Building Flexible Knowledge

I have written before about ‘The Instructional Hierarchy’, a framework that splits learning into five stages:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Fluency
  3. Retention
  4. Generalisation
  5. Adaptation

This blog will demonstrate how a multi-lesson instructional sequence can be used to ensure that students are able to generalise. Such an approach can help students develop the flexibility of their knowledge so that they can transfer and apply what they have learned to a good range of relevant contexts.

If you want a more detailed explanation of how to teach appositives, this blog might be of interest.

Stage 1: Acquisition

One of the key points about acquisition is to begin with lots of model sentences, explaining, labelling and questioning the key points.

In the example below, students were asked to complete sentences 2, 4 and 5. I then asked them to write 3 more appositive sentences about these topics:

  1. Gothic Literature
  2. Asia
  3. Summer

Before they started, I gave lots of oral examples and made sure they knew a synonym for each topic (genre/continent/season etc) so that they had the knowledge required to write the sentence: the synonym would be used as the noun in the appositive phrase: The largest continent, Asia is also the most populous.

Stage 2: Fluency and Stage 3: Retention

In this second lesson, I went over the example sentences (1-5 in the example) with students, ensuring that initial teaching spanned 2 lessons. I then asked them to write their own (they were not allowed to copy mine). I gave them 3 minutes to do this. Most were able to finish in this time.

Stage 3 Generalisation and Stage 4 Adaptation.

After they had done a few lessons of timed fluency practice with simple descriptive appositives, I introduced these examples in order to demonstrate how these constructions can be adapted and used as part of extended analytical writing. I then chose some pieces of evidence from a non-fiction text we had recently read about giraffes and asked the students to complete short analytical paragraphs about each piece, following the same sentence constructions.

The next lesson involved this:

In this lesson, students began by completing 5 appositive sentences. Some sentences required retrieval of the content we are currently learning (Romantic Poetry), others didn’t. We then went over the two examples at the bottom, further reinforcing the fact that these constructions lend themselves well to analysis too.

I then asked students to help me complete these:

  1. The persona wears ‘clothes of death’
  2. The child is described as a ‘thing’
  3. The church makes a ‘heaven of our misery’
  4. Blake lists ‘God and his priest and King’

In the next lesson, we then widened the application even further by asking them to practice a reduced form of an analytical introduction, a useful approach to beginning essays. At this stage, I want the year 8s to be able to write a short version of this important essay component; in year 9, they will develop this into something that is far closer to what they will eventually be expected to include in their GCSE essays.

TGoL here is The Garden of Love by William Blake. We had previously read and analysed the poem in detail and come up with a list of 6 big ideas that the poem could involve and I asked students to write versions of the model, choosing the ideas that they liked the most and could explain convincingly.

All of the previous instructional examples involve restrictive drills; the next step was to get students to apply what they had learned to extended writing.

This was the next step:

The plan demonstrates the link between the mini-analytical introduction and the two subsequent paragraphs. I wrote this start of a model live under the camera so that students knew what to do (apologies about the squiggly crossing out-that should read ‘title/name’). At this stage, students are prompted to include what they have previously practiced to fluency in restrictive drills. (see “3+ analytical appositives” in the example above)

This example sequence moves quite quickly through the stages of learning and this is testament to the speed at which this particular class learn. Other classes may need much more practice and the instructional sequence would span many more lessons.


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