Monday, 23 November 2015

Demonstrating outstanding progress

Over the last two weeks, the Leadership Team in my school have done observations of every teacher. Each observation lasted 30 minutes and most of them were in the first part of the lesson. We are likely to be visited by either Santa, or OFSTED, or both this term and so we are very keen it show that our students make at least good progress in lessons. I have done 11 of the observations so far and have 2 more to go. In one lesson, I believe the students made outstanding progress, in all of the others it was good. This is all really positive but in all the good lessons I saw there were things that the teacher could have done, or provided that would have pushed the progress towards outstanding. I am about to feedback to all staff in 4 small Skill Sets sessions and these are the things that I have noticed some teachers do, or miss out that could make a huge difference.


If anyone else has other ideas to add I would be most grateful


Provide the data that shows the progress the students have made


All staff produced seating plans, annotated and with information on Pupil Premium, SEND, target grades and, where relevant, year 10 exam grades. This was all good and very useful but you can also show where they are right now by including a copy of your markbook. This shows exactly what progress students have made this academic year, shows the natural ups-and-downs of progress - and is something you already have done. If you photo copy it and put it in your blue folder once a month it will show a record of progress - and also prove how often you are marking. Once reports have been done for each group, print them off too and put in the folder. Don't take anything out of the folder, just add the new sheet in with a date on it. We have all this data - the blue folder can prove you are using it. A good observer will look in their books and folders too and who will see the progress there as well. This makes it easier for you to demonstrate it.


Check that all students are on task all of the time - and if they're not, do something about it


Most students are human. Most of the time they will pay attention to you and work hard in your lesson. But they will lose focus from time to time. If they are off task during an observed lesson, the observer will assume they are not making progress. I know some teachers are worried about telling off a student when they are being observed because they think it will reflect badly on them. Ignoring them and not getting them back on task is far worse. Every single teacher has had students not pay them attention - just watch teachers in the next INSET session and notice how often some of us check our phones, send emails, text, chat to the person next to us, do a bit of planning. Just like the kids, most teachers are human.


Don't allow any student to be off-the-hook at any time. Paired discussion before answering, tick and add


If you ask Joe "why was the Montgomery Bus Boycott significant?" you send 2 messages to the class. Firstly Joe panics because he has to think of an answer right now and, secondly, some of the rest of the class switch off because they are off-the-hook right now. This is between you and Joe. Try posing questions and give students time to discuss it in pairs. Be specific about what they are discussing and where it will go. "In pairs you have 30 seconds to come up with 3 ways in which the Montgomery Bus Boycott is significant. Write the 3 down in your exercise book". Now Joe has 30 seconds to work out an answer and everybody can contribute to the discussion. When you start to get answers from Joe, and others, don't let anyone off the hook. I often use a strategy of 'tick and add' - if they had thought of this too, tick it; if they hadn't, add it - and adding to their list demonstrates progress.


If you can't eat it, it shouldn't be on the plate


I remember John Torode on Masterchef berating a contestant once for presenting a dish with flowers on for decoration. His comment was "if you can't eat it, it shouldn't be on the plate". I think the same can be true of lesson observations. I have seen teachers tell students about literacy, numeracy, outdoor learning, careers in their subject etc during observations. All worthy stuff and I am glad it is happening, but sometimes it is completely irrelevant to the lesson at that point. It doesn't add anything and actually confuses some students because they can't work out why you are telling them this right now. A good observer will find evidence that you do all of these things in exercise books, on displays on the wall, in your blue folder or by talking to the kids.


Focus on fine detail to show rigour


One of the best things for me about this round of observations is that the vast majority of lessons where Key Stage 4. At this level, particularly with year 11, most students should be focusing on fine detail to make progress: looking at exam questions to determine exactly what they are being asked to do, interrogating markschemes to find out what the examiners reward, analysing examples of other students' work to see good practice. For the most able, this attention to detail is the best way for them to make progress. Don't be afraid to do this in an observed lesson even if it might be a bit dull compared to some lessons you might want to show off - but it is a great way of showing progress.


Routines prove that you are doing outstanding things day after day - lack of routine will expose that you aren't


The best lessons I saw in the last two weeks were lessons where there was a real sense of business-as-usual. You can spot routines in lessons. How students get into groups shows whether they regularly do this and understand how groups work well together. The presentation of work shows that they are routinely encouraged to work on that. How students respond to your questions shows whether they are used to hands-up on no-hands-up in your lesson.


Individual silent work allows each student to consolidate their learning, make sense of information and show their progress


Don't be afraid of short periods of silence in your lesson. Most students need a 5-10 minutes period of silent, independent work. This gives them a chance to consolidate the learning, make sense of what they have been doing, work out whether or not they really understand it - in short, to make progress. It also gives you an opportunity to move around and look at individuals. In my experience students don't mind working in silence - I often explain to them that they need to practice working in those conditions as these are the conditions they will have to work in during the exam. I use group and collaborative work in every lesson but I also have a silent, independent section of most lessons too.


You are in charge of the lesson - the observer is your guest. Show them what you want them to see


This is your room and these are your students. You know them, and the progress they have made better than any observer ever will. Produce a context sheet which explains what they have been doing in recent lessons, why you have arranged the room in this way. Put things in front of an observer that you want them to see. If you have great examples of their work in folders, put it in front of them. It doesn't guarantee they will look at it, but if it isn't there they will never see it.


One at a time


This was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given on teaching. When giving students instructions, give them one at a time. We have all done it, I suspect. In our rush to get them into a task we tell them what they are going to do, what they will need, what they will need next, what they will write after that and then which page they will look at next. Without realising it, we have given students over 10 separate instructions. They will probably remember the first one or two and possibly the last one - the rest are a blurry mess. Give them one instruction, let them do it, then give them the next one. It is quicker, they can all usually manage it and, confused kids can't show progress.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Webs of change

I was quite pleased with today's year 12 lesson. We were looking at the huge number of changes in Germany between 1870 and 1914. In 4 pairs, I gave them 4 big changes - new federal structure, new constitution, economic expansion, population growth - and a set of post it notes. They had 2 minutes to think of as many changes as they could which resulted from their big change. They put each change on a separate post it note. After 2 minutes they rotated groups and either added more changes on fresh post it notes, or added a change to a change - attaching a post it note to another post it note. They then rotated around until they had looked at each change.

They then moved their original big change and post it notes to a big table and arranged them in 4 areas. I gave each pair some coloured strips of paper and asked them to make links or chains between different changes.

We then sat around the table discussing what they saw. They were able to talk about most significant changes, long and short term change, which changes would cause tensions an how German people might feel faced with so many changes.

I was really impressed by the depth of their discussion and the level at which they were thinking about the effects of change. This activity really helped them to appreciate the complexity of change and how effects link together.

I then asked them to do their own version of this diagram. This was unexpectedly effective as they approached it in so many different ways. Some produced colourful versions of it, one did a mind map and one of my mathematicians decided on a vent diagram to show how so many changes overlapped. The next step will be to compare the diagrams to see how they differ and then get them to do a piece of writing based on what were the main tensions in Wilhelmine Germany. Not bad for 5 days from the end of the school year





Saturday, 11 July 2015

Ten Keys to a great lesson

I have been working on this as guide to give to staff in September. It is still a work in progress so feedback would be great


Ten key non-negotiables. This is the least our students and any visitors to our classrooms should expect


1. Student Place. In the blue folder, up-to-date and clearly annotated to show Pupil Premium students, why they are PP, target grade and current working grade. It should clearly be a working document


2. Feedback and use of DIRT. Students work should be marked at least every 3 lessons. The marking and feedback should be subject-specific and designed to help the student move forward. DIRT activities should be clearly labelled and it should be clear when and how the student has attempted to improve their work


3. Progress over time - make sure there is evidence available to show how much progress students have made over time. This could be in their existing exercise books or in previous books or folders stored in the classroom. This should be designed to primarily show the student how much progress they have made in this subject and what they are aiming for


4. Appropriate range and pace of activities. There should be a variety of activities used in the lesson. Opportunities for collaborative work, teacher talk, quiet independent study. It is the teachers responsibility to make sure there is the right balance between activities. Every 20 minutes at most - ask yourself is this still the right activity?


5. Challenge. Activities should be differentiated so that every student is stretched to achieve more in the lesson


6. Variety of student interactions. During the lesson students should have the opportunity to interact with the teacher directly and with each other, in pairs or in groups


7. Learning checked and assessed. Think about how you will check and assess how much students have learned during the lesson.


8. Homework set and used effectively. All staff and students will be using Show My Homework. If homework is due in this lesson- when will it be collected? If homework is to be set this lesson - when will it be on Show My Homework?


9. High quality presentation of work. The quality of students' presentation of work is an indicator of their attitude to the subject and their learning. Set high standards of presentation for all work done in folders or exercise books. Model the standard expected by giving students high quality resources - sheets, PowerPoints - to work with. This high quality is an indication of all of our high expectations and aspirations.


10. Active engagement. All students should be engaged in the lesson. Keep looking for students who have drifted away - how will you re-engage them?


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Starting early


I had an idea that may make me very unpopular with some staff and some students - starting year 12 early. We work year 11 like crazy and get them, hopefully finely tuned and firing on all cylinders by the end of May - and then give them 3 months off. 3 months in which they do recharge batteries, but also get out of good habits, get bored, get lazy and get used to being lazy.

So my idea is to bring them in for 3 weeks in mid-June to early July. Use teachers year13 timetable to provide the teaching slots, build in some team-building, study skill activities and teach some if the background stuff to A Level history that is vitally important but takes up time in September.

The members of CLT I have spoken to like it so I now have to get it through a few more people but it might give students a chance to try out some courses, allow us to set more meaningful summer assignments and convince those who see school sixth-forms as too soft that we do challenge and stretch our students

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Do we need to actually see it?

Do we need to actually see it?

I am writing this post in 2 parts and will post it on line some time in the next couple of days. Right now it is 10:56 local time on Tuesday 18 March and I am sitting on a coach outside Krakow Airport. In a little while we will be at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. I am on a 1-day trip with 2 yr12 students as part of the a Lessons From Auschwitz project. At 47 years old I have just had my first plane flight and, apart from 6 hours in France 20 years ago, this is my first trip abroad.
As a History teacher I have taught about the Holocaust for many years and found it to be one of the most intersting topics of the year. Unlike many history teachers I have not done many trips - a few local castles or 1-day trips to the Black Country Museum, but I have never done the Battlefields or Auschwitz before. I have always had mixed feelings about them. I have always felt that I can understand the horrors of the Somme or Auschwitz without actually being there - or was that my excuse for not going through the laborious, time consuming and stressful experience of organising the trip?
Today will give me the answer. I am excited, curious and apprehensive all at the same time. Later on during the day I will record my feelings - now it is time to catch up with a bit of sleep. 2:45 am is a very early start.

So now it is 7:52pm GMT and I am on the plane back home. How do you describe today? I know it will be the first thing colleagues and students will ask tomorrow - how was it? Right now I'm not sure what to say. I know Auschwitz will play with my emotions for the next few days. Auschwitz is a full- on assault on the senses. Every time you see, hear or feel something awful you turn a corner and get ht by something else.
Auschwitz was nothing like I imagined. In my head I had always pictured it as somewhere remote and isolated but it us in the middle of a town surrounded by roads, shops and residential areas. How could such unbelievable inhumanity go on so close to where people were eating, shopping and living relatively normal lives? At times Auschwitz felt a bit too much of a tourist attraction. The guides are good but moved us around at such a pace it was overwhelming. Often I wanted to stop and look longer at particular exhibits or reflect on what was there but the next group was always hot on your heels. There were points though that will stay with me and haunt me: the heartbreaking piles of hair and shoes, the luggage so carefully, lovingly, proudly labelled but with no hope of ever being returned, one long corridor with cells leading off but hundreds of photographs of victims silently watching us and we walked the corridors where they died and of course the gas chamber itself. It is so hard right now to describe how it felt to walk in and, more poignantly walk out of there.
But for me Auschitz II - Birkenau was more horrific, heartbreaking and impactful. The sheer size of the site, the mind-boggling absurdity of there being a football pitch there and walking along the 'Road to Heaven' - the route that thousands took to the gas chamber. I will never forget the powerful, heart-rending service we all took part in near the memorial in the shadow of the ruins of the gas chamber. We all lit candles and placed them on the memorial or on the train track - a symbol of hope, memory and defiance.
So - do we all need to go to places like Auschwitz? No - it is perfectly possible to have a strong, powerful response to and understanding of the Holocaust without ever leaving the classroom. But - if you do go, it will change your life. Auschwitz will now always be a part of me now. Every time I teach it I will think of today and how it affected me.
The Holocaust Educational Trust do a staggering job. They are making sure that young people not only know about Auschwitz but will tell others about it. I am 47 years old. I have another 21 years ahead of me in teaching. I have to keep teaching now. I have to tell more children about this. If I don't then I am letting down the ghosts I saw and felt today.

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Sunday, 8 December 2013

Structured Collaboration

Two weeks ago I attended an INSET day on Kagan structures. I wrote then that I had been impressed and was keen to try out some of the strategies. I have always been a huge fan of collaborative learning but have been bowled over by the improvement these strategies have made to the quality of the students' learning.
The main strategies I have used have been Rally Robin, Timed Pair Share and Write Rally Robin. All of these are similar to strategies I have used in the past but the structure here forces students to play a full part in the whole process rather than let someone else do all the work.
Rally Robin - students take it in turns to say word on a topic is a great starter and surprisingly hard. On most occasions I have played too and I would recommend always trying to get involved in all the collaborative games you are playing.
Timed Pair Share I really like as students have 30 seconds to talk about something to their partner - their partner then paraphrases what they said. This is great for reinforcement and making the partner actually pay attention. I have thrown in a variation where the partner has to add something the speaker forgot. I find you need some variations to the formula to keep the kids on their toes.
Write Rally Robin is a brilliant way to build and develop the ideas students produce in groups. Students have a few minutes to work on a task. They then feedback to the group or the whole class - the other students tick it off if they thought of it and add it if they hadn't - a great way to make sure they all are involved.
I have used these techniques with all groups but they have been particularly successful with my Sixth Form groups. My year 13 group is only 4 students who are all naturally quiet so this has really helped structure and develop their discussion.
I am very impressed at how some really simple extra touches have made such a difference to my lessons. Looks like I may be adding the Kagan book to my Xmas wish list. At the INSET session some teachers were a bit skeptical and thought this was all too simplistic and silly. I hope they give these ideas a try - I am glad I did.

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Long week and new ideas

That was a really hard and long week. Lots of late meetings, Sixth Form open evening, after-school revision sessions and an INSET session. I wonder if there is any other job quite like teaching for throwing those kind of crazy weeks at you and knowing that next week will only be slightly less intense.
My lessons this week have been ok - not my best but some unexpected high points. A year 13 lesson on Germany in 1919 developed into an in-depth discussion of the merits and faults of democracy with the students showing admirable insight and perception.
The real highlight for me was an INSET day led by Elaine Brown from T2Tuk on Kagan Structures. I have to admit to being a little sceptical going in to this. I am a huge advocate of collaborative learning and students work in pairs, threes or other groups in virtually every lesson I teach. Rather arrogantly I went into the day thinking I had probably seen most of what would be presented. I was wrong. Whilst some of the ideas and techniques are already in my toolkit, most were slightly different or completely new. More importantly the ones that were slightly different were better than what I already do.
On Monday I will definitely be using Rally Robin, Timed Pair Share and Write Round Robin. I also appreciated that the presenter took the time to explain the psychology and pedagogy around the techniques she was using. This was more than just a bag of tips session.
It is testament to the quality of the session that at the end of a manic week I felt inspired and looking forward to Monday's lesson.
One other thing did strike me this week and that is that I am now being seen by others as a 'veteran' - and I think that scares me. I realised on Monday that on our College Leadership Team there are only 2 of us who had experience of teaching pre National Curriculum. During Friday' INSET one way of randomising groups was to create a line of experience. We had to arrange ourselves in a line around the room based on number of years teaching x number of schools worked in. Out of 100 people only 3 had a higher number than me - 23 years x 5 schools = 115. The only consolation is that in Gravity the role of the veteran is played by George Clooney - at last we have something in common.
Roll on next week

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