Meeting in the forest and FAQs

This week I had the opportunity to pop along to TeachMeet Brock. Another great event where people who quite like what they do rock up to try and do somethings better. In my minute experience TeachMeets are usually full of people who don’t want to stop learning. It is the belief, which is so generously promoted by all there, that you can sustain and uphold this curiosity about learning which makes them such lovely places to be.

I was foolishly persuaded by the wonderfully organised and brave Liz Dudley to do a short presentation. I took the short part very seriously; therefore I didn’t really get the chance to explain fully what I meant by my F.A.Q Wall. Having said that the best part of any TeachMeet is the way in which things are short, succinct and therefore useful. You get the chance to make up your own mind; with no pressure that this is the next part of anyone’s plan. I think that is why you go back to your school afterwards and willingly employ many of the ideas you have learnt.

The Teachmeet was of course great! Firstly, David Fawcett gave us all a great insight into his school’s Learning to Learn programme. He explained with some trepidation that his topic was like Marmite. Being a lover of Marmite since an early age, I’m finding it hard to understand why anyone would ever think the idea of Learning to Learn isn’t in at least some part a good thing; especially when presented with Carol Dweck’s Growth and Fixed mindset theory. Being reflective (self-centered) as I am this made me realise that for quite a long time and definitely whilst at school I was of a fixed mindset. I think now that has changed and I am of the growth mindset and therefore all these new ideas really appeal to me and I’m happy to jump in and fail whilst trying. There were a number of great presentations – I loved Matt Pullen’s Literacy in PE and in a meeting with the English Prefects today began discussions about the introduction of a news/literacy wall! Similarly inspiring was the 100 word challenge presentation. A topic already on my radar after the wonderful Julia Skinner allowed me a sneak peak of this week’s prompt; meaning I turned up at school today happily knowing my year 9s would have something to give me to post very soon! It was great to really hear about it in action. Another presentation by Alex Bellars made me think he should become a sales man as I know there are many of us now off to buy Visualisers for our rooms! Heartwarmingly, there were guest appearances from the Chuckle brothers of Teachmeets via the interweb from David Doherty and Mark Anderson! Some great points and tips about Questioning from David (seen here at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZWHv7FFuwU&feature=youtu.be) and Mark with some glittery ideas about using ICT suites.

In between people saying clever things and being generally clever (and did I mention some of the people there were, I think, quite clever?) I had to give a little chit chat about some velcro and brick walls. For anyone who was there this is what I was meant to be talking about. For anyone who wasn’t there it really was as exciting as it sounds…velcro AND walls and stuff…

The F.A.Q Wall:

You need: A wall, some velcro, post-it notes, kids.

I forgot to mention this in said speech. F.A.Q does not stand for frequently asked questions. Well, it does but in my classroom it stands for Feedback, Advice and Questions. The idea originally came from the idea of a question wall which I stumbled upon in the middle of a page in Zoe Elder’s brilliant book Full on Learning. The idea of the question wall really appealed to me as it was sold as a way of avoiding teacher’s interrupting great group work and learning. Interrupting is something I’m great at. I even interrupt myself (no really I do), so finding a way to avoid this seemed to make sense.

As a strategy for avoidance I use the FAQ wall for feedback. During group work when pupils are getting on with a task, research or investigating I give one pupil in each group the role of feedback monitor. As they start their work I will saunter round to see how each group is getting on and write specific feedback on one or two post-it notes. These notes are stuck on the board with the group name (a colour or number depending on if they are in mixed or ability groups) written on them. The idea is that quite quickly each group has some feedback on the direction of their work. The feedback can be a question, an idea, a point they should focus on, something they’ve done well or something to do with the skills they should be using in group work. They key is that I don’t continually interrupt their thinking. This means they are more responsible for their learning. It also give me a chance to help those who definitely need a bit more attention and intervention at that time without neglecting the other groups or giving them the opportunity to sit there with one hand up waiting for me. Importantly, the feedback can be specific and targeted for each group or even for each pupil. It helps to bridge the learning gaps that often occur in group discussion but without taking it off on a tangent of our own, and in fact stops me confusing pupils by mentioning something they may not be able to understand yet (see Liz Dudley’s presentation for more about knowing too much!). An advantage of all this is that I really concentrate on my feedback to verbal discussions too.

As a feedback wall it works well if monitors go up and collect the feedback frequently. They then respond and act on the feedback immediately by reporting to their group and carrying on with the task in the proposed direction. So far it’s worked pretty well. I find it also avoids groups asking me daft questions!

Another time it helps avoid daft questions is when used as a question wall. As a question wall groups can ask questions to me or to other groups. These are written down as they are thought of and stuck on the wall. I will answer them as soon as I can. Usually this is as soon as I’ve finished with one group as I will go and check the wall in between groups. I can write the answer on a post-it note or I can go over to help. This really stops the tiny questions that they are likely to ask such as ‘how do you spell…?’ when there is a dictionary on the table or 10 lying around the room. As a consequence of the question wall they seem to check with each other if any one else in the group knows the answer before writing. This must simply be because writing the question down takes a bit more effort than just shouting it out! If no one knows an answer the question will end up written down but these are usually useful and specific questions for me.

If each group is working on a different task or on a part of a whole topic then they can ask each other questions to try and get some help. This is where the Velcro comes in. Using the Velcro I can change the headings on the board. I can add names of groups so that if group 1 want to ask group 2 a question they just have to stick it (literally) in their section. The headings also work to focus questioning. I have titles which for ‘when, how, what, why, where?’ questions which are useful when working on texts and this makes pupils think about the type of information they are after. The other categories are types of questions:

  • Look and See
  • Imagination
  • BIG questions
  • Ask an Expert

These categories have been taught to my groups before so they know what each category means and where to place their question. I find that making them categorise their questions makes them think carefully about what they ask and how they ask it. Moreover, it ensures that they have checked they don’t already have or know the answer. They know that it is unlikely they need to ask questions that are ‘look and see’ because that means the answer is in the resources or in something we have done already. It is more likely the will ask ‘Ask the Expert’ questions or ‘BIG questions’ which need a discussion to find the answer.

All this does is facilitate group work effectively and ensure that my time is well spent. As was the original intention it forces me to stand back and listen to the learning before jumping in with my opinion/ideas and direction. It doesn’t prohibit it and it doesn’t mean I just walk away. In fact it really forces me to think about each groups’ work.

It’s not innovative or exciting or even particularly well explained again but hopefully I’ve explained the general idea. Give feedback, advice and questions all whilst pretending you work on Blue Peter (I spent a while making collages of the FAQ letters…) and enjoy the sound of Velcro! As a result of all this cutting and sticking I’ve learnt that nothing can possibly go wrong in your lesson if you are using post-it notes, and that is a Teachmeet inspired fact.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. khdw says:

    Lovely detail Jen, liked the look of this when I saw you mention it, now know how to use it, think I will adapt the back of my door for this.

  2. Sam Marfleet says:

    This really does look like a useful idea. It shows how your pupils have a clear understanding of how to work together and seek advice/help when they need it.

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