Every single person I met was so kind and generous. It's fair to say - and clear to see - that I was utterly petrified, but every member of the team was so supportive and I was so grateful for their help. I always think that any adventure that makes your heart race is a good one, so this ticked all the boxes. Plus I met some truly inspirational people.
You've never seen such a well oiled machine! Travel arrangements, cameras whizzing, backstage crew, people in the gallery, assistants, make-up people...there was a specific person for every single item on the 'to-do' list. It was astounding. Check out the LIVE LESSON HERE, and catch up on the DISCUSSION PANEL with Ros, Susie and myself HERE.
Thank you so much to BBC Teach for inviting me to take part in this. I was absolutely honoured. I learnt so much from the experience and I'm so thankful for the patience you took with me. This is easily the scariest thing I've ever done, and I'm so grateful.
It feels like only yesterday I was writing to you about this year's classroom. Blink, and the first term is over! It's been a term of all kinds of progress, both for myself and the children! Our school has recently moved to using the Cornerstones products: a cross curricular, thematic approach built around exciting topics. They give lesson suggestions, supplementary texts that could be included, all sorts! It's safe to say that our team have really enjoyed engaging with our first topic in Year 6 - Darwin's Delights! We've applied so many of our skills to different contexts and we are so pleased with the children's start to the year!
DT, Art, great links with our Science topic, Geography and a few History skills too. I wanted to share their work so far this year. It is my intention to share their learning each term. Almost like an online moderation exercise. All feedback is welcome!
We've tracked Darwin's journey, written in role from the HMS Beagle, explored the Galapagos, sketched the tortoises... Alongside the topic, we read Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis. The text inspired much of our writing. I'll share our English and Maths books in a couple of weeks too if you like?
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.
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.
While I'll never recover the costs of creating the app, I loved every step of the project, and I fully intend on doing it all again soon; it's an expensive hobby, but I really enjoy the process. I'm so grateful for everyone's support - the feedback has been so kind and generous. I can't believe, after making a little sketch in my notebook, that I now have something selling globally; this has been such an adventure. Thank you for everything. Mr N. x
The countdown to the #LearningFirst Conference is down to single figures, and I might be the most frightened I've ever been. Saying that, I'm so grateful to everyone at @BeyondLevels, and Canterbury Christ Church, for offering me the opportunity to push myself outside of my comfort zone - I'm excited to learn from this experience.
As part of a packed programme, I've been asked to present a workshop, detailing different ideas regarding living in a world without levels, which, to me, is the best scenario; take back control of assessment, and put learning first. Amongst an itinerary of PhDs, Masters Graduates and big names, I'm hoping to be the reassuring voice of you - the teacher. I'm petrified, but looking forward to meeting you.
Naturally, my learners are far braver than I am, so I've roped them in to help me. Here's a preview of what you can expect...
See you at the weekend!
This process relies on them having paid attention at each previous stage in order for them to apply their learning of each skill at the end; the middle section is undoubtedly the most important, where we see the effect this skill has on a piece of writing. Visually, the learning process is extremely clear and the children are able to articulate the progress they have made. Each lesson starts with revision of the skills already covered, ready to add a new one to the list.
It does sound extremely long winded, with an easy response being, “How do you have time? There’s so much to cover!” But my equally easy reply would be that it’s important to invest time. As long as you have a rough plan about where you’ll teach each skill, and in what context, you’re safe in knowing you’ll get the coverage you need, while gently adding new learning to the ever-increasing list of features young writers are expected to exhibit.
I have found this method to be extremely valuable because it gives the learners more stable ground to move forward; investing time into teaching, and designing specific, purposeful practice opportunities, saves time banging on about the same missing features. The challenge as the teacher is to ensure the skills you have taught previously continue to be used, despite changing the focus to something new. For example, while I taught you about time connectives through writing instructions, there’s no reason you can’t continue to use them in your recount, when the new skill I’m teaching you is how to use conjunctions. Equally, I could teach you about using adjectives in your narrative to describe the setting, but I will still expect to see them in your non-chronological report about a creature, when I’m focussing the learning on the purpose of paragraphs.
Constant revision and visual clues help the children embed the learning; this is why I refer to all the skills as the ‘tools’ of writing. However, that’s nothing without you! Use personality, make jokes, anecdotes and actions for them to pin their knowledge to. For example, I always talk about using sights, sounds and feelings in writing; I point to my eye, ear and heart every time I say them. I know that when I say ‘feelings’, I can ask my children ‘Just emotions?’ and they’ll all point to their arm and reply ‘No, physical feelings too!’ I’m amazed they’ve retained so much, but I guess that's through spending time learning something, and repeating the quality we're looking for, rather than expecting sufficient competency after the first model.
Dear Student, I’m so sorry my explanation the other day was so poor, I hope this is a little better. I know what I mean! :)
Dear Colleagues, I'd like to know what you think; have I overthought something so simple, or do you do something similar?
A short while ago, I was trying to explain how I plan English to a student; I found it extremely difficult. This concerned me because I felt as though my poor attempts at explaining were reflective of my approach, rendering my methods useless, yet I was also extremely aware that no idea is original, and that there must be others who plan in the same way I do (just they can articulate it in a clearer voice).
So my post today comes with two aims:
I’m a big believer in teaching a concept before expecting the children to apply it. Many will do both at the same time; model a series of skills while applying them. Personally, I’ve found it difficult to do this. I prefer to break down a process and teach the steps, then model how to use the steps to create success. In my class, this often means that Success Criteria can be the same for a few days in a row, as we gain confidence and learn about each piece of the criteria. Over time, I have found my children more able to retain their learning through this method, as I try to make the learning more explicit before attempting the applying.
To illustrate, I’m going to give a commentary of my decision making process, alongside a fictitious sequence to demonstrate what I mean.
To be continued...
I'm surprised I'm writing this, but I want to discuss homework. What once was the bane of my teaching life, has become a staple part of my week, and I'm almost starting to enjoy it.
I completely understand the debate...
However, with my recent thoughts regarding the children's future (whether that be based on their behaviour, career choice, support from home, or general attitude), once again I'm beginning to consider the wider lessons of homework. It's more than an awkward hour on a Sunday, and I think my change of heart has been triggered by how I've conducted myself composing the tasks in the first place.
Today's blog is a quick timeline of my exampled approaches so far, with some pros and cons for balance.
With a change of school, where things are organised differently, my approach to homework is different again (which I'll share another time). But it's not only the system that has changed, it's also my own thoughts.
Completing home work used to irritate me as a child, and setting it was very similar. It was always an afterthought on a Friday. It took strength not to pull up the first worksheet on Google because, when done properly, it really does have a place and, as a teacher, you can do a lot of good with a well-written piece of homework. My constant thinking recently, is that our children are our investment for the future, and they need to be equipped with a myriad of talents. Now, I find myself putting the time in because I want to; I want them to go home and show off what they can do - I want them to keep their brain buzzing with skills, ready to apply at any given moment.
It doesn't need to detract from playing outside and going to the park, it can be done as well as. So, my top 3 pieces of advice: