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Teaching and learning tricky topics
Teaching and learning tricky topics

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Analysing thoughts

There are four very broad steps that will help you to review your information:

First Step: When listening to a recording or reading a transcript / notes it is important to consider that when students describe their understandings they often talk about specific examples rather than broader terms. It is these specific examples that are referred to as problem examples. When many students give examples of problems with one particular concept, then this concept will probably relate to a tricky topic you need to cover.

Second Step: Discuss these tricky topics with your colleagues to get their feedback on how tricky their students have found these topics. Also it is useful to search for literature about these topics and for comments from other teachers about how tricky these topics might be in other contexts. You will see other methods of collaborating using the tricky topic process in Week 3.

Third Step: Next you should review the students’ examples of (mis)understandings and try to group them together in a way that helps you to understand them. This could be around causes, or some aspects of the student’s needs, or specific elements of the topic they misunderstand (more about this in Section 3.2 the problem distiller is introduced). This can also be done collaboratively using the tricky topics process (see Week 3).

Fourth Step: It is then useful to put a short label (of a few words) to those groups of students’ problem examples that fit together in some way. These labels will probably form the stumbling blocks within a tricky topic.

Now, try to conduct your own needs analysis. You may wish to do a full needs analysis on students that you teach and this would be very worthwhile but obviously very time-consuming. The activity below is a mini needs analysis and should only take you about an hour to complete, although the analysis may take longer.

Activity 1 Conduct a mini needs analysis

Timing: Allow approximately 60 minutes

Use the principles in 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 to conduct a mini needs analysis to uncover misunderstandings about a tricky topic in your subject area.

If you are a practising teacher you may wish to interview one or more of your own students or do an activity in class which will identify misunderstandings of a potential tricky topic in your subject area. If you do not have access to students you could conduct a mini needs analysis on colleagues, friends or family members.

If you have no topics or activities of your own, you may wish to base your questions around an activity using the cards for ‘living things’ above. If so, you should know that the UK Secondary, Key Stage 3, definition of living is as follows ‘Living things are organisms that display all of the following: respiration, reproduction, growth, excretion, movement, sensitivity and nutrition’.

Remember to tell your participants before the task that it is not a test and that you are only interested in what they think. Also remember that your role as interviewer is to prompt with non-leading questions and never to give hints.

Write a list of students’ (colleagues’/friends’/family’s) thoughts and misunderstandings (problem examples). You will use this list next week.

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Armed with students’ thoughts and (mis)understandings, you can start to analyse the tricky topics into their component parts. The following section will delve more deeply into how you can categorise tricky topics in order to help you break them down into identifiable, assessable parts in preparation for designing the learning to overcome the difficulties.