The Super Stuck Wall

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 21.57.43Expanding on my #pedagoofriday tweet 

The first controlled assessment for Year 10 is looming. We have been studying the text Of Mice and Men for nearly six weeks and, from my point of view, they should be ready. However, before making that assumption and setting them off, they were asked to review their current understanding. During the review stage of the previous lesson to the stuck board, I asked pupils to write a note letting me know if there was anything they were worried about or felt that they needed more work on.

Pupils responded with: I don’t get how you write about context; I can’t find any good quotes; I don’t know how you explain the effect of quotes; I need to learn more about the context because I was off that lesson; I don’t know how to organise my writing into paragraphs. I don’t only have four pupils in the lesson; the elements of writing this essay have been the focus of many of our lessons and this is reflected in the responses you see above. As many of the responses were similar, this really helped with the development of the stuck board.

You Said – I Did

On my whiteboard, I had placed several cardboard folders. Around the folders, I wrote out the responses from the books; not the responses about sitting next to their friends, but the responses that had indicated specific gaps in knowledge that would hinder pupils from achieving in their controlled assessment. Within the folders were differentiated tasks which would allow them to gain the multistructural knowledge that they were lacking or to perfect their reading response skills.

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 20.30.26

Not the prettiest job but effective 

Responses that had nothing to do with the stuck board were not ignored. This class are still fairly new to me and this is great for building relationships. They can be confident that if I ask them to reflect, their response will be noted. During a simple “you said, I did” discussion, I made sure each pupils’ response had been heard. For example, one said they loved the fun games and wanted more while another said they loved the games but could get easily distracted during them so we discussed how everyone was different and a balance was needed. Their point wasn’t useful for this lesson but equally wasn’t ignored. Another person said, “i hate english (no capital letters).” I awarded them with a bonus merit for use of punctuation for specific effect and then told them I hoped I could change their mind. You can’t please them all but that mission has begun.

Search for Meaning

Pupils were given the rest of the lesson to ensure that their multistructural understanding had no gaps. They have been taught that they must cover themes, context, language etc… and they were given the choice of which areas they wanted to revisit. If I had taught each missing element, it may have taken at least another week of our precious time and so it was time for them to take control.

The element of choice was also given with how they worked and with what medium. Previous to this lesson, pupils have been experimenting with hexagons for gathering and relating ideas, thinking maps for planning and stems for creating their own questions. These tools were made available and pupils used what they felt most comfortable with. Pupils could get up and change their focus whenever they felt they needed to. It was their lesson to use as they saw fit.

The folders did not contain the right answers. That would be too easy. Instead, I spent time planning questions that would lead pupils to understand how they could discover the right answers. For example, in the “I can’t find any good quotes” wallet was a series of questions based upon page numbers in the book. The questions would first ask pupils to discover who was saying what, when and why and then gradually narrow them down to specific word types before asking them to organise the quotes into least to most effective based upon what they wanted to discover. Each wallet was carefully created to be accessible but to provide questions that were challenging.


Pupils took control. They worked in pairs, small groups and some as individuals on their own area of choice. As I circulated, pupils used me to bounce ideas off but I never once heard, “I’m stuck.” Nor did I see anyone give up. One group had chosen to challenge themselves with the language in the novel. Their debate about the title of the novel was a pleasure to listen to. They discussed how the words “mice” and “men” linked to the foreshadowing used by Steinbeck with Lennie’s progression from killing mice to a human being. The questions in the language wallet led them to this discussion but it was a discussion of their own making. There wasn’t a question written by me asking how the title links to foreshadowing but, by challenging themselves, this is where they ended up. This group had felt confident at the end of the previous lesson and, if I had chosen to re teach elements, they may not have been as challenged. Similarly, if I had chosen to plough ahead with the assessment, they would not have had the chance to stop, discuss and deepen their knowledge. This conversation led me to ask them where the title came from and off they went discovering new knowledge to relate to their thinking.

 Next Steps

Developing this idea to create a differentiation system that will work in many other contexts, not just reviewing knowledge, is now my plan. This worked well as a response to feedback but I want it to work equally as well in other lessons by preempting the “I’m stuck” moments before they happen. This class were motivated by the relevant choices presented to them and board created challenge and differentiation which allowed them to independently succeed. Even the ‘hater’ was engaged throughout the lesson and made excellent progress.

4 thoughts on “The Super Stuck Wall

  1. Hi!

    I discovered your wonderful blog this past May and spent quite a bit of time reading it during my summer break. I have a question but I would like explain the context of my teaching situation. I’m a native American teaching high school English in French Guiana, (a part of France in South America that most French can’t say where it is…).

    The new French BAC requires that the last year students orally compare and contrast several different mostly expository documents for a notion they have picked by chance (ie progress, power, myths and heroes or spaces and exchanges). The students have problems doing this in their native language, let alone having to do it in EFL, so your blog has given me lots of inspiration and ideas! So I give you a huge thank you !!

    I have introduced SOLO, which I feel corresponds perfectly with the CERFL competency levels (A2 finding relevant details fits with multistructural, B1 with relational and B2 with abstract). My seniors must function at B2 in order to pass. I’ve noticed that SOLO has helped at least give a common framework for communication to talk about a text. It’s still quite new for me and them, but it has been quite positive.

    They had trouble linking ideas, so we did the hexagons. That task wasn’t easy for them but for those that got it, it was amazing! Once the ideas were linked, it was ‘just’ a matter of writing sentences and paragraphs.

    Ironically, the students have been giving me feedback very similar to your students in this post, like “how do I know which information is pertinent?” This stuck board is just what we need! I’m just in awe of the activities you have done… My question is how do you go about creating the differentiated tasks to go in your envelopes? I realize this is a very vast question sorry… but your thought process would be perhaps helpful?

    I’ve had to go more in the direction of strategies to help the students. For example, reading the first and last lines or first and last paragraph of the extract given to see where the author starts and where he ends up, to establish a line where the important details would be the connecting dots. Of course we have the added burden of unknown words and no possible use of dictionaries for the exams.

    I would greatly appreciate any ideas you have!! Thanks again and please keep up all the great inspiration!! :-)

  2. Hi, I am so pleased that you get inspiration from here. It always makes it worthwhile when I hear people have been able to build on the ideas my mind sneezes out.

    If you fill in the contact me section on the blog, I can send you examples of what I put in the envelopes. My thought process went something like…if I was to teach them this on their own, how would I do it? Then I converted that into questions. So, for example, in the context folder, I had sentences telling pupils about the context in 1930 and then each sentence ended with a question that made them think about the character in relation to the context. I also included a good paragraph and a bad paragraph and asked them to spot the difference between the two to help them see how their new learning should be put into practice. I’m not sure how clear that is so if you would like to see examples, I am happy to pass them on.

    Hope that helps

  3. Hi Lisa,

    I’m fascinated by this unstuck lesson and am really inspired by how you put these folders together. I would love to do something like this but don’t know how to start this. Could you give me some ideas please?

    Thank you.

    • Of course :-) I think it works best when you are researching a topic and you’re nearing the end. Then look to the success criteria of the final task (controlled assessment or exam). Use that to decide upon your envelope topics. So for example, pupils needed to talk about language, structure, context and writer’s intentions so they make great topics. Then, inside the envelopes I put questions, example paragraphs, hi lighted extracts etc that link to the title. Then, pupils work independently to prepare their ideas through revision and have the stuck wall to refer to. I can send examples if tasks if you like?

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