Saturday, 3 January 2015

SOLO mats - a 1 page lesson

It's been ages since I did a blog post about a teaching resource, so here we go...

I was looking to build in SOLO (For more posts on SOLO see here), some independence and also some structure to a lesson that also included an amount of differentiation. I try wherever possible to aim my lessons at the most able in the group, with scaffolding back for lower ability so that the more able aren't always subject to differentiation by just being given more work to do.

I mucked about with various ideas and finally landed on this one page lesson structure to try. The basic idea is that it incorporates a starter, core learning points and extension all in one place. It is possible for the strongest students to progress through the whole sheet with relatively little teacher input with prompts for them to reflect on what they've noticed. Students are given an A3 print of the sheet to work on, but can choose to make other notes or even do all of the work in their books if they want to (and some asked for squared paper for plotting the graph in the extending knowledge section).

Clearly this is a VERY maths based example - but I see no reason why this basic approach couldn't be used for any subject/topic that is looking to build on and combine prior knowledge in new ways.

(I should note that this was done for a very high ability group of year 11 students, it assumes quite a lot of knowledge and is certainly not a "start from scratch" position for this topic)

Powerpoint version available here.

The assumption is that the students start broadly in the top left, progressing down the left hand side, and then the right hand side, finishing off with a RAG123 assessment and comment in the bottom right (for more posts on RAG123 see here). Some got stuck straight in with it and progressed from one box to another fairly independently, others needed more support in lesson (possibly delivered by me or sometimes I would direct them to another student to discuss it), and some needed prompting to move on to the next box or to make links beyond what was immediately in front of them.

At the end of the lesson I collected in the sheets to review and complete the RAG123 comments. In the next lesson I issued the next sheet as follows:

Powerpoint version here.

This second sheet builds on the info I knew they had picked up in the first lesson and then structures some extension.

Reflections on using it
I was really taken with this approach and the majority of the students seemed to find them useful. The more inquisitive students came up with interesting ideas to navigate through it and made links readily, often pooling ideas to find solutions.

The lessons were very much of the form "here's your sheet, off you go" - I did very little discussion at a whole class level, in fact for the second lesson the sheets were already out on the desks and the students just came in and got started as they knew what to do. During the lessons my interactions with students were focused on removing barriers to them making links and progressing with the sheets. Sometimes I would add a line to a diagram to help them spot the right angled triangle, sometimes re-phrase or express what they told me verbally into algebraic form, sometimes it would be asking a question to open the door to the next box on the sheet. For those making most progress independently I would occasionally draw them back to earlier boxes to explore reasoning for answers or particular approaches to make sure they had seen the more general patterns among their specific answers.

The lack of formal instruction in a particular method or rule did expose some weaknesses for students who are otherwise strong performers; for some it was simply their discomfort with working with algebraic variables, for others it's a reluctance or lack of practice linking up different mathematical topics.

The most negative responses tended to come from those students who are diligent in making notes when a method is explained explicitly but tend to then apply this as a procedure to follow rather than understanding the underlying concept. In particular I had a group of girls who will probably get A* grades at GCSE (indeed they have already done so in Mocks), who got stuck at every stage because it was presented in a way that didn't signpost a method to apply, and sometimes there was no single clear answer to give. As a result they were fairly difficult to motivate through the lessons, however I still think it was a worthwhile experience for them.

For maximum benefit across the class I did use a final plenary to draw together all of the central key points with a few more formal notes, and then we spent a lesson applying this knowledge to exam type questions to check security of the concepts in different ways.

Other difficulties come with storing the sheets afterwards - A3 is not a convenient size to tuck into a small exercise book, but that's not a reason to not use them - I'll certainly use this approach again.

The group I was working with are generally well motivated and would get on with much of this independently, and also had a large amount of prior knowledge to work with. To use this approach with a weaker group, or with a group prone to behaviour challenges would need some thought as the lack of structure opens the door to classroom management issues if too many get stuck. I do think it could be used with weaker or more challenging groups, but it would need some more thought.

I think this basic approach could be used with almost any topic, it just needs a bit of thought. You also need to know the class well in order to know what knowledge you can assume. there is also no reason why this approach couldn't be used beyond maths.

So there it is - plan and deliver your lesson on a single page...

All thoughts welcome as always.

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