2016-17 Reasons to be cheerful

Well that’s 2016-17 pretty much done – and what a year it has been.  Tough at times and very tough at others, but because we work in such an amazing team at Durrington, we get through and get stronger.  This post is a celebration – some of the reasons to be cheerful and excited about 2017-18.

Subject Planning & Development Sessions

Over the years we have tried a number of different CPD activities at Durrington (see here). Little did I know that the most effective form of CPD, was also the simplest – Subject Planning & Development Sessions, affectionately know as SPuDS.  Started this year, they are fortnightly meetings of subject teams, where they discuss ‘what are we teaching over the next fortnight and how do we teach it well?’   They have been successful for a number of reasons:

  • They are subject specific.
  • They are sustained.
  • They relate directly to what teachers are teaching at that time.

When they are done well, they are really effective.  This blog describes how our Director of science Steph Temple leads these with her team.  In a recent staff survey (75 respondents) 92% of staff said that they had made a difference to their teaching, with 60% claiming this was a significant difference.  Here are some of the comments staff made about these sessions:

“Sessions have been very focused and relevant on upcoming topics/activities/areas of staff weakness. Sessions have been shorter at times but much more T&L focused. All staff should take something away from every meeting that they will be able to put into practice over the upcoming weeks.”

“More emphasis on co-planning and a focus on how to specifically challenge different targeted groups.”

“Regular meetings ensure we can look ahead. Subject specific and year group focussed; particularly with regard to the new GCSE specification and discussing changes that have been made since its initial teaching last year.

“Allowed more time to think about planning and delivery.”

“More teaching and learning based as opposed to day to day admin.”

“Due to the frequent nature of these sessions they have had a tighter focus and felt very purposeful.”

“More purposeful because you feel that you are learning relevant material that is applicable to lessons.”

I am convinced that this is the best form of CPD we have done in years.  The challenge for next year will be to make them consistently strong and effective across all teams.

The ‘Making every lesson count’ family has grown

In 2015 when Andy Tharby and I wrote ‘Making every lesson count’ we couldn’t have imagined how successful it was going to be.   It has surpassed all of our expectations and we are so grateful to everybody who has bought it, enjoyed it and said nice things about it.  This year, it has been amazing to see the MELC family grow even further – with the publication of the English version by Andy, the science one by me and of course the brilliant primary one by the amazing Jo and Mel – and of course all illustrated by the very talented Jason Ramasami.  Huge thanks must go to David Bowman and everybody at Crown House publishing for their belief and support with this project.

The good news is that three further subject books are expected for 2018.  Watch this space!

Becoming a Research School

Over the last few years at Durrington, we have become more and more committed to developing an evidence informed approach to our teaching.  We have stripped away the gimmicks that have plagued teaching for years, and used the wisdom of great teachers and research evidence to support a ‘tight but loose’ approach to teaching (more here).

Being designated as a Research School for September 2017, was fantastic news for us as it will allow us to continue to develop this work further.  The Durrington Research School will act as a regional hub for the Research Schools Network.  We will share what we know about putting research into practice, and support schools to make better use of evidence to inform their teaching and learning, so that they really make a difference in the classroom.

We will do this through three strands:

Communication

We will use our Research School website , a monthly newsletter, email contact, conferences, workshops and twitter to communicate the most recent news about evidence informed practice to our network of schools.

Training

We will offer a range of training programmes for our network of schools to take part in.  These training programmes will be focused on key issues that are relevant to the issues that are faced by schools within our network.  Further details on this will follow shortly.

Innovation

We will support schools within our network to apply for Innovation Evaluation Grants.  Teachers within the network of schools can apply for one of these grants, with the support of our Research School, to develop innovative teaching and learning approaches they are implementing in their classroom or school

The Educational Twittersphere

What a remarkable place!  It can sometimes be dark and infuriating, often very amusing but more often than not, incredibly useful.  A very big thank you to all those educators who continue to tweet and blog.  You are so important, because you continue to make us all think, reflect and challenge ourselves.  Furthermore – you change policy at a national level.  I’m pretty convinced that many of the positive changes that have happened  at OFSTED and the DfE, have happened because of the tireless voices of some bloggers.  There is still more to be done – so keep those voices going!

You only have to look at the incredible ‘Blog of the week’ archive to see this.

A huge thank you to all of the amazing teachers out there who continue to do an incredible job.  Have a brilliant and restful summer.

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Using storytelling as an explanation tool

pic1

In today’s 15 minute forum, English teacher Russ Shoebridge talked about the power of storytelling and how it can be used to support explanation.

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Russ began by reflecting on how students seem to listen to stories differently, and how stories seem to elicit a certain type of silence. He then described a familiar scenario: it’s the end of the day and you are halfway through giving a list of instructions, when you notice that the class are losing concentration. A story can save you in this all-too-familiar situation. It can hook attention and help the class to enjoy the moment. As human beings, it seems that we have an intrinsic familiarity with stories.

So, if stories help our students to listen more attentively, are they more likely to remember the content as a result?

In terms of the six pedagogical principles we use at our school, storytelling forms a vital component of explanation:

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Theoretical Underpinning

Russ then shared three theories that support the use of storytelling in the classroom:

  1. Rhetoric – the art of speaking effectively and persuasively
  2. Mnemonics – a learning technique that aids retention in the memory
  3. Teacher Immediacy – the perceived ‘closeness’ between listener and speaker

The last of these, teacher immediacy, was first coined by psychologist Albert Mehrabian in 1969. It can be defined as the perceived ‘closeness’ between listener and speaker and has been linked to effective teaching (Gorham, 1988). Researchers have identified the importance of the following verbal immediacy traits:

‘….the use of praise for student efforts, humor, self disclosure, willingness to engage students in conversation, and overall openness and willingness to meet and interact with students.’ (Edwards & Edwards, 2001; Gorham, 1988).

By using ourselves as an example, stories allow for self-disclosure. Russ stressed the importance of self-deprecation and shared how he will often start the new term with a story, either to bring the class together or to introduce a learning point. For example, Russ started this academic year by telling the tale of how he had been ripped off by an unscrupulous plumber.

Examples

Finally, Russ shared three ways that he uses storytelling in his day-to-day classroom teaching:

Stories to hook students or immerse students in the content.

pic3 owen

Before his class read Wilfred Owen’s war poetry, Russ will introduce the WW1 context through the tragic story of Owen’s life:

“I’d like to tell you about Wilfred Owen and this story epitomises the tragedy that was the pointless loss of innocent lives during World War One.

Now Wilfred Owen was a patriot who was passionate about defending his country. Maybe you would be the same. Maybe we’d all be the same in the face of war.

Now, Owen didn’t join the war until 1915…and the first year for him seemed to be…new and exciting!

Then, in January, 1917… Wilfred Owen had his first experience of the front line… and it would never be the same again.”

After just a year on the front line, he had suffered concussion, he’d been gassed, he’d been evacuated with shell shock.

At this time, from the front line, he began to produce a series of his more famous poems, one of which we’re going to read later on in the lesson today…

Some people believe that Wilfred Owen didn’t actually face any rifle fire until one week before the end of the war.

On 11th November, 1918, the day that the war ended, as the bells were ringing out for peace in Wilfred Owen’s home village in Shropshire, his parents received the telegram to inform them that their son, seven days ago, had been shot and killed on the bank  of a river in Northern France…”

Story telling is an art form in itself. These tips can help you to structure a story effectively:

  • Tell them you’re going to tell them a story.
  • Involve them in the story.
  • Have a narrative/plot
  • Include emotive and powerful information
  • Relate it to the lesson
  • Make sure you have a powerful ending.

Stories to illustrate an abstract concept. 

 

All English teachers know that students struggle with the difference between it’s and its. This is mainly because they do not realise that its is a possessive pronoun like hers, his, ours and yours, whereas it’s is a contracted form of it is. Russ uses the story of a barbeque he once attended to help students to remember. He remembers seeing a pristine stainless steel barbecue, his friend’s pride and joy, gleaming in the sun. It even had its own personalised engraving. On closer inspection, however, he noticed a glaring error in the inscription:

HOT LIKE IT’S OWNER

This memorable mistake is then used as a mnemonic to lead into the lesson and to help students to remember this tricky concept.

Stories to illustrate something about the teaching / learning (metacognition)

Stories are also a means of making metacognitive prompts more memorable. You can experiment with the following:

  1. Stories of previous classes/students who attempted the activity/piece of               work/drill in P.E/drama performance
  2. Success stories/cautionary tales.
  3. Anecdotes about ourselves in the learning situation.
  4. Anecdotes about the planning/marking/preparing the lesson.

 

To remind his students to use adjectives with subtlety, Russ tells his class about a friend who had sent him the first 40 pages of a sci-fi novel he had written. Russ was shocked to find that every noun was described by at least 3 adjectives. For example: “the dusty, dark, grey carpark was filled with fast, dark, expensive cars.” In short, the book was utterly unreadable!

In summary:

 

  • Students seem to ‘listen’ in a different way to stories. There is an intrinsic familiarity and enjoyment of them.
  • Storytelling is a device with clear links to other theoretical frameworks: rhetoric, mnemonics, and immediacy.
  • Stories can be used to ‘hook’ students or immerse them in a new topic.
  • Stories can be used to illustrate something abstract/unfamiliar with visual examples/analogies
  • Stories can open up metacognitive dialogue.

 

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10 simple things to try and have a better work-life balance

Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by Becky Owen – giving some great advice on how it is possible to be a brilliant teacher and avoid teacher burnout.

Get Organised

1.Mid term plan for each class before each half term including homework to be set.

  • Reduces planning time during the week
  • Gives time to become more confident with areas of subject knowledge that are less strong.
  • Gives time to prepare practical work
  • Ensures enough time to cover all content in lessons you have available.
  • Allows shared classes to be taught properly without confusion.

Time scale – approx. 1 hour for all classes (I had 10)

  1. Set homework on connect before start of half term (for as much of half term as possible)
  • Reduces time setting each week
  • Reduces chance of it not being set or put on connect
  • Helps reduce shared classes from not being set any homework.

Time scale – approx. 1 – 2 hours for all classes (I had 10) depending on detail of instructions written (I write very detailed!)

  1. Print out 2 week timetable and stick to desk near key board
  • Reduces chance of last minute panic!
  • Organises time for marking, homework setting/collection, planning of lessons, TP deadlines, meetings, revision sessions etc
  • Helps focus PPA and non contact time.

Time scale – none!

Make sure you also include things that you need to leave school for at the end of the day!

4. Plan when to mark home works/assessments/books to meet deadlines.

  • Reduces last minute marking before deadline
  • Some people have homework set on same day each fortnight so marking plan can be implemented also.
  • Allows deadlines to be met
  • Allows ‘bottlenecks’ to be identified and head of dept. can be notified of possibility of missed deadline.

Time scale – varies depending on how much marking you have/if you have a set homework plan etc.

Be Productive

  1. Figure out when you work best and do your work then!
  2. If you are marking then have no distractions and have a decent space to work in. I allocate a certain number of time and aim to mark a certain number of assessments in that time before stopping.
  3. Write to do lists or jobs to do today and update regularly.

Get a Life

In order to actually have a work-life balance you have to have things you enjoy doing outside of work.

  1. Try and have at least 1 thing you do during a Monday to Friday that has nothing to do with work. Book it in and stick to it.
  2. Have a ‘no work time’ policy at home. This can be hard if you have a family or are still working on reducing your workload at the start but you shoud:
  • No work on Friday nights, Saturday and Sunday night
  • Allocate 1 hour a day at home for school work but NO MORE!
  • No marking books/assessments at home, only do planning, setting homework/rewards on connect, mid-term planning sheets.

Finally…

  1. Be strong – remember that if you are working productively for 8-9+ hours a day and you still can’t get all the work done, then it is probably the system that needs changing not you!
  • Ask for support – in my opinion we work in a very supportive school that does change to streamline tasks etc (more on how they do this here) but that can only happen if leaders know there’s an issue! Don’t give up asking or raising the issue if it doesn’t get heard the first time!
  • Come up with solutions to the problem (e.g. change when TP tasks are done, shared resources, planning groups, changes to marking policy)
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Growing a culture of great teaching

These are the slides that Andy Tharby and I talked through at the Wellington Festival of Education on Friday.

Andy talked about how we used the wisdom of great teachers we had worked with over the years, alongside evidence from educational research and cognitive science, to distil great teaching into six pedagogical principles, in our book Making every lesson count’.

Having unpicked some of the key elements, of each of the six principles, Andy then went on to talk about why this approach has been useful to us a school:

  • It allows a tight but loose approach to teaching – teachers are free to implement the six principles in their classroom in a way that best suits them, their subject and the students they are teaching.  They have professional autonomy.
  • When we talk about great teaching at Durrington now, we have a common language.
  • They are meaningful for all – the six principles apply equally to all subjects.
  • It encourages purposeful practice for teachers – teachers are encouraged to identify aspects of one of the principles, and refine their teaching around this e.g. I will focus on modelling extended writing to my Y10 class who are struggling with this.

Following this, I talked about how we have used a variety of CPD activities over the past few years, to grow a culture of great teaching that is framed around these six principles.

To begin with, we had wide variety of teaching approaches going on around the school, based around people’s differing perceptions around what constituted effective teaching.  Whilst based on the best intentions, a number of these approaches had very little evidence to suggest that they were effective.  So, the first part of our work was to refine this down, so that all staff had a shared understanding of what made effective teaching – represented by the top half of the diagram above.  This was not a fast process – we are talking about years, rather than months.  Slides 24-38  show some of the ways we did this.

Once we were happy that we had pretty much a shared understanding of effective teaching across the staff, shaped around the six principles, we were then able to give teachers/ subject areas the freedom to develop the principles, in a way that best suited their subject, them as teachers and the students they were teaching at that time – the tight but loose approach.  This is represented by the bottom half of the diagram and  slides 40-46  show how we approach this through CPD.

Is it all working?  We think so.  Exam results continue to go up, staff retention is very high and around the school, teachers enjoy talking about teaching and sharing ideas with each other.

We are delighted that the ‘Making every lesson count’ family has grown, with the publication of these three new books:

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Cleverlands

Last week, I was fortunate enough to listen to the fabulous Lucy Crehan talk about her book ‘Cleverlands‘ at the Wellington Festival of Education.

As a teacher in an inner-city school, Lucy was exasperated with ever-changing government policy claiming to be based on lessons from ‘top-performing’ education systems. She became curious about what was really going on in classrooms of the countries whose teenagers ranked top in the world in reading, maths and science.

Determined to dig deeper, Lucy set off on a personal educational odyssey through Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada, teaching in schools, immersing herself in their very different cultures and discovering the surprising truths about school life that don’t appear in the charts and graphs.

Cleverlands documents her journey, weaving together her experiences with research on policy, history, psychology and culture to offer extensive new insights and provide answers to three fundamental questions:

How do these countries achieve their high scores? What can others learn from them? And what is the price of this success?

During her talk, rather than focus on the central educational policies that these countries have, Lucy focused on six things that most of these countries do, that could be implemented in British schools, irrespective of government policy.

1. Timetables that allow for specialisation and therefore a reduced workload

Rather than teach a variety of topics to all year groups, and therefore have to plan lots of different lessons each week, most teachers in these countries specialised in teaching a few year groups, the same topics.  This allows them to specialise in what they teach, as well as dramatically reducing their planning time (as they plan to teach classes in the same year group, the same topic).

I’m not sure how feasible this is from a timetabling point of view, or from a professional satisfaction point of view (are there many teachers who would only want to teach Y8 and 9?), however, there are things we can learn from this I think.

  • If a teacher is teaching, say two Y10 groups, schedule their teaching so that they teach both classes the same topic.
  • Have a clear and comprehensive scheme of work in plan, to support teacher planning.
  • Centralise resources so teachers don’t have to spend ages preparing/printing resources e.g. in each subject, at the start of the term, print all the worksheets, booklets, homeworks that will be require in class sets, for teachers to simply pick up.

2. Regular planning and learning with colleagues

The countries all put things in place to support collaborative planning and support:

  • Weekly timetabled co-planning time.  At Durrington, we do this by having fortnightly ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’.  Subject teams meet to discuss ‘what are we teaching over the next fortnight and how can we teach it really well?‘  More on this here.
  • Lesson Study – teachers planning together, observing each other and then feeding back to each other in a group.  This post talks about how we have done this at Durrington.
  • Effective professional learning communities – teachers identifying an issue they want to develop, discussing it, looking at the research and then planning changes they will make to their practice.  More on this from Dylan Wiliam here.

3. Mastery Curriculum & Approach

These successful countries apply a mastery approach to their teaching.  They study fewer topics in greater depth, with students progressing through the curriculum at the same pace with the subject matter broken down into units.  The teacher doesn’t move on, until all students in the class are proficient with these key ideas.  This results in equity as the teacher waits for all students to ‘get it’ – there is never the assumption that some won’t.  Put simply, this is done by giving the weaker students greater levels of support whilst the stronger students are made to explore the topic in more depth.

Here’s a 15 minute forum by  Durrington maths teacher Kate Blight on mastery.

This approach of genuinely high expectations for all is further supported by:

  • No grammar school type selection (this doesn’t happen until age 15/16)
  • No setting by ability – how do we expect students to catch up by giving them easier work?  See Bart Simpson video below!
  • No differentiation by activity – it is seen as the job of the teacher to allow all students to access the challenging work.

4. Peer Tutoring

This is a standard part of mixed ability lessons.  Students apply to become an accredited peer tutor and are then rigorously trained in the process.  They are then expected to support their peers, with their learning, both in and out of lessons.

Here is the EEF meta-analysis on peer tutoring.

5. Introduce 10-15 minute breaks between lessons.

This is seen to:

  • aid concentration.
  • allow students to run off steam.
  • give teachers time to catch up with students at the end of the lesson.

6. Have independent study periods

Time is scheduled into the school day for students to work independently on their studies.  This encourages students to get used to sustained periods of independent concentration in a quiet environment – developing their self-discipline.  It also gives teachers time to catch up with their work.

Thanks to Lucy for a great book and a fascinating talk – much for school leaders to reflect on.

The equally fabulous Oliver Caviglioli has produced an excellent poster on Lucy’s work.  Available here.

 

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Durrington TeachMeet 2017

Last Thursday we hosted our sixth annual TeachMeet.  We were delighted to welcome Bill Watkin as our key note speaker – Bill’s wry look at the current educational landscape got the event off to a brilliant start.

The Proto food group provided superb paella at the interval, with delegates making a voluntary contribution that went towards the excellent ‘Love Your Hospital’ charity.

Presentations

1. James Crane, Durrington High School, “Effective use of Lesson Study”

 

2. Mark Enser, Heathfield CC, “Expect Excellence

3. Jason Ramasami Durrington High School, “#TeachingTalk – some highlights and reflections on a terrific experience.”

Teaching Talk Intro Video from Jason Ramasami on Vimeo.

Notes on the process

4. Lianne Allison, The Angmering School “Developing Early Teachers

 

5. Anna Ward,  The Angmering School, “Raising the profile of KS3 through assessment: planning for long term success.”

 

6. Holly Billinghurst, Steyning Grammar School, “An Online Revision Revolution – Digitise the bottom of the School Bag”

7. Ben Crockett, Durrington High School, “Marginal Gains and Metacognition”

8. Pauline Gaston, Oathall CC, “That Player Roger Federer is Naturally Talented You Know!”

9. Andy Tharby, Durrington High School,  “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’ – Practical ways to bridge the gap”

10. Caroline Riggs, The Angmering School,  “One in every classroom- how colour vision deficiency affects our learners” 

11. Cherie Sykes, The Angmering School – “RRSA – UNICEF – Developing Global Citizenship”

12. Brian Marsh, University of Brighton,  “School-based teacher action research – what are we learning?”

13. Martha Boyne, Emily Clements, Ben Wright  “Teachers make the worst students: so how can we become better at using the research?”

 

Huge thanks to everybody who attended for making it such a great evening!

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Teaching Talk – Growing Kindness

In a very special edition of Teaching Talk, Jason Ramasami talks to Vic Goddard and other staff and students at Passmores Academy about the incredible work that their school charity does.

Now more than ever, we need to be encouraging a culture of kindness towards each other.

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