Teaching Physics with Booklets
Teaching will vary from classroom to classroom, and school to school. However, one element remains very much the same, the content students are taught. Each exam board has subtle differences, but the theory is the same. The aim of this article is to explore the use of booklets within the classroom and how they can support good physics teaching.
What is a booklet?
There is lots of discussion on EduTwitter about the term booklet and it often means different things to different people. For this discussion, I am describing a booklet as a document that contains notes and questions. For example, when teaching energy, the booklet would contain the notes on the energy stores and pathways before providing students with questions to ensure they pick up the key information. In essence, it might be useful to think of a booklet as a condensed textbook. However, be careful, it is not a textbook. It is a crafted document that is designed for your students and is continuously developed and tweaked.
My early career
Before I talk about booklets, I think it is important to give context as to how my lessons used to be structured. My typical lesson would begin with a retrieval task, often recapping the previous lessons to ensure knowledge was retained. I would then introduce the lesson and the concepts. Most of the lessons were full of note taking (and the books were immaculate), however application of knowledge was limited in some lessons.
As a newish teacher to the profession, my teaching was shaped by my PGCE experience. I was led to believe discovery learning was good. Put some information around the room and let students go and find it. 3 years into my career and I will never understand why I did this type of activity. This activity has too many flaws and often leads to the development of misconceptions.
Using booklets in the classroom
The idea of booklets was not a new concept to me. I had discussed the possibility of introducing elements of them about 18 months ago after discovering a set on Twitter. I was aware that my lessons needed more practice and application built in, to ensure students had mastery of the concepts. We made the decision to switch to booklets this year and although the booklet model is in its early stages, I feel like my teaching has developed alongside my students learning.
Each lesson will follow the same structure. The start of the lesson involves a knowledge check. This should allow students to recap the core knowledge from previous lessons. These questions may be adapted if students require specific knowledge to access the new lesson. I will then give them the keywords and overview of the lesson. The next part of the lesson will vary depending on your approach. I will complete the reading for students highlighting key information as I go. Students then highlight certain points to enforce that the information is key. At this point I may go to the board to elaborate on points which ensures students can annotate to increase their depth in knowledge. The lesson continues in the same way but will be broken up by activities, knowledge checks and application questions. These activities allow students to process information and ensure the material is learnt.
Reflecting on my old lessons, students would write lots of notes, but did this mean they understood the information? Also, students often focus on writing all the notes, and tend to not focus on your explanations. These problems are not an easy fix without adapting your practice.
This is no longer a problem in my teaching. Student have basic notes written for them. Students now highlight key points and annotate around them following verbal explanations. Annotation is important as it allows them to broaden and deepen their knowledge. Students need to be reminded of this so that this routine becomes the norm. Your expectations need to be clear at this point. My students will not annotate until the explanation is finished. Key points are written on the whiteboard to aid their annotation.
This has also reduced marking as booklets rely on self-assessment. Each activity is self-assessed during the lesson, which enables students to receive instant feedback. Before the emergence of Coronavirus, it also allowed live marking as you circulated the classroom. You pick up misconceptions and address them before the child leaves.
I have also benefitted from this new way of teaching. My lesson planning is focused on explanations. How will I get the information across to students? I look at the lesson and annotate my own booklet. What do students need to know? How can this be explained? What hinterland knowledge can I provide? The booklet is the start point, not the end. It is not a resource to stop you planning effectively. I no longer use a PowerPoint meaning my time is better spent. Slides are useful for diagrams and showing the bigger picture. They can supplement the lesson, but do not repeat the work. I prefer using my whiteboard and visualiser.
As a department we decided to provide an exercise book to each student and termed it their Physics notebook. This allows them to write down any extra information you have discussed. This also allow any hinterland discussions to be recorded. It also allows further examples to be written out for those who need extra space. This allows us to be flexible within a lesson and not worry about extra paper.
My visualiser has significant importance to me during my lessons as it allows me to demonstrate what my expectations are but also provide live modelling. For example, when performing calculations, I use my highlighter to extract key information which explicitly shows students what they should be doing. In my experience students prefer that you have the same document as it allows them to follow easier. In the past I have read information aloud and verbalised the numbers before writing them on the board. Although this seems simple, many get lost and confused, hence by using the same document they follow easier.
Putting the booklet together yourself is vitally important. It reflects your schools’ culture and demographics. The booklet allows you to build in practice and this can be seen in the mathematical element of the course. An example is typed so students have an example to follow. This is supported using the live modelling described above. I have shaped my booklets, so they increase in complexity and promote student growth. By creating these booklets, you understand your curriculum. Why are we doing certain elements and why that order. It allows each department to question their sequencing by separating core and hinterland knowledge.
I cannot begin to think how much time I wasted getting students to glue sheets in. This is no longer an issue as everything is together in one booklet which also means you do not have to photocopy your worksheets every day. The massive benefit of this model is that students can easily catch up if they miss a lesson which allows them to be ready for your next lesson. During the lockdown, setting work was much easier as information is chunked and structured to support independence.
I hope the above has allowed you some understanding on how I use booklets within my classroom. I am convinced booklets enable better learning. I no longer mark copied notes, and lesson time is used more effectively. Booklets have made me a better teacher as my explanations are more efficient and more thought out. Explanations were thought out before, but students were more focused on copying out notes, whereas they now focus on the explanation around the notes. Lesson time is used to explore theory and put it into practice.