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The Zone of Relevance…explained.
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On a Friday afternoon I often share teaching resources on Twitter, like many other teachers do, using the hashtag #PedagooFriday. The Zone of Relevance resource generated a lot of interest. I was contacted by teachers asking for further explanation and asking questions, which is understandable as 140 characters can be very limited!

The Zone of Relevance works best with GCSE and A-Level students because it is very useful to complete when preparing and planning an exam answer. However, it can be used with other year groups and across the curriculum. The idea behind this is that students recognise what information is relevant for a specific exam answer and essential to achieve exam marks. It also helps students prioritise information. This task supports students to understand what they should and should not include in their answer. This will highlight what information is irrelevant to that specific question to prevent common mistakes being made.

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The example I have included is from a Year 10 GCSE History class. The question asks how abolishing the death penalty was a turning point in punishment in the 20th Century. We discussed this question as a class and then looked at the mark scheme success criteria. Students then filled in the outer circle, it also works with concentric squares too. The largest zone must be for the relevant information, as that is most important because it is the content of the answer. Students include the relevant information with supporting detail and justification. Then in the middle zone or section students included extra information they could add to their answer such as examples and stats etc. The final and smallest zone was basically what not to do! I was able to help students with this, based on many common mistakes I had come across over recent years marking exam answers! Students can also refer back to previous exam answers and learn from mistakes they had made. For example, students would often express their views on the death penalty despite the fact the question didn’t ask that or offer any marks for that either. The question also specifically asked about England and Wales, yet students would write about the USA where again there were no marks available. The question was asking about the 20th Century so discussion of any other periods were not required or rewarded.

This activity can be done individually or in groups. In groups with a larger template works well as it promotes discussion, decision making and working with others. It can be a great plan for students to refer to when completing exam questions, either in the classroom or at home. It helps students understand and identify what the exam question is asking and what information is required. Many teachers may have used this idea before or in a different style but I recommend it as a revision activity! This activity also works well accompanied with highlighted notes, to include in the relevant sections. You can download the template for free on my TES page here. It might be too late for some of your exam classes or perhaps just in time!

Engaging pupils with iMovie trailers
June 7, 2016
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Following a challenging morning, we were bracing ourselves for the afternoon session in our nurture base. We support the most vulnerable children in the authority. We base our practice on the nurture principles and the Boxall profile and the children’s mental, social and emotional well-being is a priority for us. Or, as I’ve seen on social media, ‘the Maslow stuff needs to be done before the Bloom’s’. As a number of our pupils were at bump up days or transition to secondary visits, we were expecting only two pupils.

The first to arrive insisted on some outdoor learning (or absconded if you prefer) following various expletives and suggestions to the taxi escort regarding how she might like to spend her time. Two members of staff headed out to ensure his safety and encourage his return. This left me with one senior primary pupil (there were other staff with younger pupils next door). Let’s call him Jamie, for any Outlander fans.

A calm entry and exit is an important part of a session, so there were three activities available for Jamie to choose his soft start. He chose the Geomag magnetic toys and we chatted about his day as he built his characters. He was a little unsettled so I extended the activity to allow him to quietly focus on his construction. Jamie suddenly asked me about an iMovie trailer he’d seen me make with another pupil. This had been inspired by a session at Pedagoo Perth and had been very successful. With an animated face, he asked if we could make one with his Superheroes.

This led the afternoon away from the plan but was responsive to his needs. We began to plan the trailer. Never one to use twenty words when eighty will do, this took some time but we got there. As we filmed and took photos, Jamie kept saying, ‘awesome’ and ‘cool’. He was fully engaged and, in fact, was leading the project. He chose the text and insisted that his middle name was included in his name for the credits.

When he viewed the finished trailer, his face lit up and he beamed at his name on the credits. After watching it again, he turned to me and said, “This is the best experience of my life”. It was no exaggeration for him. He had been engaged, he experienced success and his day had been turned around. He shouted the other adults over, to share his success.

Jamie then naturally reviewed his project and decided that, next time, it would be better with a green screen so that his hands can’t be seen. I’m not sure if this is possible but requires some PL for me. I am very glad that I travelled to Perth that day – huge thanks to @ciaracreative for her session that day.
You can read about the conversation here. iMovie Trailers

 

A memorable week in an everyday class
May 28, 2016
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I have had many weeks in my years of teaching where I have felt the magic and satisfaction of watching learning make it’s mark on little people and where that feeling has changed me just a little. But this week was one of the best.

I currently work with young learners with some pretty complex medical and developmental histories. We are happy together and,  though each year the classroom family changes a little, the friendships that develop as the children play, observe, listen and interact together have a significant impact on their learning and being. This week I felt at times that I was on the edge of what was really happening. It was exciting to watch …….different elements of exploring stories, and reading, and word making, and visualising (and more) came together as we collaboratively retold a story. I was the scribe as none of them are quite at that stage yet. But everyone contributed, building on the sharing of others, and together we completed the project.

I was going to say task…….but I don’t really like the word as it seems to have some toil about it!!!

Sometimes together, and sometimes with one to one support, the children have been writing the story for themselves. It seems to flow and, with no sense of isolation, they have been doing so well and feeling good. And there was a definite sense of ‘REALLY?’ when I shared it with each of their parents at our OPEN TIME afternoon. Some of the personal writing is not finished but we will complete it soon and find the best way to display it for them to keep as a piece of learning treasure.

I read a quote on Twitter this morning: “Observe, and in that observation there is neither the observer nor the observed — there is only observation taking place.” I liked that because it seemed to express something of what has been happening, and it has been so positive.

And it happened again at the end of the week. A group of  friends from P1 mainstream class came to join one of us for Active Maths. I had a plan……and I had some resources ready……but I had a bit of an accident with a walking frame and a painful, bleeding finger as a result! So as they tumbled into the classroom, full of Friday afternoon energy, I made a decision to let them explore any way they would!

Well…..I could not have imagined what would take place. Creating long chains with links…..led to spontaneously measuring the classroom by two of them. Pizza creating with 10 pieces in each – actually a resource called Place Value Petals , no longer available – led to working out how many could be at the party counting in 10s, and that was 160 just as our Head Teacher appeared in the room! And the number grew afterwards and when we tidied them up into 3 towers they could see that two were missing……and they turned up under the wheel chair. The suitcase of colourful shirts, shoes, socks and shorts led to the five anticipated outfits but then a very shy little girl, who has rarely said anything to me directly, put together an outfit with the left over pieces and said ‘ Now all we need is a head!’ And when I pointed to the paper tray she came back and completed the head with a smile! I took a photo with the iPad and I know I’ll remember much more than what I see when I look at that one in the future. Her smile and connecting with me said it all!

Today I’m still feeling the finger a little but it will heal before long and I will certainly be aware of the observations for much longer!!

Have a good weekend!

 

Positive Engagement through restorative approaches
May 21, 2016
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I joined a group of colleagues in getting advanced training in restorative practice about 5 years ago. It was the best training I have ever received – and any of my colleagues will confirm I am a bonafide grumpy pants so I don’t offer praise on CPD stuff openly!

As a standard issue bloke, five foot ten, size ten shoes (but with safety packaging added around the waist) I was always able to pack an intimidating figure if I needed to. If a child yells at me, I can shout over them, arch slightly over them and make them defensive. Why? It was what I was trained to do.

My first acknowledgement of how this didn’t quite fit in education was when I met an American colleague who never shouted and operated what she called a ‘safe classroom’ which sounded impressive but, when she got threatened by a group of angry teenagers who clearly didn’t operate such a classroom policy, she yelled for me to ‘save her’ from the unsafe experience. It was my ‘classical’ training that indeed saved her.

Over a decade later, things have changed. I have since worked in three regions, three schools and for six head teachers (plus a few acting HTs) and have had a flavour of current and evolving behaviour strategies. I have read and listened to a lot of dialogue regarding behaviour management over the years and before Restorative practice, I had one other gem from Andy Vass. That was to instruct, when a child is being a pain and maybe throwing insults (or bricks), you should rise above it. ‘Two reasons. One – He/She is a child. Two – you are not.’ That always stuck with me. So beautifully put.

When I explain my day to day interaction with restorative practice as ‘behaviour management’ I fear that I undersell it. It is about building relationships and trust and success and, the word we fear using in high schools, love. We need to build up our pupils. Some arrive in school with a significant need to be built up.

It is those pupils who misbehave and get into trouble can be categorised into different groups. I will let the reader divide them into groups as suits themselves, but I want to declare one group. This is the, ‘just yell at me and be done with it’ group who have grown up with anger. It is a skill they learn, switch off and let the adult scream. When they are finished, nothing actually changes. The adult is more stressed, the pupil is more stressed, but it is a way of life. Lessons learned by pupil through yelling? Be bad. People will yell. Life goes on. Nothing actually learned there.

Yelling at a pupil also introduces the Amygdala Hijack. This is not something I am an expert at, but I understand the theory through my own experience. If you have ever been yelled at by an irate or grumpy boss, colleague, parent, wife etc, that feeling of “woah…shut up…I can’t think here…” kicks in and processing ability reduces. So yelling at any pupil creates only negative lessons. Adults hate me…teacher is awful…I hate school…I hate learning…life’s unfair. They may not do the ‘crime’ again, but we aren’t there to police them, we are there to engage with and nurture them, even in later years of high school (and even with the ‘bad boys.’)

I found the principle outline of restorative practice allowed me to develop my pupil relationships the day I started introducing it. Those pupils who just want a yelling at to get back into class and get on with it hated the question, ‘What were you feeling when you said/did…’ Not asking what they did, not asking why. Asking what they were feeling and have the focus on feelings on them, their ‘victims’ the whole class. Wow, what a difference. On my class registers this year, I have perhaps two pupils who don’t engage well with this method. And two more who struggle a little – and I focus on the disengaged pupils as part of my remit.

What was even more surprising for me was this: with the improved relationships and higher expectation of engagement, and my deeper understanding of how anger comes from fear (The Anger Onion….), I have been able to get the poorest achievers in my school to attain more. Every single S4 pupil (including the ones who are ‘Special cases’ or ‘not our fault that…..’) have achieved something this year and many exceeded their own expectations.

I know that many readers will think that last paragraph is nonsense. Me too, I removed it three times and wrote it back in three times. There is more to that success and perhaps another posting as it involved intrepreneurship (google that word if you need to – I believe every teacher is, or should be, one), working with social work, empowerment by Head Teacher, PT, families etc etc. But if the ethos of the restorative classroom/school isn’t there, what do we have to build on for those kids who don’t traditionally love school because the rules say we should?

If we want to make outstanding, non-faddy, differences in our classrooms, it really has to start with the relationships with the children.

Bringing Children’s Rights into the Classroom [Scotland only]
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Are you looking for a way to incorporate Getting it Right for Every Child into your classroom?

Child Rights Launchpad by Unicef UK aims to help you do this. Launchpad is a ready-to-use, Scotland specific resource that promotes learning about rights and supports the Curriculum for Excellence. It covers all 42 articles of the UNCRC directly relating to children and, best of all, this award-winning resource is completely FREE to use!

Don’t just take our word for how good it is, the resource is currently being used by teachers all over Scotland and they’ve been quick to praise Launchpad:

“We have introduced all our S1 pupils to Launchpad and it has definitely increased the pupils’ knowledge of Child Rights.  One great aspect of the resource is its focus on personalisation and choice.  I have also found it a helpful reference as a teacher and have used it to look up information on specific rights which I have then used in my lessons.”

Mrs. Hoyle, Teacher at Douglas Academy, East Dumbarton

See what other teachers (and children) had to say about Launchpad in this short video:

 

What to expect?

Launchpad is designed at three different levels, broadly aimed at the following age bands:

  • Level 1: three to seven-year-olds;
  • Level 2: eight to 12-year-olds; and
  • Level 3: 13 to 18-year-olds.

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Example of the site’s content.

At each level the ‘missions’ follow the same format. The exploration begins with an introduction to the right, before considering it in a Scottish context. The focus then switches to an international setting, exploring how the right is enjoyed in one or more countries around the world, followed by a related activity. Finally, the ‘mission’ is finished with an interactive quiz and a star for the ‘Super You’ character. After six missions each child or young person receives a certificate.

Detailed Guidance for Adults is available on the website- this will provide you with all the information you need about the resource. It’ll also help you to plan how you use Launchpad in your lessons.

Creating your free account is incredibly easy, simply follow this link, We’re confident that you’ll be glad you did – just remember to encourage your colleagues to create their accounts too!

 

Get into the pit – it’s great!!
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I recently had the privilege of hearing James Nottingham from Challenge Learning speak about how to use the Learning Pit to develop resilience and a growth mindset in pupils. This was part of Midlothian Educational Psychologist’s drive to develop visible learning in Midlothian, which is having a tremendous impact in schools (many thanks to Sarah Philp and her fantastic team).

The Learning Pit approach is all about teaching children how to think, not what to think. It challenges children to question ideas, their own and others and be able to consider both sides of the argument. It as well as developing these essential life skills, using the learning pit approach also leads to more memorable, deeper and more purposeful learning. (At least that is the idea, I haven’t tried it myself yet, but it is hard to listen to James and not be utterly convinced!)

We were then given a run through of what a learning pit lesson would look like. Let me do my best to share it with you…

1. Concept
You need to start by finding a concept for the group to discuss. Make sure you don’t choose a fact, it must be able to be questioned. E.g. risk, friendship, fairness…Pupils need a surface level understanding of the concept. Using a story or picture is a good way to find a concept; it can even just be a front cover or recall of a well-known tale. Then you are going to set up cognitive conflict – two or more ideas in their mind that they agree with which are in conflict. Causing dilemma to teach them how to make judgments (critical thinking).

2. Conflict.
Once you have found a concept to focus on, you need to introduce some conflict. You want them to move from one idea to many ideas about the concept. Raise questions, it should be fun and it should make them think, and make them wobble. It is not about proving them wrong, but about blocking their normal way of thinking, the way a blocked road would make you think about your route to work, which is normally easy – easy is boring. Model wobbling and challenge for them to imitate. Don’t link challenge with making things harder, but with making thinks more interesting and fun. This is where you are putting the children in the pit. Their brains should be in a state of flux! Put them in the pit before they go off to work/discuss a topic.

Work with our group to find questions and develop dilemmas: give question starters on wall and refer to, using these as part of your habit will gradually become easier and become part of the pupils’ vocabulary too.

What is?
How do we know what …is
Who says what…is
What if
What’s the difference between?
When would it be good/bad/not to?
Is it possible to…
Add always /never
Should we…(difficult one to use)

Challenge commonly held ideas by reversing what the pupils come up with when they answer “what if?” If a=b does b=a?

3. Construct
You don’t want to leave the children I the pit, after any work or discussion you need to help them back out! You want them to come to a better understanding, the eureka moment (I found it). You have to struggle to reach and enjoy the eureka moment.

There are several tools you can use to help children out the pit such as:

– venn diagrams
– grouping
– ranking
– thinking hats
– PMI (Plus, minus, interesting)

4. Consider
The final stage is to consider the journey you have all been on. “What have we learned, how does this transfer, how did we get out of the pit, how did it feel, how do we feel now?”

I hope that makes sense, but you can learn more from taking a look at jamesnottingham.co.uk/learningpit and challengelearning.com

ICT and Languages Conference 2016 #ililc6
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It was not without a little trepidation that I headed to Dorking from Glasgow for my first #ililc event hosted by @joedale and @helenmyers at Ashcombe School Language College, sponsored by Sanako making it a free event for the first time, hence why I made the effort. Would my two tablets and smartphone connect, download the necessary apps and not show me up as still being at entry-level with regard to the wonders of the tablet-world? Would everyone be appsmashing over coffee as I remembered I’d forgotten to charge my gadgets? But no, I needn’t have worried, MFL teachers really are the best. Being a subject with communication and openness at its heart, MFL teachers are a chatty lot and so happy to share experiences.

Knowing Joe Dale’s inimitable style, we were all poised to keep up with his full-on whistle-stop tour of apps and websites as he set up a todaysmeet for us to post live comments on, as well as opening up a ‘top tech takeaway padlet, with Chrome ‘talk and comment’, ultratext and Speakpipe add-ons.I could have gone home happy after that first half-hour but there were four sessions with three presentations to choose from in each so, focussing on cross-platform sessions as we are not an ipad school, off I headed to Session 1 ‘Apps r us’ with Amanda Salt.

I would love to be in one of Amanda’s classes, her enthusiasm is infectious and the range of apps and websites she uses brings learning alive in so many ways. Far too many to list but a couple of key ideas I’ve taken away and have already used are

  • quizletlive which has engaged bottom set S3s (Y9), tested Higher Spanish (Y11) on the preterite describing a past holiday, and focused Higher French on the passé composé, (quizizz  and quizalize are similar)
  • creating a Department ‘brand’ to tag everything you create and share/upload

Some of the apps were ipad-only but looked great. I’m also the process of creating a loooooong list of website to request be unblocked by the authority firewall, sigh.

Session 2 was with Serena Dawson creating a storybook on the lines of a russian doll with layers, inserting audio Speakpipe again and sharing student work on Googledrive. I also loved the simplicity but attractiveness of pic collage  but have yet to access it in school. Serena gave the first mention to qr codes and how she sticks them in jotters for parents to access their children’s recordings.

Teaching in a school on the south coast in a community hosting a large number of refugee families, she also spoke with passion about inclusive education and making the MFL curriculum more relevant to current events by using websites such as 1jour1actu, which I do use with my Higher classes. The site has great cartoon video clips explaining all manner of questions sent in by French children. As I write this, today’s question/clip is ‘Why do we do tests at school?‘.

Session 3 was hosted by one of Ashcombe’s teachers, Anna Sichla, with different uses for apps/websites previously mentioned, in additions to  Zondle to make games, Kahoot  for more quizzes, using Vocaroo to generate a url to in turn generate a QR code. Anna is a big fan of youtubing and explained how to use Powtoon , although I think that’s one step too far for me just now. I’d love to use Chatterkid app but sadly it’s ipad only.

With my mind whirling I headed to Session 4 with Aurélie Charles on using Google apps for education. Very much a hands-on session with a helpful interactive ticklist of tasks to work through as she explained different aspects, allowing us to work at our own pace.

Short walk to the hotel and feet up for half an hour before heading back for the evening’s pizza and ‘show and tell’. Us MFL teachers are totally committed to our job! Amongst other presentations,

  • Charlie showcased the website for a school exchange he’s launching on Monday (before heading off to run the London Marathon!)
  • Alison described a very effective transition day, themed around arriving at an airport then taking a plane, with departments across the school contributing a linked activity. It sounded wonderful!
  • Jonathan described how his school has signed up to Global Learning through Global Dimension . Also how, post Y9 options, he keeps  pupils engaged by them making primary MFL language games.
  • Rachel shared ideas for making learning relevant by describing a module on ‘a new school for the Jungle’, the migrant camp in Calais.
  • Joe couldn’t resist playing with msqrd , another video/audio tool to take the focus of speaking for pupils, but serving an educational purpose.
  • David explained how he has built up a popular Duolingo club, celebrating the success of pupils at assemblies.
  • Maxime, and NQT, shared images of a practical homework he set which surprised him by how engaged pupils became, the task being to cook a French dish and photograph/record it.  Some of the pupils had gone to great lengths to produce the food and images.

At 9pm I headed back to my hotel, shattered, but of course I had to start trying out some of my new ideas…

Sunday morning’s first session was with Annalise Adam on QR codes. Inspiring isn’t the word! She showed very clearly how to use QR code generators such as Kaywa or qr-code-generator to link to websites. She gave a practical demonstration of how she created a simple listening exercise by recording German weather phrases on Vocaroo , generating QR codes and posting them around the room for us to scan, identify the weather and note down. Pupils could then use Padlet  to post key phrases as a plenary. So simple but so effective and engaging! Annalise also uses QR codes to bring worksheets to life.

Putting learning into practice.

  • The #ililc6 weekend totally re-energised me. I emailed my Headteacher before I got on the plane home, evangelising the wonders of ICT (when the internet isn’t buffering, the sun isn’t shining on my interactive whiteboard and the websites aren’t blocked) and offering to run a school Teachmeet.
  • Once I got home, I created a departmental poster of QR codes linking to activity websites such as Linguascope, reference sites we use such as Word Reference  and exam support via SQA . Copied, laminated and distrubuted Monday at coffee!
  • This week’s DM was dedicated to a handful of ideas and I intend for us to focus on one idea per month so staff don’t feel overwhelmed but they’re used to me getting carried away with ideas. Some staff have already tried out some of the new ideas and love them, as do their pupils.
  • Having been inspired Serena and Annalise, I created a powerpoint for my Higher French class on the death of Prince and also of David Bowie earlier this year, using QR codes to link to French tv news reports and a 1jour1actu cartoon clip on Bowie. P2 Monday morning was maybe a bit early for my poor Highers to appreciate my even more energetic enthusiasm for my new ‘toys’, but they too used to be getting over-excited now and then.
  • Quizlet live has been a big success and colleagues are similarly enthused.
  • We subscribe to textivate  and when I created an activity this week, I remembered to give it the dept tag ‘invacad’ so it’s easy to find again.

I really can’t emphasise how much I appreciated this weekend, it has easily been the best cpd-event I’ve ever attended and has had an immediate impact on my teaching practice and a knock-on effect on my colleagues. I’m fairly new to Twitter and have been using our Department account @invacadmfl to share the #ililc6 love. Thank you @JoeDale!

 

Making feedback feed forward – printed post its
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I got the idea of post it feedback from the Art Department at my previous school and liked the idea that the post it notes were moved to the back once students had acted on that target. I liked the idea of the movability of the post it notes and was interested in how this might work for targets to be carried through several pieces of work so the target to feeds forward rather than something that is seen as done as DIRT and then perhaps forgotten increasing the risk that the same EBIs are repeated. I had been thinking about this over the last summer term and on the beach in the summer holidays when I should definitely have been more ‘present’ I wondered – can you print on post it notes? When I searched on-line I realised you can and so found printing templates easily – why had I never thought of this in the previous 11 years of teaching? This unlocks so many possibilities but helped formulate the idea of using post it note feedback. I wanted students to be in control of using the post its notes to use their previous targets as a checklist in subsequent pieces of work to link up the feedback cycles to ensure progress over time. I also liked the idea that a target should be revisited several times to then be seen as securely acted upon. I went with the idea of feeding forward the same target 3 times (in DIRT and then in 2 subsequent piece of work I felt worked well with the idea of emerging, developing secure etc.). These work particularly well with our KS5 feedback Sheets which have a dialogue box for students to complete before submission. They can stick their post it note there when they hand in their work and comment on how they have tried to meet this or indicate where in their work they believe they have achieved it etc. which really focuses the feedback dialogue on progress over time.

 

post it

 

feedback sheet-1

topper

 

 

To print on post its – find a template to print post it notes (there are different templates for the different sizes.) save it and print some hard copy. Then create whatever you want to print using the template online. Then stick one post it in each box of the hard copy template and then send it through the printer.

 

template

 

feedback stickers

 

 

 

 

 

The Thinking Classroom. Don’t Call it Challenge!
April 20, 2016
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“Is History hard sir?” Year 8 student asking about options

“Only if you aren’t good at it” replies the teacher

Challenge and high expectations. That’s what you would expect to see in an evaluation of a lesson which was highly effective. They are words which indicate that students were “stretched” and that their learning was maximised. This is all very positive, but what does challenge actually mean? It could mean lots of things to lots of people, which is why I dislike the phrase when thinking about developing teaching. For example; In a one hour History lesson if students have to sift through twenty sources to find out information is this challenging? Possibly, possibly not. It’s “only” selection of materials and some students may find this easy. If however, on closer inspection students really had to think about the selection of information then in actual fact they are thinking like Historians and this could be highly “challenging.” It is not the task that is challenging it is the thought that goes into it. Watch a professional sportsman run through drills, it may seem “low level challenge” but they are thinking about every movement.

What a lack of challenge in a lesson really means is students didn’t think enough. They didn’t think about the problems in front of them, they didn’t “self –regulate” they didn’t think “Meta-cognitively”  they weren’t given enough to think and struggle and then succeed. In short they didn’t have to think.  In terms of effect size the two biggest things teachers can do to have the biggest impact on student achievement is to give effective feedback, and make students think “meta-cognitively” (think about their thinking).  In other words create a “Thinking Classroom”

Seems a bit odd to suggest that a classroom has be a “Thinking Classroom” surely that’s what happens in a classroom? Well yes, mainly. But, learning is messy, unpredictable and as Graham Nuthall suggests in his book, often “hidden” ( The hidden lives of learners will change the way you think about classrooms)  In order to be a great teacher you have to light up the classroom, because you can’t see learning easily.

Students “hide”; after because they can, and it helps them cope. With 25-30 student in a class, mountains of content to “cover” and the 1 hour lessons, revolving door, factory system we have, it is little wonder that in this controlled chaos students can tactically hide. They hide in a number of obvious ways, they don’t put their hands up, or they give short answers, often knowing that the teacher will “move on”. They do “just enough” so that when the teacher looks at their books they nod, moving onto those who for many reasons haven’t written anything down, or who are distracting others. This is not always deliberate, cunning – work shirking, rather a mechanism to cope with 5 lessons a day. If you have ever shadowed a pupil for the day, and tried to do their work you’ll understand how confusing and tiring a day can be when you are 13.  Thinking is hard, it takes deliberate effort and often support. Ever wondered why students like writing in the title and date? It gives them a rest-bite form “thinking”.  Our brains are great at conserving thinking energy. Consider why the staff car park looks exactly the same every day; people park in the same spot because they then don’t have to think when they finally traipse out at 6.30pm.  Students are the same.

So how do we stop this? How do we “light up” the hidden lives of learners and create thinking? Lighting up the classroom is an area that has vastly improved since the articulation of “formative assessment” by Black and Wiliam back in 2001. Assessment for learning as a buzz word  almost doesn’t exist anymore as it is so entrenched into teaching practices.   A better phrase would be “responsive teaching”. Trying something with students, measuring it there and then, evaluating if it has been effective (students get it or not) then adapting the teaching.  There are a huge host of ways to do this that most teachers are aware of these use them regularly. As effect sizes go, effective feedback is about the best thing you can do to improve achievement. Please note “EFFECTIVE” feedback. If you feedback too soon, or it is too shallow the feedback can actually have a negative effect. However, teachers are generally good at AFL. They use Traffic Lights, thumbs up/ down, no hands , post-it notes which all help during the lesson.  Peer Assessment, Self Assessment, Criteria in student speak, personalised learning check lists, exemplar answers, the list goes on and on and on.  Not to mention; diagnostic marking, quizzes, mock exams (mocks after mocks, after mocks) doddle and online testing,  grades reported every six weeks. Students are monitored more than they ever have been before. This is a good thing. Mostly.

“Mostly” because challenge and thinking do not automatically come about because a teacher can “light up the classroom”. There is absolutely no point in a teacher demonstrating a host of AFL strategies which clearly show that students have moved from A to B, when they could have moved from A to E. Often you will hear OFSTED inspectors and observers to a classroom use the phrase “Expectations”. Expectations were too low of both students and teachers, or that the teacher had high expectations. This is a non- sensical phrase in many respects. I had great expectations of my guitar playing at 13, doesn’t mean I’m a rock star driving 15 cars. Expectations have to be high of course, but what really has to be high is the level of “Thinking” in a classroom. Teachers have to create thinking in their classrooms. Not challenge, that can mean lots of things to lots of people; they have to create thinking.

Creating the “Thinking Classroom”

This is a challenge (no pun intended) because “thinking “ is almost impossible to see. Performance is easy to see: Students are set them this, they did (or did not) do it. Thinking though? Other than the obvious signs of head scratching it’s difficult to see. But there are some things teachers can do to allow students to “think” :

It starts with the planning – make things harder not easier

Do not mean simplify. Do NOT simplify. It is worth saying twice because as teachers we are brilliant at it; we often have to because we are “breaking down” complex things for students to learn. BUT this habit can betray and our students.

Consider this; A Geography teacher is planning a series of lessons on the Amazon Rainforest to a year 7 class. Logically they want to break this down into manageable “chunks” for students. So it goes something like this:

  • What lives in the Rainforest?
  • Why is it so wet?
  • What is the temperature of the Rainforest?
  • Where is the Amazon Rainforest ?
  • What is it like there?/ Why is it called a Rainforest?
  • Why is it so hot?
  • What grows in the Rainforest?
  • Why must we conserve the Rainforest?

Once these questions are thought through is it logical that lessons are as follows

Scenario 1:

Lesson 1 Q1-2

lesson 2 Q3 – 5

lesson 3 and 4 Q6- 7

lesson 5 and 6 – Q8

They are very logical lessons, they follow on from each other, with the effective teaching at the end of the 6 lessons students would have gained new knowledge of the Amazon Rainforest without a doubt. How much thinking would have occurred though? Well perhaps lots, but how else could this series of lesson potentially create more thinking?

How about this:

Scenario 2:

Lesson 1 to 4 – What is the climate of the Amazon Rainforest?  Why is the climate like this and how does it affect what grows and what lives there?

Lesson 5 and 6 – “There is no need to conserve the Amazon Rainforest, we can cut more trees down for farming, homes and resources” How far do agree with this statement?

As you can see lessons 1 – 4 now create more thinking. Students have to consider what “climate” is, and the relationship this has to what grows and lives in the Rainforest. They are forced at the start of the series of  lessons to think about the relationship between location, climate and environment.  The last two lessons of scenario 2 force students into arguing and evaluating.  Scenario 1 and 2 could have exactly the same resources, exactly the same teacher, and exactly the same “challenge” in the resource but in all probability there will be more thinking created in scenario 2

Of course it all depends on how these lessons are managed. If for example students are just given the two questions in scenario 2 and the resources, without the teacher effectively explaining and questioning there is a real danger that this “independence” just results in confusion.   The “independent” classroom should not be confused with the “Thinking classroom”. Independence does not of itself create thinking, in fact the opposite can happen.

What these two scenarios do illustrate though is that planning a series of lessons with “Thinking” in mind is crucial. As teachers we are naturally very good at breaking up very complicated things into smaller parts so that people can understand. It is our default setting, because we do it all the time; we have to, we are teachers. But what we really want to do is to create learners.  To do this we have to sometimes stop breaking things up, not so they are more difficult or more “challenging” but so they create more thinking.

Scenario 2 could and I stress could create more thinking than scenario 1. But equally it could descend into chaos (as could any lesson) because the teacher does not consider that when you make students “think” you have to make them think! This takes time.

Below are five “tips” for scenario 2:

  • Be sure students understand the key words (climate, affect)
  • Give them TIME, time to investigate, to get stuck.
  • Discuss/engage students with the questions – Get them to work out what is being asked? What information will they need to have in order to answer these questions and how might they go about this?
  • Because there may be more chance of getting stuck than in scenario 1 have a mechanism for students to ask questions – a question wall, post it notes , traffic lights
  • Create a culture of three before me? Book, Buddy, Board. So students have to look at the board, ask a friend, refer to the book before asking for help.

Creating a thinking classroom is hard. It is much more than what is in this blog. It is about creating a culture of thinking through high quality questions and series of lessons. It is about giving students the opportunity to stop, wait and struggle.

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Any Questions?
March 19, 2016
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quiet

 

It’s been a busy week. Busy at school, busy at home.

The ‘to do’ list has kept growing and it has felt like every time I crossed something off at the top of the list, another four things have appeared on the bottom.

Most people I meet seem to be the same. Hurried ‘good mornings’ with colleagues in the corridor at work as they race from one lesson to the next and hurried catch-ups with friends as children are bustled from one after school activity to another.

Why do we do this? Why are we living our lives at such a break-neck speed?

I feel like I spend my life rushing through tasks, head down, keeping going, with the constant knowledge that to let one of those tasks slide would be to admit a fatal weakness; I’d be a bad mum, a bad teacher. ‘If you were just better organised’ I chastise myself whilst folding the kids’ washing at 6am. ‘If you’d worked through lunch today you could have got that done by now’ I mutter to myself while marking jotters at bedtime.

The impact of all this busyness and negative self-talk is stress. Oppressive, shove-you-to-the-ground-and-sit-on-you stress. That breathless, panicky feeling like someone’s hand is round your throat, even when you are asleep.

I am a big believer in authentic teaching and learning- to get the best out of my learners, I know I need to be the best version of myself. I need to be in the room, present and ready to create the conditions that will allow my learners to flourish. That means not thinking about the homework my own kids still need to finish before tomorrow morning or the emails I haven’t replied to.

Stress + Busyness = Poor Quality Teaching

Having a teacher that is constantly in motion is like trying to learn long division from a whirling dervish; it simply does not work. I have come to realise that, instead of deserving an award for keeping on top of everything, instead I am short-changing my learners by trying to do too much.

 My busyness has become toxic. And what’s worse, it’s highly infectious. Rushing my learners through one lesson after another, trying to pack everything in, infects them with my stress. The message they get from my hurried glances at the clock and reassurances they’ll be time for questions later, is that learning is linear and speed is king. Do it right, do it once, do it fast.

How awful to reduce the magnificent, sprawling, gloriously creative mess of learning to a sad little straight line, from A to B.

Twitter (via @FifeEduTeam) led me to a quote this week:

“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child’s need for quietness is the same today as it has always been–it may even be greater–for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.”

Margaret Wise Brown

Margaret Wise Brown wrote children’s books. She died in 1952. I can only imagine what she would have made of how as a society we have continued to worship at the altar of activity (with increasing devotion) in the sixty years since her death.

The idea that quietness is an essential part of learning is often overlooked. It does not sit well beside Government benchmarks for progress in learning or tracking attainment. It is jostled out of the way by a curriculum bursting at the seams. School leaders are nervous about teachers embracing quietness. ‘What’s the point of this?’ they’ll ask crossly when they see a class reading for pleasure or taking a walk down the corridor after a Maths lesson. ‘Where’s the learning here?’ ‘What is this achieving?’ Such school leaders cannot see the invisible, subtle importance of weaving quiet space into the busy tapestry of teaching and learning and this is a fatal mistake. The downtime to process learning is fundamental to the learning process- it needs to be built in and respected. It is not a skive if, as a result of twenty minutes of quiet reading, learners and teacher are refreshed and ready to move on to new and greater heights.

So, my plan this week is to start from quiet. I am going to carve out spaces for quiet in my professional and personal life and I am going to infect my learners with this instead of my toxic busyness. I am going to breathe in deeply and avert my eyes from that hateful ‘to do’ list and just start doing. And I am going to break up the doing with quietness. I am going to say:

That’s an interesting idea, let’s explore it.

How would you like to tackle this problem?

Let’s take time out now to let that sink in.

And best of all:

Any questions?

 

[This post was first published on https://knowitshowit.wordpress.com/]

 

 

 

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