Something like a phenomenon: Lesson on a Page

So I’m sure Grandmaster Flash could give me some advice here, but does anyone else know what qualifies as an actual phenomenon? If last week’s #15MF was anything to go by, then I think I’ve come close! (You can play the video while reading on if you like, but be warned, it might make you feel old like it did me…)

Credit: Hasbro/

I led this 15-minute forum myself, and showcased a very simple strategy that I’ve been trying out with my Y11 maths boys. To put it in as generous terms as I can muster, listening to instructions is not their strong point, many of them find writing a barrier to learning and I couldn’t honestly say that they knock my socks off with their work ethic either. So I took a different approach: what if they didn’t have to listen to me? What if they didn’t need to worry about where or how to write down their work, what if they could just get on with their work with most or all of the barriers removed, while simultaneously allowing me more flexibility in the classroom to circulate, respond to questions, give differentiated feedback and – I won’t lie – address disruptive behaviour (if you’ve ever played Whack-a-Mole then you might as well have met my Y11s).

The first three examples in the gallery below are my own, the same ones I showcased in the forum. They’re A3, hand drawn and/or  hurriedly cut-and-stuck and then photocopied. I reckon that each one took me 20-30 minutes, and that time represents my entire preparation for the lesson; no PowerPoint, no separate lesson plan (the A3 sheet fulfils the same purpose), just a ‘Do Now‘ of 5 core skills questions on the board and we’re ready to go. If it all looks a bit Blue Peter, then let me give you a quick tour of my thought process:

  1. Work for the entire lesson is mapped out on the sheet so that progression of challenge is explicit to students. There is a suggested order (numbers/arrows) but I’ve made it clear to students that they neither have to start at the beginning nor necessarily follow the order.
  2. The lowest-challenge tasks on the sheet are pitched for all students in the class to access, with a gradual removal of scaffolding towards the higher-challenge tasks.
  3. There’s always a (compulsory) assessment question, and students know in advance that this is what I’m going to mark. This is in line with our ‘mark less, mark better’ approach, about which I’ve recently blogged. Initially, this was in the centre of the sheet, to be cut out and stuck in exercise books; I soon realised this was going to be a right faff, so I’ve reverted to printing the assessment question separately.
  4. Although minimal teacher instruction is the goal, where a worked example or model is appropriate, there’s space on the sheet for students to copy/annotate their own, ensuring greater engagement than if I’d simply shown them.

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The impact on my own students’ work ethic has been – quite simply – staggering. C, a student whose commitment to learning could best be described as inconsistent, has produced more work, and of a higher standard, over the last three lessons than at any point since September. His exact comment was ‘It’s better this, sir. Are we going to do it again’, which may not be entirely conclusive, but I’m taking it as a ringing endorsement. What’s more, students always have something that they can be getting on with, and I’m finding it much easier to encourage independence. By my third iteration, I’d also figured out how to include a differentiated choice of difficulty levels without creating any extra work – students are guided by the sheet to choose questions from a textbook and record their responses on the sheet.

What I’m still working on:

  1. I don’t think I’ve got the level of challenge quite right yet, especially in the ‘section’ 2 region. Some students are still reluctant to move out of their comfort zones, and are sticking with the low-challenge tasks for the majority of the lesson. I think I need to flip the balance here so that the first couple of sections don’t take as long.
  2. By contrast, the ‘extra challenge’ tasks have been mostly a waste of ink, with students rarely reaching them.
  3. Photocopying onto pastel colours, rather than white, will support some of my students with dyslexic traits.

Finally, why the obscure old-school hip hop reference? The phenomenon I’m talking about has been the extent and speed to which my idea has already spread around school. The morning after my #15MF, an email from a colleague pinged into my inbox inviting me to come and observe her trying out the same idea during period 1, so I did and saw a potentially difficult class taking to the concept like ducks to water, all engaged and working at their own pace. Some of the boys even insisted I photographed their work, they were so proud of what they’d produced.

By the end of the same day, two more staff from the English faculty had shown me their versions, while a day later I’d already seen examples from History and Science! I can only hope the snowball effect will continue, and you can be sure I’ll be asking all these colleagues to let me know how it’s going over the next couple of weeks.

If you’ve tried either this or a similar strategy, and you’d like to let us know how it’s working out for you, please leave a comment below!


About Stacey Partridge

Assistant Principal responsible for Teaching & Learning and CPD, Stem, Transition & primary liaison. Applied Learning Quality Nominee, CEIAG, Prince's Trust and SMSC. Wellacre Academy Flixton, Greater Manchester
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6 Responses to Something like a phenomenon: Lesson on a Page

  1. Mrs O-J says:

    Brilliant Ben. I shall certainly be using some of these ideas in my training and my (future!) classroom practice. Keep the phenomenom going!

  2. Ben Hill says:

    An emailed comment from colleague @ash_the_beeman: “I did mine today. It was awesome. 10y3 working in silence and using glossaries, notes, peer help etc. I actually sat down for a few minutes and just watched!”

  3. Grace says:

    So are these worksheets that you distribute to the students? (i.e. 1 per pupil)

    • Ben Hill says:

      Yes, precisely that. My idea was that instead of either giving out lots of different resources (risk of confusion; complex and time-consuming to prepare), or relying on powerpoints etc. (some students find it difficult to follow instructions presented this way, harder to work at their own pace) I could provide everything needed for the lesson all on one sheet.

  4. Pingback:  NQT Blog: Making languages real | Making Our Best Better

  5. Ben Hill says:

    Another email from a colleague:
    I know you like feedback, especially when it’s a success. I tried the above with my triple science group (instead of a lower ability class like before). They loved it and I only actually did classic “teaching” for about 5 minutes in the hour. All totally on task and engaged. Quote of the day from Jack B “It felt like I really learnt it because I did it all myself!”
    I’m beginning to lose my old mans fear of the ‘new’!

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