The Clock & The Compass: Rethinking Instruction
It is my belief that we need to change the way we think about planning and instruction.
In his book First Things First, Stephen Covey suggests changing the way we think about time:
from the clock to the compass. Clock thinking is working out how to get more and more things done. Compass thinking is working out which things to focus on in the first place.
In teaching, it strikes me that we are stuck in clock thinking. We think about planning
and evaluating individual, ideally ‘outstanding’ lessons. This
is a chimera, spawning innumerable INSETs and entire book .
As Professor Coe has pointed out, this risks focusing our attention on poor proxies for learning:
But there’s no point criticising without suggesting an alternative.
Last weekend I promised a constructive alternative to lesson planning for
that risk distracting students from thinking about subject content.
The alternative as I see it is to think about activities last of all, and design the entire core content
of the unit and its assessment first. Rather than focusing on individual lessons, we need to refocus on entire units, and the sequencing across and between them. This is a phenomenal amount
of work: Katie Ashford and I spent around 500 hours between us planning and resourcing
Example curriculum overview: co-planned with Katie Ashford
Then, and only then, after specifying and sequencing the unit’s knowledge, can we
It only makes sense to think about activities once you have considered what knowledge pupils need, and in which order.
What exactly do we mean by rigour? The litmus test for each task is Professor Coe’s simple theory
To my mind, rigour in teaching is all about the
then they’re not helping students learn.
For now, I just want to focus on the rigorous tasks that I’ve found most effective for instruction
in one subject: my subject, English.
For me, task selection in English depends heavily on which – whether poem, play, novel, nonfiction or grammar – and which – context, author, plot, characters, themes,
language, structure, form or concept – I am teaching.
Nevertheless, here are some (non-exhaustive) tasks that I have found most useful for English, roughly in order of increasing complexity:
Record the lesson, essay or exam question and underline the key words.
Record a checklist of criteria and highlight the key words.
Reading aloud in (irregular) turns, whole-class line-by-line with a ruler.
Whole-class pose-probe-bounce stretch-questioning, no-opt-out.
Read question; then discuss in pairs; then share as a class.
Underline key quotations, highlight key words; then justify choices in pairs.
Write short (even one-word) answers to 20 ‘do now’ written questions.
Sequence these in order (episodes in the plot, characters in importance)
List and collate examples (of characters, themes, concepts) or ideas.
Listen to explanation of a concept with an example/non-example sequence of questions.
Decide whether these (context, plot and character) statements are true or false.
Mindmap and collate examples or ideas for characters, themes or language.
Answer 10 or so plot comprehension questions (& ‘why?’ extensions) in full sentences.
Complete a spelling quiz or test & mark each other’s.
Match vocabulary & definitions/synonyms/antonyms, or vice-versa.
Match dates and events in a contextual timeline.
Categorise examples (of characters, concepts etc) into columns.
Discuss multiple-choice hinge-questions with distractors in pairs.
Discuss hinge-question answers, misconceptions and justifications as a class.
Complete multiple-choice quiz on core content (between 10 and 50 questions).
Free recall test on 10 context or character questions.
Create sentences with examples of concepts.
Annotate model paragraph for content/techniques/criteria.
Give peer-assessment feedback with clear criteria-based questions.
Compare model sentences for the differences in quality of criteria.
Write a sentence with a rigorous conjunction (although, at first glance, overall, ultimately, etc).
Create a free sentence ready to share in pairs and with the class.
Write answers to ‘exit ticket’ questions on concepts or content.
Plan essay ideas in a graphic organiser (grid/matrix/flow diagram).
Summarise the text/plot/characters’ journey in a paragraph.
Find similarities and differences between characters with a focus (first/last impressions).
Summarise the text/plot/characters’ journey in a paragraph.
Compare two introductions and evaluate which works better and why.
Compare two conclusions and evaluate which works better and why.
Write an analytical paragraph on a character, theme or concept.
Write a comparative paragraph on characters, themes, concepts, chapters or poems.
Read each others’ essays and write extension questions.
Redraft the story/poem/biography/speech/essay with corrections and improvements.
Create a (gothic/ghost/etc) short story (e.g. 200 words) or poem (limerick/haiku etc).
Write an informative biography.
Write a persuasive speech.
Convert the speech to notes and memorise it.
Practise, rehearse then deliver the speech.
Write an analytical essay (with context).
Write a comparative essay (with context).
… and there are probably 45 other tasks you could list – and more.
The vital distinction is in
Ultimately, it is how to connect these still-generic tasks with specific subject content that matters most.
How are these tasks more rigorous than others? They focus pupils’ attention more on thinking carefully about subject content, and they risk less distraction from it. They prioritise
rather than for its own sake. Tailor the task to the content, rather than vary activities for pupils’ supposed learning preferences. First things first: first content, then (and only then) activities.
Of course, spelling, grammar and vocabulary are a different story. So are creative writing
and public speaking. They require unique, tailored tasks, beyond the scope of one blogpost.
The point is, activities are best when subject-and-topic-specific, not generic.
From the clock to the compass: the thinking shift is from planning lessons for engaging,
generic activities to selecting and sequencing rigorous, content-led tasks across units. The key difference is the pursuit of the optimal mode of knowledge transmission, retrieval and retention.
You can TCR software and engineering manuals for spontaneously recall – or pass that exam.
I can Turbo Charge Read a novel 6-7 times faster and remember what I’ve read.
I can TCR an instructional/academic book around 20 times faster and remember what I’ve read.
Introduction to Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
A practical overview of Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
How to choose a book. A Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
Emotions when Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
Advanced Reading Skills Perhaps you’d like to join my FaceBook group ?
Perhaps you’d like to check out my sister blogs:
www.innermindworking.blogspot.com gives many ways for you to work with the stresses of life
www.ourinnerminds.blogspot.com which takes advantage of the experience and expertise of others.
www.happyartaccidents.blogspot.com just for fun.
To quote the Dr Seuss himself, “The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn; the more places you'll go.