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No Hooks

“Has anyone got an exciting starter for CPU registers?”

No, random Computing teacher on Facebook. Nobody has. But it doesn’t matter because you don’t need it. You just need a decent “DO NOW” that settles them and gets them thinking about Computing while you do the register and deal with the usual issues (forgotten equipment, notes from parents and appointment slips, and most importantly greeting them and getting them settled).

A few years ago I read this blog by Ben Newmark and it changed everything. Nothing new, it’s a review – on why I killed my starters. | Ben Newmark (wordpress.com)

When I trained to be a teacher lessons were supposed to come, like a meal in a fancy restaurant, in three parts – starter, main and plenary. The concept of a ‘starter’ became fetishised and developed into a systematic obsession. […] Huge, huge amounts of time and effort for a part of the lesson which, although it expanded as time went on, was initially only supposed to last five or so minutes. It was as if we had all come to believe that if our starter was whizbangy, engaging and differentiated everything else would just fall into place. And make no mistake, ‘starters’ were supposed to be whizzbangy. Laminated card sorts were good. Putting a laminated card sort in an envelope and labelling it “TOP SECRET” was even better. Using police tape to make a classroom look like a crime scene was best practice.

About the same time I started learning about Rosenshine’s Principles, and reading about Cognitive Science. To be fair to my then school, “DO NOWs” or “bell tasks” were already happening, it’s just that they were often “whizzbangy” activities “to get the children hooked into the subject” or pique their interest. However as Ben’s blog explains, starting the lesson, not with a “hook” but a review of prior learning can have a dramatic effect on progress.

Now all my starters are some kind of review. I mix them up a lot, being a Computing teacher I have access to the whole internet and my own material on Teams and Sharepoint. So one lesson will be questions made up by me, others might be a Quizlet study set or Quizlet Q&A. (I created the Computer Science “Verified Content” for Quizlet Inc last summer and you can use it for free here.) Sometimes it will be “Smartrevise” from Craig’n’Dave here. Other days they will go back to their notes (Cornell notes or sketchnotes they have made previously during flipped homework) and write a summary or answer the “cue” questions they set themselves. I may use the “Quick Fire Five” questions from William Lau here, and I have a free trial of Carousel Learning Gold membership to try out this term.

Whatever the choice of format, it’s a review of topics they have already studied, delivered in a DO NOW format, as described by Doug Lemov in Teach Like a Champion and on his blog here. As Lemov explains, DO NOW must follow a predictable format and “means of participation” must be clear (my instructions are always on the board and use tools they are familiar with, no new platforms or sources), need no input from the teacher, require an end product such as written or typed answers or quiz results, and should review prior learning, thus improving long-term retention. You should try not to engage in any discussions but just get students on task as soon as possible using the least invasive technique possible and praising the correct choices e.g. “15 people have started now, well done. Leesha has done three questions already, excellent work!” and so on. Lemov’s “Brightening Lines” technique can be used here to maximum effect. We can go back to Ben Newmark for a quick summary of how he starts his lessons.

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Does it work? My Year 10 CS class (just the one this year but two classes totalling 40+ are coming up next year!), who I’ve been doing Rosenshine and TLAC techniques with all year keep telling me these things:

  • It is fun and very exiting! You can have fun and also work hard!
  • i love my teacher as i trust i will get good grades due to him knowing whart hes doing
  • lessons are hard but fun

I think I am on the right track.

By mraharrisoncs

Head of Computing, Manchester.

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