Half term report (or simply: breathe!)

As I alluded to previously, Christmas 2014 saw me change jobs after 4 and a half years. Having reached the end of 6 hectic weeks, I thought it might be a good time to document my experience, thoughts and fears, not least because hopefully putting my thoughts down in print will allow me to mentally declutter!

  • Change is difficult at any time, but especially part way through the year – I guess this is obvious, but even now I still don’t think I am fully ‘there’. I was so comfortable at my old school – too comfortable, in fact, which was one of my reasons for leaving – and the first week in particular was a huge shock to the system. In fact, it became a simple case of survival at times. But a rough plan of what I was doing, and supportive colleagues who helped me bed in quickly, got me through to the weekend, where I could regroup.
  • Schools which appear quite similar can be very different in practice – both my old and new schools serve predominantly white, working class intakes from ex-mining communities. But that is pretty much where the similarities end. The ethos of my new school, the behaviour management systems, and the aspirations are all very different (in a good way). I know this was a great move for me. I can’t wait for that day when I finally feel like I’ve arrived and am fully comfortable in the post.
  • Expectations on all levels need raising  – both in terms of behaviour and in work ethic, it’s clear standards for some of my students were a little low. My year 8 class admitted earlier in the week that the previous teacher was soft on them in terms of the BM system in place – which all staff are required to follow religiously. I feel like I’ve made some progress here, although there is still a way to go.
  • I have a large/scary amount of control over my class AND my environment – the freedom I have is something I have found difficult to cope with at times, and has led to me having crises of confidence on many occasions. We have no scheme of work at all, so I decide what to teach and for how long. This can be quite a daunting prospect, although I also recognise the huge opportunity it provides. Similarly, the fact I now have my own room is a great opportunity for me to impress my values and expectations on students – it had been my aim to get a display put up this week, but the replacement of windows and the associated removal of asbestos prevents this from happening.
  • I just need to focus on the process and not worry (too much) about the outcomes: like George Michael, I gotta have faith – in my running, I’m all about the process – running consistently, through all weathers and good and bad runs alike, will deliver the outcomes I want. Similarly, I need to be confident in my methods and strategies of teaching, and know that if I am producing the goods day in, day out, students will make the desired progress.

Although half term hasn’t really started yet, I’m looking forward greatly to the second half of the spring term. I feel in a much happier place, and feel this is the time to start kicking on and making big inroads on student progress. I look forward to catching up with old blogs to inspire me as ever!

Day 2 reflections – Don’t worry about a thing….

….’cos every (little) thing is gonna be alright!’

Well, day 2 seemed to begin with a bit of internal contrived panic – I had a last minute revision session with my year 11s despite not having seen them yet – but once that had passed, things seemed to become clearer in my mind. I ran around less, people came to find me less, and I taught a few lessons, too!

It just takes a bit of getting used to. All of it. Having my own room again (I still keep thinking somebody’s going to come and take it off me any time now!), split lunches, and the quiet on the corridors at break and lunch (it’s out of bounds for students). I love the PD system the school has – instantaneous and with no follow up or paperwork required! As a result, my lessons need tightening up a bit, but I’ll get there soon enough.

There are still of course SOME issues, but it is still early days. I have noticed I am slouching at the board, and in fact I’m doing too much at the board full stop. A balance that needs redressing. Overall, though, today was a much happier day than yesterday, and I suspect tomorrow will be even calmer still. My books are neatly filed, my seating plans written up neatly and printed out, my desk is tidy. My inbox is virtually empty. I’m feeling much more organised, and once again my new colleagues have been amazingly supportive. And I’m even smiling, more so than I ever did at my last school (again, new year, new habit!)

And best of all, it’s nearly Friday…..!

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? 

Teacher goals (or a plea for help)

I have on my office wall a sheet of A4 paper with my goals on for the year. At the end of last year I typed them out and stuck the sheet on my wall, so that I felt I had some purpose to my life. Anyone who knows me would guess quite clearly that these were my goals: there are running related goals, financial goals, and even a goal relating to my ongoing research of my family tree lineage. 

And there, at the top of the list, is my one and only teaching goal: “To become an outstanding teacher”.

Now, this was written, as I say, before the New Year, when I was a slave to the grade. In the intervening period, much has changed with regard to lesson grading (i.e. it has effectively been killed off). I have reconciled myself with the fact that I will NOT be observed as outstanding, because such a conclusion of my teaching, and of my students’ learning, is not possible from a single lesson observation. 

But the goal has remained, and the fact it hasn’t yet been removed is partly due to the fact I don’t know what to replace it with. Because I don’t think teaching is as clear cut as the other areas of my life I have mentioned.

My other goals have pretty clear measurement. I can see how much I have in my savings account. I can see how fast I can run a 10k, or a half marathon. I can see my family tree building before my eyes. 

Yet in my day job, the one thing for which I am paid, and to which I dedicate the majority of my waking hours, I can’t think of a single goal that I can easily measure which I can solely and easily control. Indeed, in the ‘to be measured by’ column of my goal setting sheet, my teaching goal simply contained the word ‘observation’. That’s no good at all! Even before the shift in thinking, it was never going to be good enough. Now, it is certainly redundant.

With my other goals, I have a plan. I know, for example, that training two or three times a week will bring me closer towards my 10k goal. I may not reach it until my last opportunity for the year in September (indeed, I may not reach it at all), but I have already seen progress this year in bringing my time down by almost two minutes. I know, too, that I am reaching my savings target, because I can see the balance of my savings account increasing month after month. 

But I am really struggling to put together a goal for my teaching in the same vein. I know that writing this at this time of year is probably not the best time, and that teacher goals are perhaps best set in September, but I want to pick the collective brains that read this to ask:

  • are teacher goals possible?
  • what examples are you aware of/have you worked towards in the past?
  • how are/were the measured?

I would be really grateful for feedback, either left here or directly on Twitter.

Thanks in advance!