Example of a mild verbal bias profile
- Some students with this profile will have low average or below average scores for verbal reasoning, and relatively weaker spatial ability, but the gap between scores will be narrow.
- Students with this profile will have a slight bias for learning through reading, writing and discussion.
What does this look like in the classroom?
Alex’s profile shows a preference for verbal over spatial learning. She is likely to be self motivated and should respond well to more challenging extension activities.
- Students with a relative strength in verbal reasoning will generally do best when they talk and write about their learning – they can be adept language users.
- They are likely to participate in group discussions, work well with a partner, show high standards of written expression in a range of subjects, enjoy word games and similar activities, have an extensive vocabulary and demonstrate creative writing skills.
- They will tend to do relatively well in language-based subjects where verbal skills are at the fore (for example, English, history, modern languages and other humanities subjects).
- Where verbal scores are high, these students will be quick to see links between verbal concepts and are often adept at interpreting and understanding the nuances and ambiguities of language (for example, distinguishing between everyday uses of words and their subject-specific uses, such as with energy, resistance and so on).
Students like Alex, with a relative strength in verbal reasoning, will tend to be good at developing ideas and lines of thinking in continuous text and explaining a process logically.
- One of the best ways to build reasoning skills is to participate in real reasoning dialogues.
Students with high verbal reasoning scores can further develop their skills through group work by being used actively to promote the value of group work. They can also play a prominent role in encouraging other students who may be less confident in sharing their thinking in a group.
- This is where the CAT4 profiles can be particularly useful in ensuring that student combinations are supporting both intellectual and social skills development.
Since their spatial scores are relatively low, high-verbal-reasoning scoring students may need some support in using the kind of visual models that teachers might think will automatically support learning.
- Such students may need support in subjects such as science, geography or technology where diagrams, graphs, charts, infographics and other largely non-verbal forms are common.
Mild verbal bias students tend to have higher national test and examination attainment than students with a similar mean CAT4 score who have their strength in the quantitative, spatial or non-verbal Batteries.
- Overall, therefore, higher verbal strength can compensate for lower scores in the quantitative, spatial and non-verbal areas. However, if the level of the scores is low (stanines 1 to 3), then students are still likely to experience problems, particularly in mathematics.
- For such students, their verbal strength can be used to present mathematics problems in a different way.
More girls than boys tend to have strong verbal bias, whereas mild verbal bias (see page 50) tends to be more common in boys.
- This reflects the fact that girls, on average, score around two SAS points higher than boys on the Verbal Battery (there is no significant sex difference in mean score on the Quantitative, Spatial or Non-verbal Batteries).
- Teachers should not be surprised, therefore, if they identify different proportions of boys and girls with these profiles within their classes.
Examples of strategies for a mild verbal bias profile
The following specific strategies can be effective at building on the strengths and addressing the weaknesses of mild verbal bias profile students.
1. Planning effective group work
The role of group work in the classroom is a much-discussed aspect of classroom pedagogy. Indeed, it can often be part of the ongoing traditional versus progressive debate. However, this debate ignores the core questions that need to be asked before any group work begins:
- Why are students getting into groups?
- What is the desired outcome?
- Most importantly, will group work achieve better results than students working individually?
Specifically – and in relation to the CAT4 profiles – teachers should consider a further key question: Will this group with these student profiles work better than this group with a range of different profiles?
The variables that need to be considered when students are working together are significant. The CAT4 tests are all about ‘unlocking potential’, and so considering the factors of both student ability and student potential is a good starting point. However, before this (and linking to the concept of ‘backwards design’ as discussed earlier on page 43) comes the key question indicated above: What do I want the students to know, be able to do and to understand at the end of their group work process?
Following on from this, teachers should consider the specific roles given to students in the group. This is important because group work offers an opportunity for high-quality interactions between the members of the group and, therefore, clearly defined roles are crucial. There is always a danger in group work of what education researcher, Kagan (2019), rather disparagingly calls the ‘hogs and logs’ syndrome – where some students dominate the proceedings at the expense of those who merely observe or lose interest. Assigning specific roles ensures that students will be both engaged throughout the process and accountable to other members in the group. This process also enables teachers to usefully disrupt what might be stereotypical roles and get beyond any gendered assumptions that students may have about either themselves or their potential partners in a group situation.
Specific roles in groups have been codified into what is sometimes called the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) model. This requires students to work in a group (or more accurately, a team) that has clearly defined roles on a series of process-guided activities. The four roles are identified as follows:
- Manager or Facilitator: manages the group by helping to ensure that the group stays on task, is focused, and that there is room for everyone in the conversation.
- Recorder: keeps a record of those who were in the group, and the roles that they play in the group. The recorder also records critical points from the small group’s discussion along with findings or answers.
- Spokesperson or Presenter: presents the group’s ideas to the rest of the class. The spokesperson should rely on the recorder’s notes to guide their report.
- Reflector or Strategy Analyst: observes team dynamics and guides the consensus-building process (helps group members come to a common conclusion).
Teachers will find this guide a useful introduction to the process: https://pogil.org/uploads/attachments/cjay281cc08qzw0x4ha9nt7wd-implementationguide.pdf.
Teachers may find that they wish to adapt and develop these specific group roles or explore other roles, especially as students become more adept at understanding the value of an assigned role. For example, these might include giving a student a questioning role in which they listen carefully for different points of view and note them for future consideration (That’s an interesting view – can I ask whether others in the group agree?) or where they challenge viewpoints with questions (Can I just check on why you said that?)
It is important that teachers make clear to students why they are assigning any specific roles. This starts with describing the purpose of the role, the tasks that might be involved, examples of the kinds of questions that could be asked, and ensuring an understanding that roles will be shared amongst the students. In general, teachers should be aware that groups of three often create a ‘passenger’ whose role becomes increasingly marginal, and so working in groups of four with each student having an assigned role is likely to be more productive. Teachers may also wish to consider students working in pairs to develop their working knowledge of the lesson content – for example, analysing different points of view, outlining the key premises of a problem, reading and checking understanding of key facts and opinions – before sharing and developing the new learning in a group of four.
With the group structure clear and groups constituted to maximise both learning and collaborative skills, teachers can monitor that the roles are working properly. For example, where a student is not following their role or appears to be taking over another role, the teacher can step in and remind the student that they must get back on task. It is also this clarity that reciprocally helps students to ‘buy in’ to their assigned roles.
Effectively planned and managed group work can enhance the learning in any subject, not just those like drama, music or PE where collaboration is a common feature of lessons. Balancing the learning and intellectual skills developed is an important consideration of any group work – activities, including those identified in the Harvard Visible Thinking project such as Compass Points, See-Think-Wonder, Think-Pair-Share and 3-2-1 Bridge, can be used in small group contexts to not only develop deeper thinking skills but also help to build students’ confidence in expressing opinions, working collaboratively and evaluating viewpoints.
These specific activities (or ‘thinking routines’) are deliberately simple tools for ‘scaffolding’ thinking that can be woven into any teacher’s repertoire of classroom strategies. An introductory video from the project can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKV_S5NpDdc.
The teacher will be monitoring the outcomes of group activities and looking to see how effective they are in taking a student like Alex forward in her learning. If successful, then further, more extended collaborations can be developed. Not only can ideas be shared and tasks delivered together, but collaboration can extend to evaluating a partner’s ideas or monitoring their work. This kind of approach is rooted in Vygotsky’s key principles of the ZPD and the critical role of the MKO. ZPD is the understanding that learning is best when taken step-by-step, or ‘scaffolded’, and the MKO is the person (parent, teacher or helpful peer) who can help the learner to progress. See earlier discussion on page 35.
Ron Ritchhart’s book Making Thinking Visible describes the theory behind these approaches but also raises some key questions about higher-order thinking skills and Bloom’s Taxonomy, which many teachers will be familiar with (see page 73).
2. Encourage students to talk about their learning
Teachers can encourage mild verbal bias students to talk through their learning – for example, writing a history timeline for the key events leading up to the start of World War I – and then present this to their peers. Their well-developed language skills can be used to support teachers as they explain key concepts. After all, we often recognise that sometimes using more informal ‘student talk’ can be more helpful to ensure whole-class understanding than the formalities and technical language of ‘teacher talk’.
Talking about thought processes will be discussed again under the sections on modelling and on metacognitive skills later on.
3. Pair students with different strengths
Pairing a mild verbal bias student with a student who has scored highly in the Quantitative Reasoning Battery is likely to benefit the learning of both, and using a well-established talk routine like Think-Pair-Share can help to make this happen in the classroom. As always, simple strategies like this need to be clearly explained in order for them to be most effective. The process is clearly explained in a post from Gonzales’ blog, Cult of Pedagogy, which can be read at: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/think-pair-share/
Students with strong quantitative reasoning can demonstrate and share their approach to numbers for the benefit of verbal biased students. For example, students could work in pairs using a tsunami warning game (http://www.stopdisastersgame.org/stop_disasters/) to explore how quantitative data can be used in a real-life scenario and form the basis of effective group discussion about the decisions taken to minimise tsunami damage. Teachers wishing to find out more about innovative group-work approaches should explore the suggestions and references in Alex Honkanen’s profile (see page 50).
Listening to young learners talking freely about mathematics problems can be inspiring – as students verbalise their maths thinking, the teacher can start to prepare for the share section of the activity, encouraging the students to talk about how they and their partner solved the problem. This is the opportunity for the teacher to integrate some of those more challenging questions into the mix: What did you think about doing first? Did you change your mind – and what made you agree to do that? What do others think about this? Most significantly, teachers are able to make formative judgements easily as they listen to the class and then have their thinking confirmed (or not) in the share part of the activity. Students with a mild verbal bias learn by using their vocabulary strengths when working with a partner – for example, reading a passage of writing for meaning before presenting a tableau of a key idea in the text. This works equally as well for a scientific process such as the water cycle as for a key scene from Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It is applicable to any age and any subject. The teacher will determine the ground rules, but essentially students work in groups and assume a still position that forms part of the whole picture of the task. Props may be used if the teacher wishes. Here’s an example of a tableau in action from The Teacher’s Toolkit (note the teacher’s comment that the students are “so used to relying on oral speech to explain things, and not being able to do that really shows: can they get the concept?”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHooiRHMkr0.