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.
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.
Was there ever a question you wanted to ask your teacher? Did they really live in the cupboard? Where did the class hamster go? Here are some I've been asked recently...
Believe in Life After Levels!
Despite the new assessment regime being in action for a couple of years now (and the first round of 'the new SATs') many still struggle with the disappearance of beloved levels. In a strange way, they gave people a sense of safety. However, in order to put learning first, a life beyond levels needs to be embraced and taken full advantage of. Here's a rundown of my actions in a world where levels existed (some of this was the result of of me being an inexperienced teacher, but I strongly believe you will likely relate):
Simple. In a climate where we would be judged on an "average points score", if we pushed the uppers as far as they could go (moving further to the right on a grid with a similar design to below), their accelerated progress would make up for the lack of appropriate teaching the ones in the red still weren't making.
Genius! Although upon reflection, also an embarrassment. For those struggling to understand Life Without Levels, how about we swap images like above, for ones like this (for clarity, I haven't designed this because I think diagrams are a necessity. I'm hoping it could illustrate my ideals):
Within your year group, you focus on your designated programme of study.
You teach your programme of study to such a high standard that there is little way your learners can get it wrong.
As you teach, you spot those who find it difficult and you focus on them, while you supply those excelling within your standards with a variety of problem solving activities in which to apply the learning. Change the question, flip the approach, apply a real-life context. Constant revision.
Under no circumstances do you move them on to the next set of criteria, as this risks losing understanding for the sake of pace, leaving them insecure for the next teacher. It also means you're taking yourself away from the ones who need you the most.
Don't refer to it as 'holding them back' - grow up.
Assessment - you're looking for evidence to tell you, "To what degree are my learners able to..." and then you use this information to plan ahead, to delve deeper into the concept - which will bring me nicely onto the second point next time.
I imagined that I would eventually reply, having so proudly told people I'd been invited, but be told it was too late. It was the perfect get-out clause to all the people I'd told about it, concealing my cowardly fear. However, the team at @BeyondLevels had other ideas, and I am so grateful they did! That very same day, I received another email, signalling that someone was still considering me. It was a sign. Firstly, of my apparent need to grow and pair and give it a go, and secondly that I might have something of value to contribute.
I arrived to hear someone call my name - it was Dave, my minder for the day.
"I've been following your Twitter and reading your blog for ages. You've got some great stuff coming out!" I felt immediately calmer, everyone was so welcoming!
I walked into a room (where the biscuits were kept) to see that people had actually signed up to see me, and the list was growing!?! I can't describe how strange that feeling was. (I hope it was worth seeing!?!)
I listened to Doctors, Senior Leaders, well-travelled researchers and authors. People whose papers I'd read, or videos I'd watched. There was a strong sense of community in the room; strength in ownership.
1pm. Workshop time. People walked in. I'm proud of myself for not passing out instantly. I'm still shocked they were there. With a limit on each workshop, we were at full capacity.
Unsurprisingly, the workshop went by in a blur, but like all good nights out, it begins to come back to you the morning after.
Thank you so much to everyone at #LearningFirst for their kind words of encouragement and support. I want to have another go, just so I can right my wrongs:
To everyone I met, sat with, ate chocolate with...
To all the names on my sign-up sheet...
To the likes of Kerry Jordan-Daus (for the best hugs), Mary Myatt (whose voice I could listen to for hours), Binks Neate-Evans (whose presentation on learning from the Early Years was one of my highlights), Ruchi Sabharwal (one of most encouraging speakers I've ever heard), Lucy Rimmington (telling it like it is), Julie Lilly (for whooping at my name during the role call) and Dame Alison Peacock (who was the best first person to be greeted by as I walked in)...
Learning has no limits. And, slowly, I'm discovering that neither do I!
Thank you! 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!
In a previous setting, I remember a big debate forming part of a staff meeting; how can we change the phrase 'Book Scrutiny' to something less demonic? For many, these two words send a shock of fear down the spine. However, I fail to think of many professions that don't encompass some form of Quality Assurance, and ours is no different. Moreover, it shouldn't be. It's just, as per usual, the strategies employed have often left a bad taste in people's mouths, resulting in negative connotations of such actions: scrutiny, observation, audit...sweating yet? Don't.
The silly thing is, unsurprisingly, whatever you call the Quality Assurance in any profession, its primary objective remains the same. Therefore, it's not the idea of being scrutinised that we don't like - it's the idea of 'failing' it. Furthermore, it's the proceeding steps that cause the discomfort; what happens next? That's the bit we need to get better at. It's common sense to check the quality of a product. Your car goes for an MOT, restaurants leave you a comment card, and I know you've heard of Trip Advisor. It's a necessity. Often misconducted.
My post today comes with a couple of aims:
Below, you will find 2 pieces of writing, each, from a small group of children in my English class. They will be presented as a series of paired sliding photos; one pair per child.
My writing process is very much based on Pie Corbett's methods. I first starting writing about him here. Check it out!
I teach writing using a three step process. I presented each step in 3 separate blogs that you can read by clicking below:
I was once asked how I plan English. After giving a terrible verbal answer, I wrote it down. Give that a read here and here.
All of my teaching relates to what I call the ToolBox. Whether displayed or otherwise, you can read more about that (with free resources) here.
Now I feel scared. I wonder if I'm actually brave enough to press POST.
Disclaimer. I'm more than aware we are very much 'working towards' age expectations. However, I am so proud of how far they have come in a single term, and I am really looking forward to building on our strong foundations. I am pleased to be developing a class of young writers, who are seeing themselves as such; writers. We will add further tools to our ToolBox in the coming terms. Let me know if you'd like updates!
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?