A better way of planning – my first attempt

I was blown away by the post by @leadinglearner yesterday (which can be found here – and if you haven’t read it yet, it might be a better use of your time in the short term than continuing reading this). One of the reasons, I think, is that I can see how it links to things I have been trying to do (see my series of posts from last summer) but takes it to a completely higher level – but in a way that is easy to see. I was dead keen to try this out for myself, and so….I did!

Attached below you will find a document for a series of lessons I have designed for my year 7 bottom set. I am sure it can be improved (not least in terms of the SOLO learning intentions), but you have to start somewhere. I do wonder if it is a little repetitive in places, but I do wonder if that is sometimes the nature of the beast in maths, not least at such a low level.

Anyway, have a look, and if you think it can be improved, please let me know! I will continue using this model for my planning of all classes and so may end up sharing more on here, and any feedback will be most useful and helpful. Thanks

New SoW 7.3 – Adding and subtracting!

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My pedagogical plan for 2014-15 (or how I intend to teach…)

I’m feeling really excited and confident about the new term. Brimming with a whole new set of ideas I’ve got a grip on most of the issues I had identified within my practice as needing refinement. And I also feel, this year, that I have a solid structure for operating. It isn’t 100% complete, and I’m sure it will need refining once term starts, but allow me to present my grand pedagogical plan….

(Quick note before I begin: there are similarities between my ideas and those of David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) in his blog which can be found here. Whilst these are unintentional, I would recommend you read David’s blog at some point. It’s an excellent read).

1) It starts with ‘So that….’ and extends into visible success: This will surprise nobody. I have blogged extensively on this through the holidays and have had dialogue via this blog and Twitter with a couple of people. By taking the time, using Bloom’s Taxonomy, to think through why we are tackling a topic, and how we will know we have succeeded in that topic, I have a really clearly focused plan in the medium term which will allow me to plan day to day lessons easier. As a slight extension to this, I have revisited my medium term plans and started to add in key questions for each topic. David discusses this in his blog, and I have also seen the idea come up in Willingham’s ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ and Lemov’s ‘Teach Like a Champion’

2) The ‘So that…’ forms the basis for a pretest: I can honestly say that of all the blogs I have read this summer, the one I keep going back to the most is William Emeny’s Experiments with Visible Learning (this is the second part of a two part blog by William, so you might like to read part 1 for the context). One of the key issues I had from my teaching last year was about showing parents how much progress their child had made, particularly with the removal of levels. Well, now I have a ready made answer! Students will complete the pretest at the start of the block, I will then teach them the content, provide them with opportunities for revision through homework, and after a couple of weeks post-completion of the content, they will sit the pretest as a post-test. This will allow me, my line manager, parents, and most importantly the students, to see not what they have simply remembered, but what they understand and have committed to long term memory. I will also have the evidence right before my eyes! 

3) Day to day teaching: This is where I get to put all of my summer reading into action. I’ve already mentioned the key questions I will be planning into each topic, but I will also be making much greater use this year of Diagnostic Questions for hinge questions in class. I have created some answer packs (basically 4 cards, each labelled A, B, C and D, paper clipped together) for students to use and will be planning them into lessons on a much greater scale. The beauty of these hinge questions, particularly in Maths is that it is quite easy in many cases to provide convincing incorrect answers, revealing student misconceptions.

I also intend to implement a number of rules taken from Lemov’s ‘Practice Perfect’ – breaking down skills into smaller steps, and having 20% more practice than students need being just two examples. There are a range of resources out there (10 Ticks being one, although there are also a number of websites producing randomly generated worksheets) for this purpose. I also intend to continue, as I did last year, pushing students to use precise and technical language at all times. Teach Like A Champion provides some excellent examples of this.

Most importantly, however, is the need for factual knowledge. I wholeheartedly agree with Willingham that factual knowledge is the basis for skill, and so I aim to include factual questions in starters, in general questioning, and in homeworks, as well as in the pre- and post-tests, obviously. 

 

4) Making the maths explicit: Why Don’t Students Like School? was is an invaluable tool and has had a huge impact on my thinking for the new year. I had begun to consider at the end of last term the need to ‘interleave’ from some of the blogs I had read, and I am glad a now have a scientific back up for this. But equally powerful is the need to make the content explicit. ‘Memory is the residue of thought’ according to Willingham, and I intend to make a huge effort to lead students through at least one practical application of topics where applicable, highlighting where the maths occurs and showing that in all cases, questions can be thought of in purely mathematical terms. 

5) Reflections: This is, as I discussed in my previous post, a key aim for me outside of school (it is something I simply must practice, to avoid falling into the trap of merely being carried along by the busy school term), but I want it to be a huge part of my students’ learning, too. Whilst teaching I intend to ask students to consider why they have chosen a particular method for solving a question, whether there are any alternatives, and so on. And of course, I fully intend to continue using RAG123 with comments, to encourage students to let me know about any issues they may have had at the end of each lesson. 

6) Homework: Alongside assessment, homework is probably one of my biggest weaknesses. I have rarely set it in the past, and I want this year to be different. But I want it to be purposeful, too, not simply for the sake of setting it. A colleague in our department last year gave students an A1 sheet of paper and asked them to complete it on a weekly basis showing the work they had covered in class. This resulted in some excellent examples of student work and is something I intend to try with at least some of my students. In addition, I propose to use homeworks to encourage students to reflect on their learning. I also have a plan to encourage some students to teach topics to their parents, and then invite feedback as to how they did! 

I feel better prepared than perhaps ever before. I have a clear vision of how I intend this year to go. All I need now are some students! 

Visible success – developments

This is likely to be my last post on this topic before the start of term, but as I had promised to update you on how things were going, I thought I’d share this. 

Following post 3 (here) I revisited my existing plans and tried to update as much as possible with explicit success criteria. Where I have added and amended what I had before post 3, it is marked in red and underlined (as ‘Track Changes’). Anything else has been added since that post:

7Mt1 10Mt18Mt1 11Mt1

I will admit it has been easier to do for some topics than others, but at this early stage I guess that is only to be expected. The thing that has really surprised me (and excited me at the same time) is that I think it has led to increased creativity as I have thought about how students will show success. I will freely admit to being rather uncreative, and maybe it is this method of planning that has awakened my creativity. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the 2nd diagram (or top right, depending on how it is displayed) in the WAL sections ‘About 3D shapes’ and ‘How to show a 3D shape in 2D’. Because I had all of the ‘So That’ column filled in, I could see very quickly a link between the two which would allow students to produce one final, overarching piece of work (the report) which would satisfy all of the ‘So That’ criteria. My idea at this stage is that students will take a 3D shape and then prepare an expert’s report on it, meeting all the criteria set out. This then would seem to lend itself nicely to some peer teaching….! Added to this, and to my complete surprise, what was initially intended to help clarify outcomes and the assessment thereof has begun to take care of my lesson planning in some cases! What an unexpected bonus!

I don’t think I have much more to offer on this topic at this time. It is now a case of trying it out with students and seeing how it all works. But I would, as ever, welcome any feedback/comments/suggestions that you might have. This has been an interesting couple of days for me – I feel that at last I have finally ‘arrived’ in terms of blogging and tweeting teachers, and I am proud of the fact that I have finally been able to contribute something that many people have found at least interesting, and maybe even useful! 

My next blog(s) are likely to be a look back over this summer and a look forward to how my reading is going to inform my practice in the new term.

In the meantime, thanks for reading

Alex

What success looks like – further thoughts and reflections

In my original post (which can be found here) in this particular sequence on Wednesday, I posed three questions:

1) It is necessary to plan for what success looks like?

2) Is this even possible over one or two lessons?  

3) If the answer to both of the above is yes, what are the best/most effective ways of doing this?

I then followed this up later in the day with some initial thoughts, but it was very stream of consciousness stuff, and not very well developed. Having had further time to reflect, however, I think I have a much more reasoned response to the initial questions. 

One of my guiding principles as a teacher is ‘It’s not about me, it’s about them’. When I applied it to this situation, it makes sense that we should be planning for what success looks like – but it is possible to fall into a trap here (of which I myself might have been guilty). If we ask ‘What will/does success look like?’, we neglect the important issue of from whose viewpoint? If we focus on the students, and remind ourselves that we are framing our lessons in the ‘So That’ way to enable them to see clearly what it is they will achieve, then we need THEM to see HOW they will be successful at a certain criterion. In other words, the ‘So That’ deals with WHY we are learning, and the ‘Success looks like’ deals with ‘HOW’ this will be done. The alternative approach is to see the ‘Success looks like….’ as a criterion for us as teachers – which I think is what I was getting at in my second post. 

My thinking then shifted to my completed and previously shared examples – if we are letting the students know what success looks like, is it sufficient to give them an example of a question they should answer? This, I think, is as far as my thinking has got, as I do not yet have a clear answer to this point. However, a quick scroll through my ‘favourite-d’ Tweets (effectively bookmarks) threw up, as I hoped, two posts that I think are of some use and, if I’m honest, were probably subconsciously there all along. The first is this blog post from @dan_brinton which discusses, in particular, ‘Developing quality success criteria’. In my notes for this blog (I had the idea late last night, so made notes so I wouldn’t forget!) I have used the word explicit – we should be aiming to be as explicit as possible in showing students what success looks like. 

So examples could include:

  • “So that we can identify parts of a circle” becomes “to show success, you will be able to label a circle with correct diameter/radius/chord….”
  • “So that we can solve equations” might become “to show success, you will be able to find the value of y when 3(y+2) = 8(y-3)
  • “So that we can classify shapes based on their properties” might involve a display of 12 objects grouped in 2 or 3 different ways based on different criteria

The second useful Tweet I found (or rather rediscovered) is this picture from @TeachHeath, which I first came across in April but was reposted overnight. You can see clearly here the why (So I can/So that) and then the ‘Success looks like’ (here phrased slightly differently). It is not quite as explicit as I have proposed here, and indeed is maybe closer to my original attempts (i.e. you will be able to answer a question like this). If we are making the how explicit, are we not building in peer assessment to every lesson? By having explicit ‘hows’ available, students can see clearly what they are expected to achieve an crucially, whether or not they have achieved it. This in turn will make them more reflective learners, which will help with RAG123 assessment too! 

I can honestly say that this week has been a total revelation for me in terms of my teaching and Twitter – not only in terms of the discussion generated in relation to my initial post, but also through a number of the blogs, Tweets and articles I’ve read. The Dan Brinton post mentioned above was definitely worth another read generally, not just for the reasons I outlined above, but of equal value is this post highlighted in Damian Benney’s post here. The main thing I took away from Damian’s post is that by and large it describes my approach (or rather, my intended approach for the new school year) to teaching almost perfectly. There seems to be a consensus developing about using research literature (Practice Perfect, Why Don’t Students Like School?’, Mindset, An Ethic of Excellence, etc…) I intend to blog about my plans for the coming year in a bit more detail over the next couple of weeks, but what has struck me is that this is a fantastic time to be a teacher. Can you imagine how much poorer we and our students would be without Twitter and blogs to spread ideas such as So That and RAG123? 

Reflections, week 1 HT4 (or in praise of RAG123, again)

So I am at the end of my first week of half term 4 (unless many other teachers, who had half term a week before my school). And actually, I’m feeling pretty positive. Of course, this is unlikely to last too long, but there are grounds for optimism based on my week. So here is a reasonably brief review of how things have gone, and what I intend to do to make next week (and weeks thereafter) even better:

  1. RAG123 I am sure I have mentioned this in every blog thus far, but once again I make no apologies for extolling its virtues. It’s a really powerful tool! I wrote last week about my intention to roll this out with my year 7 class in addition to my year 9s. This I have done, and it is proving really useful. My year 7 class is one with which I have struggled, in part due to the scheme of work prescribed for them. Having freed myself from the rigid shackles of that, however, marking their books after each lesson has quickly identified some students I need to focus on, as well as, most importantly, providing me with feedback on what they know, and where to go next with them. Some of them do not, I suspect, appreciate the greater scrutiny (as it removes a hiding place for them), and I welcome this. In the end, it will only be to their benefit. My other RAG123 group, my year 9s who I see every day, have moved through Pythagoras work at a faster than anticipated pace due to RAG123, and here I have picked up those students who have needed a little more help, as well as seeing the excellent work of some of my quieter students on a day-to-day basis. One asked me on Wednesday “Sir, don’t you get bored marking our books every day?” The truth is no, for it allows me to see really closely and really quickly how well students are making progress. And for a class I see every day, it’s vital to me that I see how the situation changes on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Work-life balance Ah, the perpetual struggle of the teacher. I spoke in my last post about the improvements I had had last half term, and yet even in the first week of this one, I believe further progress has been made. I have resolved to adopt working hours of 7.30-5, other commitments permitting, and this has served me well so far. Despite a parents’ evening and a traffic jam delaying my commute this week, I have had 2 work free nights at home, and managed a run last night. I feel relaxed and prepared, thanks in no small part to the medium term planning I had completed over half term. So positives here, with room for even more.
  3. BfL/behaviour management This week has seen the implementation of our new school BfL system. I have to say I have found this to work really well. The new system is working really well for me so far, providing a clear structure for staff to follow and ensuring that I deal with issues myself. It is time consuming (most days this week I have spent around an hour dealing with behaviour issues) but I anticipate this to reduce as we move through the rest of the year. Indeed, with RAG123, and clear expectations set out to students, I can see everything coming together nicely. 
  4. More of a carrot teacher It might sound as though I am still focused on the stick, yet this week I have handed out more rewards than for a long time. I also tried ringing a number of year 9 students this evening in praise of their great work this week – although it was sad that I failed to get hold of so many for one reason or another! 

So week 1 done. Lots of positives and room for encouragement for the rest of the year. I’m getting there….slowly!

 

OFSTED, and RAG123

This time last week I was feeling really pleased with myself. I had managed to plan what I was going to do every morning, every night after school, and in every bit of non-contact time I had in the week. All my books would be marked by the end of this week, and I would be able to begin returning to the gym to do some strength work to support my running (I am a HUGE running enthusiast – so much so that I am always up early at weekends, either for Parkrun on a Saturday or a longer (10 miles+) run on a Sunday. But I digress…). I had spoken to my HoD about using Kev Lister’s target approach to marking (which can be found here) and she had asked to me introduce it to the rest of the department in our Monday evening meeeting. This was a new stage in my evolution towards Outstanding – I had been able to strike a decent work-life balance. Everything from now on would be just great. 

And things started well enough. I was keeping up with my marking and planning exactly as I had intended. I decided against going to the gym on Tuesday, for reasons which now escape me. 

Wednesday lunchtime, everything changed. We received the dreaded call from OFSTED to say they were in on Thursday and Friday.

I arrived at school on Thursday for 7am and felt reasonably calm. I hadn’t been able to do all my marking, but I was sure my lessons would be fine. At break, I was told by my HoD that she had had a tip off that I would be seen during period 4. Stress levels began to rise and I began to panic in a way I never thought possible of myself. I checked and double checked everything during period 3, met the inspectors whilst waiting to go into period 4, and delivered my lesson. My year 11s were stunned into silence by the visitors. I knew the lesson wasn’t great, and would be a 3 at best. I turned up after school at my allotted time to get my feedback, eager to know where I had gone wrong and what I could do better.

What I got, on the whole, was very different. The inspector made my feel incredibly small and useless, and was, I think, suggesting maybe I should have stuck with my first subject. I felt useless, a fool, and I was furious with the manner in which I had been spoken to. Fortunately, I work in a school with a fantastic SLT, and various members (including the Principal) assured me that they knew how hard I was working and that, coming a few weeks after I had been graded a 2, they knew this wasn’t a true reflection of my teaching. This, although great to hear, was of little consolation to me. Here I was striving to be Outstanding, and yet just been declared Inadequate.

It was Friday night before I could reflect properly on MY part in the debacle. I realised I had been foolish in my lesson – rather than doing a revision lesson with the students and trying to rush through everything to do with fractions, decimals and percentages in a single lesson, I should have worked much more slowly, ensuring students knew what to do and how to do it. My resources weren’t used effectively enough. We rushed certain parts of the lesson and some students would definitely have been confused.

I suppose the point at which you can look back and reflect is also the point at which you can start to look forward again, and so that is what I have done this weekend. Having made sure I have had plenty of rest (which was particularly needed) and regrouped myself, I have a fresh resolve to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. My time is once again planned out for the week, my gym session is planned in, and with any luck I should have a weekend free of any work when I leave school on Friday – which would a welcome and frankly remarkable change.

I wrote last time about my use of diagnostic questions to produce instant feedback. Alongside this, I have now taken to checking my year 9 book after each lesson, to allow for a better planning experience. I have Kev Lister to thank once again, this time for this post here which I have been putting into place over the last week. My year 9s were immediately intrigued by the system, so we have quickly moved on to self assessment. Most of these proved spot on on Friday, although I would have preferred a comment of explanation from the students in some cases as to why they graded themselves as they did. 

The next stage in this evolution came from a different blog, mentioned in Kev’s post, which can be found here. The idea of having questions at the start of the lesson which relate to a student’s understanding of the previous day’s work is something I can’t wait to introduce into my lessons. At the moment I think I am spending too long checking over the books – although it is still early days – and I think a quick check, followed by a regrading on the RAG scale if necessary, and a plan for RAG questions for the next lesson will be a much more productive use of my time. Like I say, at the moment I am solely using it with year 9, but once year 11 mocks are out of the way, they will be introduced to the system, as will the rest of my KS4 classes.

So in the space of a week I have gone from high to low and now back to high. As I posted on Twitter a while back, the great thing about this job is that even if you mess it up, you never have to wait too long to put it right again. And that’s what I intend to do starting this week and next….