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A Taste of PEEL - extracts from PEEL resources

PEEL procedures, developed by classroom teachers over many years provide a way of promoting deeper learning in students in a number of different areas. Below are a number of proceures/strategies that aim to improve student understanding and encourage deeper thinking. Articles mentioned in the text  can be found on the PEEL in Practice database.

B11 Semantic maps (Posted 07/08/2017)

Figure 1 shows a handout given to students to construct a semantic map, in this case on convict life in the early years of white settlement in Australia.

Figure 1. A Template for a Semantic Map

As with all semantic maps, the central theme is placed in the centre. Between three and five categories relevant to this theme are placed around the map and under each of these, the students list (in dot point form) as many things that they know, think they know, believe or have some basis for an educated guess about. It is essential to stress that one cannot be wrong on a semantic map; its purpose is to bring up as much as possible of what the learner thinks about a topic before there is any classroom teaching or other activity associated with it. This helps the learner to make links between new information and their prior beliefs and knowledge.


Figure 2 contains the semantic map of a Grade 5 student. It shows how the semantic map has been revisited and amended several times during a unit on Caves to help the student monitor (her) learning. In this case, the teacher had begun with three categories to think about, however the student had initially added two more - Climit (sic) and Features - and later had added another (Area). She had also added, in a different coloured pencil (shown here with dots) new things that she had learnt during the unit. She could have crossed out some things where she had changed her mind, in this case there were no examples of this.

Figure 2. A Semantic Map

Semantic maps can be done individually or as a group activity. They help students group and organise their thinking as well as identify areas where they agree or disagree with other students. The categories can be determined by the teacher or by a teacher led discussion. Very young students can use drawings or a mixture of drawings and writing to get down their ideas.

They are most often used very early in a unit, but they can be used (for example) to summarise the content of a novel (eg plot, setting, characters and main events).

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B23 Before, before, After, after (Posted 30/7/2017)

This procedure was developed by Jo Osler and Jill Flack. The procedure involves students brainstorming what they can see in a visual stimulus such as a photo or drawing. Then they brainstorm what they thought could have happened before the photo, then after, then before their before and finally after their after.  They do this in three stages - ie they do not begin with a five panel layout, rather with a focus solely on now .  It is important to make it clear that the students are speculating, engaging in talk which is exploratory, tentative and hypothetical (PEEL Principle 5) where there is no right answer, but that they are making inferences from clues in the picture - not just engaging in wild flights of fantasy.

A photo of the pyramids for example, led to great thinking about the effect of tourism thousands of years later.  Similarly a photo of the bombing of Pearl Harbour will generate different sorts of brainstorming if the timeline is days then months, or years then decades.  This decision on timeline could, of course, be taken by the student. 

A variation in English was to read a story to a class, stop in the middle and get the students to complete the story for after and go beyond the timeline of the story for the after after .  They then wrote an alternative to the story for the before and events before the story began for the before before .

One use of procedure has been as a precursor to the students writing a creative story based on the picture - all their thinking about before and after leads to much richer and more creative stories.  Another use has been to get students into an issue: a photo of a column of refugees walking along a railway line in Bosnia stimulated an excellent discussion that opened up a range of issues about why and how people become refugees and what can happen to them when they do.

Kristyan D Aprano (Assessing previous learning and teaching links in learning) made a quite different use of the procedure when he used it (in two ways) to get students to link different episodes of their own learning using digital photos of them engaged in activities that were stored on an interactive whiteboard. He firstly used a photo of students engaged in the share part of a Think Pair Share to reflect on what they had done relevant to this in the lesson before and then the lesson after. Then he used all five stages of this procedure to encourage his students to reflect on and link the components of a six week English unit on Fables. Using an image of one student s planning for their fable as the centre panel (the Now ), he had the students reflect on how they accessed their prior knowledge of fables and the graphic organizers they used in planning, how they built experience with and meaning for fables, how they drafted, edited and shared fables and finally what they had learnt about writing. Students could see the causes and effects of their learning, reflect on the process and thinking involved in getting to the final story and, hopefully, be able to transfer their understanding of the process and the steps they followed to their next writing task.

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B8 Probe of prior views (Posted 24/07/2017)

This is a strategy often used in Science but aplicable to other subject areas, where the teacher aims to establish what students already know or think about a topic. By using this procedure the teacher can better design their teaching to match what students already know and to correct misconceptions.

The purpose of this procedure is to bring out the views/beliefs/explanations that the students have brought into the classroom on a topic where no teaching has yet been done.  Often there are a number of competing views and an important goal is to identify this range and to use it as a a starting point for the unit or lesson.  There are a number of ways by which this has been done.  In a common one, one or more real world situations are described and questions asked which call for the student s current opinions. The students give written responses.

The teacher stresses that the particular concern is not what individual students have said, rather the range of views present in the class. Testing and resolving competing views will become an important element of subsequent teaching. The teacher collects and summarises the responses and reports back to the class on the range of views that were present. It is also helpful to report on response patterns from other classes as this helps legitimise the holding of alternative views, and thus to reassure students that they are not alone.  The strong emphasis on the value of the students views makes this an effective tactic in building a sense of shared intellectual control (PEEL Principle 1).

An example in English is to conduct a probe into the students views on what kind of writing constitutes poetry. Students are given a selection of pieces of writing, including such pieces as a dedication from a book: an In Memoriam, greeting card verses, doggerel such as rhyming slang, playground rhymes, tongue twisters, limericks, selections by writers such as Ogden Nash and Rudyard Kipling (who wrote very "poetic" prose), as well as publicly regarded "legitimate" poems.  With every piece they were asked their opinion about the same question "Do you think that this is poetry?"  This form of probe is called a series of instances; a series of pictures of living things: a sparrow, worm, trout, spider, human,dog with the question Do you think that this is an animal" is another example.

When introducing a probe of prior views it is important that students do not feel that their views will be assessed. One way to overcome this concern is to ask for views to be given anonymously. However we have found that once students are used to this procedure they are happy to "own" their views. This has the advantage that students and teachers can identify later if and where they have changed or extended their views.

Using diagrams or posters as a medium has also been found to be effective. In one example, students represent major body systems within a life size outline produced by one student lying down on a large piece of paper. As they do these activities, they are encouraged to keep a list of questions raised by their discussion, in order to make subsequent reading and research more purposeful.  Another approach has been to write a single word or phrase on the board as a heading, and ask the students for things to put under it.

The emphasis of the approaches just described is for both the teacher and the students to become more aware of what the students beliefs, opinions and existing explanations and conceptions are in the topic to be taught. Michael Bucklow has provided a extremely rich list of ways of ways of identifying what students already know about a topic in his article How do we know what students already know?  Finding what students know and do not know can have a somewhat different purpose to finding the range of existing beliefs, but there is clear overlap and Michael s article is a very useful resource.

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Mind Maps Procedure B28

Mind maps (Posted 17/07/2017) provide a graphical representation of ideas or tasks

A mind map starts with one word that is the central or main idea to be explored. This is placed in the centre of the page. The students then brainstorm connected ideas. The ideas are one or two words and are drawn coming from either the original word or from a subsequent word: the map explodes outwards with each branch having the potential to lead to a brainstorm of its own.

One value of the mind map is that it provides a graphic organiser of what could otherwise be an apparently chaotic discussion. Figure 1 contains the result of a brainstorm about a recipe for a chocolate cake (see Chocolate Cake ).

 
                                                          Figure 1: A mind map for cake baking

The mind map is usually an activity used at the beginning of a topic. It allows students to recall prior knowledge and to group or organise their ideas. The mind map can subsequently be used to frame questions or plan tasks. Figure 2 contains a mind map constructed during a brainstorm planning some libray research (see The research process).

 
                                                 Figure 2: A Mind map for library research


A mind map can be used for preliminary planning to identify the key elements of a research task. In the case below Denise Green (Six Steps for Processing and Presenting Information) asked students to use mind maps to clarify their ideas on Wegener s theory of Continental Drift

                                   Figure 3: Preliminary map


During or after the first reading of further information, the student can add to the mind map above to identify the evidence and reasons as follows.

 
                                                                        Figure 4: Detailed mind map

This mind map serves as the basis for the students written response and a useful study summary for the student during exam preparation.

A mind map can resemble a Concept Map (Procedure A1) in appearance, in that both have lots of terms linked in a graphical way. However the method of construction is quite different. In a concept map, the student is given a set of terms and asked to think about how each term links with every other term - the writing on the lines connecting the terms is central. With a mind map there is no initial list of terms - only a central term. The other terms emerge from subsequent discussion/brainstorming, this means that there is a strong visual emphasis on the big idea and on how other things relate to that (PEEL Principle 10).  There is usually no writing on the lines leading outwards from the central term and cross links between branches are not sought. Semantic Maps (B11) also have (3 to 5) sub topics expanding out from a central topic, but there is no further expansion of issues within issues within issues - students list what they think about each sub topic.


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Listening discussions Procedure B7  Posted 10/07/2017

The procedure below is a form of class discussion where the focus is on students litening and responding to their classmates. See also Procedure B3 Interpretive Discussions on the PEEL in Practice database

Discussions and learning improve when students react to the ideas, explanations and questions of other students. This involves complex and sophisticated skills - it means asking students, who are waiting their turn during a discussion, to remember what they want to say and, at the same time, reflect on the comment being made, contrast this with earlier contributions and, where necessary, modify what they intended to say. This procedure is intended to raise students awareness of these skills and to provide training in them.

Listening discussions have been used with classes who have gained some experience in interpretive discussions and are thus used to offering and defending ideas. The teacher reviews, in a positive manner, progress to date in discussion skills and introduces, as a further step, a list of behaviours associated with reflecting on other students contributions. A short summary such as the one below is built up on the board.

Offer a new argument which supports or opposes another student s ideas:

  • I agree with Katie because....
  • If what Brad says is true, then why does...occur?
  • Link two different comments made at different times.
  • I think what May said earlier is a reason why Peter s idea won t/will work.
  • Suggest a way of testing another student s idea, or extend another student s idea.
  • We can take Tien s idea further....

The teacher announces that they will shortly have a discussion, on an issue relevant to the current topic, which will include a game aimed at gaining practice in these new skills. Each contribution will be scored on a 5 point scale for relevance, originality and, most importantly, the extent to which it reflects listening skills. (In practice, the teacher scores all comments as 3, 4, or 5 so that all are seen as useful.)

The class is divided into teams, of about five students, selected by the teacher to be balanced with respect to usual level of contribution, usual level of performance and gender. The teams do not sit together or confer during the discussion; they contribute as individuals, but their scores are totalled. The purpose of teams is to keep the discussion orderly - the teams get equal opportunities to contribute and hence individual students do not need to shout out comments to score. The teacher begins the discussion with a suitable input and then scores each comment (possibly with a very brief explanation). The public scoring helps students build an understanding of what the teacher regards as good listening skills.

When devising this procedure, we were concerned that the public scoring might interfere with the spontaneity of a vigorous discussion, or make contributing excessively stressful, or both. Pleasingly, these concerns were not realised in practice. This procedure, more than most others, is clearly a somewhat artificial means to an end. The students realised this, enjoyed it, and during the discussion did an excellent job of displaying the skills.

Allison Horn (Talk Time) uses the "Discussion tools" wall chart below  - which she builds up gradually, to scaffold good discussion behaviours and build a wider range of ways of thinking about or responding to other people s comments. She gets students thinking about what they might contribute by announcing that there will be a discussion and having them discuss the topic in pairs for a short time. The students then move into a whole class conversation mode. Rules require that respect must be shown to others and their ideas. It is quite alright to have a guess, share an opinion or ask a question and the wall chart below is used to build good listening/responding behaviours.


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Predict, Observe, Explain is one of the first PEEL procedures to be developed and is extremely useful in getting students to think about what they are learning. The articles mentioned below can be found on the PEEL database PEEL in Practice

Predict Observe Explain procedure B1  (Posted 3/07/2017)

This procedure has three stages. Firstly the students are shown a situation and asked to make a written prediction with reasons as to what they think will happen when some change is made. Crucial to the procedure is the discussion at this point of the various predictions and the reasons for them, it is, of course, essential that the teacher gives no indication of what he or she believes. Then the change is made and the students record their observation of what happened. Finally they attempt to make explanations to account for any differences between their prediction and their observations. As an example of this procedure, part way through reading a novel the teacher stopped the class and asked them to predict, with reasons, what they thought would happen next. When this was done, most students did not draw on strong indications that the author had already given about the hopelessness of the position of the main characters. Most students predicted a quite unrealistic happy ending. When they had finished the book they had to explain why the author had written an unhappy ending. This led to a deeper understanding of the characters and their motives.

POEs have been used a lot in Science. They provide an important way of tacking the poor learning tendencies of Non Retrieval and Ineffective Restructuring; the students predictions are based on the beliefs that they have brought into the classroom and sorting out why they predicted incorrectly can be very effective in restructuring these ideas. Students might be asked, for example to predict whether or not they think a ballon full of air will weigh more, less or the same as an empty balloon. Students thinking during many conventional practical activities can be improved by asking them to predict, and discuss what they expect will occur and why.  This focuses their thinking on the range of possible outcomes and the significance of each of these. POEs are diagnostic, they involve the whole class, they demonstrate to students that they do have views, and they stimulate students to find out, if their prediction was wrong, why it was wrong.  The centrality of the students ideas (rather than the teacher s) to the activity provides a good way of building a sense of shared intellectual control (PEEL Principle 1).  The discussion promotes tentative, exploratory talk (Principle 5) as well as encouraging students to listen and respond to other students ideas (Principle 6).

However, one problem with this approach is that students often are reticent about committing to a prediction and writing it down in fear of "writing the wrong thing" in their books. To avoid this, Misja Carbo and Penny Hondrakis (Using Logbooks in Year 10 Electricity) asked the students to make a special "logbook" out of the (recycled) paper and card they provided. Because the logbook was not their regular science book, students were more willing to commit their ideas and predictions to paper. First they asked the students to draw up a concept map using terms from the unit on static electricity that they had done in year 9. The Logbook helped here because it did not seem to matter as much to get "the right answer" on paper. They then proceeded, using a series of POE experiments to explore the nature of current electricity.

The students responded very well to this approach. "Can we please have Logbooks for every topic!" was one comment. When asked why, they liked it the answers varied from: " you look after them (the logbooks) so we can t lose our work" to "You can see how your ideas about electricity change."

There are a number of criteria for a good POE:

  1. The students must feel able to give a prediction - pure guessing is not at all useful. Using a familiar situation where the prediction involves a problem likely to be a real one to the students will assist in this process.
  2. The "O" of a POE should be clear. We have found a strong tendency by students to "observe" what they wanted to see. The result should be concrete.
  3. When POE s are being used to specifically challenge student views the result should be surprising - in direct conflict with that predicted by the common alternative views. However, POE s don t always have to "surprise". Using POE s only in circumstances when predictions do not match observations can firstly result in negative feelings towards the procedure and secondly lead to students picking the "unlikely" result because "we always predict wrongly". There are many occasions in Science subjects where predicting a change correctly can help build students confidence in their new understandings; sometimes this can occur as part of a series of related POEs, where the teacher expects many incorrect predictions early, but a shift to mainly correct predictions as students restructure their understandings.
  4. Students should be able to explain the result. There is no point in giving a Year 9 class a POE which requires Year 12 physics to explain.

The following points are advice drawn from experience.

  1. It is crucial that the students realise they are not alone in their predictions. This means it is important to summarise the class views and report these back to the class. An effective way of doing this is in written form where the teacher collates their results.
  2. It must be seen by the students as a non-threatening situation. Never give marks or even praise for "correct" answers. Stress to students that you only want their opinions, and predicting incorrectly can be at least as helpful as predicting correctly. If the class is unfamiliar with the procedure, it can help to collect the responses anonymously.
  3. Incorporating an interpretive discussion (B3) after the "P" and before the "O", where the competing positions are debated and clarified, is almost always important in helping students clarify, and sometimes change their ideas.
  4. At the end of the exercise ensure that the "incorrect" predictions are seen as often sensible and always helpful to the learning (by stimulating constructive debate).  This debrief helps build a classroom environment that supports the risky learning behaviours of offering and defending ideas and expressing disagreement (PEEL Principle 7).

Further activities can reinforce the correct predictions. Together with a P.O.E. on particle theory, Julie Morrow (Combining a role play and P.O.E.) found having students act out what was happening further reinforced understanding of the key concept.

Creating a situation which intrigues students to make and test a series of predictions which build on each other can lead to a classroom atmosphere that recognizes students ideas and lateral thinking . The improvement in student behaviour (as described by Ian Mitchell in The Floating Paper Clip) can be dramatic.

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