Making a positive start

Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by Rob Suckling.  Rob is a Geography teacher who is in his second year of teaching and his 15 minutes were based upon his reflections of his NQT year. The focus of all of Rob’s points, was centred on making a ‘positive start’ with his students.

A key aspect of Rob’s presentation was about building strong relationships with his students. For Rob, this was a vital element of being successful with his classes and promoting good outcomes. He achieved this through a number of ways:

Name recallname

Rob described how he has tried to avoid the panic of not ‘knowing’ a student by using name association with his students. Initially, this involves actually finding out information about the student, thus building a stronger relationship. Rob used an example of one of his Year 10 students, who plays rugby. Having discovered that the student plays in the second row, Rob is able to discuss rugby with the student, which strengthens their relationship and helps to engage the student in the lesson.

Seating plans

Rob stressed the need to use a clear seating plan and evaluate it regularly. This is not just an easy way of recalling names, but also helps to manage low-level behaviour and allowed him to maintain authority of the class. He has also used the seating plan as an effective way of support students’ learning. By pairing higher and lower starting point students, it allows lower starting point students to raise their level of challenge and aspire to produce better quality work. A note of caution has to be applied to this strategy, as it is still important for higher starting point students to challenge themselves and aspire to produce work that goes ‘beyond their best’.

Be proactiveChalk drawing - Reactive or proactiveRob described one of the most powerful interventions from his NQT year, as being when he made phone calls home. This could have been for positive or negatives reasons. However, the important aspect of this was that by being proactive and addressing the situation, he earned the support of parents and ensured that the students did not see his lessons in isolation. This resulted in stronger teacher:parent:student relationships and ensured that student outcomes were increased. In addition, by making positive phone calls home, Rob found that students responded well to and valued this positive praise. It is important to note, however that the students must first earn this praise and not simply expect a phone call home for meeting the basic classroom expectations.

Challenge

Rob spoke about what he referred to as ‘boot camp time’, the first few weeks of the Autumn Term, which set the tone for the year ahead. Rob stated that he felt it was important for students to understand and realize the standards that he would expect and what was expected from them in his lessons. This linked to the quality of work that was expected from the students and had direct links to last weeks’ 15Minute Forum ‘The Benchmark of Brilliance’. However, it is important to remember that any challenging piece of work must remain accessible and where appropriate scaffolds should be provided for individual students.

Consistency  consistency-is-key

An overriding theme of Rob’s talk was the word ‘consistency’. He approached this in a number of ways, but the message was always clear; ‘students respond better when they are met with consistent standards and expectations’. This could be in relation to the quality of work that you expect from the students, the setting of homework or the application of policies within the school.  By being consistent the students feel more secure and you are able to build positive relationships more effectively.

Having discussed some strategies that Rob used in his classroom to make a positive start, he reflected on his first year as a form tutor. Here Rob emphasised the following points:

  • Value the role of a form tutor in the same way that you value your role as a subject teacher.
  • Treat form time as a ‘mini-lesson’ and plan engaging activities in the same way that you would plan a lesson.
  • Create flexible but engaging weekly plan – this could involve discussion based activities using resources such as ‘This day in History’ or ‘The Day’ (newspaper).
  • Maintain standards in form time which are the same standards that you would set in your subject lessons.

Another aspect which Rob found effective last year, was through developing a presence around the school. In a large school, such as Durrington, Rob only taught a small percentage of the students through his lessons and therefore only developed relationships with those students. However, he stressed that it is important to engage with the wider school through extra-curricular activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. Through this activity, Rob engaged with a different group of students, many of whom are now in his GCSE group. This has led to a much easier transition at the start of the new year and a stronger, positive relationship.

Rob finished with some ‘personal recommendations’ but as equally important, as they helped balanceto contribute to a positive work: life balance. Rob described how he would ‘chunk’ the term into weeks so as not to feel overwhelmed by a seven week term. Importantly he aimed to complete as much work on site rather than take it home – although this would not and should not apply to everyone. Finally, he gave himself things to look forward to where he would ‘switch-off’ from work such as The Great British Bake-Off or the latest Fifa release.

Overall, it was important to see that Rob had reflected on his first year of practice and has provided some very useful tips for new (and existing) staff.

 

 

 

 

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Benchmark of Brilliance

The first 15 Minute Forum of 2016-2017 was led by Gail Christie who is the Curriculum Leader for Art and Design at Durrington. In an unusual move the 15 Minute Forum was not held in its normal classroom but convened in the Art department. This was for the important reason that Gail wanted the staff to see what the students actually see when her department are talking about ‘excellence’.

The Art department has a vast array of student work on display, but as Gail stated it is not a ‘display’ but an ‘exhibition’. In her words displays ‘just get looked at’,  whereas exhibitions are ‘discussed and analysed’. The idea of this is that students are immersed in the work, they are able to produce, rather than feeling that everything has been produced by an ‘expert’ whose level they will never reach.

Each aspect of the ‘exhibition’ is linked to a particular topic that students study and has the aim of providing stimulus and ideas for the students to use in their work. However, in many cases not all of the work on display has to be classed as ‘excellence’. Many of the walls feature work from a whole class and are used during lessons. Gail discussed how, she will bring classes out to view the work during lessons and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the art that has been produced. This allows students to break down the ‘fear factor’ of the task and helps them feel less intimidated when they are asked to produce a similar piece of work. This is an important aspect for our students at Durrington, as it provides them with confidence. It also gives them an opportunity to see work that has been produced by people that they know, which again allows them to believe that they can produce work which is of the same or higher quality.

At this point Gail stressed the important point that, it is not as simple as only showing the students ‘excellence’. Once the students have seen the work and discussed it, the teachers then need to carefully break down the task and model strategies and techniques which students can use. Austin’s butterfly provides a key example of how, having aspired for excellence, a student can achieve this through careful modelling, explanation and feedback.

This strategy has also been used in the Geography department led by Ben Crockett. Ben recently blogged about their approach here. The principle in Geography was the same as demonstrated by Gail. The department wanted all of their students to produce a high quality piece of writing which would set the ‘benchmark’ for the year ahead. As can be seen below the students were allowed to draft their work on a separate sheet of paper, thus removing the fear of crossing out and editing as they went.

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Following this the Geography teachers provided feedback, focussed on improving the students’ explanation of their points and basic SPaG issues. Finally, the students rewrote their work into their exercise books, having responded to the teacher feedback, to produce their best possible work at this stage of the year. Ex-Durrington teacher Andy Tharby wrote about how he had used a similar technique in his English lessons here.

One of the most important aspects of Gail’s talk was the collection of sketchbooks from last years Year 11 students, which proudly hang from the cupboard doors in the Art department. Again these provide ideas and stimuli for the current students, but rather than being a ‘one-off’ piece of work they are an on-going reflection of the ‘excellence’ that our students can produce. Regularly throughout the year, Gail will allow her classes to look at the sketchbooks and take photographs on their phones, in order to provide a continuous reminder of the ‘benchmark’. The aim is that this inspires the students to, at least equal that level and, hopefully exceed it. The great thing about this is that it could, with careful planning, be replicated in every department – not just a practical based one.

 

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What is great about this approach from Gail in Art and Design is that it sets the tone for the year ahead and allows all of the students to see what they are capable of. Then throughout the year, it provides a reference point for students to assess whether they are going ‘beyond their best’ and thus progressing. It also provides inspiration for students to continually strive to produce their best work, as being surrounded by ‘excellence’ should inspire them to produce ‘excellence’.

 

 

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Subject Planning and Development Sessions

spds

Before the summer, I wrote about our approach to CPD for 2016-17 at Durrington – you can read about it here.  The idea is simple.  Every two weeks, subject teams will meet and talk about what they are teaching over the next fortnight – and how to teach it well.  This approach fits with what the evidence suggests effective CPD should look like:

  • Subject specific.
  • Regular.
  • Collaborative.
  • Within the context of what is being taught at that time.

The first of these sessions was held today and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to listen in on some of the discussions that were taking place within the subject teams.  They were all incredibly focused, rich and varied in their approach.  I’ve tried to summarise some of the discussions below.

Science

Following the GCSE results in the summer, Steph Temple had looked at the question level analysis for each paper  and identified questions that our students didn’t perform well in.  The team then looked at these questions from the exam paper for the unit we are currently teaching Y11 (P2) and identified reasons why they missed marks e.g. not being able to recall that mains electricity has a frequency of 50Hz; not being able to calculate potential difference in series circuits; not being able to recall the unit of momentum.

The team then discussed and shared ideas about how they would address these points in their teaching over the next fortnight.

Maths

The maths department adopted a similar approach to science.  Emma Mason had identified ‘circle theorem’ as a weak area of student performance in the summer exams – and a topic that was about to be taught.

With this in mind, the department got together in small groups to share ideas about why students performed poorly with this and how they could address it.  They then set to work producing resources that could be shared and used, to help address any misconceptions that students might have.  The team also worked together to collate a variety of exam questions that could be used by students, to help them work on this weak area.

PE

The PE team were watching videos of KS3 students doing gymnastics.  After they had watched the video, they then discussed the ‘threshold’ that they would assess the student work at.  This generated some interesting discussion and was important as a standardisation exercise.

Following this and once the team had agreed on their assessment, they then discussed the implications of this for teaching.  In particular, how they would question and give feedback to the students to challenge them to improve their performance.

Business Studies

The Business Studies team were discussing how they could question students, to challenge and develop their thinking, in a specific topic that they were all about to teach.  Based on his experience of teaching this topic, Pete Kelly was pointing out how students usually only give superficial answers when questioned about ‘gaps in the market’.  They often forget to talk about why it exists and how businesses know if there is a gap – so this needs to be the focus of their questioning, when they are teaching this topic.

Pete then went on to demonstrate how he draws simple graphs, and uses these to get students thinking about changes in prices and demand.  He then described how he gets students to think about the topic with a level of challenge that is close to A’ level e.g. think of an example of a product where increasing the price, will increase demand and why?  By ‘scaling up’ in this way, understanding the topic at the level they need to, then becomes easier.

SME

The SME team were being led by Jason Ramasami who was sharing ideas on how to teach ‘Beliefs’ for non-specialist teachers. Based on his specialist knowledge, Jason was sharing ‘easy to access’ materials and anecdotes, which would engage the students, but didn’t require an in-depth specialist knowledge. He then went on to describe four key questions, which he uses to start the series of lessons, to help students understand that everyone has beliefs even if they do not describe themselves as religious. This was an excellent way of helping non-specialist staff remove some potential barriers to teaching this topic, as well as allowing Jason to share his experience of teaching his students.

English

There were purposeful discussions taking place in English related to the best strategies for analysing unseen poetry – a key skill for the new GCSE. Led by Bridget Norman the English team were working through the process of analysing the poem in relation to a specific exam question. This shared approach allowed the team to evaluate and review the technique that they would be teaching to the students and identified potential issues and problems that students may have with this technique. Completing the activity in this way, also allowed all of the teachers to have a common approach and ensure consistency across the department when teaching the students.

MFL

In French Pam Graham and her team, were discussing the written element of controlled assessment. In particular they were focussing on developing specific phrases, which the students could use in their writing to reach the highest marks. There was a specific focus on developing the students’ vocabulary both in French but also English, which would have many cross-curricular benefits. Again this shared approach, meant that all staff were able to contribute and that there would be a consistent approach to teaching this element of the course.

Art

Art had a slightly different focus, but still a very important one, as they concentrated on existing work that had been produced by Year 11 students. Led by Gail Christie, the team moderated and evaluated existing work and discussed strategies and techniques which could be used to further develop the work. This will not only benefit individual students, but also allows teaching ideas and strategies to be shared effectively in the team.

Another activity which had been completed by the Art team, was an ‘audit of needs’. Here the team have identified areas of weakness/development in their practice and scheduled a series of workshops for future sessions, where an ‘expert’ in their team will deliver techniques or strategies to support their teaching. This is an excellent way of sharing good practice to ensure consistency across the department.

Geography

There were two main foci in the Geography session led by Ben Crockett. Firstly, the team focussed on developing better 8 mark answers, which reflect the changes in the approach to marking which were identified from last summers’ GCSE exam. Ben had produced a model answer and a discussion was held about how that answer linked to the mark scheme and what strategies the teachers could use to hep the students produce a similar answer.

The second part of the session focussed on the new GCSE specification. Here the team discussed the lessons that would be taught to year 10 over the next fortnight and shared strategies or techniques which would ensure consistency within the department.

Both of these aspects were designed to increase the level of challenge for the students and to ensure that they had to ‘think hard’ about their understanding and knowledge.

collaboration

Having listened to just a sample of the discussions this evening, it’s impossible to imagine how they can’t do anything other than support and enhance the quality and consistency of teaching within the subject teams.  Surely that has to be the purpose of CPD?

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Time to reflect

reflect

We all know that a teacher’s favourite month is August…for obvious reasons!  That said though, there’s something strangely satisfying about September.  It’s a time to reflect on the year that has just gone and think about what went well and what you want to focus on over the coming year.  I like the fact that we have a re-start every September.

With this in mind, during our INSET day, we shared some things to encourage all of us to reflect on our classroom practice.  The first was these three questions, from Robert Coe:

coe3questions

These are brilliant questions, that require honest reflection from all teachers.  In the words of Daniel Willingham, ‘memory is the residue of thought’ but in reality, how often do we really require our students to think hard?  This is difficult.  If you have a class of thirty students, they will all have different starting points, so getting all of them to think hard i.e. in the struggle zone, is really hard.

MELCstruggle

There is no easy way of doing this.  To do it effectively, you need to get to know your students and know how far you can challenge them, without pushing them into the panic zone. This will involve questioning them thoughtfully, modelling carefully, giving them clear feedback to develop their thinking and perhaps using scaffolding to start with (take care with this – scaffolding can breed dependency). You also need to get them used to being ‘stuck’ and accepting that this is OK and by the same token, resisting the temptation to jump in and rescue them too soon.

It’s worth doing a bit of planning here.  Before the lesson, consider some ‘think hard’ questions that you can pose to the students, to challenge their thinking.  Tell them that this question or task will be hard and that they will find it hard – and that this is OK and that you will support them with it.  Read more on this here.

The third question, adds an extra dimension to the idea of ‘challenge’ – getting students to think about their thinking.  So don’t just question them about the answer, question them about the thinking that got them to the answer – and then praise this process, as much as the answer.  Value their thinking.

We then looked at nine things that Dylan Wiliam claims, every teacher should know about:

wiliam9things

This list is a great summary of the huge amount of educational research that is out there and provides teachers with much to think about.  Some of the key takeaways from this list:

  • Take the time to build strong relationships with your students – show them you are passionate about your subject and their learning.
  • Learning takes time – it doesn’t happen in a lesson.  It happens when students have to think hard and keep coming back to things – having to retrieve things from their memory, supports learning.  So, a recap at the start of every lesson, really works.
  • Use hinge questions to check if all students are understanding the key points – not just the brightest students.  Harry Fletcher-Wood writes about this here.
  • If you are taking the time to give students feedback, make sure that they do something with the feedback.  More on this here.
  • Think carefully about group work – this sums up why:

 

group work

  • The jury is out on number 9.  Are students really in a position to give feedback about what helps them to learn effectively?  Debateable.  Wiliam argues that this project supports this idea.

We think that our six principles, when implemented effectively, support many of these points:

MELC6What we want our teachers to do is to consider these reflective points and then use them to plan how they will implement the 6 principles in their own classroom – a ‘tight but loose’ approach to teaching.   The best teachers will combine this pedagogical excellence with a passion for their subject, that is put across to their students.  They will also display a genuine sense of care and interest for the progress their students make and won’t give up them on them – they will demonstrate a relentless belief that their students can succeed.  Hopefully, this passion for the subject and dogged determination will become infectious and the students will see the importance of their long term success in the subject and so try harder.  At that point, we might have a chance of developing their ‘grit’:

grit

Have a great year!

 

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Getting to the heart of teacher led CPD

teamgeese

Over the last few years at Durrington we have developed a range of approaches to CPD – you can get an overview of them here and in my book ‘Perfect Teacher Led CPD’.   As the title of the book suggests, all of these strategies have been focused on adopting a ‘teacher-led’ approach to CPD – using the expertise of teachers to support the professional learning of their peers.  This has been great and has got us to a strong position as a school.  We talk about teaching a great deal, share ideas and have a common language when we talk about great teaching. It has limitations though – because most of the CPD has focused around general pedagogy.  Whilst there is nothing wrong with talking about general pedagogy, in order to spark ideas and discussion about teaching (and we do this a great deal around our six principles), I think we need to be putting CPD back into the context of subject areas.  Only when we do this, can we really start to develop highly effective CPD.  Whilst it’s useful to talk about the importance of modelling as a teaching strategy, how a PE teacher models throwing the javelin, will be very different to how a history teacher models writing an essay.  Great teachers are great at teaching their subject – something confirmed by the Sutton Trust Report of 2014, ‘What makes great teaching?‘   It places subject knowledge as the number 1 factor that has an impact on effective teaching:

suttontrustsubjectknowledge

This year we have focused our CPD back into subjects, by having ‘Subject Pedagogy Development Sessions’ during INSET days.  This has involved a topic being introduced to the whole staff e.g. how do we improve memory? Following this, staff have gone back into their subject teams to discuss how the initial input can be implemented in their own subject – see here.  These have been great, but we want to take it a stage further.  So next year, inspired by Katie Ashford’s blog about how they approach this at Michaela School, we are introducing ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’.

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Subject Planning & Development Sessions

These sessions have been calendared once a fortnight, in subject teams.  They will provide the opportunity for subject teams to meet and work together to plan high quality teaching, through regular, subject specific collaborative planning & CPD – placing the focus very much on our core purpose….great subject teaching.

The discussions during the sessions will be based around the 6 principles of teaching which are used at Durrington, but allow subject teams the autonomy to focus on implementing each principle within the context of their subject.  Basically, each subject team will be talking about what they are teaching over the next fortnight, and then sharing ideas about how they can teach it well.

MELCmain

Some key questions that will be considered during each session:

  • What are the key topics/concepts/ideas that we are teaching over the next fortnight?
    • How do we teach these concepts/ideas well?
    • What are the key learning points that students need to master in these topics?
    • Who teaches this topic well? How?
    • Who is ‘worried’ about teaching this topic? Why?
    • What resources can we share to help teach these concepts/ideas
  • What is the key knowledge/skills that students need to be secure with in order to tackle these new topics?
  • What are the opportunities for repetition and review?
  • What are the ‘hinge questions’ to help students understand each topic/concept?       How might we reframe questions to support students who are struggling?
  • What are the possible misconceptions that students could have? How will we address these?
  • How can we ensure high quality explanations are supported through effective modelling?
  • What are the really hard bits of this topic? How can we explain these well – particularly to students with a low starting point?
  • What opportunities are there to stretch the students with a high starting point? What ‘Think Hard’ questions can we use?
  • What strategies/scaffolding can be used to support students who are ‘stuck’?
  • What opportunities are there for ‘deliberate practice’? What will we use to provide this – exam questions, assessments?
  • What opportunities are there for focused feedback over the next fortnight e.g. tasks that lend themselves to live marking, peer critique, self-checking, WWW/EBI statement banks?

Clearly there will be no requirement to cover all of the questions above in one session. Furthermore, the Subject Leader will  not have to lead each session – departmental staff will take the lead where specific strengths are identified and known about.  A number of departments are also planning to meet for half an hour every week to do this process – so making the sessions even more regular.

collaborationI am really excited about this – as are a number of teachers/ leaders who I have spoken to about it.  To me, this is the purest form of CPD – teachers meeting regularly to discuss and share ideas about how they best teach their subject.  What could be better in terms of teacher-led CPD?  Regular, collaborative, supportive and subject specific.

Have a great summer

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Making every lesson count – how it came about, why it matters and how we do it

melcpic

Today we hosted the inaugural ‘Making every lesson count conference’ at Durrington.  I started my presentation by outlining three things that were instrumental in the development of the book:

This, alongside much between discussion between myself and Andy about the day to day practice of some of the best teachers we have worked with, resulted in the development of the six principles that are the focus of the book:

MELC6

This has become our teaching and learning policy at Durrington – it seems to work for a number of reasons.

“Tight but loose”

 

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Robert Plant once attributed the success of Led Zeppelin to their ‘tight but loose’ approach.  Tight, because they were all fantastic musicians in their own right, with a shared idea about the sound they wanted to create.  Loose, because they were allowed to express themselves creatively as individuals.

We take the same approach with our teachers – the message is clear.  Embed the 6 principles into your teaching, but do it in a way that suits your teaching style.  Giving teachers this creativity and freedom has been liberating for them.

“Common Language”

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It has given us a common language when we talk about teaching.  We know what we are talking about, when we talk about modelling, practice etc.  This creates a rich discussion about pedagogy within and between subjects.

“Meaningful for all”

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The principles apply to all subjects – so have meaning and purpose across the school.  Whilst we will of course implement them differently across different subjects, the ideas and the thinking underlying them is the same.  This means that we are all pulling in the same direction as teachers and because of this, students are getting a consistent approach across their lessons e.g. high levels of challenge; probing questions; time to engage with deliberate practice etc.

“Less is more”

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I’ve written before about why Brazil is such a great footballing nation.  One factor is that they play ‘futsal’.  This is a much smaller version of the game – the ball is smaller, as is the pitch, goals etc.  This requires the players to refine the basic skills of the game – so they focus on what matters.  The six principles do the same i.e. they focus the professional learning of teachers on the things that contribute to great teaching.  So during appraisal meetings for example, all teachers discuss which of the principles they want to focus on and develop.

This leads on to the next aspect of the presentation.  How do we structure the professional learning at Durrington, to allow teachers to grow and develop?  What we try to achieve is a professional learning ‘menu’ that allows a culture like the one often described by Tim Brighouse to flourish:

tm16brig4We do this by offering a layered approach to professional learning.

melcpres5

There are a range of optional and regular activities, that staff can engage with at a level that suits them.  This encourages staff to talk about teaching in an informal and collaborative way.  Many of the activities e.g. 15 minute forums, blog of the week, research bulletins etc, will be based around the six principles.

melcpres6

Recently have been placing the focus of our professional learning, much more within the context of subjects – great teachers are great at teaching their subject.  We have done this, this year during INSET days with the ‘Subject Pedagogy Development Sessions’, which have been successful – we talk about a particular aspect of pedagogy, to the whole staff and then they go back into their subject teams, to discuss how it applies to their subject context.  However, next year we are planning to take this a stage further with the ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’. This will facilitate regular, subject focused CPD that will have a direct impact in the classroom throughout the year.  Every 2 weeks, subject teams will meet and discuss – what are we teaching over the next fortnight?  How do we teach it best?  Who has some great resources to share?  What are the possible misconceptions and how can we overcome them?  What are the challenging bits and how can we support students with this?  Where are the opportunities to really stretch and challenge students?  We think this is going to be a key step in the next stage of our teaching and learning development work.  This is what CPD should be about.

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Teachers are busy people, so need some support with organising personalised professional learning that is specific to their needs.  Furthermore in a big school, if they want to develop an aspect of their teaching e.g. questioning, by observing a colleague, they might not know who to observe to see best practice in this area.  So every term, they are given a form to complete to request support with planning a particular CPD activity.  We then help them to organise this.  The form looks like this:

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cpdplan1

cpdplan2

cpdplan3

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Finally we try to ensure that there is a range of support/development programmes in place for colleagues in different stages of their career.

Impact?

We are often asked how we know the ‘6 principle approach to teaching’ and our professional learning programme is making a difference?  Like all things in education, it is very difficult to claim a direct link, as there are so many variables involved.  However, the following suggests that something must be working:

  • A sustained improvement in exam outcomes – suggests students are learning well:

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  • Our whole school attendance is strong – suggests that students feel happy and safe at school.
  • We have been regularly oversubscribed in recent years – with cohorts of 330 – suggests that our local community trust us.
  • We retain our new staff – suggests that staff feel that it is a place where they will be supported to grow and develop.
  • Most importantly, our students show us in so many ways that they are confident, resilient, hard-working and very nice young people.

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Andy then went on to discuss each of the six principles in detail:

And finally, a new review on Amazon today sums up the spirit of the book perfectly!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boxing up

boxing1Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by maths teacher Natasha Bedford.  Natasha described that moment we have all experienced, when marking a set of exam papers and it becomes clear that students just haven’t got a particular question – the ‘face palm’ moment!  This is especially true of the long-response questions, where marks are there to be lost.

boxing2There can be a number of reasons for this.  It might be that the student hasn’t really understood the question, or used the information that they have been given in the question, to help them answer it.  They may not be able to recall the knowledge they will need in order to answer the question, or even misunderstand what form the answer is required in.  And finally, they may have made a silly mistake, but haven’t checked their work and so lost marks.  Natasha has been working on a strategy to help her students avoid these pitfalls.

When her students are working on exam questions, she gives them a ‘boxing up’ sheet to help them plan their thinking.  See below:

 

boxing3

A word version created by Natasha, based on the idea by Julia Strong (see credit below) of this can be downloaded here.

So, when working on an exam question, the students have this on a laminated A5 card in front of them.  The green box gets them to think about and write down, what the question is asking them to do.  Furthermore, they should also focus in on the information that they are given, in the question – as they often forget to use this, when formulating their response.  Secondly, in the blue box, they recall the knowledge they will need, in order to answer this question, using the information they have already been given.  Thirdly, they consider, exactly what is required in the answer e.g. calculation, answer, units etc.  Finally, and most importantly, they think about their thinking – how can they check their thinking and ensure that the answer they have come up doesn’t contain any silly mistakes?  This ‘self-checking’ is an essential habit that is often forgotten about.  Consider the following exam question:

boxing4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘boxing up’ for this, might look something like this:

 

boxing5

What’s great about this strategy is that it makes students slow down and think about the component parts of successfully answering a long-response question.  It’s also a nice, easy and sustainable strategy, as once you have the card laminated, you can just, get them out each lesson.  Although Natasha has used this in maths, it’s easy to see how the principle could be extended to other subjects.

Care needs to be taken, with making sure that students don’t get dependent on them and spend an unrealistic amount of time on the questions, due to using the sheet.  Natasha overcomes this by getting them to write the notes in the boxes to start with.  She then encourages them to use the boxes, just as prompts, without writing any notes down, until they are confident enough to tackle questions without it.

Credit:  Talk for Writing in Secondary Schools’ by Julia Strong, published by Open University Press, c Julia Strong 2013

 

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