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Visualisers: how they can be used to live model, and give immediate verbal feedback.

My visualiser has become my absolute prized possession! I cannot remember how I ever used to teach without it! From using it to demonstrate how to use grid references, to live marking a student’s piece of work so that the rest of the class can be made to think about how to improve theirs. It is the one piece of equipment I could never be without, now! However, in this blog, I am going to provide a step-by-step account of how recently, I used it to provide the first part of a model GCSE answer to guide my year 10 students so that they could successfully complete one of their own. It is not intended to be an example of perfect practice, and I would welcome constructive criticism, but I was incredibly pleased with various aspects of it, not least the quality of work produced by the students at the end of the exercise. The activities went as follows:

I displayed the exam question on the board and the students wrote it into their books, including how many marks it was worth (for future reference). It read:

‘Explain the causes of desertification’  [6 marks]

  • I explained to the students that they were going to use their knowledge from our previous lesson to attempt this question, and that I was going to talk them through the first part of a model answer. The class is mixed attainment but, as I frequently tell them, I teach everybody how to get a grade 9.
  • I tell the class that for the next few minutes, I expect their undivided attention, and that all of their eyes should be on the screen, where the image of what I am about to write will be projected. I tell them not to write anything, fiddle with anything or speak unless I ask them to. Having impeccable behaviour is paramount if all students are to benefit from this.
  • I sit down at my visualiser, with a copy of the question on a piece of paper. I tell the class that for the next few minutes, I am imagining I am one of them, in the examination hall, completing one of my GCSE geography questions, and that I am going to ‘think out loud’ to model how they should approach the question.
  • I circle the command word, ‘explain’, and I cold call a student to remind the class what the difference is between this word and the word ‘describe’. I use this style of questioning (pose, pause, pounce, bounce) so that all students are made to think before somebody is chosen to answer. If the first student doesn’t know, I will move on to another, but I will always return to the original student (as explained in Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach Like a Champion 2.0’) and ask them to give me the correct answer.  
  • I also circle the number of marks available, and ask another student to remind us how many developed points need to be made (two) and what the vital elements are (include an example of a place where this is occurring – we have use the example of the Sahel region of northern Africa; key terms must also be used, along with development of points using phrases like ‘this means that…’)
  • I begin the answer on the paper under the visualiser. I start by writing a sentence to define desertification, and I tell them I am doing this to show the examiner that I understand what it means.
  • I then write a second sentence to state one reason for desertification (there are a number of factors I could use – I choose to write about over cultivation due to population pressure). I also state an example where in the world this is happening (Sahel).
  • I put my pen down and ask one student whether they think I have written enough for my first developed point. Correctly, they tell me that I haven’t. I ask them why. They tell me that I need to explain HOW this factor is contributing to desertification.
  • I add another sentence to state what is happening in the Sahel regarding overcultivation – in essence, growing populations leading to more crops being grown repeatedly on soils which are not left to recover.
  • I put my pen down and ask another student if this has been fully explained. Have I linked it back to the question and have I made it totally clear how overcultivation causes desertification? They are unsure. I read back what I have written so far. Does it tell the whole story, I ask them. Is there anything more that I need to say? After questioning a few more students, we agree that no, I haven’t told the whole story.
  • I add one more sentence to explain that by not leaving the land to recover, fertility of the soil decreases, which stops crops or natural vegetation from growing, leading to exposure of soil and soil erosion, meaning that no vegetation can grow again – leading to desertification.
  • I put my pen down and ask another student if this is sufficient. They take a few seconds to read it. They tell me that they think I have written enough for my first developed point and I ask them to tell me why. They state that they can see that I have described the whole process from start to finish, and that I have linked the answer back to the question.
  • I also point out that I have included a range of key terms in my answer, and I circle each of them so that the students can see them.
  • I remind the class that the answer is not finished, and that  a second well-developed point is needed to achieve full marks, which I say I am not going to do as I want them to think about how to do this, but to do it in the same way that they watched me complete the first.
  • I then remove the image of my answer, and give students eight minutes to complete a full answer of their own, thinking about what they have just seen me do. Usually in the exam, they would have six minutes as it tends to be a minute per mark, but as they are still practising, I am giving them longer, but I still want it to be time-bonded.
  • I provide a sentence starter on the written board to get the lower attaining students started.
  • I circulate around the room whilst they are working to assist with any queries or difficulty getting started. I make sure I check in with my lower-attaining students early on to ensure they are happy – those that aren’t, I get them to tell me verbally what they think they could write first.
  • I remind some other students who claim they have finished that they still need to develop their first point further as they have not told the full story and remind them to use phrases such as ‘this means that’.
  • After the time is up, I ask a student who has made a good attempt, (although still with room for improvement) if I can place their work under the visualiser. I only ever do this with their consent.
  • I live mark their piece of work, inviting students to tell me what they have done well and what needs improving and I annotate this on the work for all to see.
  • I give it a final mark and explain why it would get this mark. (This student achieved a 5 out of 6 as their first point wasn’t quite developed sufficiently).
  • I return the book to the student so that they can improve their work, but freeze the board so that the class can still see it, and I give the class some time to improve theirs based on the feedback they have seen me give to the other student. Students complete this in green pen.

The whole exercise took approximately 25 minutes – approximately half the lesson. In past years, I would have set the students off on this task by simply reminding them of the content of the answer, with perhaps a few key terms on the board. I would have taken their books in two weeks later, marked them, and probably laboriously  written the same comments several times in many students’ books. When they then got them back, it was so long after the event that they had forgotten what the question was about, what their thought processes were at the time, and there was every chance that they wouldn’t have understood my written comments that I would have spent a significant amount of time writing out. And until a few years ago, they wouldn’t have been given any time to improve their answers. No one moved forward, and the same mistakes would have been made again the next time.

Combining the use of a visualiser with immediate feedback and modelling has meant that my students now know far better how to approach an exam question, and improvements can be made in the moment. By me asking them about the question I am writing, I am making them THINK – a vital cog in the wheel that contributes to that change in long term memory, which is, as I repeatedly tell all of my classes, all they will have to rely on in the exam hall.

I hope this account has been of use. It’s not perfect, but I was particularly pleased with how well they all responded, their outcomes and their willingness to enter in to an activity that ultimately, they understood to be for their benefit.


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1 Comment

  1. I do this in maths with my Year 10. However, not quite the same: they have to put pens down, look at the board and watch in silence. I write up my model answer in silence. Then I talk through it (thinking aloud) and, perhaps cold-call. Not so keen at cold-calling in this context – can be a distraction when you’re focused on the “expert’s” thoughts. Then I rub my answer out and say “your turn”. They know it’s coming so have listened carefully. Later I ‘undo’ the board so they can check/correct their answer. I would add, however, that this is great for a Year 10 for whom maths is challenging, but I would not do this quite the same with expert learners (eg further mathematicians).


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