As every school does we wanted to improve the quality of T&L and I am a firm believer in doing this through the sharing of good practice, as we have, and had, loads of great practitioners in school in lots of different departments. To share all of the ‘gems’ that everyone had in their toolkits we put together ‘Robert Blake’s Best Bits’ which is a collection of all the bits that make our teaching great. We asked every member of staff to contribute at least one idea that could be used generically by other staff in other subjects around the school, all of which were completed on a common format of a powerpoint slide. These were then collated, organised into different sections and shared with staff. Immediately we had helped create a culture where people were more open about sharing their teaching and helping others. The off-spring of this was we had more staff doing learning walks to see these gems in action in the classroom and T&L took on a greater priority with staff.
Resource. NSL TeachMeet presentation (PDF)
From this we wanted to further embed the culture of sharing T&L so we created the ‘Learning Lunches’ where every fortnight we would put on a buffet (£1.50 per head!) for teachers where 3 ideas from RBBB would be presented and explained. This led to a huge uptake in the ideas and the resultant conversations that were generated as a result of seeing the idea. Our SENCo then developed the idea for LSAs (as we couldn’t fit all staff in our food room where we have the Learning Lunches!) as they have a Learning Breakfast every fortnight, during PSHE lessons, to share their best practice.
The beauty of RBBB is that any one person can initiate and develop the idea. As a class teacher you can create your own ‘best bits’ then begin to share with other people, hopefully making the scheme whole-school. The Learning Lunches can happen informally without providing lunch for staff but putting on the buffet is hugely appreciated by staff who value the school’s commitment to developing T&L.
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Feedback. Please let us know how ‘Learning lunches’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.
The workshop on Differentiated Homework came about due to us considering the differentiated lesson. “We differentiate in lessons so we should differentiate homework…right?” Right!
How can we as teachers insist upon differentiating our classwork but then feel justified in giving the entire class the same piece of homework? It can become boring for the more able, consistently annoying for those who are finding the work challenging and it can be boring for the teacher too! To an outsider, it may seem strange that we are not differentiating homework, so what’s happening? Why are we all giving our students the same homework? Let’s consider the “Why? How? & What?” of this homework scenario
Why do you want students to complete homework?
o Practice? 10000 hrs makes perfect (Malcolm Gladwell)
o To cover more content? The flipped classroom (Bergmann & Sams)
How do you want them do it?
o Paper based or On-line?
o Weekly, Bi-Weekly?
What are the next steps?
o How can you maintain this level of homework?
o How much effort are you putting in when setting and marking the homework?
o How can you ensure that your students learn from the homework and not end up with lots of pretty displays? What level of feedback/marking is the most effective (#Takeawayhmk – how can you fairly assess the homework… S. Porter is currently researching this.)
Knowing the current approaches that are taken with homework and the completion rates, the following is a list of different homework that can be tried with classes – Differentiated Homework
- Two sided worksheet / laminated card
o Basic questions on one side and an extension of the concept or a problem solving task on the other side.
- On line homework (SAM Learning, MyMaths, ShowMyHomework, etc)
- Concept Cards – some staff made their own in the workshop
- Choice Boards
Alternatives to Traditional HW
- Suggestions by the students of Kathleen Cushman “Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery
- Takeaway HW (from “100 teaching ideas for Secondary Teachers” Ross Morrison McGill aka @TeacherToolkit)
Great teachers by Chris Hildrew – @chrishildrew
What makes an outstanding lesson? And who decides? Ofsted set out their criteria for evaluating the quality of teaching and learning in an institution as a whole. In their School Inspection Handbook, footnote 42, it says:
“These grade descriptors describe the quality of teaching in the school as a whole, taking account of evidence over time. While they include some characteristics of individual lessons, they are not designed to be used to judge individual lessons.”
We know that plenty of schools ignore this and adapt the criteria to apply them to individual lessons – for some very understandable reasons. We also know that this leads to teachers teaching “observation specials” to try and jump through the hoops of the taken-out-of- context criteria. You can read about the impact of this in @cazzypot’s blog: Is Michael Gove lying to us all? and in @BarryNSmith79’s Lesson Objectives, Good Practice, and What Really Matters.
Let’s start again.
A typical teacher’s directed time is 760 hours in a year. How many of those will be formally observed by someone else – three? Five? Ten? Whatever the number, there’s a lot of hours in a year when it’s just you and your learners in the room. Forget outstanding. Think about a great lesson you’ve taught – not a lesson where someone else was watching, but one of those lessons where it all worked. Where you and the kids left the room bathed in the warm glow of achievement. Where teaching felt really, really good. What were the ingredients? What made it work? And which of those features can you replicate in your classroom on Monday? If you were to start with a blank sheet of paper, how would you define a great lesson?
And, if that’s a great lesson, what are the qualities of a great teacher? And how can we live them in the classroom for all 760 hours of the year?
If we want are students to amaze us we must first amaze them with our relentless, endless pursuit of learning. The role of a teacher offers the greatest opportunity in the world coupled with a complex set of responsibilities. The moment we stop reflecting on our practice, the moment we settle, is the moment we veer dangerously close to mediocrity. It’s the commitment we make as teachers to never stop learning that will build good habits, develop great teachers and ultimately move the lives of the young people in our care forward.
Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.
The above quote from Dylan Wiliam was one of the reasons that led me to start Never Stop Learning. I wanted to encourage colleagues to reflect on what they were doing and offer some help in doing that. So I founded this idea upon the following principles (via Jamie Smart):
Last night at the first annual Never Stop Learning teach-meet #TMNSL over 150 teachers from around the south-west (and beyond) volunteered for the opportunity to exercise and experience the above three principles to deepen their understanding. When remarkable people congregate in one place with a shared vision for improvement, something magical happens that is difficult to measure but very much experienced.
The people who think they are crazy enough to change the world are the ones who do.
The evening began with a truly inspirational keynote from Hywel Roberts. I’ve seen Hywel speak at a few events and he never fails to send his audience away with lots to think about and a renewed vigour for teaching great lessons. He speaks at a very personal level which is engaging, heartfelt and also very funny – a perfect way to start any teach-meet! Hywel is perfectly summed up in his website address – Create | Learn | Inspire – please pay it a visit.
The keynote was followed by a series of 10 workshops offering a wide selection of opportunities from leading whole school change to differentiation to using video for CPD. All workshops were planned and delivered by teachers committed to making a positive change, spreading their influence beyond just the school in which they teach. The typicality of comments coming from people who attended followed this theme…
The crazy ones responsible for delivering expert workshops at #TMNSL were:
Chris Hildrew – @chrishildrew – ‘Great teachers.’
Amjad Ali – @ASTSupportAAli – ‘Creativity in the classroom.’
David Morgan – @lessonhacker – ‘Stop doing IT wrong.’
David Bunker – @mr_bunker_edu – ‘Teach like a champion.’
Dr Dan Nicholls – @BristolBrunel – ‘Leading change in schools.’
Chris Moyse – @chrismoyse – ‘Differentiation.’
Mat Pullen – @mat6453 – ‘Solo Taxonomy.’
Kate Heath & R Escourt – @artedu_kheath – ‘Practical ways to show progress over time.’
The workshops were followed by further opportunities to connect with others and share discoveries through a series of micro presentations, opened up by the powerfully motivating Action Jackson – @ActionJackson (leader of the FixUpTeam). This was a remarkable second half to the evening with lots of teachers still going strong at 19:30 on a rainy Thursday evening in the middle of March. What followed was a series of short presentations that included lots of tips, ideas to think about and consider coupled with motivation and encouragement to continue to explore the role and practice of teaching.
The crazy ones responsible for presenting were:
@ActionJackson – You are AMAZING!
@edubaker – The behaviour triangle.
@hrogerson – Confidence grids.
@theheadsoffice – Improving writing through blogging.
@ASTSupportAAli – Teaching tips & tricks.
@sporteredu – The ace of… spades, clubs, diamonds or hearts.
@leading_in_pe – Plenaries – voting with your feet.
@mrgmorrison – Robert Blakes best bits & learning lunches.
@lessonhacker – Mid-term lesson planning.
@cgould6 – Working with newly arrived EAL students.
There was a great buzz and atmosphere throughout the evening which was down to the excellent calibre of speakers / presenters and the amazing audience who supported and engaged throughout. The evening was captured brilliantly through the artwork of David Jesus Virnolli.
Thoughts have already entered my mind for the next #TMNSL. Over the coming weeks I will endeavour to share, in more depth the ideas from the workshops in a series of shorter posts. Whether you attended #TMNSL or not I implore you to take time to reflect on your practice, re-visit your moral purpose regularly and make a pledge to never stop learning.
Thank you to our sponsors for the evening!
Why? Proof reading – self assessment. I am forever correcting the same mistakes which arise from a lack of proof reading. As soon as I question a student they know how to correct their work, but they don’t seem to do it!
Possible solution. Walking dictation. Students work in group of three – one student is the scribe and the other two are runners. Differentiated texts, images or sound files are placed across the classroom from where the groups are based.
One runner from each group at a time ‘walks’ to their allocated text, reads part of it and returns back to the group where they dictate to the scribe what they read. The other runner hears how far their team mate read and goes up to the text to read and then return to relay the next part of the text to the team. The scribe is using listening and writing skills and the runners are using listening, reading and speaking skills.
All members are working on their communication and team work skills.
What’s the carrot? Well there has to be a success criteria and I use the least amount of points win. Winners win one point, second place two etc. However, points are incurred for misspelt words, or indeed missed words.
Outcome. Challenge and drive for accuracy. It is an engaging task where students realise the importance of accuracy and to check over their work to eliminate avoidable errors.
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Feedback. Please let us know how ‘Walking dictation’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.
I try to lead by challenging preconceived notions that people are born talented or lucky. In Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born it’s Grown he argues that talent is grown through purposeful practice…deep practice. Below I give a specific example of how this can be seen in students’ learning.
“We all have the ability to profoundly change our levels of talent, our level of skill. Where clusters of great talent emerge there has been a culture created where individuals are constantly reaching and repeating, making mistakes, receiving feedback, building better brains, faster more fluent brains…inside the brain myelin acts like insulation on the pathways and connections in the brain – each time we reach and repeat we earn another layer – signal speeds in the brain start to increase from 2 mph to 200 mph – neuro broadband – (or the difference between normal and great).” (Dan Coyle)
What he is describing is the hardwiring of the brain – through repeated efforts, mistakes and improvement, until the action (or learning) becomes as natural as riding a bike. That is how talent is created.
This recently became really evident to me during a lesson observation of my Y12 Sociology class: one observer sat next to a student and asked her to deconstruct the exam question we were looking at (having heard me used the word ‘deconstruct’ in my instructions). I was amazed, and pleased, to hear her deconstruct the question effortlessly, without hesitation and to depth, drawing on prior knowledge, pulling out command words, key subject-specific words and implied meaning behind the question in a thorough analysis that was no less deep than if I had done it. I realised then that her success in that skill (which she hadn’t been able to do at the start of the year) came from the fact that this was how we started every topic that we studied: with an exam question that we deconstruct thoroughly. Essentially, us practising this skill at the start of every topic had resulted in it becoming ‘hardwired’ in her brain so that she could effortlessly pull it out no matter what the topic or question. Deconstructing an exam question is a transferable skill so I hope that she is able to make use of it in her other subjects as well.
This message of repeating to hardwire your brain is exactly what I’m trying to get across to Y8 in my assemblies, preparing them for their mid-year exams, and reminding them that determined and deliberate effort = success.
Here’s another useful resource, Dan Coyle’s TED talk…
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Why? The class is quiet. Students are getting on with work. But how do they feel about the lesson? Are they learning? Are they enjoying their learning? School is an extremely busy place the opportunity to reflect on this sometimes passes us by. I needed a quick way to answer these questions as it’s not always obvious to see. Paper surveys collected the information but were to time consuming to analyse. I needed something that required almost no prior planning and yielded immediate results.
Possible solution. A simple scatter graph. Label the axis however you see fit and invite small groups of students to plot their response.
Resources. This can be easily adapted to measure almost anything.
Outcome. I was able to gage student responses quickly and use that as a basis to ask more probing questions. Obviously this is just a snap shot, but valuable none the less in future planning and empowering students through student voice.
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Feedback. Please let us know how ‘Quick & simple student voice’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.
Why? Students, due to apathy or due to the state school pandemic of not wanting to sound clever, often avoid giving a thorough explanation to reveal the depth of their learning; rather, given the chance, they will utter a barely audible ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and quickly retreat back into their protective shells. Sound familiar?
Possible solution. To combat this – a simple solution: have high expectations of students’ oracy so that they respond in full sentences.
a) To achieve this, get students to rephrase your question as part of their answer.
For example: Why does Dickens open his novel, Bleak House, with pathetic fallacy?
Student answer: Dickens opens his novel, Bleak House, with pathetic fallacy because…
b) When posing an open-ended question, provide an oral scaffold to extend students’ thinking.
An example slide scaffolding oracy.
Outcome. Having high expectations around students’ oracy has resulted in students providing in-depth feedback as opposed to giving one word answers. In English, levels can also be attached to the quality of student responses: level 5 is linked with being able to explain your ideas; level 6 requires students to explore ideas, thereby showing that information can be interpreted in different ways. As a result, students have evolved to see the value and importance of talk in a lesson – no longer is it an opportunity to doze off or give a mere one word answer, which had previously given them the impression that they were making a meaningful contribution to the lesson – but, by giving extended answers, students now realise that this is an integral part to the lesson. It has also helped to bridge the gap between the talking and writing stage of the lesson. Students recognise that if they can articulate their ideas verbally, this also helps them to translate their ideas to the page.
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Feedback. Please let us know how ‘Developing oracy: Getting students to respond in full sentences’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.
Why? Does anyone else find that every time they think of a brilliant, challenging, barnstorming question, their classroom suddenly resembles this image? No? Me neither. Too often I’ve found that after asking a question, I wasn’t placing a high enough demand on all of the class to consider it. I also noticed that, on occasion, I would ask questions which meant that most pupils did not need to do any thinking. For instance:
“Alex, why might Shakespeare have chosen to start ‘Macbeth’ with the three witches?” Potentially quite an interesting question, but by stating the name of the student first, it’s more difficult to guarantee that other students are also considering the question. Easily fixed:
“Why might Shakespeare have chosen to start ‘Macbeth’ with the three witches? (pause) Alex?” This seems better on the surface, asking the question, then giving wait time, then referring to Alex. But is there any real guarantee or that all students will be thinking?
Possible solution? In the video below, Dylan William describes the difference between ‘table tennis’ and ‘basketball’ style questioning, an analogy which I’m sure many teachers are familiar with. This ties in with the technique Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce which you can read about here.
However, if we want to use these techniques, we need to ensure that all students have fully thought about the question. In order to achieve this, I’ve been trying to make my initial question much more tenacious, demanding that everyone thinks about this question, and making sure that I’ve repeated the question at least twice. Now my question looks something like this:
“Right guys, I’m going to ask you a question and I need everyone to think about it. (pause to check listening) Why might Shakespeare have chosen to start ‘Macbeth’ with the three witches? Think really carefully about how this might affect the play. How would starting the play with the witches affect his audience? Think about it. Why might Shakespeare have chosen to start the ‘Macbeth’ with the three witches. (pause)”
After repeating the question, and giving plenty of wait time I’ll ask a student to offer an answer, before passing the question onward and building a discussion.
Variation. After the repeated question, give everyone a short amount of time to jot down their initial thoughts. Doug Lemov, in Teach Like a Champion calls this technique ‘Everybody Writes’. In his words:
“Effective teachers also set their students tp to hold rigorous discussions and reach rigorous conclusions by giving them the opportunity to reflect first in writing before discussing”
Often, I return back to this post from @HuntingEnglish, giving ten clear and easy to follow questioning strategies. This is also where I first saw the Dylan William video.
Outcome. Just as repeating instructions tends to lead to greater clarity before an extended task, repeating and rewording the question tends to lead to more thinking and more valuable discussion. With enthusiastic younger classes this means more excitable faces, more hands flying up into the air and more incredulous expressions as I demand on ‘no hands up’. With older classes, more meaningful discussion, more students willing to build on each other’s ideas, and less students idly letting just one of their peers do all the thinking.
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First in a series of posts about quick wins in the classroom. The aim of these posts is to provide teachers with ideas that can be tried in their classroom with minimal preparation time.
Why? I wanted students to become more independent and rely less on me for help. Quite often I see students giving up too easily and going to the teacher for help rather than persevering with a problem. I’ve also noticed that students ask a lot of lazy questions (when they can ask an unlimited amount of questions) without any real thought behind them.
Possible solution? Question tokens. I gave each student three question tokens and set 2 rules for the entirety of the lesson:
1. You can only ask the teacher 3 questions throughout today’s lesson.
2. You can ask each other as many questions as you like.
Question tokens (Download for free – please share with colleagues)
Outcome. I tried this with a year 11 GCSE Computing class who were working through some programming challenges. The question tokens encouraged students to seek advice from their peers and if this led to a dead end, they had to research a possible answer using the Internet or come up with a well thought out question to ask me. I witnessed the students demonstrating more GRIT then in previous lessons as they appeared to be quite precious of the question tokens – they would rather struggle through a problem and find a solution themselves then ask me for help. Quite remarkable!
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Feedback. Please let us know how ‘question tokens’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.