Blog Archive

Friday 21 January 2022

Taking our ‘Spotting VIP Words’ strategy to the next level.

Johnny Suttle writes: This term we have been focusing on the next two ‘in the moment of reading’ strategies to ensure our students are becoming active readers. These are ‘Spotting VIP words’ and ‘Use them to build meaning’.

How should we think about this strategy?

Reading can be a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. One jigsaw piece does not usually give enough information to tell what the big picture is going to be. To get the big picture you have to put several pieces together.

Reading is often like doing a jigsaw. When you read you have to be able to spot the important words or phrases and connect them together.

Keep thinking about the puzzle analogy as you consider the 'read aloud think aloud' strategy:
 - When you do a puzzle there will be certain pieces you will be on the lookout for (corners, edge pieces, certain colours).
 - There are certain parts of the text where you are likely to find VIP information to help you build meaning.

Fiction Text

Non-Fiction Text

  • Title

  • Specific descriptions of things

  • Start and ends of paragraphs

  • When a character says or thinks something

  • Titles

  • Sub headings

  • Glossaries

  • Fact Boxes

  • Specific descriptions

So what is 'Read aloud, think aloud'?

This is us essentially modelling what this strategy looks like in action. This is currently being used to excellent effect in mentoring. This is us showing the students what the strategy looks like. Teacher Actions that lead the Read Aloud Think Aloud include:

1. Look at a text you are going to read with a class - Find the key puzzle pieces:
2. What is the layout like? Are there titles? Subheadings?
3. Which words are vital to an understanding of the passage / question?
4. Script some questions to help your students spot the VIP words -they could annotate the text (see example below) to help keep these VIP words in view. Encourage them to use the strategy sentence starter “This word is important because…”
5. Script some questions to help them put these VIP puzzle pieces together - Get them to use the strategy sentence starter “This links back to….”
6. Read aloud the first paragraph and model picking out the VIP words or phrases and ask your scripted questions to help students put these words together.
7. Get students to bullet point in the margin the gist of that paragraph

So what are examples of scripted questions?

a. Why has the writer used the word….
b. Why does the writer want us to think about…..
c. Which word tells us…..
d. How can you link that VIP word to the earlier one that Jimmy identified?

How can we apply this strategy to an exam ‘problem’ based question?

A text does not have to be long to benefit from this strategy. Take a look at the exam question below:

In this case the ‘Steps’ box is the equivalent of the ‘gist’. Students need to spot the key words in the problem using this scaffold - They then need to work out the steps they need to take to reach the goal based on the VIP words.

So over to you:

1. Try to spot the key words based on this scaffold
2. What questions would you ask to help students use this VIP information to come up with steps to answer the problem?

For departments who teach problem based questions similar to the above, spend some time thinking about how you could adapt this scaffold to fit the problems that students are likely to encounter.

Monday 3 January 2022

What role do knowledge organisers play within our curriculum intent and implementation?

It was this blogpost by Joe Kirby, written in 2015, that first alerted me to the concept of Knowledge Organisers (I was so relieved when I found it again for this blogpost!). A brief synopsis of his thoughts can be provided in this single quote "A knowledge organiser sets out the important, useful and powerful knowledge on a topic on a single page (Kirby, 2015)". Important, useful and powerful - three superlatives that truly emphasise the impact knowledge organisers can have when used correctly and when students are trained in the how, what and why. When we create them it ensures that we think carefully about what it is we want our students to learn. When students use them it provides them with the 'bigger picture' as well as being an inclusive tool for our disadvantaged students. 

Powerful knowledge is a concept that has been discussed increasingly over the last few years as we found ourselves designing our curriculum intents. In recent years the emphasis has shifted away from a focus on pedagogy (the how of teaching) and towards curriculum (the what of teaching). Ofsted’s revised inspection framework reflects this shift. So what role do knowledge organisers play within this mindset shift and what, at Mangotsfield School, are impactful strategies as we move into 2022?

When first introduced in 2018, thanks to some expert training by Hetty and Caroline, students were guided through the art of self-quizzing and knowledge organisers formed the backbone of our homework policy. Then the 'covid era' arose and their role shifted online, providing students with valuable access to the core content from 'afar' as well as useful introductions to topics yet to come. Now we are (hopefully) entering a more settled phase in students learning journeys, it is vitally important that we shine a light on their use in our classrooms day to day and provide effective strategies for how this can be done. Below are some examples from across various departments that it is useful to start 2022 reminding ourselves of.

1. Do Now Tasks - As part of our Mangotsfield Way students are provided with a do now task on their immediate arrival to our classrooms. There are many subject formats for this, each tailored specifically to your department curriculums, many of us using 1-5 retrieval questions for example. The RS department have consistently built the use of knowledge organisers into this activity. Instead of the teacher producing the five questions, students are asked to examine a part of the KO and write the questions themselves. Similarly to self-quizzing, they can then either answer the questions and mark with green pen OR alternatively, consider the use of a Kagan structure such as all write round robin to encourage students to answer each others questions.

2. Cold Calling/Show Me Boards - Consider providing students with the KO for a new topic 2-3 weeks before they are due to start it as part of your homework policy. Then during the first lesson of said new topic, use the cold calling techniques or show-me boards shared in Terms 1 and 2 to allow students to demonstrate what their preliminary knowledge is. This not only provides you as the teacher with the formative knowledge of what they do/do not already know but allows you to recognise and challenge any misconceptions early on.

3. Elaborate and Extend - In an adaptation of the retrieval strategy by Kate Jones, you take snippets of information from the knowledge organiser and ask them to elaborate and expand on them using their new, deeper knowledge from in class learning, using think-pair-share, as part of a retrieval task. The KO removes the barrier of 'what have I learnt' and allows students to focus on retrieving the deeper knowledge that has been built upon in lessons. This task can also be adapted as part of a spaced retrieval practice if you were to use a past topic KO. Don't forget, from the experiments from Ebbinghaus, we know that the rate we forget newly learnt information is rather quick!

4. Exit and Entrance Cards - Remember these, our old friends! Use the knowledge organisers as a bridge between the learning of one lesson to the next. Ask students (once they have answered the DQ for the lesson) to write three questions on small pieces of card to be handed in at the end. On their arrival, when you next teach them, hand out said cards and ask them as part of their do now to answer the peer written questions. Alternatively, use the Kagan structure Quiz, Quiz, Trade to encourage students to ask either other the questions. 

5. Visualise/Predict and Ask Questions 

Why not use the excellent literacy foci from the previous two terms to introduce the KO to students. Either, if your KO is particularly wordy, read a section to students and ask them to predict what they think the topic might be about/include OR draw an image of what they visualised as you read it to them.

6. Read, Cover, Write, Check - Via my own personal foray into teaching the nurture group this year, I was made more aware than ever that for some students KO's can be overwhelming. For disadvantaged students it can be useful to break the KO down into its component sections as an in class strategy before using it for homework. If, for example, Section A is being set for self-quizzing, ensure that you read it through with students in class, ask them to turn it over (cover) and then write out 5 key points they can remember from it. Finally, they turn it back over and amend their work using green pen. Simple but effective.

Final thought - if you wish to refresh your knowledge on the purpose and value of knowledge organisers beyond Mango Moments musings then can I recommend this article from the Chartered College - especially if you are an NQT or RQT.