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Ofsted Prep: How 5 good habits can lead to excellent teaching and learning

I recently had an observation with my line manager. I used to dread observations, especially when being judged by an expert teacher. I think the thing that even the most experienced teachers fear is an Ofsted inspection. Having received positive feedback for my recent lesson observation, I looked back on what I did and realised that most of it was automated, I do these things every lesson without thinking.

I came to learn about these techniques through our head of CPD (@HFletcherWood) whose numerous techniques come from the books of Doug Lemov and also talks and inset by Dylan William (See Youtube for a taster). By automating these good habits, we can free ourselves (literally and mentally) to address student’s queries more effectively. Since the beginning of the year, I have managed to automate 5 techniques which have had a huge impact on my teaching:

1) Start the class with a “Do Now”

This should have a low threshold for entry and plenty of room for growth. My example was simply to state what you like/dislike about the following posters and to suggest improvements.


2) Positive framing (Catching them when they’re good)

By using positive framing; only announcing names of people who were doing the right thing, it encourages those who are slow to start. “I can see James has started jotting down some ideas…I can see Megan has put one point for improvement”. Within 30 seconds, everyone is settled, they all have opinions and are scribbling away. This is the most challenging class in the school. Those who looked like they had finished were asked to suggest improvements to the posters or think of general rules to make the posters better.

Compare that to negative framing where you call out people’s names for being slow to start, “Ryan, you’ve been in here 5 minutes and you still haven’t got out a pen…Janet, why are you walking around?”. This type of framing adds a negative vibe to the lesson and may also lead to confrontation.

3) No hands up and no opt out

Asking only students who put their hands up is probably one of the worst habits you can get into according to Dylan William. The shyer students never get to contribute, those who are feeling a bit lazy will simply opt out and those with their hands up will get frustrated when you don’t pick them. Using nametags or lollipop sticks on the other hand keeps the class on their toes.

Source: goddividedbyzero.blogspot.com 

In combination with Doug Lemov’s “No opt out”, it ensures that all students will contribute when asked to give an answer. If a student answers “I don’t know”, you can respond with “I know you don’t know, I just want to know what you think”. Every student has something in their head. If they’re still hesitant, simply reinforcing that there is no right or wrong answer will build their confidence and even the shyest students will usually contribute an answer.

Extra tip: There are times when the question is so difficult that there is a good 30-40% of students who do not know the answer and do not even know where to start to think. In these situations, it is a good idea to do a “Think-Pair-Share”. A think pair share with a written outcome means you can quickly see if the majority now have an answer to give or if you need to go from pairs to fours to widen the pool further.

4) Student routines

All the aforementioned are teacher routines. As a Computing teacher, you will appreciate that we have one big distraction in front of every student, their own screen. For some teachers, they dread laptops or a lesson in the Computer lab as it just leads to students going on Facebook. Social networks aren’t even blocked in our school, but a student has never gone on a social network in any of our classes as far as I can recall simply because the consequences are so severe. Some teachers also find it difficult to get students attention. I would recommend asking students to close their laptop screens to 45 degrees on a countdown of 3-2-1. Some people call this “pacman screens”, I’ve heard of teachers literally holding up a hand in the shape of a pacman which seems quite novel and efficient. I just call it “45″-efficiency in routines is important!

Source: itnews.com.au

By having routines for handing out folders, getting students’ attention, you make your life as a teacher much easier. Expectations are clear and students do not need to think about their actions, they just do it and in turn you’re making their lives easier. By having clear consequences for not following the routines, most students are quick to latch on.

5) Ending with an exit ticket

Ending with an Exit ticket is the quickest way to find out what students have learnt in your lesson. No student can leave the room before giving you their exit ticket. With these little slips (No smaller than a Post-It Note and no bigger than A5) you can quickly spot misconceptions and it also helps plan the start of your next lesson. It’s one of the most efficient forms of assessment. Some teachers sort these exit tickets into piles, one for those who will be rewarded with housepoints next lesson, one which is the average pile and the last pile is the one where students simply “did not get it”. The last group can also be pulled up for a quick lunchtime mastery/catchup session before your next lesson with the class. As mentioned earlier, these piles go directly to inform your planning. Very quickly you can plan for the top and the bottom.

Closing thoughts

When you get the dreaded Ofsted call, remember that there is no way that any teacher can change their teaching style for one lesson observation without seeming un-natural about it. The kids spot it, your observer spots it and you just end up running around the classroom sweating whilst trying to do a load of things you’ve never done before. Yes, I’ve been there loads of times, in fact probably for every single observation in my first 6 years of teaching! It took a school culture which does not believe in “performing for observations” or “pulling out an outstanding lesson with lots of gimmickery” which really changed my practice. The most important lesson I’ve learnt this year (mainly from my amazing head of CPD), is that in order to be excellent, you have to practice (and practise) excellence everyday. As your good habits become automated, you end up freeing up some of your mental capacity and therefore you are able to do even more for your students.

Using pupil feedback to improve teaching

At the end of every lesson, I try to evaluate my teaching. Sometimes I manage to do this, othertimes, there’s simply not enough time. I’ve even thought about giving myself DIRT on my timetable so that it’s not just the students who are doing explicit improvement and reflection. Towards the end of a major unit however, it’s difficult to evaluate how effective your teaching has been. Of course, I could look at test results, but sometimes the test doesn’t catch everything. It may tell you that your teaching of x, y and z was ineffective but it won’t tell you why. This is where pupil feedback can help.

Laura Mcinerney once asked the daring question, “Should teachers publish the test scores of their classes” . I wondered what would happen if I published the pupil feedback of all my classes. It has certainly forced me to reflect more honestly and openly about my own practice.

You can find the original pupil survey here: http://goo.gl/W2mRPk . I have been selective with the publishing of my results, generally ignoring repeats and responses where students replies were too general and not actionable e.g. “Mr Lau was great”.

What could Mr Lau have done differently / better:

    - let us figure out what has gone wrong with our code.
    - Maybe give us more time to actually try ourselves rather than watching the board quite often. I also think it would be useful to sometimes have a quick break from python and try something else like scratch for one lesson
    - Explain coding simpler and talk a bit less so we have time to get the work done better.
    - he could have showen a demo of what he wants us to do
    - Mr lau could have simplified the technical language.
    - come round to every one
    - Maybe explain in more detail.
    - Explane more clearly
    - put more computing lessons on the time table.

Analysis and Response: Students have raised the issue that I help them too readily. Whilst a growth mindset and persistence is abundant in the majority of our students, it appears that in my teaching, I could demonstrate these learning habits more by helping students less, offering more waiting time and responding with questions rather than answers. Several students also thought that explanations could be clearer; teaching computer programming for the first time, I think this is to be expected but I will try to observe more experienced Computing teachers. Key words and language was also raised as an issue, so I think a Vocab list for each unit would be helpful. On the positive side, many students replied with “nothing” on the improvements list with the last comment of putting “more computing lessons on the time table” brightening up my day.

What would you like Mr Lau to do more of:

    - Letting us work on our own, a bit more .
    - more of prasing people
    - Demonstrate code before sending us to do work.
    - more work on your own
    - come round to more people
    - explained things and use more visual things like pictures

Analysis and Response: Firstly, Praise praise praise, it’s an invaluable currency. Secondly, many students preferred working on their own. I think I have done paired programming for several reasons, firstly because the research suggests it can be the most effective way of coding:




The second reason is because our laptop trolley rarely has a full class set of working laptops. However, I will certainly pilot more independent working and solo tasks next term.

What would you like Mr Lau to do less of:

    - Speaking to the whole class about something a few people have got wrong.
    - work sheets
    - stop showing people what to do if they are stuck.
    - Keep on showing us the board
    - To do less talking when teaching and to pick people to come and try the code on the interactive smartboard.
    - canstant doing hardcore lessons may be sometimes we could fun lessons
    - I would like to get on with the work straight away on the and have a learning objective on the table
    - stopping the how class when only a few people need to know things
    - speaking less at the start and giving us more time to practical work time.
    - dont explan to fings at wons

Analysis and Response: Early on in my career, I had a lot of helpless handraising. This was partly to do with my teaching and partly due to the culture of the school. I decided to combat this by judging when it would be appropriate to stop the whole class. If a student asked a question that I thought the whole class could benefit from hearing the answer to, I would stop them. No teacher likes repeating themselves afterall. It appears that my students don’t like this strategy as I am stopping the majority in order to help a small minority. I therefore plan to get around this by helping Student A with their problem, then when Student B asks me for help on the same problem, I could direct them to Student A. If Student C asks the same question, the chain continues. Whilst there are clear literacy issues (perhaps distorted by the use of computers and their association with txtspk), the last student makes a point about working memory and helping students remember. This reminds me of Willingham’s work on helping students remember and learn.

Any other comments

    -stop 5 minutes early to put the computers away
    - computer science is fun
    - Thanks Mr Lau I am getting Better .
    print(“Thanks Mr Lau again”)
    I think i need a new account sorry :( i will try to remeber please dont give me a detention soryy

    - It was very useful to work in partners and also rate and and have your own work rated.
    - my mum is impressed
    - Computing is such a unique subject to learn in a secondary school and I am so happy to participate in it as it is intresting, inspiring and useful if you want to have a future career in game making or something like that.
    - I have really enjoyed computer science this term I have had fun playing and exploring around laptops. Making chat bots and having challenges I have learnt a lot about computers and how they work. I am looking forward to doing more work this term and learning different things.
    - I have really enjoyed codeing i really like it some times i do it at home with my dad because he enjoys it to just like me.
    - PLEASE show us how to do spreadsheets through the medium of dance like in your old school.

Analysis and Response:
Timing is an issue for me. I need to fit in an exit ticket, house points and packing away. That’s a good 10 minutes before the end of a lesson. To close on a bright note- clearly computing is having a positive impact on many of our students. The highlight for me is the student who wrote a print command in Python in her comment!

How useful was this process for improving my teaching in general? I think it provided a great deal of stimulus for reflection and improvement. Using Google forms, I also managed to sneak in an exit ticket, which I quickly evaluated using conditional formatting.

As a result, some students will be due housepoints, whereas others will need mastery classes.

After all this analysis, hopefully I can put some of these ideas into practice and feedback on the process.

The Critique Gallery
Critique Gallery - Student Guidance

This is my first blog post for the Pedagoo team, as I mentioned in my #Nurture1314 post I’d really like to get into blogging so I’m starting as I mean to go on.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to attend David Didau’s Whole School Literacy course – having just been appointed Literacy Co-ordinator it was a perfect place to start! Didau’s course gave me so many different ideas that I could try out in my lessons and also feed back to the staff at my school from a literacy perspective. What struck me most was that these ideas weren’t just for literacy, these were fantastic teaching and learning ideas that ALSO supported my students’ literacy. After the course I decided to work on several ideas that I was introduced to during the course, one of those was ‘The Critique Gallery’.

I’m sure most will agree that peer assessment is a regular feature in our lessons, it helps develop our students’ confidence in knowing what is right and what is wrong and determining what they need to do to improve; I think subconsciously it helps them to absorb the lesson objectives better too. Didau’s ideas confirmed my growing suspicions that peer assessment in my lessons was becoming a bit dry and unexciting; it’s highly likely that if I’m getting bored of doing something then my students will be too – I’m a technology teacher, I like to mix things up often! The Critique Gallery was a perfect ‘refresh’ to peer assessment and has had an excellent impact on the quality of student to student feedback.

How does it work?

The Critique Gallery is like a giant peer assessment. It is a longer exercise than a typical peer to peer assessment, students move around the classroom taking time to read through their peer’s work and provide constructive feedback (I usually devote about 15 minutes of the lesson to do it properly). Clear boundaries and expectations need to be set out by the teacher (more on that shortly…), especially when laying the foundations of this new activity, after all the feedback needs to be constructive so that our students can improve. Students use lesson objectives/success criteria (just like they would a normal peer assessment) to give feedback on other student’s work; they give this feedback a number of different times as they move around the room.

What’s so good about Critique Gallery?

Firstly it encourages ALL students to engage, they are up and out of their seats moving around the room; sometimes something as simple as moving around/a slight change of scenery can improve a student’s productivity or engagement. Students have the opportunity to see more than just their partner’s work, if like me you have seating plans then your students are sat next to the same faces day in day out…therefore seeing the SAME quality of work day in day out, for some this is great but for others not. The Critique Gallery allows students to see all levels and abilities and make judgments for themselves about the feedback they want to give. It helps quiet the inevitable “Miss, I don’t know what to write…” especially if done as a mini review during the lesson. This activity also frees you up to wander around the classroom to support students that you know will struggle with this activity, it allows you to carefully question them as to what is good about the work and what needs to be developed further, in turn improving the quality of feedback that they give to other students.

How do I make this happen?

I think it’s great when students have a record of the feedback that they have received all in one place instead of scrawled over their work, I’m OCD – I’m sure my students don’t care!! When doing a critique style activity direction needs to be given to students to ensure that the feedback they are giving is productive and useful i.e. NOT “write neater” or “finish it” (don’t get dispirited though, you’ll always end up with one, I know I do!). Full credit to David Didau here as I use his pointers for students when doing the critique, I go through these points with my students each time we do a critique activity just to remind them of my expectations and then we’re ready to get started.

My final thought on this…I was astounded to hear that 80% of feedback given to students is student to student feedback – as teachers we HAVE to ensure that we model excellent feedback so that our students are doing it right.

NationalModeration.co.uk – a new(ish) approach to assessment moderation

As requested by @fkelly , I’ve decided to throw a quick post together about www.nationalmoderation.co.uk – a service I created to allow Scottish teachers to share their own unit assessments for the new National Qualifications.

Essentially the creation of this website was spurred by one glaringly obvious reality – the unit assessments provided by the SQA are simply not up to scratch, and as a consequence everybody is creating their own material and hoping that it meets the standards. Ón the face of it, this may be no bad thing – if we create our own unit assessments then we can tailor them to our own courses and our own pupils, and surely that is good idea?

To give an example, I have consciously themed my entire National 5 English course around the concept of ‘Coping with Conflict’, selecting texts which can be woven together across the whole year (‘Spiritual Damage’, ‘War Photographer’, ‘The Man I Killed’ and ‘Bold Girls’) – now that I am no longer forced to use a few set NABs I have also created reading assessments which follow this theme, thus enhancing the pupils’ overall understanding of what we are studying this year (at least this is the idea).

Several months ago, however, I realised that if EVERYONE does the same thing then there will be hundreds – perhaps thousands – of unit assessments being created across the country and many of us will be replicating the work that colleagues are doing (or have already done). Frankly, we all work too hard as it is to be reinventing the wheel hundreds of times over, so a system for sharing material is essential.

Of course, Education Scotland and the SQA are providing something along these lines, but there are two reasons why I believe it would be helpful for a service which is independent of these bodies. Firstly, the websites of these organisations (especially Education Scotland) are – to be kind – not particularly user friendly, and I (like many others) don’t have the time or the willpower to fight my way through Glow to find material on a regular basis; secondly, I firmly believe that the only way for us to ever really become confident in the development and delivery of our own materials is for us to move beyond a dependence on official bodies to confirm that every little thing is up to scratch.

If – or, depending on your philosophical view of the amount of fluid in a glass, when – Curriculum for Excellence fulfills its potential it will be because of the incredible work of teachers, not Education Scotland, the SQA or the Education Secretary, and I hope that NationalModeration might play a small part in that development.

Basically, it works like this: teachers upload their unit assessments, other teachers moderate them by leaving comments, alterations are made as required and, eventually, gradually, standards become clearer and are met across the country.

At present the site only has English assessments but it would be great if other subjects could begin contributing materials as well (I’ll create however many subject specific pages are required in this instance). In order to sign up you must be teacher in a Scottish school (and verify this, usually by means of an official email address) – this means that the material can be kept secure, allowing us to continue to use it in our classes as our official unit assessments.

If you think that the site would be of any help to you as you continue to develop your approach to the new qualifications please do sign up – the more people are involved the more effective our approach will be.

Easy Openbadging

Last weekend, I took part in the Pedagoo event #tmlovelibraries. It was a fantastic day, and I learned loads. At the pub session afterwards, there was a sort of TeachMeet Unplugged event, similar in feel to the TeachMeet 365 events or, as Fearghal testified, to the very early TeachMeets themselves. Fearghal had asked us all to come with something we were prepared to share; as I have been doing a bit of work with OpenBadges and have been very impressed with them, I decided that this was what I was going to talk about.

Then I hit the problem. 2 minutes is not a very long time, particularly to talk about something you have been working on for months and have found out so much about. So, to keep things short, I decided to create an OpenBadge for all the participants of tmlovelibraries and then give it to them as a present. By claiming it, they could find out a bit about Openbadges themselves.

This idea seemed to work well in the keeping things short arena, as well as the engaging the audience area – the word ‘gift’ seemed to be the important one in achieving this! As Fearghal commented on the night, my talk also had the effect of taking his carefully honed structure and blasting it into a million pieces as people went scurrying to the internet to find their badge. The badge is shown below, together with its claim code for anyone who was there. To claim it, navigate to the badg.us site and insert the claim code ‘kapyua’ into the “Claim award from code” box. This will prompt you to either sign in to your Mozilla Backpack if you already have one, or sign up with an email address to create one before awarding you the tmlovelibraries – Participant badge, which you can then display on your blog, Facebook profile or Twitter feed.

In the impromptu break that followed my talk, I was talking to a few different people, and realised that there was a real appetite for finding out more about using OpenBadges. Quite a few people had looked at the concept themselves, before deciding that the project was too technical for them to use effectively. This, of course, is exactly the same decision I came to myself when I first started looking into digital badges. I had been impressed with the ease of creating badges for recognising various achievements on Edmodo, but had hoped for some way to display them in fronter, our school’s virtual learning environment. When I had approached the extremely helpful people at Edmodo asking if this was possible, they said that whilst they were happy for the badges to be displayed elsewhere, but it would need to be purely a case of copying them as an image and uploading them elsewhere.

I felt sure that there had to be a more efficient way of doing this, and went off doing a bit of digital badge research. It soon became clear that OpenBadges were exactly what I was looking for, but despite the fact that there were plentiful resources available for those with an ability to code, there was nothing I could find that was very user-friendly for a class teacher.

Until I chanced across the ForAllBadges site that is. Straight from the off, ForAllBadges allowed me to create an OpenBadge simply by uploading an image to the site and filling in the information fields to attach to it. Perfect for what I wanted. But ForAllBadges had far more to offer than I had been looking for. It gave me a whole badge-management system, allowing me to upload classes and add staff, create and issue badges and – most crucially given the age of my pupils – a way to display the badges earned without needing a Mozilla Backpack (currently, a Mozilla Backpack is only available to learners over the age of 13).

I soon had a pilot badge system up and running and a fronter page created with links to the pupil’s individual Trophy Rooms; here their badges could be seen through viewing their ForAllBadges badge journal. After an email exchange with the amazing people at ForAllBadges, the ability for the student to add a reflective comment to their badge journal was quickly added. This setup now allowed for a badge to be created, issued, displayed and reflected upon as well as having the advantage of being part of the OpenBadge system allowing a great degree of portability for the badges once the pupil reaches the age of 13 (or Mozilla update their terms & conditions to allow under 13s to have a Backpack with permission from their parent/carer – a change that is on the cards very soon I believe).

This was perfect for what I was looking to use it for in school, but perhaps a bit too complicated to use in ‘open play’. I had been thinking that OpenBadges could be a great way to document CPD activities such as TeachMeets or MOOCs for example, but how could an event organiser award a badge to someone whose details they didn’t know? Would they have to do all the data-inputting themselves? This sounded like a prohibitive amount of work.

Fortunately, a site that David Muir had pointed me towards had the answer. Badg.us allows a user to create badges very simply, and in much the same way as ForAllBadges. However, the badg.us site interfaces drectly with the Mozilla Backpack and Persona sign-in service, making it a far more user-friendly solution when you will be issuing badges to people from outwith your organisation or whose details you are unaware of in advance. It also lightens the administrative burden of issuing badges, as the onus is on the claimant to provide their details. The site allows you to set up reusable codes (like the one above) for large-scale issuing, or one-use codes when you are looking to target your badge claimants more precisely (I used this to create “Presenter” and “Organiser” badges for tmlovelibraries, printed up claim codes for these and gave them to Fearghal to distribute).

In my opinion, these tools make the whole process of creating and awarding badges far more accessible to the typical classroom practitioner; teachers who, much like myself and Fearghal, would previously have found the process too technical can use these services to gain the benefits of OpenBadges without having to become coding wizards. Other tools have been developed that can do a similar job – for instance, WPBadger and WPBadgeDisplay allow you to utilise WordPress blogs to issue and display badges whilst OpenBadges.me provides a very useful badge designer for either online use or as a WordPress plugin . Recently, the ForAllBadges site has joined together with its sister site ForAllRubrics, and you can set things up so that once a rubric has been com pleted, an OpenBadge can be awarded automatically. After some late-night Twitter conversations between myself and the founder of ForAllSystems, ForAllRubrics also has built-in links to the CfE Experiences & Outcomes. A very handy teacher toolkit!

So, now it begins to get exciting. The badges are no longer a concept. Now that a teacher – or a student? -  can create and award these badges, what might they do with them? I have a number of ideas that I’ll be trying in my school, and I know Fearghal had an inclination to use them as part of a programme he delivers at his school (this provoked a very interesting side discussion with David Gilmour about extrinsic/intrinsic motivation). I know that other organisations (including the Scout Association and – believe it or not – the SQA) have been looking at introducing them too.

What would you do with OpenBadges?

(this post can also be found on Iain’s blog (The H-Blog) at http://h-blog.me.uk/archives/435)

TMlovelibraries loves Edmodo

Edmodo discussion

The purpose of the edmodo chat was to introduce it to people and share how people are using it. Both groups discussed a lot and if I miss anything then anyone feel free to add. I have decided to divide my blog into a sort of edmodo guide for newbies and regular users.

So using edmodo in your school
As highlighted today all schools and authorities have different policies so check first and definitely speak to your ict coordinator for your school. In the terms and conditions all under 16s should have parental consent. Don’t panic some ways schools have done this are; by adding it to their existing ict form to allow pupils on the server, another way is to just do a specific letter using wording to the affect of if you are un happy then return the slip. There are templates on the Scottish teachers group and it has been discussed at length there. To join the Scottish teachers group you just need this code
3ajhwl. Next thing is play before the pupils are on it. Set up a dummy class and ask other to help you test it. I have set up a dummy class here and happy to help anyone who wants to try/test things. The code is bkfazs.

Introducing edmodo to your classes
Everyone who had used edmodo yesterday with classes had introduced it to one class to begin with to work out any teething problems. Top tips would be get the pupils to make their username easy to remember. Have the class code clearly displayed or printed. Have some good introductory tasks to appeal to the pupils.

Everyone agreed that it was key to use edmodo as a tool in your bag not the be all and end all. Edmodo can be used whenever it suits the needs of the teacher and learners.

Some of the negatives of using Edmodo (with suggested fixes that were suggested)

Uploading files on Edmodo is a nightmare, you can only upload one thing at a time. A suggested fix is to use Google Drive (used to be docs) to upload more than one thing at a time. Only point to add is that then means you have to set the file to share on Google and Edmodo.
Is there an increase in home works handed in? More statistics would need gathered but as one person brought up it greatly reduces photocopying costs for budgets. Instead of lost home works its lost passwords.

The final part of the discussions we had as a group witch putting on Pedagoo could be preaching to the converted but Edmodo can do a lot of things to enhance the learning experience but we really need you to share what you are doing with it and if it works or not. There are great possibilities to use it for linking classes and also teachers but we really need to share with everyone not only your subject area or school.

For those who came to the workshop thank you for the fantastic discussions and please post any parts of the discussion you think jumped out for you! My next plan will be looking at how ITunesU can be used with Edmodo to enhance the learning. There is always a new tool to add to your tool box.

Andrew Hay

Peer Review – Aiming for the Bull’s Eye

Sir Michael Wilshaw commented recently in the Telegraph that inspectors “don’t see enough extended reading and extended writing” in English lessons. This has prompted a good deal of debate in our department staffroom: it’s all very well saying that inspectors want to see extended writing, but how would this work in practice? How would it be possible to evidence impact and progress in a lesson focused on extended writing?

After much head scratching in my department, we decided that the answer lay in peer assessment and careful redrafting. Not only would this help to embed the culture of craftsmanship written about so eloquently by @huntingenglish, but it would also enable us to nurture our pupils’ intellectual resilience through structured peer scrutiny (see Zoe Elder’s inspirational Full on Learning for further details).

Anyway, the upshot of all my musing is that I thought I’d share the best tool that I have come across for self and peer review – The Evaluation Target Board. The Target Board was created by Thinkwell and I was introduced to it through the Connections for Learning programme at my school. However, I’ve added my own ‘twist’– the magic is in the plenary! This is how I have made use of it to help Y8 pupils improve their persuasive writing.

This sequence of activities is based on the TV programme Room 101. Celebrity guests are asked to make an argument for ‘things’ (in the loosest sense of that word) to be consigned for all eternity to Room 101 (see Orwell’s 1984 for literary context). If you are unfamiliar with the format of the show, here is a clip.

I begin by asking pupils what they consider the most essential elements of powerful persuasive writing. Pupils work in pairs to ‘brainstorm’ their ideas. They feedback and I collect their ideas on the board. Depending on the group and the ability level, we might end up with something like this: emotive language; rhetorical questions; facts & opinions, etc…

Next, I ask them to rank the following examples ‘what I wrote’. Apologies to cat lovers.

Example 1: I really don’t like cats. They are very upsetting. Basically, they act like they own the place. They’ve got horrible rough tongues and they are always licking their sticky bits. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve got really smelly poo. I think that they should go into Room 101.

Example 2: I can’t stand cats. We call them pets, but basically they couldn’t care less about us. They just parade around the house, acting like they own the place. What’s the point in having a pet that thinks it’s superior to you?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they spend half of the day sleeping and the other half licking their sticky bits with their horrible, rough tongues. What have they got to be superior about?

And just when you thought they couldn’t get any more disgusting, they leave a dead thing in your shoe as a ‘present.’

Not only that but they have the stinkiest poo in the whole world.

Go on – stick the moggy in Room 101. You know you want to.

Example 3: If I could have one wish – just one – it would be that every cat in the whole world would spontaneously combust at my command. Kitty apocalypse! And, boy, have those furry little blighters got it coming!

It’s not just the way that they parade around the house acting as if they own the place; it’s not the way they spend half the day snoring on some sun-lit cushion and the other half licking their sticky bits, while you’re trying to eat your dinner – it’s not even the way they wake you up in the morning by clawing your chest and trying to curl up on your face. No, it’s the fact that they think that they are better than you.

And just when you thought that they couldn’t be any more revolting they leave a surprise in your shoe. Some twitching, half dead/ half alive rodent or bird – its still warm guts squelching in your sock.

Trust me – I won’t rest until the last of the feline species is crammed, spitting and yowling into Room 101!

Following the rank order exercise, pupils share the features of the text which they have identified as most effective. Following feedback, I ask them if they want to change their list of criteria. It is at this point that I give out the target boards and ask the pupils to record their effective writing criteria (in no particular order) against the bullet points. The target board that I used on this ocassion had five bullet points and therefore required five criteria, but you can vary the number of bullet points for purposes of differentiation.

By this stage, the class have engaged in paired and grouped work and they should all have demonstrated progress . You can make this progress ‘visible’ by asking pupils to work on mini-white boards and to display their criteria before and after the ranking exercise.

The next phase involves the pupils working individually, planning and writing their Room 101 speech. If they are stuck, I suggest ‘Facebook’, ‘Karaoke’ and ‘Justin Bieber’ as deserving candidates.

It is at this point that the target boards come into their own. All of the pupils swap their work and use their target boards to peer review the work that they have been given. If criterion number 1 is ‘a strong opening’ and the piece they are marking has the strongest opening they can imagine, they write number 1 in the bull’s eye. If the opening is weak, number 1 is written in one of the outer concentric circles or off the board altogether. They then repeat this procedure with each of the criteria. A perfect piece of work would have all of the numbers in the bull’s eye.

First draft
First draft target board evaluation

Pupils then have to redraft at least the first three paragraphs of their peers’ work, using the criteria and trying to ‘improve’ the writing in accordance with the criteria, so that they can justify moving all of the numbers into the centre of the target. In the plenary, pupils read out before and after versions and explain how they improved it, using the criteria. I have found that there is immense power in asking the pupils to articulate how they have improved the work. It delivers quality metacognition.

Second Draft
Second Draft Evaluation Target

Finally, because pupils have worked in pairs/ groups and selected only a limited number of criteria, there will be variation in the criteria that pupils have used to assess and improve their peers’ work. I ‘blow up’ the work to A3 size and create a gallery in the classroom, displaying the ‘improved’ writing alongside the target board and criteria. Pupils wander around the room, reading the work and I ask them to stop at the piece of work which they feel is most effective. I take note of where most of the pupils have gathered and ask them to explain why they have chosen that piece of work. This opens up a space for a discussion about the most essential criteria for persuasive writing.

The target boards are incredibly versatile. You can suppy your own criteria or the pupils can generate them from exemplar matrerial (as above) or from A Level or GCSE mark schemes. I have used them to great effect across all key stages.

Have fun!


Writing with them & iPads as a tool for feedback – late to the party?

Do you ever get that horrid sinking feeling? That ‘late to the party’ feeling when it seems that everybody around you doing something that you’re not? Well, that’s pretty much how I felt about the good old iPad. Yes, I have an iPhone and yes, I was using it to take pictures of positive learner behaviours, projecting photos that I had taken on to the IWB, using the odd app etc. but with such a small screen and such terrible eyes…I really wasn’t doing it justice. We’ve all heard the expression ‘using tech for tech’s sake’ and I’m a firm believer in only using something if it enhances the learning experience for the pupils in the classroom so, when I recently gave in and got an iPad, I was understandably cautious. I had got it to use for work yes, but in spite of the mountain of amazing recommendations from others far more experienced than i (see @ICTEvangelist), I am still following the line of ‘cautious’ in my approach.

By introducing it into the classroom slowly however, I am finding that the simplest things are made far easier. Take revision with Year 11 for example. Having made it my mission to change their mindset when it came to drafting extended answers for the English writing exam (see my previous post Meat is Murder), we are getting through a good deal of past papers at the moment. In the spirit of channelling my inner year 11 pupil (scary at times!) and working to develop a Growth Mindset with the group; I have started to write with them, a fantastic tip from David Didau @LearningSpy , and it has developed both their learning and my relationship with the class in a very positive way.

In the vein of ‘exam papers are hard but they are worth giving your all to’ as opposed to ‘give up at the first 10 mark question’; I explained to the group that each time they were to write an exam answer, reading or writing paper, I was going to write with them. I too was going to ‘sit’ the exam. This was a novelty for them. Rather than me going round, peering over shoulders offering little or no input until the marking stage; I too was feeling the pressure of the silence, having to analyse the question, find the information and structure the answer. It’s completely different from writing model answers in the staffroom during your PPA’s let me tell you! It really was a great learning experience.

Rather than sitting at home or at my desk, creating model answers; for 30 minutes I was able to understand their experience and they loved it! With the occasional well placed utterance of ‘it’s a bit tricky that second one’ or ‘must remember to use the key words from the question here’ from me, it really enthused the pupils to know that we were ‘in it together’. Quite apart from that, the notion of me completing the exam with them removed the desire for those ‘can you just look at this and check it’s right?’ until the appropriate time, as I was doing the exam too and they ‘couldn’t’ disturb me. The subtle promotion of independence within this situation was something so simple yet so important. It is doing them a disservice to step in at every possible opportunity; after all, they won’t get that assistance in the exam. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t refusing assistance, we have been working on structuring responses for the better part of six months now, but in this situation, it can be too much of a temptation to ask teacher.

Having completed our allotted questions it was time to mark and feed back. During the initial attempt I used only the answers that I had written, photographing them with the iPad and projecting on to the whiteboard after which we marked them using the mark scheme, annotated key points and compared with pupils’ own work.

This technique of projecting your own work is beneficial for a number of reasons. On a human level, if you make mistakes (on purpose or not!) pupils are quick to correct them, suggesting improvements and learning from the errors – what not to do next time. We all make mistakes, that’s where the learning happens!

From a ‘time’ point of view; you are able to create model answers which can be used again with other groups, thus saving valuable planning time (we all need that!). From an expectations point of view, the answers, yours and theirs, can be used to raise pupil aspirations by explaining that only the best answers will be shown and analysed, therefor enthusing pupils to produce their very best work, ‘I’m going to get this just right so that mine will be shown’ or in contrast to remove the fear of feedback and move towards a focus on progress by using answers that aren’t quite there and building upon them as a group, visually, making improvements. I’m definitely a fan of the iPad, albeit a cautious one, yet its use to give instant visual feedback is a simple yet effective technique and I have found it to be great for exam preparation.

Although writing with your classes is not appropriate all of the time, I would really recommend doing it when you can as it promotes independence. If you are writing too it encourages pupils to independently work through any issues they might come across, using their own skills and knowledge to resolve them. You can always clarify misconceptions / misunderstandings at the feedback stage and most valuably, use these ‘moments’ to reflect upon and improve exam technique. It develops your understanding of the tasks you set – you see things that you may miss if you are ‘just’ planning it rather than ‘doing’ it. Finally, it develops your relationship with your class; they see that you are prepared to do the task rather than just dishing it out, struggle at times and then show them your work as well as theirs to critique. A useful technique for developing writing all round.

The Poetry Bracket: Head-to-Head Elimination with Past Paper Questions

So it’s that time of year – revision is upon us! The problem at hand is no longer how to teach new material; instead, we’re looking for ways to ensure that the spectrum of texts, techniques and skills covered since last June are securely understood and readily accessible for all of our pupils.

One question that seems to come up a lot with my Intermediate 2 English class is how sure I am that they will find suitable questions in the critical essay section of their exam (an entirely valid concern). On Tuesday this issue arose once again, and once again I told my class that the chances of them not finding an appropriate question for Norman MacCaig’s Visiting Hour are as close to nil as makes no difference (we have, of course, studied other poems as well). The real issue, I reminded them, isn’t whether or not they can find one suitable question, but rather whether they can recognise and select the best available question (as over the past six years the vast majority of poetry questions have been eminently suitable for this particular text).

An hour or so later, during a free period, I started to really think this through, and I realised that if I could find a way to show them the importance of choosing the right question, then I would surely also be able to assess and develop their detailed knowledge of the text and its techniques (a non-negotiable pre-requisite of effective decision making in this context). A few different ideas came and went before the following occurred to me:

The Poetry Bracket

‘The Poetry Bracket’ at the end of the lesson, with 2008 Question 8 the eventual winner


This, then, is The Poetry Bracket, an idea adapted from American competitive sports. Here’s how it works:

Each of the poetry questions from the last 6 years is represented by the appropriate code (for example, question 9 from the 2010 paper is 10-9 in the top right corner) and each year is grouped together. This means that when you begin only the spaces on the far left and far right are completed, with the rest being filled as you work your way through a series of competitions between the various questions. Once you have made your ‘Bracket’ on the board, and handed out copies of the Intermediate 2 poetry questions from the last six years, you’re ready to go.

The first step is to select the most appropriate question for each particular year, with the winner going on to the next round of the competition. There would be a number of ways to complete this stage but I decided to use a whole-class discussion followed by a vote.

Once the best question from each year has been selected, the top three on each side of The Bracket must compete – once again I led a class discussion for this section, although this time I pushed the pupils much more to really argue their case, often pitting two pupils who disagreed directly against one another. By this stage in the process I found that most pupils – even those who had been reluctant to express their opinion openly and vocally in the initial rounds – were getting involved and gaining in confidence. At the end of this stage you will are left with two remaining contenders, and at this point the whole process becomes even more entertaining.

In order to debate the contest between the final two questions the room was split in three, with those strongly in favour of one option on either side of the room and undecided pupils in the middle; then the gloves came off. The ‘team’ on either side had to argue for their chosen question as persuasively as possible, with my only role being to facilitate this discussion by bringing different pupils into the debate to support team-mates or challenge opponents. In the end, the victors succeeded not only because they argued well for their own side, but because they demonstrated that the answer that could be written for their question would also – if done well – incorporate the question of their opponents. What matters, they realised, is not choosing the easiest question to understand or the most obvious choice for the text, but rather finding the question that would allow them to write the most sophisticated response.

At the end of the process it was clear that the intentions of the lesson – to improve pupils’ ability to select an appropriate question for their text whilst also enhancing their knowledge and understanding of the texts – had been successfully achieved, as the quality of discussion around appropriate essay questions had markedly improved from between the first and last stages of The Bracket process. Furthermore, in the end, the pupils did select what I would consider to be the best available question from a selection of the 18 available. I’ll certainly be using this approach again to enhance my revision process for poetry, prose and drama.


(This post has also been published on my own blog: I’ve Been Thinking)

Animation – doesn’t get more interdisciplinary than that!

I’m a huge fan of interdisciplinary learning. Making links between subjects makes sense to me. One of the things I love most about being a primary school teacher is seeing the inter-connectedness of things – the way links are made between what we learn about and our experiences: when we’ve learned and explored a new word which suddenly appears in many places; when we’re studying a project and stories in the news relate to it; when we begin to understand that we’re really not so different from one another, no matter what our backgrounds are. These aren’t just coincidences, it’s how the world works, and I see my job as a teacher as helping children to try to make sense of the world and to understand and enjoy our place in it.

It’s well recognised that simply asking children if they’re understanding and making these links isn’t always the most effective way to assess – that’s why Building the Curriculum 5 asks us to consider how to capture what our pupils say, write, make or do. We have to provide and teach children how to use tools to be able to do this though, and vocabulary will always be part of this. Many of us will be familiar with the child who says “I just can” or “I just can’t”. Building vocabulary is a huge part of my job, not just in teaching children to talk about their transferable skills (very big in my education authority just now) but also in terms of vocabulary to describe and understand emotions, to empathise and consider situations from different points of view.

I’m increasingly finding that animation is an incredibly compelling way for children to express themselves – to show their understanding, knowledge, and skills in a way that is challenging at whatever level they’re at. Filming a story is just a different way of telling a story than verbally, writing or drawing. It can involve all of these though, and I’ve found is most effective if it does. Working in co-operative groups allows the children to draw on their individual strengths, and collectively benefit. I’ve found that using a collage technique and animating it means that there are plenty of roles to be shared, and there will always be one that suits every child. The picture below shows some of the characters and backgrounds from my class who are currently making films on the subject of the Clydebank blitz during World War Two. The children shared out roles and some busied themselves with drawing if they wished, or searched online for images to print. Others set up the camera and experimented with the software before they all got together and shared what they’d done.

So other than covering lots of bases, why animate a story? I’ve found that the children are more readily willing to adapt and change their stories as they go along than it is with a written story, and in fact that they want to experiment with the order of scenes, and add in different angles and camera shots. (Not that I’m suggesting for a minute that animation is more beneficial than writing a story, because if they didn’t have experience of writing and understanding stories, they certainly couldn’t do this). As the children animate their characters, they consider how they are feeling and how they show this feeling in their movements and expressions. I’ve been hugely impressed with how children can be inventive with story lines: my current P7 class are using flashback, time travel and different narrative view points. I sometimes use storyboards, and sometimes don’t. Some of the most successful animated films I’ve worked on were made up as they went along! You can see one of these here.

Stop frame animation isn’t easy, it’s fiddly and takes effort and time – another reason why I like it! To persevere and get through all the process is worth it, because at the end there’s a film. Of course, the process is incredibly important too. As we film and edit, we encounter problems and have to address these. Some classes and groups I’ve worked with have had to spend some time looking at communication and conflict resolution skills. Before my current job, I taught excluded children and children at risk of exclusion to make animated films, and for them to see these films through to completion was a tremendous achievement, boosting self-esteem while allowing them to explore issues they were experiencing through their films.

This exploration of an issue or story through animation has been incredibly worthwhile. I think it’s very important that children have the freedom to explore this issue in a way that they want to. The learning intention for the film above was to make a film about choices. That was all. The group of 4 children decided to make it about good and bad choices, and what happened when you made them. Another group I worked with were told their learning intention was to make a film about friendship. You can see what they came up with here.

My current class are considering life before, during and after the Clydebank Blitz. They’re demonstrating their knowledge of historical sequence through the eyes of Clydebank residents while describing life during the war in terms of rationing, housing, daily life and coping with air raids.

So how did we do this? I know I said it was an effort and fiddle – it is – but it’s actually fairly straightforward. I use a computer, a webcam, I Can Animate and iMovie software. I’ve also made animated films entirely on an iPad using the same software. There are other ways too. I went on a short course to learn how to use the software. If you’re a teacher and know of anyone in your school with knowledge of animating, ask to watch them as they teach, or if they’d share their practise with some of the school team. If not, take a course. Anything I didn’t pick up on the course I’ve learned by using the help menus within the programs. If I can do this, any teacher can.

Animation is just an alternative way to tell a story, and there are many stories to be told. I really hope you’ll try this engaging way to help your pupils to tell theirs.