Sharing joy and knowledge from an ordinary life

AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC- Week 1

After a tip-off from @sebschmoller, I was alerted to the start of this Future Learn MOOC lead by Dylan Wiliam and Christine Harrison.

You can join this free online course by clicking here.

Having not studied a MOOC since Blended Learning Essentials, I was ready for my next online learning experience but without a STEM Teaching background, I needed an excuse to take part.

In my role as Learning Improvement and Development Manager at The Sheffield College, I view sharing as a large part of my job, if not the majority of it. It is through this that I can expose others to learning experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have had and as with Seb, we all need to be notified of development opportunities to realise that we need them.

I gathered a group of staff who might be interested in studying this MOOC and we arranged to meet fortnightly for the duration of the course. We met for the first time this week. Some colleagues are unable to join us face-to-face so I have created a G+ Community where we will share links, videos, ideas and questions with one another throughout the course.

We have shared our intentions for studying the MOOC and the challenges being faced in classrooms that we hope AfL might be a solution for. These have been wide-ranging so far:

  • What else can I learn about AfL that I don’t know already?
  • How might it help me plan learning for a disruptive group?
  • How might it help my quiet learners?
  • How and why had I forgotten all about AfL?
  • How might it help me with planning practical sessions?
  • Should I be changing my teaching style?

As facilitator, I will be sharing further links and ideas to help with challenges being faced by each individual/group as we progress through the course and I’d be grateful if any STEM practitioners out there could direct me to any useful reading/ videos/ websites.

So why did I need this MOOC group? It’s a great way for me to meet and work with more practitioners from across the college and it also allows me to inject more talking about teaching & learning in my week, which is never a bad thing. I’ve found the learning content on the MOOC really engaging thus far and I think it will be relevant for any practitioner- STEM or not.

We began to discuss levels of challenge in the classroom during Friday’s group and I shared the concept of ‘The Pit.’ This video is a fantastic overview of the concept of how to challenge students effectively and make them THINK:

Other areas of teaching we discussed:

  • The use of G+ communities to extend learning
  • Use of tech tools in class to engage learners: Padlet, NearPod, Quizizz, Socrative
  • Evidence Based Teaching Strategies
  • Starters and Plenaries
  • Planning curriculum that has space for learning
  • Questions to develop independence and responsibility in learners
  • Planning group work effectively
  • Catering for mixed ability classes (especially in the adult classroom)
  • Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion Techniques
  • 1 minute elevator pitches and explaining learning to a guest
  • DIRT Time
  • SLOW Teaching
  • Setting up practicals as a technician
  • STEM online content for learning- podcasts, videos and sites
  • Chilli scales in learning

You can view all of the links and videos shared with individuals and the group here:

I’m looking forward to our journey together and the rich learning dialogue that will undoubtedly take place. If you work at The Sheffield College and would like to take part, it’s not too late to join us, just drop me an email:


Click here for image source

Week 1 of the MOOC

I have been pleased to discover that reflection has been given a high priority on the MOOC. The reflection grid provided to use each week contains: Successes, Problems, “Eureka” Moments, Questions.

Advice for getting the most from the course:

  • Online courses are flexible, which means that we can make the most of the learning opportunity- as time becomes less of a barrier than it is usually with CPD.
  • Collaboration between teachers is important: we can get support and motivation from one another. This MOOC will allow us to connect with individuals not working on the same site as well.
  • Try the approaches out and adapt them to your needs.
  • Experiment with new ideas in your context, evaluate what happens and then adapt and learn from one another’s experiences.

A Case Study

The questions/comments the teacher used, which I felt were effective:

So can you just explain what you think happened in your books. Just a few words to help you get the explanation clear. This one … dissolve. Dissolving. Can you use that please? And this one…evaporate or evaporating.

I felt this was a great set of instructions- designed to make the activity as successful as possible as an assessment- he wanted them to apply key vocabulary, so he could tell whether the students were using the vocabulary accurately.

Talk to one another first if you aren’t sure and talk to me if you are both unsure. Okay. Go.

Again, he asked students to discuss in pairs- something quite simple- but his very clear instructions mean that they would be engaged and interacting in that discussion effectively as there were clear parameters given for support.


Sian: A mixture.

Teacher: of… ?

Sian: Rice and peas.

I like his use of ‘of?’ Designed to expect the highest level of response from the student- her answer became more precise. He also directed his question towards a specific student.

It is Lucy but listen again to what Samira just said. 

This comment directed the student to amend her answer based on other’s responses and I found throughout that this teacher placed high emphasis on the students helping one another and the teacher gave very little information themselves- he just directed the students towards learning instead.

Some General AfL advice

  • Design the lesson and the dialogue when you’re about to teach a confusing topic.
  • Misconceptions should be revealed- create challenging learning, which will bring these to the surface.
  • Questioning, Feedback, Self & Peer assessment, formative tests and quizzes generate the kind of learning environment where learning takes place.
  • Interactive dialogue, collaborative learning and self-regulation are key features of an effective classroom.
  • Try mini whiteboards to collect a range of answers and get all students thinking.
  • Use traffic lights for students to rate their confidence.

Why is AfL important to you?

  1. “AfL allows me to get inside the learner’s head and see some of what they are thinking.”
  2. “AfL helps me structure what students need to learn in a particular lesson.”
  3. “AfL helps learners focus on what they need to know and how they can demonstrate this knowledge.”
  4. “AfL helps me assess which students can do the work and which can’t.”
  5. “AfL allows learners to use one another as a resource for learning.”
  6. “Talk is at the heart of most AfL strategies because this is how students learn.”
  7. “Afl provides me with feedback from the students so that I can plan differentiation better.”
  8. “AfL provides me with feedback so that I can plan how to challenge students and move their learning forward”
  9. “AfL is assessment that happens as learning is taking place so that I can adapt and change what I am doing”.

We were asked to select 3 of the responses above and write a paragraph for a new teacher. This was mine:


A teacher’s job is to probe

Without probing, poking and prodding the ‘learning’, we don’t know how deeply rooted it is and how easily each student will be able to apply their knowledge in a range of contexts.

As Chris explains, the primary functions of assessment for learning are to:

  • promote domain-specific dialogue;
  • help teachers understand what learners think;
  • give learners formative feedback.

Don’t rush conversations, answers or dialogue: allow time for students to respond and reveal their learning.

Make space for ideas to surface.

To sum things up:

  1. Assessment for learning strategies help teachers use questions and activities to collect information on what learners, do, don’t and partly understand.
  2. From the evidence, that is, what the students say and do, teachers can make judgements about where students are in their learning and so plan the next steps more effectively.
  3. Student dialogue is useful in providing this evidence, and carefully planned questions help teachers focus in on specific problems and difficulties.
  4. At the same time, this process reveals to students where their strengths and weaknesses lie in a particular topic, so that they can see where they need to make particular effort to move their learning forward.

Unless students know where they’re going, they can’t really steer themselves. Give them targets and success criteria to work towards.

Provide student work for them to assess and consider together- why is that one the best/worst? Why? What does it look like? Feel like? What are its components?

Time for thinking and reflecting is key. Essentially, learning doesn’t happen with that. I think about how many times I’ve come to realisations only after the even rather than in the moment and how my learning/moment of revelation arrives only after a few hours and other people prodding me to consider it…

Dylan suggests you think of questioning as being part of a process of decision-driven data-collection: that is, questioning that has been designed to elicit information that you will be ready to use once you get it.

These aspects of AfL from ‘Inside the Black Box’ were highlighted:

Read ‘Inside the Black Box‘ here- an essential read for any practitioner.

  1. Feedback to any pupil should be about the particular qualities of his or her work, with advice on what he or she can do to improve, and should avoid comparisons with other pupils.
  2. For formative assessment to be productive, pupils should be trained in self-assessment so that they can understand the main purposes of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve.
  3. Opportunities for pupils to express their understanding should be designed into any piece of teaching, for this will initiate the interaction whereby formative assessment aids learning.
  4. The dialogue between pupils and a teacher should be thoughtful, reflective, focused to evoke and explore understanding, and conducted so that all pupils have an opportunity to think and to express their ideas.
  5. Tests and homework exercises can be an invaluable guide to learning, but the exercises must be clear and relevant to learning aims. The feedback on them should give each pupil guidance on how to improve, and each must be given opportunity and help to work at the improvement.
My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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