Science as, say, Religious Studies. 

 

The reason for this is found in the requirement for exact vocabulary in any subfield. Imagine grammar without the delineation provided by word classes; maths without numerator & denominator; English without active and passive voice. Even Religious Studies cannot be taught without the concepts of monotheism, ritual, and so forth. However, as all teachers know, the correct understanding and application of subject relevant language is not a given, even after laborious explanation. 

“…to do so requires words.”

As Mrs Hennah says in her introduction: “Teachers are required to facilitate understanding [and] to do so requires words. Words are at the heart of knowledge and understanding, but it is unwise to assume we share their meaning.”

Unwise indeed. Because social constructivism is a fact of human existence, like breathing, meaning is continuously negotiated everywhere: in media, in politics, and even in families debating what constitutes “too much screen time.” Infuriating for its critics in right-wing think tanks, the moment one begins to even discuss social constructivism, one is engaging in social constructivism.

In fact, social constructivism factors as much into science as it does in, say, philosophy. If in doubt about this, just replace “scientific” with “philosophic” in the following quote. As Mrs Hennah points out, the national curriculum for science specifically refers to the need for “spoken language in pupils’ development across the whole curriculum — cognitively, socially and linguistically. The quality and variety of language that pupils hear and speak are key factors in developing their scientific vocabulary and articulating scientific concepts clearly and precisely,” to clarify students’ thinking and use the discussion to probe and remedy their misconceptions. 

So, social constructivism is just brilliant in education: through everyone explaining, recapping, challenging, questioning, discussing, and debating, vocabulary and its multivarious contexts are acquired and integrated on the fly into the minds of all the debating participants, each adding unique value as sounding boards for preconceptions, correlating information, renegotiating significance. Right?

Hey, let’s make pupils teachers! (What could possibly go wrong?)

So far so good. Except that, order to leverage social constructivism, you need to pass at least some of the learning process into the hands of the students. The potential for off-task behaviour, messy assessment, and especially peers teaching nonsense, is enough to unflip many a classroom.

Cooperative Learning handles these risks effectively. Because it micro-manages timing, subject specific language, materials, interaction, and tasks, Cooperative Learning facilitates accountability and monitoring and seamlessly interlaces the unique input of the teacher with student-centred activities. We have discussed in the last post on Stalham Academy how this is not experienced as a straitjacket, but the opposite. Teachers have full control, yet students are free to roam within this focus. As Matthew Vince puts it in this video: ” … you can teach specific knowledge, its just in a way that is engaging and active … There is just no room for anyone to go off task…” (Note that he can barely contain his laughter at this point).

Matthew Vince

But! Matthew is an Religious Studies teacher – not relevant to science at all! My point exactly: Matthew is referring to the exact same Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) which led Dr Lynn Hayes of INSPIRE STEM PGCEs at Imperial College to say: 

“I just had to share with you how my Maths Student Teacher used CLIPs SO effectively as a revision starter to his lesson. It was only the second time that he used it with his top set Math Yr9 set. They have really bought into the process and learning was happening! The school that I visited yesterday is going to use CLIPs to investigate developing Literacy in Science Year 7.” 

Bridging the Gap

The aim of Mrs Hennah’s project is to develop oracy in the classroom and measure the impact that this has on technical and semi-technical language acquisition and she is clear that to do so “will require a shift in classroom culture from a more traditional, passive environment to that of active collaborative enquiry.”

Cooperative Learning makes that shift easy to manage, for senior leadership, teachers and students – and might concievably help with the cross-curricular problems Ben Rogers describes in his recent article  Haven’t We Got Enough To Do Already? How and Why Science Teachers Teach Vocabulary.

With Cooperative Learning, talking  is not an end in itself. Various Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns cover all required aspects of the learning process, including traditional individual tasks such as reading and writing. (For science teachers, I highly recommend reading Ben Rogers’s recent article on how simple Cooperative Learning can improve reading comprehension of texts).

For example: the classic Sage-n-Scribe (Boss & Secretary) is an obvious choice for setting up a science experiment: one student reads out the step-by-step process using relevant language, demonstrated by teacher and scaffolded by relevant materials (but cannot touch the materials), the partner executes the orders, asking clarifying questions, but cannot act without instructions. (There are life skills for you, right in the science lesson).  

Think-Pair-Share, on the other hand, is brilliant for guessing experiment outcomes and their whys, or, afterwards, for assessing why exactly the results didn’t come out as expected. (Just add in a written element in each of those three stages, and you will get the written evidence, as well as a track record of who won the argument and why).

Now open Mrs Henna’s visual and start in the box “Oracy: the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech” and as you work your way through, imagine in a practical way how you would stage Boss & Secretary and Think-Pair-Share to tick the other boxes.

 

For more on TPS, I refer to my previous repressing of Tom Sherrington’s post on Think-Pair-Share.

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Cooperate Be Literate Live!

Happy New Year: This Thursday, the first lesson plan hatched by the Cooperate Be Literate project will be presented to delegates at the ASE Annual Conference 2016 at the University of Birmingham.

Ben and I have been busy over Christmas writing up the lesson plan and preparing our science reading lessons. We’ve written the first chapters of our book on how to teach science students to read using cooperative learning techniques.

We’ve trialled the lesson with learners from year 5 to adults. Seems it is a very enjoyable way of embedding the skills needed to read scientific texts effectively.

ASE Conference invite

 

And reading is such an important skill. Only 20% of the science and engineering professionals Ben asked over the summer said that they were taught to read technical texts at school. A staggering number.

Our lesson is great and we’ve got an exciting presentation to deliver. We hope to see you there.

Our session is on Thursday at 15.00 – 16.00. Looking forward to seeing you. As final evidence of the content void nature of Cooperative Learning, the same activity which a few weeks ago facilitated higher level thinking and communicative skills when debating toxic subjects in the soft context of RE/RS, Citizenship and SMSC, now promotes literacy in your next Science lesson.

 

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Cooperate Be Literate

As mentioned in the previous post, a dream has come true for me. I am working with a highly experienced science teacher to discover how Cooperative Learning can further literacy skills in science from KS2 to University.

Given the routine assertions that Cooperative Learning denotes wet talking exercises, some science and maths teachers I have spoken to have raised concerns. During development of the courses to Norwich Primary Academy, fate has willed that the deputy head, Mr Ben Rogers, was point man. Before his tenure at NPA, Ben has taught science at secondary level for 18 years and sees what Cooperative Learning can actually do. Many will be familiar with Ben’s blog, ReadingforLearning, and his special focus on reading in Science as a very distinct and largely unexplored area.

However there is a dire need, it seems. Ben has investigated the reading habits of one hundred scientist. One of the main conclusions from the survey is that professional scientists and engineers teach themselves to read subject texts, at least until college (only 10% of the professionals who responded to the survey were taught to read science texts at school, 84% said they taught themselves).

As a science teacher, Ben believes that technical texts require specific reading strategies. As a Cooperative Learning aficionado, I want to prove the role of Cooperative Learning in Science.

I do not mean just in relation to drilling the definitions, vocabulary and procedures associated with these subjects. I aim to facilitate transferable skills, such as contextualisation and higher level thinking,  through negotiation of meaning.

I hope to prove that the tight structuring afforded by Cooperative Learning will simultaneously provide classroom control, focus on objectives and effective assessment, while giving science students a sense of both freedom to investigate and accountability for their own learning.

Read Ben’s reflections on cooperatebeliterate.org.

Read the survey on educationinchemestry

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