Almost a year after I wrote my first and until now only post on my work with trainee teachers as a teach educator using the TLaC Brighten Lines technique, that post recently received a boost when Adam Boxer tweeted about having used it in a training session on behaviour management. Having been reminded of the power of sharing good practice, I have been prompted to write this second post on my second favourite action step: means of participation.
I must start by saying that just like my post on Brighten Lines, what follows is drawn from the brilliant work of the Teach Like a Champion team. In particular, the idea of ‘means of participation’ came from a two-day TLaC Ratio workshop I attended in October 2017 with Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Colleen Driggs. So I am shamelessly reproducing their work here and explaining how I have applied with my trainees.
Means of participation is a deceptively simple concept: communicating clearly and unambiguously to pupils how you expect to manage their participation in a phase of questioning during a lesson.
I am disappointed to admit that far too often in my 13 years in the classroom I would exasperatedly wonder why pupils were shouting answers out and I was having to remind them again and again that in my classroom shouting out was not accepted. Means of participation made me realise that more often than not it was my failure to make clear what I expected that was the root cause of such calling out, rather than any malign intent on the part of my pupils.
It is a scene I see repeated in the classrooms of trainee and early career teachers too. How often have we all simply announced questions into the ether of the classroom without being clear that we expect hands up, or hands down so we can Cold Call? Means of participation also enables us to explicitly consider other ways that pupils can approach a question, such as through Turn and Talk, Everybody Writes, Think-Pair-Share and so on.
Sounds simple, but I find when working with my trainees, drilling down to the precise phrase or gesture they will use to signal to pupils what is expected, when and how they will communicate this and how they will respond to calling out or unnecessary hands up is the key. This kind of specificity is exactly what means of participation is designed to do, as with so many TLaC techniques that isolate specific actions and behaviours, and makes the technique practisable.
Here is the resource I use (adapted from the one used in the TLaC Ration workshop) to scaffold this process for the teachers with whom I work:
Breaking a teaching skill down in this way, scripting the different parts, practising the specific examples until they can be delivered automatically so the technique can then be used more flexibly over time in the classroom is incredibly powerful. In this case, it both reduces the incidence of shouting out and gives teachers an easy way to challenge those who do not comply: they can give a positive correction by simply reminding pupils of the expectation previously stated.
And when teachers have thought really carefully about the questions they want to ask, both to check understanding and prompt their pupils’ thinking, using this technique helps to ensure they can hear their pupils’ answers clearly, understand their thinking, uncover potential misconceptions and respond as necessary, thus improving pupils’ learning. It also reduces conflict in the classroom by removing hopefully eventually) the need for pupils to be told off for shouting out or reminded to put their hand up.