There have been four full teaching weeks since the start of term and during that time our new staff have been adapting to new practices, standards and most importantly students. This year, at Durrington, we have 13 NQTs, 12 Recently Qualified Teachers (RQTs) and 8 new staff, joining from other schools. In total this contributes to nearly a third of our teaching staff being ‘new’ to the school in one way or another. As such, it has been vital that these staff adapt quickly and maintain the high standards that we set ourselves. What has been pleasing, is that Chris Runeckles and I have already seen some excellent practice being demonstrated by these new staff.
Harry Bannister (Lead Teacher of Media) was demonstrating an excellent questioning technique with his Year 11 class whilst analysing poetry. This is a challenging skill for our students, as the style and structure of language is not one that they are used to. However, Harry was probing their thinking through carefully constructed questions aimed at making the students think but also allowing them to provide an answer. He would then follow-up his initial questions with another question, to elicit more information from the students’ response. This ‘serve and return’ approach means that students begin to make connections between their new knowledge and what they already know, as well as emphasising the point that you expect in-depth and developed answers in your lessons.
In Kathy Hughes’ (NQT) Year 9 Maths lesson, her questions were focussed on the ‘why’ of students’ answers. She was reviewing a mini-test that students had completed, by asking students to provide their answers. Importantly, however, Kathy did not just accept the answer as correct but questioned the students as to ‘why’ that was the correct answer. This meant that the students had to explain their thinking and show their understanding of the mathematical concepts, further embedding good practice or identifying misconceptions which resulted in a ‘lucky’ correct answer.
In Science Jaimie Scanes allowed her students clear thinking time after she had posed her questions. She was not afraid of the ‘silence’ that initially followed her question, but instead gave her bottom set Year 8 students reflection time which ultimately meant that they provided sensible answers to her questions.
English teacher Jemma King was skilfully drawing out meaning from a poem by leading her students through imagery and metaphors. By never settling for the first response she was able to add real depth to student understanding of the piece. The students felt completely comfortable to give their responses and as such answers could be developed and extended in front of the class without students becoming self-conscious.
Jason Ramasami showed his experience when questioning a Year 9 SME group over the tricky subject of relationships and leaps of faith. By becoming part of the discussion and showing his own thought processes to the class as to how he himself had come to conclusions, students were given the scaffolds to make their own leaps and be ready to contribute when asked.
Rob Harrison (ICT) was leading a peer critique based upon leaflet designs with a Year 9 class. This was a good example of peer feedback but also linked to ‘live marking’ using Rob’s ‘expert’ knowledge. Initially, Rob displayed a students’ work on the projector screen and asked the class to critique the strengths and weaknesses of the work. He would then probe students’ thinking for more information before offering his own feedback based upon his expectations of the work.
Elisa Tembras (NQT) was discussing the Citizenship controlled assessment with her Year 11 class. Each student had been provided with a clear checklist of strengths and weaknesses linked to the mark scheme. From this, Elisa was conducting 1:1 conversations with target students focussed on the best ways to improve their work and maximise their marks. This not only allowed the students to improve their work, but also strengthened her relationships with those ‘at risk’ students within her class.
In Jemma King’s Year 11 English lesson, her class were conducting DIRT based upon the feedback that she had provided. What was great about this activity, was that students were immediately engaged with the activity and allowed a new member of staff to set high expectations with her students.
Richelle McDonnell (NQT) proved that literacy feedback isn’t just for English teachers with extended answers were being marked for spelling and punctuation errors. By dealing with the misspelling of key terms early in the term through live marking Richelle was ensuring her students would not carry misconceptions for too long and embed bad habits.
Beth Clarke (NQT) started her Year 7 History lesson with some key questions that were based upon what the students already knew in relation to the events leading up to the Battle of Stamford Bridge. This allowed her to find the ‘sweet spot’ between what the students could remember and thus knew, and allowed the students to ‘hook’ their new knowledge onto the concepts that they already understood. This then allowed Beth to pique the students’ curiosity by asking them to predict ‘What they think Harold Godwinson should have done when faced with the invasions of Harald Hadraada and William the Conqueror?’
In Drama, Natasha Newington (NQT) explained the task to the students and then asked individual students to explain the task back to the class. This was a simple, but effective way of ensuring that the students knew what they were going to accomplish.
Michael Kyle (NQT) was using a different approach to explanation in his Year 8 Science lesson. This was a top set and Michael was challenging the students thinking, in relation to chemical bonding. Michael’s explanation was clear, as he ‘chunked’ the material into the key sections and only delivered one aspect at a time to the students. This avoided their working memory being overloaded and allowed them to see the links between different concepts. In addition, he set very high expectations of himself and his students’ explanations in terms of subject specific vocabulary. In addition, Michael was using a ‘dual coding’ approach to explanation, by incorporating images/diagrams to sit alongside his verbal explanation.
Tim Brinded in history made sure not to finish his explanations too early. Teaching Year 7 he made sure he left nothing to chance in terms of student understanding. His explanation was extremely clear and precise, showing an understanding of having thought about the bits the students would find confusing and ensuring they were decoded.
Teaching a low ability group last period on a Friday NQT Annie Hewett successfully walked the challenge tightrope. The questions students were completing were right in the struggle zone. No student was disengaged but equally the struggle was obvious as students were being challenged to complete ever harder questions, rather than repeating skills over and over.
Kate Haslett (NQT) showed high expectations of her new Year 10 class when tackling Anglo-Saxon England. The students were clearly stretched in operating in the unfamiliar world of 1000 years past, but the material was presented with the complexity it demanded with no unnecessary gimmicks or dumbing down in sight.
What was noticeable with all of the new staff, was that there lessons were clam and purposeful when we walked into their rooms. It was clear that each member of staff had set clear expectations for the students and were expecting their students to meet these standards. This was reflected in a number of ways:
- addressing uniform issues
- insistence of well-presented work; pencils for diagrams, pen for writing
- calm but effective use of voice and language
- use of non-verbal commands to address issues of low-level disruption
In addition there was a clear focus on developing students’ vocabulary, both their Tier 3 (subject specific) and Tier 2 vocabulary, which may be words that the students are familiar with but in a different context.
It has been a really positive start from our ‘new’ staff, which bodes well for a successful year ahead.