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.
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.
January's #LearningFirst conference is but a distant glimmer in the past, although new dates have recently been added! Watch this space. Today's entry reveals the second part of my workshop. If you missed the first, you can catch up here.
Under a levels culture, the process of assessment often felt like it was forced upon you; everything geared up to an 'Assessment Week' where a set of numbers would be generated, pigeon-holing both you and your children. It connoted judgement, fear and malpractice. However, by putting learning first (within the new curriculum), of which assessment is very much a necessary part, you can genuinely do a better job.
Strangely, I considered asking the children what they already knew, before teaching them anything! By this, I don't mean a fluffy 'KWL' grid (or whatever they're called). I decided I would sit therm with a set of questions that I would have originally planned a series of lessons on, to see what would need more attention. I call it an 'Entry Quiz', and the findings are invaluable to me as a teacher:
Finally, to the lovely person who requested them after the workshop, I have compiled a collection of my Entry Quizzes, and you can download them below. I hope you find them as useful as I do!
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.
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!
Those who know me, professionally and personally, will be aware I've had to take 2 weeks 'off'; a little hospital trip to destroy a worrying lump. I did everything to avoid the procedure being in school time, but the recovery time has been longer than my optimism had predicted, despite trying to schedule it all during the Winter break.
I have felt like a total vegetable; mind-numbing tv, no physical movement, and the worst bit? I've missed work. My colleagues, my kids and the supportive families that leave them in our care each day. In case you weren't aware, I'm a bit of a geek. I love my job, and with all the current articles regarding the 'teacher recruitment crisis', I want to tell you some of the best things about this warming profession.
Education needs you!
A career in Education exercises your imagination!
One of the aspects I like most is the opportunity to create. Whether it's designing a unit of work, planning a sequence of lessons, or thinking of a way to communicate something in a memorable way, you can really think out of the box and experiment with finding the best way forward. With all learners benefitting from different methods, it's your job to help as many as you can. Find or design the resource, provide the experience; whatever works!
A career in Education challenges you!
Personally, I could never head to work, stay at the same desk, and leave hours later. I also couldn't wander around the same shop all day. Teaching is a never-ending puzzle; a constant problem to solve! If the last strategy didn't work, find a new one! Twin that with the Tetris-like juggling of a packed timetable and it's almost like an arcade game! If you like to be intellectually stimulated, teaching is for you.
A career in Education is rewarding!
It's the fluffiest cliché, but the most true. There's nothing like the feeling of seeing a moment where a student begins to understand something. It's in the eyes; a change in thinking as they finally make a break through, and with the inevitable, associated struggles that come alongside the two listed above, the sense of pride as their teacher is tremendous. It's a profession full of cognitive and emotional embrace.
A career in Education is varied!
While the day-to-day timings are broadly the same, the content of each working day is totally different and never dull. Adding to that, you meet a range of people, both in and out of the classroom from a wide variety of backgrounds, with all manner of colourful histories. Yes, some of these histories can cause difficulties, but a bit of empathy goes a long way. If you're lucky, you'll get a chance to get to know these people and the journey they have taken to your meeting.
A career in Education will make you laugh!
They say never work with animals or children. Depending on how brave you were planning that lesson, you might find yourself doing both! Young people, often accidentally, say the funniest things; they make the best dinner-time stories with their strange wonderments and most logical explanations for the most complicated phenomena. Leave your troubles at the door and prepare for a giggle. Humour is an underrated tool in the classroom; it makes everyone feel welcome and has all participants eager to return, making the whole learning process a lot more enjoyable.
Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.
At times it will be emotional; some of your learners have come to you from a place you couldn't even imagine. Yet, they're relying on you to help them. At times it will be stressful; there are often deadlines set by an invisible boss. Yet, what job doesn't involve quality assurance from a foreign body creeping from their ivory tower? At times it won't feel worth it; that lesson didn't go as well as you hoped. Yet, that's life isn't it? Tomorrow will be different!
Come in. I'm about to return, and I think you should come with me.
Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognising your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them.
I take my classroom almost too seriously. It needs to be practical, attractive and inspiring but also easily maintained. Every summer, for a couple of weeks, I rope in as many helpers as I can get to help sort my creative chaos; a series of bright ideas, with the best intentions, all aimed at promoting independent learning and community spirit.
This is the result of Summer2015's efforts:
Our Learning Walls
Much to the frustration of a previous colleague, I used to back ALL my boards in white. However, I soon realised that posters, models/images and reminders, often on white themselves, would get lost in the background. With that in mind, I chose black backing with borders the same colour as the subjects' respective exercise book.
Why the little whiteboards?
I have a grand plan to write up my week's objectives, so the children can see where our learning is heading; the end product of the hard work we will be putting in. Whether that's solving a problem using the methods we learnt, or writing something including the skills we rehearsed, I'm hoping my learners will be able to move their name tag along the lessons to show they are ready to move on. It'll be a good way for me to focus my feedback and organise extra support and revision where needed.
My English wall features a "Spelling Spy". I was inspired by my class last year, who used to enjoy finding words that could have belonged in their spelling list that week. The number of times quiet reading would be disturbed by, "Mr N! I've found another word with 'tion'!". I decided to capitalise on that this year, and provide a space for the words to be collected.
With the changes in the English Curriculum, and the apparent disappearance of 'Writing Genres', teaching writing got a little blurred; too many people with too many ideas of what 'good writing' is. In my opinion, the genres were a great way of showing off various types of language in different contexts. Writing instructions, for example, to best show off time conjunctions, or descriptive writing to best see the impact of adjectives and use of the senses. I can only assume we became too reliant on the genres and writing became very predictable. I will use this Tool Box idea to keep a reminder of all the different strategies we learn, so we can use them at any time; aiming to remedy the previous problem regarding genres, that we only use brackets in a newspaper to reveal a spectator's age!
My new school teach subjects fairly discretely. I've not worked in this way for a long time so I am looking forward to experiencing it again. Therefore, rather than a 'topic/theme' display, I have chosen to give an area for each subject. Whereas the Vocabulary board is dedicated to important language, posters and reminders, this board is solely for children's work and successes. Photos of PE, annotated maps or creative timelines, reports and fact-files; this board will become a scrapbook of each term's learning completed by the students.
And there you have it! My 2015/16 classroom! I'd love to hear what you think, any suggestions for additions and ideas for next year! Our classrooms are where we spend most of our teaching lives, so take pride in them and make them yours; the children will appreciate your efforts!