S.T.O.P (right now, thank you very much)

Stop right now, thank you very much, we don't need a Spice Girls reunion. –  Missy, Me & Him

No, sorry to disappoint, but this is NOT a blog post about an iconic Spice Girls song, but maybe it should be? But instead it is about a teaching technique that I adapted and developed over the last academic year to support students with their extended writing and staying focused on the task – called S.T.O.P.

Metacognition

The S.T.O.P technique is one that stems from metacognition and self-regulation which is in vogue within the education world at the moment. I’m not one who likes to buy into educational fads or jump into the next new, shiny thing but I do think there is a place for a focus on metacognition in our schools – that isn’t to say it hasn’t been around for a while! It isn’t new but it is having a renewed focus, along with academic discourse and research around its efficacy in the classroom.

Metacognition is at its most simplest form about learning how to learn, or thinking about learning. There has been a lot of talk about it, and the Educational Endowment Fund (EEF) has published guidance and recommendations on metacognition and its application in the classroom. This is definitely worth sitting down and having a read of, when you have the time, if not already.

Within the guidance, it talks about the three aspects of self-regulation: planning, monitoring and evaluating. During my CPD, professional development and training, there has been a strong focus on modelling monitoring to students and also evaluating their work through feedback, may that be self-, peer- or teacher-assessed. The one area that hasn’t has as much focus is: monitoring.

In the EEF guidance, on monitoring it says:

emphasising the need, while undertaking the learning task, for pupils to assess the progress they are making; this includes the self-testing and self-questioning activities that are necessary to control learning, and making changes to their chosen strategies

Whilst this focuses primarily on monitoring how we learn, I have interpreted it as also monitoring the processes necessary to succeed in the piece of work that students have been set off with. As you read on, you will find how this idea has been picked up and influenced by another strategy used by Kings College London, but also how my experiences in the classroom with my students influenced the need to find some way to support them with their writing processes.

Starting with SOCKS

Whilst the origin of the S.T.O.P technique stems from metacognition and my interest in looking more at monitoring in the three stages of self-regulation, it is also an adapted version of another similar technique used by the Kings College London’s Kings Scholars programme for KS3 students.

Their technique is called doing a SOCKS Stop, with SOCKS standing for:

S for Speed

O for Objectives

C for Comprehension

K + S for Kings Scholars Skills

Working with the Kings Scholars team, as my school’s More Able Coordinator, led to me seeing the SOCKS Stop technique being used first-hand and seeing how students, when doing activities as part of their Kings Scholars days, would benefit from this self-regulatory strategy. From my observations, it was an effective intervention that helped students keep themselves on task.

Taking it back to my school

It was frustrating that it wasn’t being applied consistently when Kings Scholars students were coming back to school and in their lessons/classrooms. This goes against some of the guidance by the EEF where it says that metacognitive skills should be taught alongside subject-specific content, as pupils find it difficult to transfer these generic skills. Therefore, application and practice in the classroom is important.

Luckily, there was scope to adapt this technique as I had noticed students in my school context had been struggling with staying on task, and achieving success based on the task’s success criteria, within most of my lessons. I think this was because of a couple different things.

Firstly, students had come back from Lockdown 1.0 and had not been in environments where they sat for extended periods of time working on piece of work, such as extended writing, and secondly, students were in need of that extra scaffold to help them achieve success that went beyond showing them model answers and breaking them down, but give them a tool in their arsenal to reach the level of success they had been asked to achieve.

I took the SOCKS Stop technique, and adapted it to be more generic and specific to what was needed in my school. I played around a lot with what it could be, and finally came up with:

S for Speed

T for Time

O for Objective

P for Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar

The S and the O have been pretty much transplanted from the SOCK Stop, but I added Time and Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar to support students in my own context.

Why Time? Understanding the passing of time is an important skill that students need to pick up, especially to prepare them for examinations in KS4 and KS5. It was always something I noticed students would be shocked at when I would tell them they were half way through an extended writing task. They need support to address this and to also see how much work they could complete within the time given.

Why Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar? Typically, this is called Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) but to fit my acronym I switched it around a bit, creative licence and all. This was another thing that I noticed students in my classroom needed to address, as they would often just write, write, write without continually checking their spelling, grammar and punctuation. Taking that time to stop in the middle of an activity to check would be invaluable to them.

I then brought it into the classroom to test it out. At first, I modelled the process to the students on the whiteboard, half way through a writing task or a longer activity-based task, as can be seen below:

What students had to do was write the acronym S.T.O.P in the margin of their book, and then put a tick once they have checked and have achieved that section or a cross if they had checked and weren’t achieving that section i.e. is their speed at the write level for half way through a task? This would be shown through how much they had written etc.

The only slight difference was for Time. This was where students would have to write down how long they had left to write. This helped show them clearly how long they had left to write and also how much they had written in the time already gone. It was insightful to the students who realised that they had to pick up their writing speed, especially if they had only written one or two lines!!

Gradually, it got to the point that I would have to just say S.T.O.P and students would automatically begin the process. Whilst this was still scaffolded, I eventually wanted to get them to the point where students would autonomously do a S.T.O.P, yet Lockdown 2.0 happened and schools closed – I never quite adapted the S.T.O.P technique for online teaching.

Impact

Whilst their is no quantitative data that shows that this technique has had any impact, what I can say is qualitatively and from my own observations it has had an impact when used consistently in my lessons.

The class I used it with consistently was my bottom set Year 8 English class, who at the end of the academic year were writing far more than they had been at the beginning of the year, despite Lockdown 2.0. Whilst there is still a lot of work to do on keeping them focused on the success criteria, for a class that was struggling to write more than a few lines, to see a half pages and sometimes full pages written for their extended writing was amazing.

Here are two more example I am proud of …

  1. Student A has only written one paragraph by the time they had got to the half way point in the task and had to complete their S.T.O.P, after the S.T.O.P they had written two more paragraphs in the same amount of time. Thus showing the explicit engagement with timings supported the student to write more. Though it isn’t all perfect, the student has definitely addressed their extended writing stamina and timings.

2. Student B has used the S.T.O.P technique to correct grammar and missing words in their work when going through the Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar section of the technique. Thus, the student has improved the understanding in their work and used the time to self-reflect and improve the work during the time allocated.

Further development/adaption

Whilst the S.T.O.P technique has seen some gains and had some impact, there are still some adaptions I am wanting to make, especially around a clearer focus on Objectives (i.e. the success criteria of their task) to make it clearer and help address the issues around achieving success in their writing. This will be an added level to the technique when we return in September, and hopefully will be one that benefits the students with their writing going forward.

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