Research: The effectiveness of reading as a lesson starter.

School X is an all-boys academy high school which has been rated “A Good School” by Ofsted in their latest inspection in 2015.  In the same year, School X had been awarded “Top 100 Most Improved Schools in the UK” (UBHS, 2017) with their learners achieving 55% of A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Mathematics. This made it only 1 of 6 schools in the area to exceed their challenging targets set by the council. It is a relatively small secondary school with over 90% of its pupils coming from Indian or Pakistani heritage with the remaining few being of mostly White British heritage. Relative to national statistics, School X’s pupils have a higher than average proportion of: pupils whom speak English as an additional language, disabled pupils and those with special educational needs. About a third of pupils are extremely disadvantaged and are entitled to support through pupil premium. In addition, School X has a starter policy where pupils read their Accelerated Reader books for up to 10 minutes at the start of each lesson. This policy was introduced when the new head teacher came into place on the same year it was awarded the “most improved school”.

Brief description of class:

Amongst information from the library department, other teachers and their pupils, the class I will be focusing my 2 weeks research with are from are a second set Year 7 Key Stage 3 English class. They are in set 2 based on their SATs results from year 6. An enthusiastic class with 85% being pupil premium students in addition to 20 EAL pupil and 4 especially low attaining SEN status pupils (see Appendix D) who, even though they were placed in set two because of their high SAT’s level, are especially weak in English but remain in this set due to the schools lack of space in lower sets. School X has an implemented starter policy where each class gets students to read their accelerated reader book for 10 minutes at the beginning. In this research project, I will be researching how effective the schools implemented starter is VS teachers own personalised starters, on student behaviour and classroom learning. I’ll be using existing pedagogic literature and documents to explore the rationale for the use of lesson starters as well as guidance literature on how to carry out research with children.  I will be using Robert B. McCall’s (1994) model for behavioural research to evaluate the effects of starters on behaviour and Robert B. McCall’s (1994) two part qualitative research model using empirical and theoretical levels to show overall effective results through statistics.

 

The Research:

Ofsted state that they do not “favour a particular teaching style”, so according to Ofsted guidelines (2014, p. 18), it is not necessary for lessons to begin with a starter at all as inspectors do not “focus on the lesson structure at the expense of its content”. In accordance, when researching my own project, I have found little empirical research to actually support the use of starters however, I believe starters are particularly important in an all-male classroom such as mine in terms of their attention capacity in reference to UK ADD statistics, 1 in 3 boys suffer from a form of ADD and having an ongoing, familiar starter works well to keep young boys occupied. (Bilbow, 2014). Though tracking down research that supports the theory that starters have a good outcome has proved difficult, I have come across articles and documents that share many suggestions as to what a good starter is and how to conduct them.

My interest in this subject arose when I started working in my current school; where classes are only 50 minutes long with a 10 minute starter of accelerated reading, leaving me 40 minutes of teaching time. I found this quite difficult to manage as I felt classes ended before they had a chance to begin. In turn, this made me think that the 10 minute accelerated reading hindered my teaching in terms of being able to have a full rounded lesson. Teaching English, reading is what we do anyway so to read your own book in class too made me believe that it took more of the little valuable time I had. Though initially, I believed that School X’s starter policy was a hindrance, through my research, theory and statistical results, I find it to certainly have its positive merits.

I began my research by reading literature from the education sectors. One explanation of what a starter should contain or its definition in terms of function was as followed:

– Host/ hostess – introducing the learning menu;

– Reminder/ bridge – linking back to previous lessons;

– Motivator – getting students into the right frame of mind for learning;

– Brain coach – through the use of puzzles or activities calling for logical thinking;

– Crowd control – calming ‘hyper’ children;

– Learning Styles – including something visual, audible and kinaesthetic by means of a short, introductory activity.

(Stephens, 2014, Vol 1)

These guidelines are brilliant to abide by and I felt they were great advice to use when carrying out my research project. However, in terms of School X’s starter policy, it abides by only one of these points which is “crowd control”.  According to The Journal of Education, School X’s policy is already failing its idea of what a starter is but on the other hand, “starting the lesson as we mean to continue” (Stephens, 2014) is what the 10 minute reading starter does, it “establishes classroom expectations and a learning ethos within the classroom” (Stephens 2014). This is done by settling the class ready to learn, which in a disadvantaged all boys’ school, is truly half the battle being won.  However, drawing points on the previous guidelines of what starters should fulfil, I believe quietening the classroom down should never be the main goal.  I also believe this can be done in many more different ways amongst the schools ‘10 minute silent reading’.  This is where I began to conduct my own experiment.

Research from Pupils and Colleagues:

Due to the fact that I myself struggled to stick by the schools starter policy and in fact did not always abide by it with classes that were especially well behaved as I trusted them to get on with English specific starters, I began my research with casual questions to colleagues, finding out whether they even stuck by the school starter policy themselves. To my surprise, I had found that a large chunk of my fellow colleagues felt the same as I and did not constantly stick by the starter rule. One History teacher stated “I don’t have time to let them read what they should be reading at home anyway” (Teacher A, 2017). This attitude of “time wasting” seemed to be a common reflection from teachers, another common reflection was from a Science teacher whom stated “It saves me from thinking of a starter, we have enough work to think about” (Teacher B, 2017). Work load is a concern that everyone in the education sector struggles with; to disregard Teacher B’s statement and label it as lazy, as it is a genuine pragmatic consideration, would be to disregard a common increasing concern.  Both comments are very interesting, both are very different and both have relevant ideas that must be taken into account. But are both starter types just as effective? To find out, I proceeded through to my next step of McCall’s qualitative research model which was creating questionnaires for pupils in order to gage what the “other side” feels towards these starter differences. To design my questionnaires, I used some “ground rules” laid out by MacKay (1987); from structuring my questions to the quality and quantity of them. With the knowledge and understanding that other teachers did not solely use School X’s starter policy, they used their own too, I incorporated suitable question in reference to the difference between classes that  used the reading and classes that did their own starters, and asked which they preferred.

With regards to questionnaires of this nature and specifically because the addressed demographic is children of 12-13 year old, it is important to consider reliability, validity and credibility. These considerations should be paramount because it seems prudent to assume that they won’t always answer objectively but will instead bring their own subjective distortions and predispositions. For example, in answer to my first question “Do you like having to read your accelerated reader book at the beginning of class” (Questionnaires 2017, Appendix B), one pupil answered simply “yes because it’s quiet” (Pupil A, Questionnaire A 2017). This subjective answer is difficult to evaluate in terms of how useful reading as a starter is because this pupil might be shy and would prefer to read quietly rather than be questioned and challenged amongst other pupils; in turn, they are not taxing themselves.  Greig et al support the fact that indeed “children’s self-reports are vulnerable to suggestibility and denial and are therefore influenced by the status of the interviewer as well as the context” (Greid, Taylor, MacKay, 2007). Considering this, though I cannot control a child’s subjective opinion, I tried to reduce at least some external influence by telling my pupils that their opinions are anonymous; they did not need to put their names on the sheet and that they could be as honest as possible. I then stepped out of the classroom while they did this (I also separated pupils in separate tables so that they would not influence each other).

Furthermore, consecutive to my first question, the next question was designed to encourage further elaboration “Why do you like or NOT like this?”Amongst others, one answer I found particularly interesting and honest was from Pupil B “Because we get closer to earning our point” (Pupil B, Questionnaire B, 2017). What this pupil is referring to is the national Accelerated Reader programme which is used by over 1.3 million students in nearly 5,000 schools across the UK and Ireland. There are over 14 million books that have quizzes on this online programme, pupils can read and take quizzes to determine how well they have read the book. This is a fantastic programme which actually keeps statistical track of pupils reading age and alerts and informs us teachers as to where pupils are in their reading levels; where we then set goals, determined on whether they need to improve or if they are doing well (Renaissance, 2017).Before starting my research and having a more educated opinion of the schools starter policy, I am guilty of considering it to be a slight waste of time. However, looking at our school statistics on reading age (refer to Appendix C), taking into consideration that not only is this an underprivileged school but it is all boys; where the gender gap has been a long term trend between them and girls who read about 14% more than boys (Barwell, 2012) and furthermore, the majority of our pupils are EAL learners. In contrast to the statistics at a mixed gender school I had previously worked at, our schools accelerated reader programme results aremore advantageous in comparison with this other foundation high school (Appendix C). Even though this is one other comparison as I found it very hard to get any other without having worked there, this is a great feat for School X; perhaps these statistics (and Ofsted’s reports through these years) are a correlation to the schools starter policy? Though pupils are supposed to read for at least 30 minutes a day at home to stay on their reading age level and above, it is difficult to carry out this practice and so the 10 minutes per class does make sure that it’s pupils gets their reading time regardless. So, does this extra reading have a positive impact on lessons? In reference to Pupil C who answered my questionnaire question “Why do you like or NOT like this? With “Because it helps us to use more words wrightly” (Pupil C, Questionnaire C) despite the amusing contradiction in that quotation, the positive fact that he is aware of this must contribute to the learning of new words in lessons. This has also been reinstated by another pupil who answered my last questionnaire question of “Do you think reading for the first 10 minutes help you prepare for your lesson?” Pupil D replied “Yes because we can use new words that we have just read”.

After the questionnaires, I was ready for the next stage of McCall’s research model “hypothesis relation” (McCall 1994) -to switch the ten minute reading with 10 minute specifically class relevant starters. I did this for both my year 7s and year 8s for a whole week. I wanted to carry out this experiment to see if indeed students reacted well to a more taxing starter. Keeping in mind that School X has only 50 minute lessons, that extra 10 minutes of relevant class discussion or work I thought was particularly valuable. The lessons did not initially go as planned. I began with individual work, giving the pupils a sheet of paper to work from as they came to class. I set my expectations to pupils on the board and verbally, informing them that this was silent work which we would discuss after, I gave them 5 minutes to complete this very simple challenge. The results was that pupils finished at different times and those that had finished started talking and disrupting the class, resulting in poor behaviour. “If engaged with activities that grab their attention, they might be less likely to be involved in poor behaviour” (Cowley, 2010) Indeed not everyone had been constantly engaged and I instantly recognised that this was a fault of mine, I should have included another “reach” challenge for those that finish early. With this mistake rectified, next lesson I did a similar starter with a “reach” challenge for those that finish early. Though this kept everyone busy, when getting feedback and reflection into action, it consumed much more time than I had anticipated, after 20 minutes of going over the starter the lesson plan had wilted and even pupils were getting restless resulting to more poor behaviour. In reflection to this, I had felt that maybe my starter was slightly difficult to my next would be particularly simple where it wouldn’t go over time, so I decided to make a picture based starter. This went as planned time wise but I felt that this whole week of starters had set the class up for poor behaviour for the rest of the lessons. Both my year 7 and 8 had been significantly more disruptive throughout the lesson than before even though their “attention and energies are focused on the task” (Cowley, 2010). I felt that these behaviours could have been as a result of many different factors. Fore mostly, I felt that one of the main reasons that both my year 7 and year 8 classes had been misbehaving was simply due to change. Though it should not be an excuse as I was well aware from causal interviews with teachers and also the questionnaires from pupils that not everyone did use the schools starter policy and therefore they would have been familiar with other starter types from other lessons, it is possible that the fact that it is a change in English in particular is a major factor. Regression is an expected symptom in children who go through change (Horizons, 2017), considering this, I felt that I would have needed a longer time to carry out my experiment in order to see more reliable results. From observing my own lessons and analysing pupils work, I felt that the starters themselves went well, I felt that pupils were engaged and challenged and it worked particularly well as a plenary (especially in linking a previous lesson to the current).

Though these starters sometimes took a lot more time than before it didn’t matter as it was subject based, the real problems were majorly behavioural through constant low level disruption. I felt that the starters set off a restless attitude to a lot of pupils which as a whole wasted much more valuable lesson time than ever before. The time I took to quieten pupils down, give warning, give negatives and give detentions was overwhelming. “Studies suggest that student satisfaction with the teacher corresponds with improvement in effort from students” (Stephens, 2014) but through my own observation and evaluation, I felt that indeed effort was put into the starters and pupils from both years completed them well, it is the ripple effect that took the fall. This was especially noticeable with year 7 as they are usually a particularly well behaved class, but again, you cannot control the behaviours of adolescent kids when change in any particular field is involved, even if they are familiar with it in a different field.

Another challenge with these starters was of course the bit of extra work load that other teachers had also brought up in my causal interviews. Indeed starters are very short lesson points in addition to your lesson plan, but when you add up the 5 classes a day you may have, they do amount to hours. Smith and Bourke’s research carried out on 204 secondary school teachers in Wales have found that “Teaching context, workload, and satisfaction were found to affect stress directly. The importance of workload and job satisfaction was demonstrated by indirect effects between teaching context and stress outcomes” (Smith, Bourke, 1992). As stress causes dissatisfaction in a workplace, it is safe to assume that the reduction of stress would lead to better lessons for both teacher and student in the long run.

Conclusion:

My small scale research project has been one of the most beneficial studies I have carried out in this academic year. The reason for this is that I had decided on this project with a certain mind-set; that the reason I wanted to do this is to show how much better it was for teachers in School X to carry out their own starters rather than the one the school had initiated. Through not only statistics from the library, but having had observed the different behaviours when the research was taking place I have decided that the schools starter policy has its outstanding merits, maybe especially because it is an all boys school. Boys are especially hard to make read and these extra 10 minutes few times a day has clearly given our boys an advantage in the accelerated reader statistics where I have found that the majority are on par with their reading age and as a whole, the school are constantly improving as shown in the reports (Appendix C). Using Robert B. McCall’s (1994) model for behavioural research to evaluate the effects of starters on behaviour and Robert B. McCall’s (1994) two part qualitative research model using empirical and theoretical levels to show overall effective results through statistics has really helped me construct my experiment and research proficiently. I have thus come to the conclusion that although specific lesson related starters are fantastic especially when in work as a plenary, either to recap previous lessons or as a prompt for the next; it works brilliantly in engaging pupils. On the other hand, it seems to me that the reading starter not only improves boys reading ability but using Stephens (2012) idea of “starting the lesson as we mean to continue” a phrase she “settled on after exploring different conceptions of the word ‘starter’”, I feel it sets the class up for better behaviour throughout the lesson when they start quietly reading. Furthermore I’d like to add that, just like any starter the schools “10 minute starter” is not set in stone, it can last as little as the teacher wishes; I personally use it until the class have all come in and they are settled which takes a few minutes.

I have still been battling with a few mental points with these two starters however, especially when considering CPD standards. Firstly: Teacher Standard 1: A teacher must set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils. Though on face value, the schools starter policy seems to fail in portraying that is setting high standard- for pupils to silently read instead of getting straight to work, I feel that considering statistics and teachers points of workload and especially behaviour management, this standard does not fail to apply to the core lesson. The starter simply sets the lessons mood.  TS2 for good progress and outcome is certainly shown through the Growth Report statistics (Appendix C). TS4 for well-structured lessons I feel is also reached through 10 minute starters because it is a part of a well structured lesson and as mentioned before, acts as a brilliant calm starter which sets off a calm lesson. TS5, adapting to the needs of all students is naturally done through Accelerated Reader where each book is assigned to the needs of the pupil.  And finally this school’s 10 minute reading starter policy fulfils TS7 by managing behaviour effectively as it has been shown through my research that they behave better when they begin quietly.  On the other hand, this schools starter policy fails to reach Teacher Standards 3 and 6 where lesson specific starters would not have. This is surely not something to be ignored but I do feel that is does not deduct from its overall positive attributes. I have concluded that both starter styles are perfectly acceptable, my surprise was to find what a positive results School X’s starter policy really had but at the same time, I will accompany it with relevant starters when it seems necessary. School X has a positive attitude in supporting teacher’s individual teaching styles which supports teachers and pupils needs together.

 

Appendix A

Barwell, Gavin, Boys Reading Commission . 2012. Literacy Trust. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4056/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf. [Accessed 21 April 2017].

Bilbow, AB, 2014. ADHD: Paying enough attention?. ADHD: Paying enough attention? A research report investigating ADHD in the UK, [Online]. ADDISS, p11. Available at: http://www.addiss.co.uk/payingenoughattention.pdf [Accessed 25 April 2017].

Christensen, Pia, Allison, James, 2000, Research with children, perspectives and practices, (Falmer Press)

Cowley, S. 2010. Getting the buggers to behave (London, Continuum)

Greig, Anne, Taylor, Jayne, MacKay, Tommy, Doing Research with Children 2nded, SAGE publications ltd, 2007, p92

MacKay, T, 1987, Planning Research In Child Guidance, SALGEP Quarterly 6, p 3-11

McCall, R.B, 1994, Commentary, paper in Human Development, Basel,  p293-8

Ofsted School Report . 2015. Ofsted Report, Upper Batley High School. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ubhs.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=featured&Itemid=180. [Accessed 25 April 2017]

Opie, Clive,2004, Doing Educational Research, A Guide To First Time Researchers, (Sage publications)

Renaissance. 2017. About us- Renaissance . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.renlearn.co.uk/about-us/. [Accessed 21 April 2017].

Smith, Max, Bourke, Sid, Teacher stress: Examining a model based on context, workload, and satisfaction, Elseiver,Volume 8, Issue 1, February 1992, Pages 31-46

Stephens, Karen, The Bridge: Journal of Educational Research-Informed Practice Volume 1, Issue 1: 2014, Lesson Starters: An outdated idea or a meaningful teaching tool? (University of Leicester)

Teacher A, School X, 2017

Teacher B, School X, 2017

UBHS. 2016. Headteacher’s Welcome. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ubhs.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=featured&Itemid=180. [Accessed 25 April 2017]

Advertisements