Pass the Pen

This session I have been working with Carmel Bones as part of the Osiris Teaching Intervention programme. If you haven’t worked with Carmel before I would highly recommend you get in touch as she is excellent. Carmel is full of knowledge, experience, evidence and she is full to the brim with ideas to supercharge your classroom practice.

As part of the OTI programme you are recorded teaching a class. This is easily the best part for me and I wish it happened more regularly. Because, being able to watch back a lessons really helps you find the bright spots of not only your teaching but of the students and their work. There is so much that we miss in the 50 minutes of teaching a class. Whether this is because our radar isn’t reaching to the back corners or because you are working one to one with a students and you miss out on discussions elsewhere.

One thing I have noticed is that the students really do talk about the work when you are at the other side of the room, they are great at helping each other and translating my language into their own. Perhaps this is because there is another adult pointing a camera at them but I'll take the win.

What makes this process of watching the video is the discussion that we have afterwards. Where you get to share what you found, the highlights and explore what could have been better. There are always far too many things you could do better. And where we get to benefit from experience.

One aspect of this discussion that I have trialled with is the idea of ‘passing the pen’ which was suggested to me by Carmel. I often work from the whiteboard (when I don't have access to a visualiser — the same techniques can be applied to a visualiser) where I will model, work through an I/We/You approach and conduct cold calling, turn & talks and discussion. During the review of work I often ask students how they did something, what approach did they use and ask them to explain it in their own words.

‘Passing the Pen’ allows me to take this to the next level and ensure the cognitive work of the lesson is firmly with the students. In the past few lessons during this review of work I have tasked students with sharing their thinking at the board after an opportunity to complete the examples and share with their partner. I pass them the pen. This has taken students thinking and sharing to the next level. What has surprised me the most is how willing the students have been to come up to the board and share their thinking.

I initially was apprehensive about doing this, although I have done it before but I did choose a student who I knew would get it right previously. However, what struck me is that it is the teacher who is in complete control, who has created a culture of error and has the trust of the students who is best placed to ‘pass the pen’ to any student.

The cognitive work at this stage of the lesson is firmly with the students. Another point of note is the support students get whilst at the board. They get helpful suggestions if their peers think they are beginning to err. And they get lots of encouragement.

It has been great to see the students share their thinking so publicly and demonstrate the confidence to do this in front of their peers. This is also something you could do under the visualiser in exactly the same way.

One final note is that I have tried to not waste any time. While the student has the pen and is formulating how they will tackle the problem on the board I cold call a few students to ensure that the ratio remains high in what could be dead time.

Have you ‘passed the pen’ in your classroom?




What are the hallmarks of High Impact Teaching? Discussing the features of a great classroom. Darren Leslie, Principal Teacher of Teaching & Learning. @dnleslie

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What are the hallmarks of High Impact Teaching? Discussing the features of a great classroom. Darren Leslie, Principal Teacher of Teaching & Learning. @dnleslie

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