The fifth and final part of my Learning First workshop is here! You can catch up on all the previous posts using the links below:
I've never understood systems that connote the idea, "We've got Assessment Week in 3 weeks, so we need to be ready." Because surely you end up cramming, skimming and misplacing so much of what actually needs to be done? Try, "It's been a suitable amount of time since we learnt that thing, now would be a good time to assess it."
Additionally, the idea of 'Assessment Week' always amuses me. Be honest, and call it Test Week, because that's what it really is. You're constantly assessing daily anyway, otherwise you'd save all your marking for 'Assessment Week' too!
Managing assessment, is about taking charge of learning. Take charge of learning, and assessment will naturally fit in.
The final factor in my workshop, about putting learning ahead of assessment, was all about how to use your biggest resource; your classroom.
Catch the video below to see what my learners said...
Certainly when I was at school, I had burning questions for my teachers. So, for this reason, I gave my students the chance to do the same. They were surprisingly brave in their demands; you can catch up on Part One HERE, and Part Two HERE.
1. Set the standard.
While this will extend outside of the first week, remember that you never get this first week back. It's important that you rehearse routines, and I mean that in the most literal sense. Get up, show them where you want them to go, and repeat. The likelihood is that they'll be performing many of these routines on a daily basis, and you don't want to keep explaining it.
2. Find the standard.
Yes, you'll have been given some kind of data towards the end of last year about the class being sent your way. But it's important to find out what your starting point is for the year. I've learnt to never assume, and I've discovered the importance of creating common ground, even when it comes to the basics. I think there's great power in being able to refer to 'the lesson you taught them that thing', even if it's supposed to have been done before.
3. Be flexible.
On one hand, there's a safety in over-planning the first few days, it means that there's always something to do. But sticking too rigidly to what you assumed was possible, means you end up with 4 incomplete projects, rather than 2 or 3 suitably crafted products. Be prepared to change what you had envisaged - and don't forget to take time to talk with your students.
4. Be equal.
Not only is this a great time to set standards and routines with your class, it's also a good time to do it with yourself. Decide, when possible, what you'll get done and when. Overtime, you'll learn to prioritise, and it all takes experimentation. Consider at what points in the week you need certain books, and match that with when you're going to mark them. Additionally, think about the order in which you plan your lessons; preparation takes time, and there are only so many hours in the day.
5. Don't hide.
It was a few days into my NQT year, during a lunchtime, when I vividly remember eating at one of the children's desks. Alone. Likely feeling overwhelmed, or too scared of the staffroom. A couple of teachers came looking for me, and told me to stop being so ridiculous. Of course, it's different if I had been using that time productively - but I wasn't. Your colleagues are important, the only ones that really know what your day is like. Take time to talk - doesn't have to be lunchtime - and get to know one another. It's a family.
My research dissertation was around the subject of teacher control; the title was something along the lines of, "To what extent does teacher confidence affect pupil achievement and self-esteem?" - the idea being, if a teacher isn't brave enough to let go, and is constantly providing a rigid example for children to copy, will they ever be able to match up to the standard in a way they could replicate on their own? Or will it be a constantly negative comparison to the version you created, leaving them ill-equipped?
Naturally, the conclusion was as fluffy as, "a mix of strategies is best" - this is the conclusion for everything in education. Often a rigid example (the support) is required near the beginning of learning something, and then you can loosen the strings as their experience broadens. Like learning to ride a bike.
With this in mind, the fourth part of my #LearningFirst workshop was about teaching the children the importance of Responsibility and Choice.
Strategies for improving teaching and learning:
1. Honest Modelling.
Your input should be you exampling what YOU would do, however, I think it's important that you let them know OTHERS may do it differently. Explain that if they're finding it tricky, to stick with the method that you have shown, but if they have a way of doing something themselves, that they can confidently explain, then that's alright! (Use their explanation to clarify any misconceptions too).
2. Provide options.
Imagine how far you would get through life without needing to make a decision. Would you ever achieve anything of any real value if you were constantly told what to do? My Maths is self-differentiated, and I veer away from guided groups in writing. Teach children the importance of making choices, and create a sense of pride in being an independent learner. You will also be able to promote more self and peer assessment through this route as they navigate their own decision making.
3. Foster Creativity.
One of the things that makes marking more bearable is that I have 30-ish pieces of work that all different! Disseminate the information they need and watch what they do with it. My class and I have an agreement, whatever they present to me at the end of the lesson needs to be informative and aesthetically pleasing. Try it, you'll be amazed at what they produce. You'll also be maximising the occasions that they find themselves solving problems.
4. Use responsibility as an assessment tool.
Often, the argument against providing less support is that they 'can't be bothered if you don't help them'. If this is the case, your classroom ethos is wrong, not the fact you haven't given them a structure. My children know that taking the easy way out is not going to get them anywhere - a fact they can apply to life. Granted, they're also aware it's going to be tough at times, but then I echo the thought above - teach them what pride feels like.
Go for a walk around your school and see what other people are doing! If you're new to the school, use it as a chance to gather an idea of what's expected. (If it appears to be one of those ridiculous schools that dictate what colour to back the boards, don't plan on sticking around - if your school improvement plan genuinely believes that having specific shades for your working walls is going to be the kick-starter for drastic progress, you need your head checked). If you're staying on at the same school, it's still a great way to be inspired by colleagues. Tell them too, people like to hear nice things!
2. Go with your gut.
If there is something you've seen online, or an idea you've heard about, now is the time to try it! The worst that could happen is you change it, and that's not a problem. You know how you want to run your classroom, and have likely dreamt up a system or managerial strategy to reach that vision. Give it a go; you never know until you try! If it doesn't work, you know not to do it again.
3. Play teacher.
You've positioned the tables and chairs where you want them, and decided where different resources are going to be kept. Now have a rehearsal. Pull out all the chairs from under the desks (as if they have been filled with little people) - can you still get around the room? Sit in some of the seats - what can you see? What is that child's experience in your classroom going to be like? Yes, the pencil pot does look Instagrammable, but is it reachable?
4. Zone it off.
It needs to be a comfortable working environment for everyone in your care, both children and adults! It's important that you have a clear idea of what is accessible, and by who. Where are the adults going to keep their valuables? Do the children have space for their things? Be practical - your quaint 'Stationery Station' plucked straight out of Pinterest is lovely, but is the physical act of getting every child to leave their seat when they 'want the orange' to most suitable way to organise it?
5. Be flexible.
The only true test of your classroom will be on that very first day, where you'll find you have two options; stick with it or change it. Be prepared to adapt what you've got, because while most strategies are easily implemented by training your children, sometimes the time vs. impact simply isn't worth it. Either way, remember that your classroom is a place to take pride in. For many of us, we spend more conscious hours in it than our own homes, so it needs to be a place that both you and your children will feel encouraged by.
As has become tradition, I'll blog mine once it's ready. You can catch up on the previous years' here and here.
As the end of the academic year is upon us, just like the children, it's time for my End of Year Report. I wonder if I've made any progress since last year's? Having read the comments in preparation for posting, there certainly seem to be some, completely falsified, running themes. Rascals.
I found with many purchasable systems, they relied on a very basic, unfounded belief that all children make equal gains at timetabled stop-points within the year. As current teachers, we know that simply isn't true, yet in the business of proving progress, you'd be required the tick the box regardless, in order to make the algorithm give the result you needed on the analysis. I wanted a system that better reflected how children make progress in writing, while also giving leaders what they needed.
My systems works on the simple idea that you can reward children for the smaller steps in progress that they make. By awarding points 0 through 10, you can always credit the children for their inevitable progress, and the overall judgement is based on what percentage of the skills (at whatever level of capability) they are completing successfully.
Don't ask, "But how do you know whether to award them a 4 or a 5?" Use the same part of your brain that decided whether they were at or above, or a 3b or 3a. It takes a few turns, but it always has done.
What does that mean?
Believing in 'process over performance' means that you're going to put the needs of the learners as a higher priority. Allow me to illustrate; when I first came in to teaching, I would sit for hours with all the learning objectives I needed to teach, and the number of weeks I had to teach them. Then, with the 'Week Commencing' date, I would map in any key dates or observations and build the objectives around them. We'd find ourselves tailoring lessons for the sake of our own performance, rather than creating a sensible order of learning for the children - a process.
It's madness to think that we would sacrifice the next logical step in the learning process, the very key to making progress, for the sake of how this, as a lesson, might appear. We would try and cram the steps we know to be necessary, into what little time available, so that we could appear to be at the point required for the observer - forgetting that by skimming all the previous steps in the process, learners were left unstable for the lesson being observed!
In this business, there is no time to waste to appease the assumed beliefs of others. Take your class, look at what they need, and teach it to them in a way they understand; promote a sensible learning process, above the tricky mind-games of proving your own performance. It takes bravery, but the progress will speak for itself.
Follow these links for examples of how Process Over Performance will benefit:
...Foundation Subjects - Coming Soon!
In thinking this through today, my brain has raced with a list of Process Over Performance strategies which I'll share another time - once I've translated them from a no-doubt garbled mess.
Welcome to Part Two of AskMrN! Gone are the days where teachers are believed to sleep in the cupboards - our kids had some fresher burning questions. If you missed Part One, catch up here!
Teaching and Learning Blog
This is MrN's space to communicate with the teaching profession.