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Ofsted Inspection… by @ASTSupportAAli
February 8, 2015
Image by flickr.com/photos/ebarneyImage by flickr.com/photos/ebarney

Wednesday the 28th and Thursday the 29th of January 2015. Two important days in my Senior Leadership career. These two days saw my school receive a full Section 5 Ofsted Inspection. In this short blog I would like to share some tips/observations and reflections about the inspection and its process both as a school and a member of SLT.

The call:

Tuesday, around 13.30pm, I was summoned by a frantic looking member of support staff to go to meet other SLT in our meeting room.

‘Where were you? I have been looking everywhere for you!’

My response’s tone couldn’t have been more opposite,

‘Hi, I have been running an annual review, as per my calendar. Why what’s the panic!?’

I replied with a beaming smile.

Usually what would have happened if somebody was searching for me is they would radio for me. If no luck, they would call my admin assistant or Learning Support Manager and ask simply, do you know where Amjad is. The response would be easy for them as they would check my Outlook calendar. (Which I obsessively write all my daily things to ‘do’ in on.)

I guess the lack of usual behaviour is a by product of the feelings that Ofsted bring!

After reading many reminder emails sent out by Heads of Department to their teams containing lots of reassurance that we are proud of what we are doing and to simply keep doing what we are, all SLT met the staff to inform them of the process and reassured them (again), that we are a very good, effective school. The Head stood there confidently and let everyone feel that we are ready and proud. The face we, as SLT present to the staff is crucial…

Our SLT team all met up and discussed the big two days, in detail. We clarified who would meet with which inspector and the Head and her P.A created and outline programme. This was done really quickly. It was extremely helpful to see the what we could potentially be doing! We also researched the inspection team; found out a little about their backgrounds, their specialisms and read their previous reports.

We ordered all staff pizza on both days in case they were going to stay late in school.

What did I do personally? Well, firstly, I didn’t send any of my team any reminder emails. I went round and tried to see them all. I asked them if I could support or help them with anything. I answered any questions they had. I felt it important to be a presence of clarity. They too offered me help, asked if I needed a hand with anything, and I took a couple of them up on the support.

When I finally reached my office, at around 6.30pm, my Learning Support Manager had kindly left our ‘Ofsted’ pack on my desk. We had previously planned a protocol for the call. She was following it exactly as we discussed. (What a star!) My Assistant SENCO, was there still, to simply ask me, ‘Is there anything you need me to do.’ There is an immeasurable value in colleagues being there for one another, if this is missing in your department or school then seek to fix it. Now. I left school at 9.30pm. Which meant I returned home for 10.30pm. I ate, marked some books further, planned my lessons, updated my SPOT folders and went to bed around 1am.

Day one/two: Flew by in a mad blur!

I arrived to school earlier than normal. Which meant I was in school by 6.30am, (I had to leave my house at 5.30am, which required me to wake up at 4.30am- ouch!) On arrival I went round and asked colleagues if they were OK, popped into the Heads office, shouted ‘Morning Boss!’ Like I do daily. Ensuring you maintain as regular a routine as possible is fundamental to surviving an Ofsted inspection.

Going up to my office I was smiling, thinking I am glad Ofsted are here on Week A; Wednesday and Thursday, the two days I teach two lessons on each day. This is what I feel strongest and most comfortable doing: teaching. The least stressful part of the whole process was when I was delivering those lessons. I guess the thought of any of the five inspectors coming in to judge my lessons didn’t bother me one bit. In fact I willed it to happen. I am used to this, I went through my GTP process to acquire my QTS in this procedure. Then my AST qualification in similar fashion. Us, SLT Being observed by Ofsted means that teaching staff know that we are open to judgement too, that our procedures, tracking, marking and assessment are also open to scrutiny. I wanted to show that we model what we preach/expect. Nonetheless, we do this without Ofsted. We expect all HODS to carry out learning walks on us, paired observations on us and so on.

Throughout the two days all of SLT was scheduled in for joint lesson observations with he inspectors. We were then observed giving feedback. We carried out joint learning walks with the inspectors too and ask to talk through our findings. We were also invited in for interviews with the inspectors. (Mine included- Year 7 Catch Up money impact. SEN/D provision and Pupil Premium impact.) We were also asked to attend debriefs with middle leaders and other members of SLT.

Things kept changing, but we rolled with it. All with a smile on our face. (We hope!)

Top Tips:

So, here are my top tips in general related to the Ofsted experience these are my opinions! (In no particular order…) I am hoping to speak with other members of SLT/Middle Leaders and gather their thoughts too.

  • Be proud, be ready, be clear, be honest.
  • Have all your documentation ready- School Improvement Plan & School Self Evaluation, ensure all staff are being consistent. For example, all of our staff have a SPOT file for each class. (Student Progress Over Time folders.)Their SPOT folder contains detailed, annotated information about each student. Their attendance. Annotated seating plans, along with data and tracking sheets. Annotated if relevant.
  • Ensure all staff know their roles and what they are responsible for. This might sound obvious, but being really clear about this is vital.
  • Have all generic paperwork- like lesson plan proformas, observations forms etc in a central location for all staff access.
  • Update your website, let all involved know, pre-warn all the students that additional adults may be in their lessons. (Particularly important for ASC students.) Celebrate successes with all students. Let them know they should be proud of their school. (This shouldn’t just be for Ofsted!) This should be regular. We do this via a weekly newsletter and a fortnightly Cheney News video that all tutor groups show.
  • Have a central location/room for your inspectors to work. Provide them fresh water and food. Hospitality is important.
  • Ensure the inspectors follow the usual safeguarding procedures. I.E sign them in, give them name badges. Tell them your policy and so on.
  • Involve everyone in the schedule. From the Head Teacher to the cleaners. Let every know know their value in the machine that is school.
  • Know your data, do not present statistics that you do not understand. If you do not know, then ask! Talk through data together. Have a clear picture of the picture!
  • Be passionate, enthusiastic and ambitious. Be like your SIP and SEF states! More so…
  • Ensure the Inspection team know about which lessons are being covered because of a planned/expected/unexpected absence(s). Alert them to what whole school events are going on. Also which teachers teach across a variety of phases and subjects. Try to get inspectors to avoid observing one teacher more than any other teacher. However, do not change things that you are doing. For example, we had Year 9 Immunisations planned for the Thursday. this would interrupt many lessons. but we maintained this. Changes are not good- the Ofsted inspection team go through the school website/calendar with a fine tooth-comb before hand anyway!
  • Ensure all staff are aware of the inspection framework. It is quite a big document. Could you summarise it for your teams? Ask them which elements are relevant for them. This changes often, however, the most recent one can be found here!
  • During the inspection collect via email, information on the types of questions being asked by the inspectors. Their routines. This can help prepare for day two
  • Have a clear picture of your teaching ‘grades.’ Although Ofsted do not judge individual teachers, they do make an ‘unofficial’ overall judgement of Teaching and Learning. This inspection they did not observe any member of SLT, no core subject leader and only 1 of our 6 ASTs.

Overall, do you know your students and is there a relentless drive to ever improve the quality of teaching and learning.

  • Keep the governors in the loop! Ofsted will check through the governors minutes, is your SIP/SEF constantly monitored.

New To The Post:

Here are my top tips as a first time senior leader facing Ofsted! (In no particular order also…)

  • Prepare an Ofsted protocol with your entire team. I have a massive team of over 40 members of staff. Including teaching and support staff. Rehearse what you will all do once the call has been made. Essentially a fire drill. Have a ‘Ofsted‘ file ready. Present this to Ofsted. If they say, like they did this time, that they do not have time to read it, then, like I did, tell them to find time. To take the files away with them to do so.
  • Have all your important documentation to hand. Printed. Annotated. Use post it notes to highlight salient points. Not necessarily for the inspectors to see, but for you to draw them out during discussions/interviews with the Ofsted inspectors.
  • Keep organised. Keep up to date with the changes in the schedule. Know where you are going and when. Be early. DO not be late. I created a folder in my Outlook email. I tagged emails linked to Ofsted with another colour. I also, ensured my to list linked to Urgent, Important only.
  • Know your data and thus the students behind the data. Know the teamthat support the students too.
  • Talk about impact, along with plans. If something isn’t going well, then be able to talk about why and what you plan on doing. Talk about changes you have made since last year, since this year.
  • Link everything with teaching and learning. All you are doing, planning and trailing must be linked to quality first teaching and learning.
  • Have case studies detailing successes and reasons for apparent failures. Link this to Raise online. Expected progress scatter graph. In the case studies, highlight all interventions put in place. Create these as a chronology of support. Be clear that you tried all you could. But, most importantly, what you will do differently/better this year.
  • Do not put yourself first. Do not bemoan how much work you have to do to your team. Be supportive to your staff/team/teachers/support staff. Ask if they need anything, help them first. Keep everybody involved. Aniexty and nerves from your team or you is not good! Ask for help, if you need it.
  • Annotate with a document the SIP and SEF with your actions to date. What you have achieved and how. Link this to your govenors meetings.
  • Do not be stressed or worry if anyone else is stressed or snappy at you. It is the Ofsted blindness. Do not worry if anybody else is slightly out of character. Just smile and try to be as helpful as you can. If you snap, or become stressed, apologies when relevant. People will understand.
  • Do not change your routines. Do not go over the top. Other than Ofsted your team, your colleagues and the school will notice the change. They will ask why this wasn’t your normal routine. Do not do things for the sake of Ofsted.
  • Prevent at all costs the climate of fear. Do not let your emotions become obvious or apparent. Be a shield for your team.
  • Contact your link governor, reassure them you are all OK and ask if they need anything more from you. Ensure their reports are with you and you are ready to discuss them.

Once we have received the report, I will add to this post about what to do post an Ofsted inspection…

Post Ofsted:

Since Ofsted has been…

  • The Head has met up with all staff and thanked them for their continued hard work.
  • SLT have met up and forensically analysed the unofficial feedback from Ofsted. We linked them to the Inspection framework and highlighted strengths and areas of improvement.
  • I have met up with my team and thanked them for their hard work.
  • Read the Ofsted report and suggested any changes to matter of facts/wording.
Using Discussion Trees

Last Friday I posted a #pedagoofriday comment about how pleased I was with my bottom set work on discussion trees. This is a simple method I use to help students consider the strengths and weaknesses of any statement. in RE the discussion of such statements counts for a significant number of marks and so is an important skill for us to work on.

On the desk the students blue tack a prepared picture of a tree that then has a statement printed on the tree trunk. On Friday the statement was “It is reasonable to believe that God does miracles”

Without any ‘fresh’ input from the teacher the students consider points to support the statement  - these are represented as roots for the tree, and challenges to the statement – these are represented as gusts of wind.

In the photos below you can see one table group creating a desk full of challenges, as well as a group who are just beginning the process.

IMG_0790 IMG_0796

An important part of the process is getting the students to represent the strength of each argument through the size of the root or gust of the wind. This evaluation of each argument should be achieved as they engage in discussion in their table teams.

I then extend the task by introducing some philosophical arguments. In this case it included arguments from Hume, Swinburne, Aquinas and Wiles, plus a little info on quantum physics. The students decide whether what they are reading is root or wind, they summarise key points and write down accordingly.

The final part of the task is for the students to then discuss and agree on the final state of the tree. They indicate this by using a ruler and drawing a line to indicate if the tree remains vertical, or blown at a greater angle. They may even suggest it has in fact been felled. Obviously they are considering whether the arguments against the statement are more effective than the arguments for the statement, and most importantly, to what extent this is the case.

I then photograph their group work. The following lesson students get a copy of their group work for their own books but also to use as they provide an exam response to the discussion statement that they have worked on.

This approach works well with the whole range of abilities and can be modified based on the material you give each group to work with.

by @lorraineabbott7

See more on my blog at https://lorraineabbott.wordpress.com

Using hinge questions for formative assessment
Image by flickr.com/photos/75001512@N00Image by flickr.com/photos/75001512@N00

I’m trying to get better at formative assessment. I work in a sixth form college and so pretty much everything I do in the classroom is about exam results. The students that come to our college arrive from a broad range of feeder schools and have a similarly broad range of skills and knowledge. It’s a constant challenge to make sure they are learning the content on the spec at the same time as developing the skills they need to reach their target grades. In the rush to get through the syllabus I find it’s all too easy to forget to check whether students have actually understood what I’m trying to teach them. I’m guilty of assuming that students have understood the content because they’ve scribbled down the 3 things they’ve learnt that lesson on a post-it note in a rushed plenary bolted on at the end. It’s with this in mind that I’ve turned to Dylan Wiliam’s, Embedded Formative Assessment, and started to implement some of his strategies in my teaching.

One of the first techniques I’ve been trying to master is hinge questions. These are diagnostic multiple choice questions used as a mini-plenary at a turning point in a lesson. It’s a pause in proceedings to check understanding before you move on to the next part. I used it last week with year 12 when we studied several theories about the relationship between population and resources: Malthus, Boserup and the Club of Rome. The students did a jigsaw learning activity to get down the main points and answered a set of questions as a group. I then gave them two hinge questions:

The principle behind Malthus’ theory is…

  1. There is a fundamental mismatch between population growth and resources.
  2. Fundamentally, humans have no way to increase food supply so food shortages will lead to population checks.
  3. People cannot control how many children they have.
  4. Food supply increases geometrically and population increases arithmetically.
  5. Positive checks increase birth rate while preventative checks reduce death rate.

Boserup’s theory states that…

  1. Malthus was wrong: there is enough food in the world.
  2. Population pressure doesn’t lead to food shortages.
  3. As population reaches carrying capacity, societies are forced to make agricultural changes to ensure there is enough food.
  4. Population checks are preventable through the use of technology, as seen in the Green Revolution.
  5. Optimum population can be reached through the inventive use of technology.

Each student wrote and held up their answers on a mini whiteboard for me to see. At a glance I could see whether they’d understood the two main theories or not. One class had, the other hadn’t. Satisfied, I moved the first class onto the second part of the lesson where they completed an evaluation of the two theories, culminating in an exam question. The second class had far more students who got both answers wrong so I explained the answer to each hinge question (and why the 4 other options were wrong) and then set a different task. They mind-mapped the theories using a different text and a set of key words I’d prepared and then answered some different questions as a plenary.

I’ve also used hinge questions as an end-of-unit test for A2 Geography and have also got students to write them themselves as part of team quizzes and revision activities. The trick is to make all 4 (or 5) answers sound plausible. This forces students to look (and think) beyond the obvious and become more precise and subtle in their writing. Hinge questions are hard to write and hard to answer if you’ve done it right but that’s the point.

There are some clever ways in which you can use a Quick Key app on your phone to do diagnostic tests using hinge questions as well. Simon Renshaw discusses this technique in his blog http://srenshaw.wordpress.com/ extensively. I haven’t ventured that far yet, but it’s something I plan to.

Hinge questions are a simple but very effective method of formative assessment which any teacher can use. I’m currently writing them about oxbow lakes and meanders: the true realm of a Geography teacher.

Teacher Well-being Bags

After an overwhelming response to the teacher well-being bags created this week on #PedagooFriday, I decided to blog about them here on Pedagoo.

Many people have asked me where I got the idea from, so I think that’s a good a place to start as any.

The past few weeks have seen teachers blogging about their reflections on 2014 and hopes for 2015 using the #nurture1415 tag created by @ChocoTzar. Thanks to @sue_cowley who kindly collated them and you can find the full list of this year’s offerings here. These inspiring blogs are accompanied by @ICTEvangelist’s amazing posters. See here for those.

In addition, a growing number of teachers have also been blogging about their #teacher5aday resolutions, an exciting initiative designed to promote well-being belonging to @MartynReah For an explanation by the man himself, see here. A collection of #teacher5aday blogs can also be found here.


(Original image taken by @MissEtchells)

After reading many of the blogs from the list above it got me thinking about what I could do to improve well-being in my own place of work. It seems obvious and simple to me that if teachers are healthy, positive individuals their teaching practice benefits from this. In the current climate surrounding education teachers need to know that there are people who care about their well-being and that they really do matter. Teacher well-being bags were the outcome of a late night planning session designed to get this message delivered.

My role within the school is to improve teaching and learning. That means working closely with colleagues. It’s important to me that staff want to improve because they want to improve, not because I want them to. To achieve this I organised an in-house TeachMeet focusing on expertise from within the school. The aim was to make staff feel valued and encourage a collaborative approach to teaching and learning across the curriculum areas. This was to take place on our inset day after the Christmas break. Having asked staff to step out of their comfort zones, I was conscious that after two weeks away nerves would have set in. In an attempt to make staff feel welcome and confident I distributed the bags. They were an immediate hit!

Each bag contained a personalised poster created quickly and easily using @RhonnaFarrer’s design app.


The rest of the items included are listed below along with instructions for use:

  • Cupcake cook book – set up a rota and get baking for department meetings
  • Star stickies – write praise on these and leave them in places your colleagues will find them
  • Stickers – label lessons/ideas that worked well
  • Notepad – write down great teaching ideas on the go!
  • Stickies – use these in department meetings to plan new schemes/lessons. Time-savers.
  • Mints – to keep you cool when the going gets tough
  • Biscuits – for duty days and break times
  • Highlighters – to make your schemes of work stand out
  • Tissues – for those days. We all have them.
  • Sweets – an energy boost for those afternoon triple lessons
  • Stamps – we all love stamps, right?

The list is by no means exhaustive and was, if I’m honest, a little rushed. I plan on improving the concept this term.  I’m already thinking about ‘revision packs’ for my year 11s!

Initial feedback from the bags has been fantastic. One staff member said she, ‘felt the room visibly lift,’  when they were distributed, whilst another stated, ‘it made me feel part of a team.’ I shall continue to measure impact over the next term but it’s already quite clear due to the response from staff and Twitter users that it’s a welcome idea.

I hope you’ve found them, and this blog, useful!

Why not have a go at your own #nurture1415 or #teacher5aday?


Everyone has something to share
January 1, 2015
Image by flickr.com/photos/clappstarImage by flickr.com/photos/clappstar

Happy New Year Pedagooers!

Pedagoo is now in it’s fourth year of existence and growing all the time. For all our new members, readers and enthusiasts I thought I’d try to capitalise on that New Year feeling and remind everyone that you’re all very welcome to contribute to our lovely collaborative blog. You don’t need an invite, but if you really feel as though you would rather be invited…then consider this your invite!

I’m convinced that everyone has an aspect of their teaching practice which is worth sharing with others, and the great thing is not only do others benefit from hearing about what you’ve been doing, you also benefit from the feedback also. Please don’t be shy…if it worked for you and your learners, then it’s worth sharing. Trust me.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 09.57.18But how do you go about writing a post I hear you ask? It’s dead easy…you just create an account then click on the little blog button at the top of the page. After that, it’s just like sending an email. Or, if you’d really rather share by actual email send your post to share@pedagoo.org and one of the fabby curator team will sort it for you.

Still not sure you’re ready? No probs. Why not start by sharing the highlight of your week as a tweet on a #PedagooFriday or signing up to attend one of our events.

Whatever way you choose to go about it, I would strongly encourage as many teachers as possible to consider making 2015 the year of sharing. By sharing our classroom practice with each other we all benefit and therefore our learners benefit also. Pedagoo is here to make that sharing easier so get stuck in!

Pedagoo Christmas Party – Questioning
December 22, 2014

Welcome to the long awaited overview of the Pedagoo Christmas Party Questioning session.  I was fortunate enough to be facilitating a fabulously creative and thoughtful group of pedadogical paragons meaning that other than taking notes I was able to sit back and enjoy these marvellous people sharing things which made their classrooms special.  This blog is intended to provide an overview of ideas presented and links to other resources that were shared and discussed rather than creating a dilution of the ideas myself.  Each of the ideas shared is worthy of a blog in its own right, so if there is not a link and you’ve been working on something similar why not share it on @pedagoo?

Carol Stobbs

Carol shared a few interesting ideas with us;

She discussed the importance of having factual knowledge to be able to question deeply and enable powerful thinking and the challenges that this creates.  We need to have the foundations of knowledge before we can build deeper understanding and higher order thinking.

Next Carol shared something she liked from John Sayers blog on Questioning Grids which can be found here: http://sayersjohn.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/questioning.html ; John has a fabulous blog and I personally recommend it also.

Carol also shared her own fabulous Good Cop/Bad Cop analysis tool she uses to look at sources in history, “are they positive/negative?”, “how are they useful?”, “what are the limitations?” Carol’s Blog can on this can be found here: http://littlestobbsy.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/good-copbad-cop-source-analysis/

Jo McShane

Jo shared the importance of MLG, Marginal Learning Gains for both teachers and students.  Passionately and honestly sharing how she has been looking to improve both her own questioning and that of her students using this philosophy.  More on MLG can be found on Zoe Elders blog here: http://fullonlearning.com/marginal-learning-gains-blog/

Peter Thomas

Peter was kind enough to share three big ideas on questioing he has been working on in his school.

1) Art Gallery critique; students go around looking at each other work leaving comments and questions.  It’s a great method as it leads to surprisingly challenging questions being generated for students and it creates a lot of individualised challenge based on reponses to their own work.

2) Students exploring how to respond to specific types of questions.  Looking at exam papers and decoding them to understand exactly what is being asked of them.  They even created their own systems and acronyms to support them in their approaches to exam questions.  It was great to hear of the success this student owned exercise (supported of course) has had.

3) Using Iris (a video observation platform) to focus on questions.  It’s one thing to have a tally of question types, another to see them written down.  To watch yourself asking questions and the responses to them really focuses the mind to improve.

Here is a link to Peter’s article relating to this on his schools CPD Blog: https://educatingchurchill.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/how-do-we-evaluate-the-impact-of-cpd/

Kirsty Davies-Walters

Plicker; Kirsty shared with us a method of quickly testing starting knowledge and understanding of key concepts using an app called Plicker.  Students hold up a code, based on multiple choice answers and the teacher scans the room with an iPad to get instant data on student comprehension.  It only works well with closed questions which have specific multiple choice answers, but as a tool I was surprised by its efficiency. If you want to instantly assess knowledge it is a great app.

Caroline Collings

Caroline shared using SOLO Taxonomy as a way to target the thinking of students.  She recommended having questioins set to the different levels of the SOLO Taxonomy and students directing their level of challenge.  She has found that students who aim low quickly progress to the correct level of challenge as they advance and those who pick too high normally readjust their challenge to build on their knowledge and thinking.

There’s loads of SOLO Taxonomy ideas on the @pedagoo website but I’d recommend starting here if you’d like to know more http://www.pedagoo.org/a-solo-experiment/

Kylie Bannister

Kylie shared how she had been using different coloured lollypop sticks as part of her no hands up questioning.  Using different levels/styles of question depending on the colour coding of the sticks.  This meant that she could either target a person to the question when “randomly selecting” who would be answering after giving them thinking time.

Secondly she shared how she had used a “boat race” where students moved markers accross the table during her small A-Level group of reluctant speakers each time they shared a worthwhile response.  She found that this simple technique had generated a positive response to engaging with verbal responses in her group.

Karenza Passmore

Karenza shared some thoughts on when closed questions can be valuable, how they can be done well and how they are still fit for their purpose. It just depends what the purpose of your questions are.  These were some ideas she found on @atharby blog which can be found here: http://reflectingenglish.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/closed-question-quizzing-unfashionable-yet-effective/

Finally my talk on questioning at the party can be found here http://www.pedagoo.org/audio-from-pedagooxmas/ and my notes from the presentation can be found here http://ikonoklaste.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/whats-the-big-idea/comment-page-1/

Hope you find some of the links useful and have a Sharing Christmas and a Pedagogical New Year.

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE

Licensed to Create
November 30, 2014

This is a must watch for all Pedagooey teachers! Find out more here: thersa.org/teachers

The Earth is Flat and Kissing Makes You Pregnant
November 29, 2014
Flat Earth

When Hamlet says that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” he isn’t too wide of the mark. We can think ourselves into all sorts of nonsense if we work hard enough. There are still Flat Earthers, people who think global warming is a myth, and that JFK was killed by the CIA (well, actually the jury may be out on that one…). Some people in my profession – teachers and parents – see the internet as a similarly polarising issue.  On the one hand we have the advocates who argue that the internet has democratised access to knowledge and information and has fundamentally revolutionised the role of the teacher. On the other hand we have the opponents who see the internet as an unregulated hotbed of disinformation that undermines the pivotal role of the teacher as guardian of learning. Just to be clear, and in a spirit of full disclosure, I fall into the first of these two positions, and I would like to say why.

Good schools (and good teachers) are in the futures business.

Schools do not produce stuff for the here and now. Our job is to help build the future, one learner at the time. What we do now should be as relevant as we can make it, but the gauge of what is relevant must be defined by what learners will need for the future, not what they used to need in the past.

Good schools (and good teachers) genuinely put learners first.

Today’s young people live in a world that is saturated with technology – and it is developing at an ever-increasing rate. We all have a duty to make sure that today’s learners grow up as adept, skilful, discriminating and ethical in their use of the tools available to us. That means each and every teacher has that self-same duty. It cannot be outsourced to Tech Support. It isn’t somebody else’s job. Simply put, if you do not help young people to develop their use of technology for learning in your classroom then you are not putting their needs ahead of your own. Likewise schools that do not find ways to invest in technology cannot be said to be genuinely meeting the needs of learners in the 21st century.

Good schools (and good teachers) are excited, entrepreneurial learners.

There is not a teacher preparation system in the world that has prepared teachers for the world in which we now live. Back in 1987 when I qualified as a teacher, nobody knew what was coming. Only the occasional wild-eyed futurist could have foreseen the revolution that Web 2.0 would bring. But now it is here and we need to deal with it. The way in which we do this says a lot about our preparedness to be part of the revolution. If we take the path of suspicion, mistrust and denial, deluding ourselves that we are “holding on to traditional best practice” (sic), then our profession has a problem. We each need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset committed to taking personal responsibility for our own learning. We need to embrace our professional duty to be problem-solvers and inquirers. People who wait around to be “upskilled” will not only miss the boat but they will undermine the learning needs of each and every student they share time with

Good schools (and good teachers) identify and hold on to fundamental principles.

In a world where change is a constant it has never been more important to identify and hold on to the fundamental principles upon which we believe schools are based: schools put student learning first; effective teaching is a thoughtful, planned activity; intellectual rigour isn’t a passing fad; and skills and values trump content every single time (but it is a fallacy to think it is one or the other).

Finally, good schools (and good teachers) practice what they preach.

If we want our young people to grow up as creative, knowledgeable, skilful, ethical, technologically adept inquirers then we have to have those self-same expectations of ourselves and each other. And that is a big ask. In education we face probably one of the biggest challenges any profession has ever faced: reinvention.

If you are reading this as a teacher or an administrator in schools, which side of the divide do you fall on? And before you start to prevaricate, there really are only two sides: you can’t be a little bit pregnant. Then again, you can’t get pregnant by kissing either, but is doesn’t stop some people thinking you can, or that the earth is flat, or that global warming is a myth, or that JFK was killed by…

The power of self-assessment
November 20, 2014
Self assessment

Marking and debates around it are in vogue at the moment especially after Ofsted latest clarification about lesson observations and what they expect on marking.

However, I’ve always been a firm believer like many in education that high quality marking and feedback are hugely important to learning. Yet, I know I’ve been guilty of wanting to take responsibility for feedback and I’ve neglected the power of both peer assessment and in particular the impact of self-assessment.

With my Sixth Form groups this year I’ve been trialling a new way of students completing practice questions for their Home Learning. I’d become concerned that students were sometimes simply completing practice questions because they knew they had to and were rushing to get just something done rather than focusing on their best. If they truly reflected on their work themselves they would concede it was not their best work or something they had tried hard enough on. They were being extrinsically motivated by handing in a piece of work rather than intrinsically motivated by the chance to learn by going through the process of completing a practice question. I was also concerned in reading some of my students work that this rush to simply get things done meant they were not engaging with the questions properly or breaking down the questions to consider what they truly mean.

Whilst working with a Science teacher last week I came across a lovely acronym of BUSY which helps focus students on reading the question properly. I think they themselves discovered it on TES. I like this acronym because the very word Busy implies hard work, grit, determination and effort. The B stands for ‘boxing’ the command words so students focus on what they have to do. The U stands for underline so students have to underline key words which is especially important when considering things such as data parameters. The S stands for scribbling a plan. I like the word scribble because it implies a free flow of creative ideas in the planning process which is often important for students to reflect and think. Then the Y stands for You’re ready to write a brilliant essay. Hopefully, this acronym will focus students on thinking about what to do.

The self assessment sheet (pictured above) requires students to re-read and mark their own essays  before handing it in. Crucially, when setting this up with students I explained why I wanted them to do this. I shared that they often knew if they were handing in ‘sub-standard’ work. I explained that my feedback could only be useful if I was marking what represented their best effort. Otherwise, my feedback would simply tell them to work harder which they would have known before they handed it in. If they truly put in their best effort then I could really give them diagnostic feedback which would challenge them and move them on in their learning. Importantly, re-reading their work would help crystallise their thinking but also hold them to account more for the quality of their own work. I think this is a simple but potentially powerful device to embed for my students to make them work towards even higher expectations. Importantly, as they have to give themselves a mark it will force them into reading and make more use of the level descriptors and success criteria for every piece of work. The proof was in the pudding. Having shared with my class this new idea and why I was doing it one student refused to hand in her essay which was due for that lesson. Their reason? They knew their work was sub-standard and this had prompted them to redo and refine their essay so they could hand in their best possible piece of work. If this small tweak gets my students to achieve and aim for their very best for every piece of work then the quality of my feedback and their understanding will improve exponentially.

Developing Student Independence Through The Use of iPads
November 13, 2014

I find myself in an unusual and yet a privileged position.  I currently work in 2 schools – 3 days in my own school and 2 days on supply in another.  This has allowed me to have a new perspective on my own practice and it has highlighted some surprising things.18 months ago our department were lucky enough to acquire 20 iPads.  To be honest our first year with this new technology was not without its struggles.  Work flow had to be organised,  new routines had to be established and as staff, we had to get used to the new technology that we had been gifted.

Without doubt the use of iPads has 100% supported the work that we do.  We have seen increased engagement in class, we have been hugely creative in our lessons and our confidence in the use of technology has soared.  We have also had our down times, not connecting to the network, lack of Internet and lessons we thought would work that have just simply bombed.

Until now I have not noticed how independent the use of iPads has made our students but they most certainly have.  For many a year I have felt, as I am sure many MFL teachers do, like a walking dictionary; “Miss how do you say…?” Even before the advent of our iPads I had tried to encourage independence amongst our students by using the acronym SNOT; self, neighbour, other teacher.  I created some snotty looking posters and readily displayed them around my classroom.  The phrase “have you snotted?” became a familiar one in our classroom and yet I never felt that students were really moving towards independence.  iPads arrived and the SNOT phrase still rang out in my room.  I really felt that we were making no headway with this independence thing at all and yet unbeknown to me we were.

Last week it was independent learning week at my other school where students were asked to get into groups and research life in a new country.  This was all well and good but they just couldn’t do it.  In spite of the fact that they were sat at a computer on the internet I was still subjected to such questions as “is the Ivory Coast in Africa?” “Is the currency of Japan the Yen?” To be fair, I had a bit of an annoyed teacher rant that they had all the information at their fingertips and that they really didn’t need me, but to no avail.   The lesson was a bit like swimming in porridge to be honest but we gallantly ploughed on.  This got me thinking, this wouldn’t have happened at my school I simply knew that it wouldn’t but why?

At the beginning of our iPad adventure I set up some simple classroom routines based around getting the iPads out, logging into the network and doing it without fuss or bother.  I taught the students simple finger gestures so that they could efficiently and effectively use the technology.  I then placed some posters of QR codes on the classroom walls, these linked to basic language tools like an online dictionary and an online verb table.

Throughout our 1st year with iPads we experimented with a variety of apps with differing degrees of success.  Nearpod was very effective and the students enjoyed working through the online tasks that I set them. As we only have 20 iPads students often shared but this still worked  well  as they discussed their learning with each other.  Apps such as bookcreator and 30hands helped to promote both writing and speaking in the target language.  As we grew more confident, we began to try some simple and then some more complicated app smashes these can be reasonably tricky and require some serious thinking, collaborating and creating from the students.  What’s more, once given a task they just get on with it whilst I act as their guide.

More recently I have been using the excellent iTunesU App to help promote independent learning.  The courses are incredibly easy to set up.  You will need an iTunes account to be able to create and manager your courses.  You simply need to log into iTunesU manager and then it is just a case of finding all the materials you are going to use in your topic and dragging and dropping them into your iTunesU course.  Courses can be made public or private, mine are private at the moment, students need either a link, maybe via QR code or an enrol code in order to enrol in your course.  Once in, they can access all the materials in there.  By giving students access to all of my materials it has helped them hugely when preparing for controlled assessments as they can easily refer back to previous lessons or they can check online grammar lessons that are also uploaded to the course. Students can work at their own pace, as once they finish a piece of work they can easily move onto the next in the course without fuss, bother or paper!  Listening tasks can also be uploaded to the course which enables students to control how often they listen to at ask and which parts of that task they listen to again.  It has taken some time but students are getting used to the idea that the classroom is not focussed on me or the whiteboard.  It’s about them, their peers, collaboration and independence.

These days and without me even noticing, I rarely get “miss how do you say…?” In fact I very rarely to say “have you used SNOT?” The reason for this is the effective use of technology in the classroom.  Students now know that if they want to look up a spelling or gender they simply scan the relevant QR code and bingo they have their answer.  They are used to working together to create and overcome challenges that they have come across through our app smashes or through the use of apps such as nearpod.  I have never explicitly taught these skills although I have always tried to foster them and yet my students are becoming more and more independent and confident in their handling of the language.  This shows itself in their written and spoken work whereby they are writing phrases, sentences and indeed whole paragraphs off their own backs, not simply vocabulary that I fed them but stuff that they have found, created and worked on.  So when other teachers ask me have iPads had an impact in my classroom?I can categorically say yes they have but the move towards independent learning is often shadowy, it creeps up on you and suddenly you have that moment when you have your eyes opened for you and it’s there for all to see – independence in all it’s glory!