Participation ratio in lessons: the results are in!
Where do 500+ teachers feel student participation is at its lowest?
Last week, I shared an exercise that encourages teachers to reflect on the number of students actively participating (in other words, the participation ratio) at various stages of their lessons. I chose five phases of a typical lesson:
Retrieval Do Now
Prerequisite knowledge check
Explanation / worked example
I asked teachers to rate whether they felt the participation ratio in that phase of their lesson was generally High, Medium, or Low. To help them decide, I suggested they consider the following question:
How easy would it be for a student in this phase of the lesson to be either not listening, not thinking, or not understanding, and you not pick up on it?
Well, I am delighted to say that over 500 teachers completed my online survey at the bottom of the post, and the results are in! So, shall we see how teachers around the world rate student participation in their lessons? Okay, let's go!
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1. Retrieval Do Now
This result echoes what I see a lot in the classrooms I visit. Often students are not engaged during the Do Now. Many are slow to settle, and when they do eventually settle they embark on an elaborate ploy of Busy Tricking, giving the impression they are thinking when in fact they are not. If the teacher then goes through the answers themselves, or asks one or two students to contribute, where is the evidence that the rest of the students understand?
Here are some strategies from teachers who rated their Do Now as having a high participation ratio:
We do a 10-question timed quiz. The first 2 questions are 'easy' so students can get started quickly. The teacher regularly circulates and is 'seen looking' to ensure all are engaging in the work. Students then mark questions and then the teacher gets students to raise their hands if they have Q1 correct, Q2 correct and so on. The teacher will then go through 2/3 of those poorly answered questions.
Review quiz - all students must submit their work. We mark it together and I do cold calling. Everyone is on their toes and must be ready to answer. No one knows whom I pick next...They need to listen to the previous person's responses because sometimes I ask a student to summarise the previous response.
Booklet - answers are posted on the board and I circulate while they complete and while they mark, then pick up a couple of questions to go through using MWBs to check thinking/steps
Currently using Maths Universe Skills on printed paper. This has massively improved the participation ratio. The examples of similar problems on the back really help too as students have an opportunity to get help without asking preventing the common occurrence of "I can't do this so I'll distract others/talk". This has even enabled me to insist they enter in silence which I've never succeeded at before.
It was interesting to note that many teachers who rated the participation ratio in the Do Now as High mentioned circulation as being key to ensuring students are participating. Whilst I am a huge advocate of purposeful circulation (we will discuss this in a future newsletter), I think it needs to be combined with something like a whole-class mini-whiteboard check to get a reliable check for understanding, especially in classes with a large number of students. I wrote about a different approach to the Do Now in my first Coaching Case Studies post.
2. Prerequisite knowledge check
An interesting thing to note here is the 10% of teachers who do not do a prerequisite knowledge check. Perhaps this is built into the Do Now. But if not, it feels risky to assume the foundations are secure enough to build a new idea upon.
Anyway, here are some strategies from teachers who rated the participation ratio in this phase of the lesson as High:
Diagnostic questions with coloured ABCD cards
Diagnostic questions on board, responses on mini whiteboards
All done via MWBs, includes further questioning of why they put the answer to check understanding and to ensure they can't just copy another answer down.
Turn and talk followed by cold call
Brain dump or picture/question on board and I ask questions students to think pair share and students answer on mini whiteboards
Personally, I am a fan of ensuring the format of the prerequisite knowledge check is different to that used in the retrieval Do Now. I want students to see each as a separate phase of the lesson so they better appreciate the purpose. Also, mixing things up can be good to combat any declining attention. Like many teachers in the survey, I find diagnostic questions work well for the prerequisite knowledge check (following on from using mini-whiteboards in the Do Now) as there is an opportunity for students to discuss, argue and reason as they share their thoughts on each of the possible answers. I describe two ways you could make use of the wrong answers to a diagnostic question in a previous edition of my Tips for Teachers newsletter.
3. Explanation / worked example
Here, the proportion of teachers rating the participation ratio as High dips and - spoiler alert - this is the phase of the lesson that was the most popular when I asked teachers: If you had to pick just one phase of your lesson to focus on boosting your participation ratio, what would it be? This is no surprise. If we are not careful, it can be so easy for students to stop listening or thinking whilst the teacher offers an explanation or goes through a worked example.
Here are some reflections from teachers who have rated participation during the explanation or worked example as High:
Teacher-led modelling. Students watching not copying. I do then We do (with cold call) then You do on MWB
We do lots of mini-whiteboard practice and it is ping-pong in its style ( I do, you do, etc.)
Silent modelling and narrated teacher example, students then complete another similar example on MWBs and show the teacher. This may be repeated a number of times until the teacher is happy the students understand what to do. The teacher may get students to complete one of these questions in books and cold call for those answers, this allows students to have their own worked example in books and not copied from the teacher.
We use 'Excellent Example' and I will explain each step and quiz students on why I did that, I continue to cold call throughout the example. I will then go through each step of the example, asking students to explain what is happening. I then ask them to copy it in their books.
I go through a few problems talking about what's the same, and what's different? Generalising. Discussing misconceptions. Checking for understanding by cold calling.
This is the phase of the lesson where my participation ratio is lowest, and the one I am working hardest to address. Stay tuned next week, when I will share some strategies I have been trialling for boosting the participation ratio during the explanation or worked example phase!
The practice phase of the lesson received the greatest number of High ratings. Let's find out what teachers are doing to achieve this:
Independent working allows some time to be off task if not carefully managed - answers checked with MWB helps this situation
Generally, a set of timed questions (but time could be shortened or extended depending on the needs of the class) for students to complete based on the example phase. The first few questions are very similar just different numbers s they can access it straight away. For the first 2 minutes, the teacher doesn't help but just circulates to ensure all are engaging in the work. After this questions are twisted slightly to challenge students further and the teacher will then support them if needed but very little. Answers are put on the board after this and again hands up to see how students got on with the questions they have answered.
Assertive monitoring of worksheet/book task. I go around with a red pen and tick the correct answer. students know which question I am going to be looking for. Usually, Q1 to start with to ensure everyone makes a speedy start
Pastore's perch. Hard checks on student progress on circulation
Effective circulation can really help ensure students are putting effort into the practice. But it is when the teacher goes through the answers that I find some students tune out. To address this, I like to choose a critical question and ask all students to copy their final answer on their mini-whiteboards. They all show it to me on a count of 3, which gives me a sense of both effort and understanding, and allows me to respond accordingly. Without this, all I can do is trust my students to let me know if they don't understand one of the answers, or hope I have picked up on it during circulation (which, as I said above, can be tricky with a large class).
It is interesting to note that the majority of teachers in the survey do not do a formal plenary, but those that do find the participation ratio is low.
Here are some teacher reflections:
I would do a plenary, across 2-3 lessons - thinking about 'stages', rather than lessons
Again all done using MWBs with cold calling to ask why to ensure answers aren't copied and check understanding
Choral response once packed up and I walk around to different parts of the room so I can hear them all
Diagnostic question on the topic covered in the lesson
What I often see when teachers do engage in a plenary is summed up nicely by this reflection:
My students start to think of the next class here. They give me partial attention, especially if a problem is more challenging than average, and wait on me to rush through an explanation to help them exit, or save the problem to begin the next class.
If regular checks for understanding have been present throughout the lesson, then there may not be any need for a formal plenary. However, if we are doing a plenary to get a sense of where the class is at, it is a good idea to allow adequate time, ensure whole-class participation, and pitch our questions carefully so that they assess the core knowledge of the lesson (as opposed to being an extension question that only a few students can access).
If you had to pick just one...
The final question I asked in the survey was: If you had to pick just one phase of your lesson to focus on boosting your participation ratio, what would it be?
Here are the results:
Does anything surprise you about the results or reflections in this post?
Have you picked up any ideas to try out with your classes?
Please let me know in the comments, and I'll see you next week for a deep dive into the explanation and worked example phase.
Three final things from Craig
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