I like to question things.

It is part of my natural curiosity to challenge what are held as “truth “particularly in Education.

I’d like to think I do this questioning in respectful and a courteous manner but when you suffer from enthusiasm like I do, questioning can be taken as “criticism” or worse still “cynicism”.

What I like to do is to make things better, this means playing with ideas to see what we learn.

Here’s a classic example.

In the middle of 2017 The Victorian Education department identified ten evidence based teaching practices that they say have the highest impact on student’s performance. They called them HITS which stands for High Impact Teaching Strategies. (Cute!)

I am always a little worried about the term “Evidence Based” as any half literate teacher with access to Google can just about find evidence of anything…

Like this website for the Pacific NW Tree Octopus, which can be given as a research assignment to see if students REALLY check out the sources of their learning.


Created in 1998 by Lyle Zapato this is brilliant high impact activity that will assess whether your students truly understand the nature of evidence.

Some teachers like Matthew Weathers in his Biola University Nature of Mathematics class could actually make you question whether you were sane or not!

I am sure that the Victorian Education Department is sane and they are sure that the following strategies rock.

Highly regarded educational researchers and resources, including Hattie, Lemov, Marzano, and the Teaching and Learning Toolkit – Australia (Education Endowment Foundation, 2015), have used slightly different methodologies to measure effect size and identify HITS. Despite their varied approaches and terminology, all agree on a number of powerful strategies. These strategies are reflected in this HITS resource and the AITSL Standards and the Classroom Practice Continuum.

So with the judicious use of teaching heroes names, two acronyms, the recommendation of a bunch of people with doctorates and more acronyms after their names plus a high powered government authority who measures your standards and we have REAL GOOD TEACHING STUFF!

Evidence Based here means that these strategies will improve students’ scores.

My question is: What have they left out that will make it even better?

What follows here is my teaching practice based activities that you can use to get these boxes ticked AND improve your students’ performance. These are not evidence based but purely subjective stuff that I have used and know to work.

The best evidence based strategies are those that work for you on Monday morning, or better still those that turn year 9R into human beings last period Thursday afternoon when you have a splitting headache and job contract issues and a deputy decides to “… drop in for a visit” unannounced.

Here are the Ten HITS. Today we are looking at the first two setting goals and Structuring Lessons:

· Setting goals

· Structuring lessons

· Explicit teaching

· Worked examples

· Collaborative learning

· Multiple exposures

· Questioning

· Feedback

· Metacognitive strategies

· Differentiated teaching

Setting Goals

What the document says

Lessons have clear learning intentions with goals that clarify what success looks like.

Lesson goals always explain what students need to understand, and what they must be able to do. This helps the teacher to plan learning activities, and helps students understand what is required.

Key elements

Based on assessed student needs

Goals are presented clearly so students know what they are intended to learn

Can focus on surface and/or deep learning

Challenges students relative to their current mastery of the topic

Links to explicit assessment criteria

What I think

This is a basic “KUDOS” or what Carol Ann Tomlinson, guru of differentiation calls a Know/Understand/Do. It is absolutely essential for teachers to have their Kudos’s lined up before they start teaching but I am not so sure that the student needs to know them!

To me the art of teaching is to take students on a discovery tour and delight them with the new learning they will uncover often against their fears.

Most of the time I believe the goals for every lesson are always the same

1. What the system wants,

2. What the student needs and

3. How can I find a hook that links these two together?

This can be tricky because working with difficult children means that they almost invariably do not want to learn what the system asks them to. This means I need to find something that changes their mind often without them knowing what I am trying to do.

Here’s the amazing Johnny Wells from Texas showing you how it’s done.

It’s Johnny’s belief that all lessons are a mixture of content, thinking styles and intrinsic motivation; a hell of a challenge but a goal worth pursuing.

The point that I make here is that telling the student what the goal is, is okay if the kid is motivated, understands the content so far and is capable of thinking their way through the process.

If they have none of those, the goal is to capture their curiosity.

Johnny’s knowledge goals here are to have the students understand…

1. How to use a thesaurus

2. The parts of speech.

3. How alliteration works

4. What an onomatopoeia is.

None of these is going to motivate too many students.

His action (Do) goal is to have students make a Berenstain Bears’ book using a different letter, which too many kids would be a bridge way too far.

The knowledge goal is the really interesting one because it is the whole point of the activity. That is do they now know more than they did about:

1. How to use a thesaurus

2. The parts of speech.

3. How alliteration works

4. What an onomatopoeia is.

So the biggest element of this is not the goal but the assessment before and after.

And by the way here’s the Berenstain Bears’ B Book if you’d like to try Johnny’s lesson plan.

The bit that is left out of all of this though is The TING’s. That’s the Tiny Instant Necessary Goals that students really need to get started.

These are the goals that you desperately need to set students on the path from bad habits to good.

These are small little goals that get you out of the old habits that aren’t working with this class. We need to set these with students to deal with and focus them on creating new habits that begin with simple trivia triggers.

TING being the sound when the penny drops! It’s the sound you make when you think “I REALLY should do something about…”

It’s the sound your mind makes when you pull the shutters down on your brain's deafening inner chatter.

According to the incredibly intelligent Robert Sapolsky, American neuroendocrinologist and author, Zebras' stress lasts for only thirty seconds. That's how long it takes to escape or be eaten by a lion.

These difficult classrooms are festooned by lions.

These are the thirty second goals that help you escape the lions that slaughter your pride!

TING goals focus on one miniscule detail that is connected to a bigger chain of concepts.

They don’t make it as evidence based but teach a whole bunch of TINGS to your students and your class will fly.

Structuring lessons

What the document says…


A lesson structure maps teaching and learning that occurs in class.

Sound lesson structures reinforce routines, scaffold learning via specific steps/activities. They optimize time on task and classroom climate by using smooth transitions. Planned sequencing of teaching and learning activities stimulates and maintains engagement by linking lesson and unit learning.

Key elements

• Clear expectations

• Sequencing and linking learning

• Clear instructions

• Clear transitions

• Scaffolding

• Questioning/feedback

• Formative assessment

• Exit cards

What I say

I love constructing a lesson, there is an art form in getting kids to forget who they are and learn who they can be.

Today I was working doing six classroom demonstrations three with year seven two the year eight and one year nine class. The aim was to test drive the classes that “needed the most love” and to see if I could take a class for the first time and build a rapport with the class.

This is often a bit scary as you have a whole bunch of teachers watching and they can be pretty judgemental and these are classes who haven’t met a teacher they couldn’t damage.

The art form here is The Hook.

Here’s Matthew Weathers again.

You will notice that The Hook is totally absent from the list of what makes a structured lesson, this is because systems like this are created by academics who use evidence based on scores and test results.

University lecturers do not have to engage their students all they have to do is teach a course but here is a university lecturer blowing a classes mind!

As last weeks blog pointed out, if you can engage them, you can teach them just about anything.

I taught three classes brilliantly today; two classes I taught okay and one was an outright failure.

The failure taught me more than the successes did and told me where the school needed to go to improve the classroom experiences and the successes made us all feel that school teaching was one of the best places in the world to be.

Here’s todays feedback from Year 9 Math.

· I found Greg fun and exciting because it taught me new techniques to use

· Loved it, was amazing

· I found this lesson fun and inspirational because of was a different learning experience

· WE would love to have you back because you are really inspirational and by far the best speaker we have had because you made what you were talking about interesting. Thanks Greg.

· Hey Greg, I really enjoyed listening to your presentation you did with us. I enjoyed playing the game where we stood up and moved. Made our class go quick.

· I really enjoyed the session. It made me feel safe and wanted and I really liked learning new things from him. And the memory game.

· I really enjoyed how he engaged the class and how he made us laugh.

· I enjoyed the lesson because I learnt a lot of new things

· It was very good even though singling out people could be harsh. When he knew how people were good and bad straight away was cool.

· It was good having him teach us some stuff, I learnt some stuff

· I liked it a lot, it was very inspirational.

· Enjoyed it a lot, very inspirational. Very funny.

· Inspirational, reached out to people.

So how did this come about?

The year nine lesson worked because they were expecting boredom and got something else.

When I structure a lesson I try to forget everything I learned in University about how to structure a lesson! I can still remember spending nights writing tedious university style lesson plans only to find that I was getting no sleep and that all of the preparation came to nothing if I did not have the energy to engage the little darlings.

Now I have three parts of the structure that I spell out and whole bunch of interlocking components that I can swing into action when I need them.

First up is the social skill.

There are a whole bunch of social skills that any class need to learn in any lesson, the most neglected are those which teach students how to work with their peer.

The second part is the content which changes regularly.

And the final part is the strategies that the teacher is using so the class can see the teachers skill unfold and know how to learn what they need to know.

The magic came in the form of an energy stick which formed the class up into a circuit so that it could light up a small light with a noisemaker attached.

Once they were in a circle it was easy to match them up to work in pairs so that they then could create magic squares, which are truly astounding.

The transformation happened in the small strategies which got them moving instead of sitting. Like “Stand up if the answer to this question is ‘Yes’.” And working in pairs and swapping the pen so you have to work together to finish your magic squares.

In the lesson I covered:

• Clear expectations

• Sequencing and linking learning

• Clear instructions

• Clear transitions

• Scaffolding

• Questioning/feedback

• Formative assessment

• Exit cards

But if you had of asked me to tell you what was going to happen in the lesson and when beforehand I could not have told you.

If I had to flesh out what a great lesson structure looks like I would immediately point to Doug Lemov’s original “Teach Like a Champions” Structuring and Delivering Your Lessons chapter

Lemov’s structure uses the direct instruction paradigm of “I/We/You.”

It begins with “I” by delivering key information or modeling the process you want your students to learn as directly as possible.

In the “We” step, you first ask for help from students and then gradually allow them to complete examples with less and less assistance.

Finally, in the “You” step, you provide students the opportunity to practice doing the work on their own, giving them multiple opportunities to practice.

Too often students are released to independent work before they are ready to do so effectively. The key factors in designing an effective I/We/You lesson are not only the manner and sequence in which the work is released to students, but also the rate at which the work is released.

“I” Techniques

· The Hook use a short, engaging introduction to excite students about learning.

· Name the Steps When possible, give students solution tools – specific steps by which to work or solve problems of the type you’re presenting. This often involves breaking down a complex task into specific steps.

· Board = Paper Model for students how to track the information they need to retain from your lessons; ensure that they have an exact copy of what they need.

· Circulate Strategically move around the classroom to engage and hold students accountable.

“We” Techniques

· Break It Down One of the best ways to present material again is to respond to a lack of clear student understanding by breaking a problematic idea down into component parts.

· Ratio The goal of “we” is to push more and more of the cognitive work out to students. Feigned ignorance – “Did I get that right, you guys?” “Wait a minute, I can’t remember what’s next!” and unbundling – breaking one question up into several – can be especially useful.

· Check for Understanding (and do something about it right away) used to determine when and whether students are ready for more responsibility and when they need material presented again.

“You” Techniques

· At Bats It’s repetition. Students need lots and lots of practice: ten or twenty repetitions instead of two or three. This is especially important to remember because in a busy day, sufficient repetition is the first thing to go.

· Exit Ticket End your lesson with a final At Bat with a short sequence of problems to solve at the close of class. This will ensure that you always check for understanding in a way that provides you with strong data.

· Take a Stand Involves pushing students to actively engage in the ideas around them by making judgments about the answers their peers provide.

These techniques are the interlocking bits that you can have in your kit to swing into action when the lesson needs a change of tempo, or more engagement.

The great teacher has a bag of these and the desire to modify the plan to get it all to work.

So the biggest thing that is missing from this HITS is the courage change the plan when it is not working. Something that I tried to do today three times and failed in front of an audience.

This though brought forth great discussions and we left each lesson with a plan to get better.

Let’s finish with one more Matthew Feathers.

Have a wonderful day!

Greg Mitchell

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