Sunday, 2 December 2012

ITP Session 6: Final Session

Our post-session task from lesson 5 was to plan a lesson in pairs and deliver it at the training school to a dozen of their Year 7 pupils. The lesson was to be a 20-minute PHSCE/Maths/English lesson that was to deepen thinking, role-model to students, ensure impact on progress, challenge expectations and engage students in a short session including a starter, main and a plenary. I joined up with the RE teacher on our course and we were struggling for some inspiration.

A pupil in her form whom I teach then gave us something to go off. I teach a year 7 bottom set who were due a test. Their homework was to revise and one pupil, rather outstandingly, said "How do you revise, sir?" "Well, there are loads of ways. I like to read through my book and write down the important stuff on a piece of paper with examples - I highlight this all over the place and write it again when I'm struggling with some of the other stuff. There are loads of web sites that you can use, like BBC Bitesize...". At this point I was interrupted by the aforementioned pupil saying "Bitesize is gay...". I informed him that the use of the word "gay" as an insult is inappropriate and wrote this on his report. Because of blatant overuse of the word "gay" as an insult from our students (don't get me wrong, they're outstanding with respect to many areas, but homophobic language just isn't challenged as much as it should be) we decided to run with this.

I trialled the session with my Year 8 form (more of which later) and ran with it.

The final session on the Improving Teachers Programme was a recap of what we had already covered. The bulk of the morning was the delivery of our sessions. We were split into a 4-session group and a 3-session group and year 7 pupils were sent in their dozens at the beginning of lessons. We had the four sessions, consisting of ours on homophobic language, another around 'Friendships' and the qualities of a good friend, 'Healthy Eating' and a healthy lifestyle and 'Recycling' and reusing.

1. The Deliveries
From observing the sessions, with the idea of providing feedback, I noted a few important factors for all lessons:
* Encourage pupils to speak loudly and clear to improve their confidence.
* Engage with pupils answers more - don't just pay lip service, but respond to every answer in as much detail as you can.
* Have pupils explain their answers or concepts to each other, for a bit of variation in voice, tone and pitch of explanations.
* Props are very useful - but be aware that they promote off-task activity, even with nice kids.

Our session was third to be delivered out of four - we organised the pupils as they entered into four tables of three pupils and introduced the session without an objective. We explained that we want to be given some one-word opinions on things they saw in four images - it was made explicit that this is not a place where we're writing Santa's naughty list and that pupils are encouraged to be as open as possible (as can be with 10 other adults in the room!) and write down the first thing that comes to mind.
Nokia 3210 - 'old', 'brick', ...
Leeds United badge - 'pigs', 'horrible', ...
Well-groomed golfer wearing a pink t-shirt - 'feminine', ...
Justin Bieber - 'yuk', 'horrible', 'best',...

This wasn't really what we expected, but we put it down to the sheer number of adults in the room. When I covered this with my form 16 out of 28 had written the word 'gay' on their mini-whiteboard. I was a little bit disappointed, but expected it. One of the girls said "Your lesson would be dead if none of us had written 'gay', sir" "I know, love, but kids are quite predictable, so don't worry about that". Maybe I should've listened to her a little more, but it gave me something to go off with the other kids.

We explained what had happened with my form and asked if anyone had ever used the word 'gay' to describe something. All hands up, and we discussed what 'gay' meant. With both classes there was a lot of focus on a 'male-male relationship' and a small number of my own form described it as 'loving someone in the wrong way'. We shared our definitions and compared these against the dictionary definition.

Developing our main, we asked pupils to empathise with four celebrities - Gareth Thomas, Chris Moyles, Kieron Richardson and Martina Navratalova. After a short discussion in groups, we asked another member of their group to share who their celebrity is, what they said, what may have happened for them to say it and how it made them feel.

To finish our session we asked the final pupil in each group to share something that they have learnt, a question that they have or a feeling that they have.

Our feedback was mostly positive - a brave decision to tackle such a subject, a very good way in which we dealt with pupils and had them participating and a good feeling of controlled enthusiasm in the room, interesting stimulus material, probing pupils using 'why?' - but it was highlighted by the course leader that she would expect us to speak less and have the pupils work harder than we did.

2. Sharing Feedback
We shared our feedback with the other participants in groups, giving us a chance to discuss where the session could be improved and what went well, giving others our feedback sheets so they had something to go off.

3. Plenary
After lunch, we had our final session, reflecting on the previous five and completing our audits. From these audits, we set four targets for development:
(1) Allow time to reflect on learning within lessons and through plenaries.
I plan to do this through developing opportunities through planning for pupils to reflect on their learning by setting aside time for mini-plenaries and plenaries.
(2) Be more specific in sharing and revisiting learning objectives.
During plenary sessions I need to make specific reference to learning objectives and allow time for reflection against them.
(3) Develop more tasks/resources for differentiated learning.
I'm trying to make the needs of all learners met by producing/developing some more differentiated tasks/resources to allow all learners to work at their own pace, rather than having all of them aim for the top end. (An aside - surely high expectations for all are better, though!)
(4) Promote discussion and thinking skills through group work in Mathematics.
I plan to create more opportunities for pupils to work in groups and share their skills and expertise with one another.

As a final task we were asked to feed back to the course leaders about our experiences on the ITP and what went well and what could be improved.
* I think that my involvement was a useful one and that I took more time to reflect on my practice.
* It definitely increased my confidence with regards to my own teaching and I've become more involved in the department and the school as a whole (see Young Leaders blog posts).
* The course itself was pretty full on - at times the time between two sessions was too quick, but this meant that it kept its momentum.
* The sessions themselves were appropriate in terms of topic, but could have done with being more in depth.
* As a fifth year teacher I think this might have been more useful straight out of my PGCE or in my second year.

I am very much hoping to build on this and participate in the Outstanding Teachers Programme at some point.

I hope this series of blog posts has been useful to you and has given you some ideas for your teaching/CPD. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to tweet me, leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

ITP Session 5: Differentiation

The post-session task from session 4 was to plan a lesson in pairs and deliver it within school. I teamed up with the science teacher who I attend the sessions with and offered my Year 11 class as guinea pigs. They had an exam on the day of the session, so we delivered a lesson last period of that Wednesday. Since we'd recently covered the use of success criteria, we decided to focus on that part of the exam and not any teaching of mathematics. The exam includes a few 4/5/6 mark questions and the pupils in my class (20, lower end D/E grades) tend to switch off from these questions and score 0 marks. Our lesson highlighted where the marks were available in these questions and how they could get them.

First, they marked a question that looked like it would be all there. I made a simple error when multiplying 15 x 4, just to make sure that they were checking everything and many of them changed their '5 marks' to '3' because of this error ("well, that's wrong and now the answer's wrong") and we discussed that the final answer mark would still be given because the method was right. We allowed them to create their own mark scheme for a question about the Macmillan Coffee Morning before setting them off on 5 questions in groups. At parent's evening the day after many kids said "I did well on that 6 mark question, Sir. Maybe not all of them, but I definitely got some marks...".

The second part was to bring some differentiation work for a part of the upcoming session.

Anyway, on with the session...

1. Feedback on Post-Session Task
We first of all given a chance to discuss how our post-session task had gone and discussed this with out partners and the course leaders. We discussed 'what went well's (the pupils who had engaged fully doing so well) and 'even better if's (pupils able to engage fully...) and were encouraged to share a 'feeling', a 'question' or a 'learning', where I informed the rest of the course that I felt more confident about the pupils sitting their exam that afternoon.

2. What is Differentiation?
For this part of the session we were asked to write down a sentence beginning with 'Differentiation is...' (making allowances for differences  in ability/understanding and taking steps to make up for this), 'Differentiation benefits students by...' (giving them a level starting point and by allowing others to progress further) and 'A specific example of differentiation is...' ('Connect Thoughts').

After a short discussion in groups, we crowd-sourced our ideas and wrote that 'Differentiation is stretching the top and supporting the bottom, meeting the needs of all individuals or groups' and 'Differentiation benefits students by allowing students to access work and reach their potential by meeting their specific learning needs'.

3. What Makes Differentiation Effective?
...and what are potential issues?
We had a short discussion about what makes differentiation effective and what might prevent effective differentiation from taking place.
My main ideas about effective differentiation are that it allows pupils to access work at an appropriate level of challenge, but also sets them an achievable level of challenge too. There is no point differentiating your work for L3 pupils and setting L1 work or stretching your L4 pupils by setting L7 work (but I do appreciate that higher level work may be used as a motivational tool and reward - I recently took my L2 and L3 pupils onto calculating the surface area of cuboids after calculating the area of rectangles. I know they won't retain it, but them knowing that they can do it in lesson, and the more practise they get on areas of rectangles tells me that that lesson was worth it).

I feel that the main blockers to differentiation is the amount of time available to plan the differentiated activities as well as the dynamic of the class (and some pupils feeling as though they are less able...).

4. Differentiation Tasks Audit
At this point we worked in groups to assess the tasks that each of us had brought in. I took my percentages 'Connect Thoughts' activity. We thought that it was a good way to allow students to show progress from grade to grade and that it can be extended to allow students to show proficiency at different GCSE grades. The main improvements that were mentioned were the use of colours and pictures, to entice lower ability students to have a go at more difficult questions.

5. How Could We...
...differentiate a list of key words?

Suppose you have a list of 10 key words or a 20-pupil mixed ability class. The idea is that the pupils can describe what each key word means by the end of the unit.
What ideas do you have?

Maybe split the class into groups and have them act out a story for each key word? Perhaps you have pupils play charades to decide which word their class mate is acting out and discuss what each word could mean afterwards?

What about splitting the pupils into pairs and having each pair develop a 5-minute/10-minute starter or short activity where they describe the words to the class? Ask the class if they know what the words mean by showing hands, and choose them this way.

6. Observations
The observations which I took part in this week could not have been different. We saw an RE lesson in which there were 5 pupils, targeting Es to Bs, followed by an ICT lesson in which every pupil did the exact same teacher-led thing whilst we were in there.
The RE class was good in that we had time to sit and discuss the learning experience with the pupils. They were pupils who were at college on Fridays and as such did RE at different times to everyone else. Their books were a sea of different colours, peer assessments (including assessment codes - 'EU' meaning excellent understanding, 'ATQ' meaning answer the question), cutting and sticking, post-it notes, annotations of diagrams, self-chosen learning objectives and medium/long-term targets and our discussions highlighted that there was a lot of whiteboard work ongoing, pupils teaching the class and experiences such as visiting churches and places of worship. The pupils said that they felt able to request things be done in a certain way and also that their learning needs were being met.

7. Finishing Up
We returned to the room, discussed our findings and filled in our audits. I felt, going in, that my differentiation wasn't great, but having discussed what is considered to be differentiation, I think I'm alright at it!

8. Post-session Task
This week's task is to plan and deliver a 20-minute PHSCE/Maths/English lesson in pairs to 12 Year 7 pupils at the school. Having trialled the lesson that we have planned with my current Year 8 form in PHSCE, there's a strong chance that this might over run 20 minutes. So worthwhile, but so draining.

The last session (of six) is tomorrow (Monday November 19), so expect another blog sometime soon.

Monday, 5 November 2012

ITP Session 4: Questioning

First of all, apologies for a lack of substance in this post - the session was a while ago and I have had a holiday since!

The post-session task from session 3 was to write an action plan around future use of assessment in class. My three objectives were to 'improve the use of feedback to allow for improved AfL in revision for Unit 2 examinations', 'improve use of self and peer assessment in class to promote personalised targets set by pupils themselves' and 'become more explicit when introducing and revisiting learning objectives within lessons and when sharing success criteria'.
I made inroads to the first objective in the week I wrote it, by marking my Year 11 exams and sending each student an e-mail with topics to revise based on their grades. Despite not finishing the exam (1h15m in a 1h lesson), one kid got a C and others were very close, so the e-mails were rather positive. Unfortunately, many of the pupils couldn't write down their e-mail address correctly and of those who did, only 2 replied to discuss their revision over half term. Today's lesson wasn't overly positive to begin with but students (all bar two) worked well and more focused than they previously had.

On with this (last) week's session...

1. Assessment recap
We had a quick recap of the assessment session last week with a discussion over AfL and AoL. The discussion was around a comparison that AfL is ongoing (all the way) whereas AoL is more terminal (on the day).

2. Story Time
We took a short time out to read a story - Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We sat around whilst a member of the group read and two more acted out the story. I found this to be more useful than might sound, as it really identified the power of story telling to hook classes in.

3. Questioning
The beginning of this portion was a brief discussion about how and why we question. The course paperwork uses an acronym referred to as 'CAGED' (Clarifying, Assessing, Gauging, Engaging and Developing).

4. Observations
We went off in our learning groups and observed some lessons. The first lesson that entered was excellent - a maths lesson where pupils were first of all given 30 seconds to discuss which of four things were the odd one out (height, temperature, colour of car or flapjacks sold). The teacher accepted any answer as long as an answer was justified.
The lesson continued to types of data and began with a story (as mentioned earlier) about a park. After the story, pupils were asked to suggest what might happen to different areas of the park on different days of the week and then if it was raining or sunny. Even better, they were then asked to argue against themselves as to why it may not work like that! I enjoyed this a great deal.

5. Bloom's Taxonomy
The next part of the session centred around a discussion of Bloom's Taxonomy - the hierarchy of questions. We classified questions by their rank in the hierarchy before we designed our own questions.

6. Post-session Task
This week's task is to plan a lesson in our learning groups to be delivered and fed back on prior to the next session. My group have planned a lesson focusing on the more wordy questions in Unit 2 for the last lesson prior to their exam on Thursday. More to come from this.

The fifth session takes place on Thursday (November 8).

Sunday, 21 October 2012

ITP Session 3: Assessment

As part of my post-session task from session 2, I observed a starter of an English lesson and a full geography lesson. Firstly, I'd like to say that I truly believe that observing lessons is a great way to spend a non-contact period. Secondly, I'd like to thank those people (who do not read my blog, I expect, as I expect few do) for allowing me access to their classrooms. I'll allow anyone and everyone to come into my classroom, but I won't alter what I'm doing. What I do day to day is what I do, and even if OfSTED come in, I'll continue to do the same.
In the English lesson I only observed the starter. The task was to observe full lessons, but who has the time?! The starter was obviously something the teacher had had on the go for a while as pupils had been paired up and asked to prepare a short presentation on the difference between two similar words. We saw two groups deliver theirs (on the words 'already' and 'all ready', and on the words 'illusion' and 'allusion'). I noted that the activity satisfied some elements of 'DR. ICE' by challenging (teaching someone else...) and the way that the activities engaged their peers (a moving around the room quiz and a very well-made video resource). I thought about the use of this in mathematics, but came to the final idea that this would be useful in revision only and would require too much work on behalf of pupil experts to deliver a session on something they're already competent with at a time where they should be spending time working on improving their understanding of other areas.
I observed the full geography lesson in which the class were representing their findings of an environmental survey in bar charts. The teacher referred to their graphs as 'A star graph' instead of 'a bar graph' and revisited this in her plenary. The two As stood for 'axes', S for 'scale on the y-axis', T for 'title' and R for something else (I forget, sorry). She had pupils peer mark and write the letters down on a mini-whiteboard when they'd met that criteria and those pupils who had succeeded at the task had 'A STAR' written down their mini-whiteboard. I liked this quite a lot and would hope to use something like this at some point.

On with this week's session...

1. Exploring Assessment
We began with a simple task. 'Draw a house'. I drew the house in which I currently live and we marked each other's work in pairs. One colleague took the 'house' part a bit far and drew a lighthouse, and my marking involved statements such as 'No Sky+?', 'This fence will need replacing soon' and (my favourite) 'This is a bit of a fantasy!' next to the sun. I think both would be valuable resources if doing this activity with a class as a humourous way in and a way to highlight that this is not how peer-marking is expected to be done.
We discussed the task and decided that the way to mark it would be to provide success criteria, but why provide students with a task without indicating how they are going to succeed at it? We repeated the task with criteria and marked against this, deciding that success criteria is a must for students to succeed in the exam system in which we currently teach.

The next task was around four assessment questions: "When do students need success criteria?", "Why do students need success criteria?", "What might the success criteria columns (in the task) represent?" and "Is success criteria for the benefit of students or staff?"

We then took off into two groups on each side of a double-sided whiteboard to discuss different types of assessment: Assessment of learning and assessment for learning. The discussions ended with the comparison of 'AoL' being a 'post-mortem'-style of assessment whereas 'AfL' was more of a 'health check'. We also decided that some activities (such as past exam papers) can be classed as both if they are used in different ways.

We completed this session by defining what Assessment of Learning and Assessment for Learning is as well as completing our self-audits.

2. Lesson Observations
We went into three different lessons to observe the use of AfL and fed back in the session after break. We saw a lot of AfL happening, none of which I found overly ground breaking, but did like the use of 'The Steps to Success' in a maths lesson rather than 'All/Most/Some objectives'. The lowest step with the lowest level objective is coloured pink, bronze, silver and gold with the objective level increasing through the colours. I thought this was an excellent way to show progress through a lesson. It also reignited my wishes for a document camera for my classroom.

3. Discussion
There was more discussion time allowed for feeding back observations and findings from the post-session task.

4. Post-session Task
This session's task is tight on time, and is simply to prepare a planning log and action plan for priorities on working on assessment within lessons. The action plan is to identify three objectives for improving the use of assessment in lessons, the action that will allow this to happen and the success criteria for deciding whether the action plan has proved to be successful. A space for reflection is also to be added to allow for a later reflection.

The third session takes place tomorrow (22nd October).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

ITP Session 2: Starters and Plenaries

Our school group met on Monday to prepare our starter activity. We decided to focus on the riots of summer 2011 and community cohesion. We made a worksheet for each of four pictures (the young boy being mugged, a woman jumping from a building, tea being poured into cups on a police officer's riot shield and an army of people holding sweeping brushes) for four groups asking the groups to describe (what the picture was), reflect (on how it made them feel), speculate (on why this might have happened and what comes from it) and to write a newspaper headline. After creating these worksheets, the power went out, so I had to remake them Tuesday morning (which was very annoying). The activity was well received and I found the second session much more useful than I had found the first.

1. Quick Recap of Session 1
We were straight into it this week and were asked to write down 1 thing that we'd taken from last week into our practice over the last week. I've been reflecting more on my practice, whereas others had given more time for student reflection in lessons and others had gained in confidence. We were asked to share these with a couple of people around the room, and once done, were asked to share someone else's answer. I felt that this was a rather good way of getting student (the role that we essentially take) answers and ensuring that the students would be discussing with one another.

2. Starters and Plenaries
This was the major part of the day and discussed what an effective starter (or plenary - two starter groups, two plenary groups) was. My group were given the plenary cards, an element of my teaching that I am aware requires development and discussed our findings with the starter group on the table next to us. The cards that were prompts for discussion were along the lines of 'Does an effective plenary have to be delivered to the entire class?' or 'Does a starter necessarily have to lead in to the lesson being taught?'.

My thoughts were that a plenary isn't necessarily delivered within the same lesson - I always begin the next lesson with a starter linked to our previous lesson to consolidate learning and I believe that this is more beneficial to the students having had at least a day to allow the concepts to settle. I'm quite happy with the way that I begin my lessons (learning objective and starter on the interactive whiteboard as kids enter so they can begin upon entry) but I must develop my use of plenaries.

I wrote a few notes:
Make use of plenaries and mini-plenaries - if we're progressing through topics, ensure that we recap as we continue through and make sure that time is made for a plenary at the end of a lesson.
Secure time for plenaries - I've toyed with the idea of setting an alarm on my phone for 9:50, 10:50, 12:10, 13:10 and 14:50 so I always have ten minutes at the end of a lesson, but I am yet to go through with this. Maybe this week.
'How have you learnt it?' - we seem to focus on what pupils have learnt a lot, but rarely on how they've learnt it.
Set individual objectives - an idea I thought would be very useful in revision lessons in the lead up to exams. Provide each pupil with a sticky note and have them write a lesson objective for themselves on the piece of paper. This can be differentiated by each student who will write 'I will... (definitely do this)', 'I should... (get this done too)' and 'I might... (get on to this if I get through the other two'.

After discussing this we were asked to write, on a sticky note, one of four things: a question, a good idea, a concern or some new learning. I put my latter note (the individual objectives) up as my 'good idea'.

3. Improving Teacher Audit
We then filled in our audit booklet, which (for me) indicated a great need to develop a bank of plenaries to allow for consolidation before pupils leave the room.

4. Lesson Observations
Our lesson observations this week were two 30-minute observations in our groups of three. We were sent to an English literature lesson for the first half and an RE lesson for the second. The focus built on last week's 'engagement' and 'challenge' by adding 'starters and plenaries' and 'assessment'.
The English lesson was with top set year 11. A starter was on the board as the pupils entered and they discussed as they stood behind their chairs waiting for the lesson to begin. The teacher got their attention and after one answer from a pupil revealed that she was correct. I was impressed by the pupils discussing this as they waited, but felt that this could be even better if (EBI, a thing we use on the programme) if more discussion was allowed to get other pupils' ideas (even if the first answer was the one we were after). I applied this to a year 7 lesson this week and gave the pupil with the right answer a full-class round of applause when we revealed. The lesson itself was the pupils acting out 'The Crucible'. I believe there were many groups in the class and they took it in turns to act out a scene (this meant that they were thinking of how they might do it while the other groups were acting it out, and also meant that they had to keep up by reading along). The teacher ended this section of the lesson with a good discussion of what just happened in the play. The second half of the lesson was to watch a film version.
The second lesson we observed was an RE lesson with (what I believe was) a mixed ability year 9 class. I picked a lot up from this session and wrote a lot down. In terms of engagement there was a lot of short times given for tasks and in terms of challenge there was the introduction of GCSE-type questions. Pupils were assessing themselves at all points throughout the lesson and the teacher used mini-plenaries excellently ('Pass the parcel' style discussion with the speaker holding an object that is thrown around the room, a quick revisit to the lesson objectives after moving on and the use of mini-whiteboards for pupils to quickly feed back. At the end of the lesson she used the document camera on her desk to show a pupil's work on the board and had him talk us through it, had the pupils (all at once) recap the five major points of the lesson, walking around taking in their answers and went back to the 'pass the parcel'/'hot potato' activity where pupils were to share one thing they'd learnt or one question they had.

The observations encouraged me to reflect on whether I could use a document camera, whether I should rearrange my classroom to accommodate more group work, to give pupils 30 seconds of reflection time before asking for answers and for pupils to check their answers with those from other groups (and to discuss why the other groups' might be wrong/right).

I also picked up that I could probably do more with checking my form's planners by looking at the displays on the walls.

5. First Session's Post Session Task Delivery
As the next part of our session the starter activities for a citizenship lesson were delivered. There were a variety of them, ranging from a discussion over smart phone applications and how students and parents might use them to contact school, community cohesion and the impact different events have, what defines 'being British' and different forms of abuse, focusing on Lance Armstrong and Jimmy Savile.

From this session I picked up the use of movement around the classroom for PHSCE sessions ('Yes', 'Maybe', 'No'... find someone to discuss with... does that change your mind?).

We assessed each session using the DR. ICE acronym, discussing where deepening thinking might be improvement, where the learning was modelled, and so on and so forth.

6. Post-session Task
This session's task is to observe two good lessons (in pairs or more to allow for discussion) in the school prior to next Thursday's session with a focus on 'engagement', 'challenge', 'starters', 'plenaries' and 'assessment'. I'll have to do this on Monday and Tuesday in two of my 3 non-contacts.

The third session takes place on Thursday (18th October).

Monday, 1 October 2012

ITP Session 1: Introduction to Teaching and Learning

 The Improving Teacher Programme is not a course. It is a programme. That was made very clear. It's not a flash-in-the-pan course that means nothing to people, it's a programme that is intended to improve the participants ability to reflect and improve upon their teaching.

The programme is written by Olevi ( and because of the nature of copyright claims many things have different names (a 'learning walk' is called a 'ward walk' for instance), but don't let that fool you. It was trialled in London and Greater Manchester and, because the feedback has been very positive, is now being rolled out nationwide. This, I believe, is one of the first to have happened outside of Manchester or London.

This particularly course is run at an outstanding school in Yorkshire and is deliberately low-tech and stripped down, so that we're working at the heart of teaching and not with all of the flashy gadgets. This will be the first part of a collection of reflective posts aimed at allowing me to progress through the course to the best of my ability, as well as preparing myself for delivering any sessions that might lead on from my involvement in this programme. I'm hoping that you can take things from it too.

1. Introduction
We were introduced to the leaders for the programme and put into groups based on where our name tag has been placed. In these groups we were given the first task.

2. What is effective teaching and learning?
The first task was to answer the question 'What does a good teacher look like?'. The usual buzzwords were flung around, but the first thing that everyone went to was their appearance before asking things like 'What does a good teacher do?' or 'What makes a good teacher?'.

Prior to the second task, we were introduced to the backbone of the course (or so I gathered) described as 'Dr. Ice'. This consists of:
Deepening Thinking
Role-modelling Learning
Impact on Progress
Challenging Expectations
Engaging in Learning

In our four groups we were asked to discuss what we thought each of the above meant (we left Engaging in Learning out). The following pictures show what the group came to:

My biggest bits that I picked up on are:
Deepening Thinking - give time for discussion (which I am currently working on with year 9)
Role-modelling Learning - avoiding negativity (which I am very much trying to work on!), being a lifelong learner and sharing experiences (of which I am very good at - I'm constantly banging on about golf!), clear classroom routines (which I definitely need to develop beyond the usual 'pick your book up, make a start, margins, date, LO and starter...)
Impact on Progress - interesting and innovative lessons (which I am working on by using the 3 Acts things on offer by various people and thinking up my own activities), rewards and sanctions (which I probably should do more, but I get carried away teaching!).
Challenging Expectations - giving the same level of enthusiasm at all levels of ability (which I am happy to say I do), variety of presentation (I consider this on my drive to school and would be happy to accept my lessons do need more variety, more group work and more independent enquiry).

3. Expectations and Concerns
In this part of the session we were asked to write down expectations of the ITP and concerns regarding this too. The majority of the expectations centred around the hope that this would improve people's teaching, whereas the majority of concerns centred around the time required to implement what might come. This is a concern of mine, but I am happy to allow this to run and get into it before seeing how much time it takes and whether the time is worth the output.

4. Improving Understanding
This part was cut short because of time constraints, but focused on a game called 'Educational Taboo'. Take a card from the pile and explain what the word means without using the word, which went well in our group of three.

5. Ward Round
As I previously said, a 'learning walk' to you and I is called a 'ward round' in this programme as 'learning walks' are a copyrighted term and cannot be used in a programme that is sold on. This, as is probably expected, saw the groups head into 4 different lessons to observe with the focus of 'Engagement', 'Challenge' and 'Learning'. I saw many things that I include in my own practice but would like to draw on a few notes I made:

If you're going to tell a pupil you'll go back to them, make sure you do. (Engagement)
Putting a level on a piece of work is all well and good, but please make sure the level is accurate. I am wondering, however, if this was used to promote confidence in lower ability pupils who now believe they can work at level 7. (Challenge)
I was quite a fan of the English lesson's starter (I assume) which asked pupils to take the words 'The Tulip Touch' and write as many words with four or more letters they can write from the letters in the title. The higher ability pupils can be stretched and the lower ability pupils can find challenge too. (Challenge)
Explain why you're doing something and how the lesson will run. (Learning)
Consolidate understanding in groups by switching members and say that everyone has to 'Teach them or learn something from them'. Follow this up by questioning the groups/movers. (Learning)
Model your discussions prior to setting pupils off. What could you say? What might you hear? What questions might you ask? (Learning)

We then fed back to our group and into a whole group discussion. One thing that I picked up from here is use of the word 'SNOT' to be used like '3B4Me' (Self, Neighbour, Other, Teacher), reducing the workload of the teacher with pupils answering those small problems.

6. Improving Teacher Audit
To prepare us for completing our audit for Challenge and Engagement, we completed two tasks. The first of which was a two-way table with column headers of 'Do it' and 'Don't do it' and row headers of 'Easy to Achieve' and 'Difficult to Achieve' where we assigned phrases to one of the four boxes. 'Pupils in my class are engaged by the task after I explain the task clearly' was one, and I forget the rest. This one sparked a small discussion as I feel that much of this is down to the pupil as an individual rather than myself as a teacher, as those who are disinterested will not be engaged if they do not want to be.

The second short task was a quick 'Key Phrases Activity' - given a phrase, explain its educational meaning, explain how it benefits your pupils and give a specific example. This was one of mine:
'Challenge' - 'To extend the learning of and understanding a pupil holds by setting tasks above their current level to promote progress', 'pupils progress at an increased rate in terms of their understanding and develop confidence', 'a task involving a cuboidal post box and the cost of an artist covering the box with second class stamps as a protest at the state of the postal service'.

These were a build up to a self-audit about how we deal with 'Engaging in Learning' and 'Challenging Learning' in our classrooms.
My self-audit highlighted a need for me to learn how to engage the disengaged by using different strategies, as well as to develop a larger bank of resources to cater to different learning styles (Engaging in Learning) and a need for me to challenge all pupils when inadequate work in completed in a lesson (Challenging Learning).

7. Post-session Task
Every session ends with a brief introduction to our 'homework'. This sessions is to prepare an eight minute long starter activity for a core subject or citizenship lesson that will both engage and challenge OUR thinking. These tasks will be judged on their challenge and engagement. We are due to meet about this later this week.

The second session takes place a week on Thursday (11th October).

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Improving Teacher Programme

It was mentioned to me in passing the week before last, but after a visit from a senior member of staff on Friday, it's all but confirmed that I'll be taking part in the Improving Teachers Programme. It's a six-session course that runs over 6 weeks and is apparently aimed at members of staff who consistently receive satisfactory with elements of good in their observations and aims to develop their skills to deliver consistently 'good' lessons.

I don't like telling people that I consistently get 'satisfactory with elements of good' (sorry, requires improvement, not satisfactory) in my observations. It makes me feel a bit rubbish despite me knowing that I am not, so I always seem to say 'my observations are graded satisfactory, but over a year, I get good results' to make myself feel better. In fairness, I do. A remark of a pupil who came to me with an F on modular with 4 months to go came back as a C on Thursday.
I don't feel like a teacher who 'requires improvement' (of course I do, but I don't think I deserve a title with that negativity), but I am very excited to be involved in the sessions.

The idea is that the four of us from the school who are attending will then roll this out to the rest of the staff in CPD sessions, followed by involvement in the Outstanding Teachers Programme (another programme, aimed at developing 'good' teachers into 'outstanding' teachers).

The sessions run throughout October and November and are based around these headings:
#1: Introduction to Teaching and Learning
#2: Starters and Plenaries
#3: Assessment
#4: Questioning
#5: Differentiation
#6: Final Plenary Session

Each session also has a 'post session task' and require dialogue with a school-based coach/mentor.

I will be posting blogs on the matter as I go, not only as it will be part of my process, but also because I hope that others can gain from this as much as I can.

First session: October 1st. Can't wait.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Finding a better work-life balance..

The overlap between my working situation and my living situation has altered this year. I'm going to need some rigidity to find a happy balance between the two and inspired by this blog post, I have written this manifesto:

1. My working hours run from Sunday, 6:30pm to Friday, 3pm. I will aim to work from 7am to 4pm at work and between 6:30pm and 8pm at home. Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday morning and afternoon is my time off.
2. I will wake at 5:30am every school day, aiming to get to sleep no later than 10:30pm the night before.
3. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday mornings I will run 5km.
4. I will leave work at 4pm wherever possible.
5. I will drink more water, both at work and at home.

On days when I run 5km, it's likely that I'll arrive at work at about 7.30am. On days when I don't it will be 7am. I'm hoping this gives me an extra hour to get some marking done, and will means that I'll spend 45 hours at work in the week, with an extra 7.5 hours at home. If I can work efficiently, then I think this will be more than enough time to mark and plan.

The end of last year was a tired time for me. I'm hoping that a routine will prevent this from happening too soon, with time to relax and unwind and recharge at the weekend. I'm hoping it will make me more efficient, too and allow for a more energised and focused push around exams time.

The weekend off is a BIG 'must do', I think. I have committed to some working weekends (for developing The Mathia), but will earn these back from myself during the holidays, not working on anything, but maybe playing golf.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Mathia

"The maths leader award is not concerned with the teaching of maths to the maths leaders. The course and award's aims are simply to teach young people how to lead others through basic maths activities and improving communication, organisation and motivational skills within the maths leaders."

Our intake is rough around the edges - even our best kids have something about them - but there are some real gems in there and I intend to sift through and find them. The sheer mention of university applications fills their eyes with hope, like they're unaware of their potential having never been told this. I can't help but recognise the positive aspects of being involved in this kind of exercise for life skills for our pupils and for their college and university applications.

I'm developing The Mathia!

The basics are this:
* the course takes approximately 30 hours to complete.
* pupils are required to be 13 years old or older.
* each pupil costs £5 to enter, with a minimum initial order of 25 learners.

The course is broken down into 6 units:
1. Planning, preparing and assisting a simple maths activity.
2. Communication and motivation skills for leading a maths activity.
3. Delivering maths across the curriculum.
4. Compendium of maths games and activities.
5. Organising and running a maths event/club.
6. Demonstration of leadership skills in maths.

We intend to run the course during a weekend away and during after school sessions in the first half term of this year for year 11 and later in the year for year 10.

Once the pupils complete the course, which I don't see as being a massive issue, they can have a massive impact on the progress of others and the presence of mathematics within the school. The areas that I have noted as potential uses are:

* One to one mentoring.
I've had a look at our tracking data for Year 7 over the past year and used a number of IF statements in Excel to identify some pupils who are seen as having a good attitude (two 1s and a 2 in our ATT column) but are two or more sub-levels below their target grade (if the difference between ACH and TGT at the end of the year is greater than 0.6). More than 15 children have been identified and I intend to assign each of the year 11 maths leaders to an incoming year 8 pupil. I expect them to meet at least once per week (before school, during registration, at break, at lunch or after school) and come back to me with this and hope that the year 8 pupils' confidence and, in turn, their grades improve.
Year 10, who will complete the course later in the year, will be assigned to current year 7 after Christmas, as this will allow these pupils to take their mentees/mentors through into next year and roll the programme out with Year 10s being taken on to work with Year 7.

* Involvement in 'Maths Day' activities.
I'm talking 'Pi Day' and 'World Maths Day' and things like this. WMD is on March 6, 2013 and a very basic plan is to commendere an ICT room (or 2... or 3...) where the Maths Leaders can lead year 7 and 8 classes in the WMD activities.

* Involvement in 'Year 5 Taster Day' sessions.
I posted a blog in July about the best end of term lesson ever. This is the activity we run with year 5 when they come in for a taster day and I'm sure that extra bodies involved would be a massive boost for the teacher who runs the session. By having a group of Maths Leaders (say, 8 of them) we can train them to work with any group. Let's say we have 8, numbered clockwise around the room in a horseshoe. When we start bringing the tetrahedrons together they can pair up (A = 1&2, B = 3&4, C = 5&6, D = 7&8). Once they're done, bring those groups together (A&B and C&D). I'm sure that this will lead to larger tetrahedrons being made and improved picture opportunities.

* Involved in delivering maths sessions at taster evenings.
If we have a number of kids who are mentors and a number of kids highlighted as mentees we can have the mentors available for questioning from parents and the mentees too. The mentees could work with the mentors to aid the incoming primary school pupils through puzzles and problems.

* Deliver after-school intervention/revision sessions.
Our KS3 classes follow a rather similar path throughout the year over 6 units. Our Maths Leaders can work in small groups to prepare and deliver revision sessions to the year 7s and 8s at different levels (123, 3 into 4, 4 into 5, 5 into 6 - rotating so that they work with all ability groups) prior to theit unit tests.

The biggest part of this that I'm excited about is the chance to turn our high achievers into even higher achievers.
And the badges... Oh the badges:

£20 for 100.

Any other suggestions for potential 'uses' of Maths Leaders would be absolutely outstanding.

Updated Sunday September 2, 19:27
 After I posted this on Twitter, it went a bit further than I expected it would. Thanks to everyone for their feedback and support. I've ordered 70 'The Mathia' badges and 30 badges for my form (They say 'I'm in 8DAT (It's OK to be jealous)' on them). I have a meeting on Thursday with the head of Literacy and Sports Leaders to discuss what we're going to do, so very excited and hoping to have them before then.

@janetgoodall suggested that 'The Mathia' could also be given the responsibility of updating a display board within the department or to deliver assemblies.
I'm thinking that a display board would be good, but I'm unsure over what they could really put on it. The assembly idea I like a lot and will be discussing with people over the next week.

Monday, 30 July 2012

How did Mr. Taylor do?

Every year I ask my pupils 4 questions at the end of the year. 1. What went well? 2. What didn't go so well? 3. What did Mr. Taylor do well? 4. What can Mr. Taylor do better next year?

The results are in, and here is what they look like. I'll give you a little background on classes, too, as we go along...

My pride and joy this year. Achieved far above any other class in the year, and probably the school. 23 kids out of 30 on or above target, 9 of those above. All in a year when at times they didn't know who'd be teaching them when they turned up. I've eluded to this elsewhere, but this may be the last time I get to be proud of them...

What went well?

What didn't go so well?

What did Mr. Taylor do well?

What can Mr. Taylor do better next year?

Summary: In the end everything did go well, and I agree that their other teachers weren't beneficial to their progress - but maybe that galvanised them when they got me back? It was so easy to teach them and to have fun with them, but because of their enthusiasm there were also times that I lost my temper a little. I should've treated this lot to more 'fun lessons' (as they call them) and maybe should've organised a trip for them, but you live and you learn...

A struggle due to the behaviour of a handful of boys who were constantly challenging. Very few pupils achieved their target and I think this is down to a) disruption, and b) over inflated targets.

What went well?

What didn't go so well?

What did Mr. Taylor do well?

What can Mr. Taylor do better next year?

Summary: Yeah, not a great deal did go to well, to be honest. Mostly down to low level disruption and particular pupils disrupting every lesson. I wouldn't say that I taught them particularly well and this is definitely an area that I have to work on - more severe sanctions and better management of challenging pupils.

I took 8H1 on late, due to maternity cover. My set 3 went to the cover teacher and I took on set 1. Because of the limited amount of time we've spent together I didn't ask them to complete all the questions.

What did Mr. Taylor do well?

What can Mr. Taylor do better next year?

Summary: It was easy to have fun lessons with them - mostly engaged students who are switched on and good at discussing maths in real terms and its applications to real-life. They've given me a lot of food for thought and just like 7Y1, I'm hoping I can reward this lot next year. One thing that we will definitely do is a Friday afternoon quiz/test and problem solving.

Our set 5 class isn't outstanding - too many kids who don't want to be at school and aren't bothered about failing. Little work ethic, poor punctuality and a 'Do it for me' attitude can be used to describe 70% of them. Hopefully the summer will force them to mature and they'll come back with a better attitude.

What went well?

What didn't go so well?

What did Mr. Taylor do well?

What can Mr. Taylor do better next year?

Summary: I can't say much went well, but I am hopeful for some Unit 2 Exam results (available August 23). I did all I could for them this year and had all pupils put their half in then we'd have some decent results to come back. It appears that the older kids enjoy sarcasm and 'dissing', and they've not given me a great deal that I think I can work with.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Best End of Term Lesson Ever.

I've been helping out with Year 5 taster days lately, which I've enjoyed a lot, and wanted to take one of the activities into my Year 7 class. The idea is that you make this:

It pretty much filled the room from floor to ceiling.

I've had a great year with 7Y1. They've performed above themselves, with many achieving above the median and (despite them being the weaker of our two set 1s in year 7) achieving the highest scores we've had for quite a while. I wanted to repay them for their patience (at one time their trainee teacher wasn't always there and for about a month they didn't know which teacher they would be having - which makes 31 of us! - and at another they had continuous supply for three weeks whilst I worked with year 11 in extra sessions) and reward them for being consistently awesome. As I told them before they left, I've enjoyed their classes so much this year and I'm a little sad that I won't teach them next year.

The activity is centred around tetrahedrons.

Build one and ask: Who knows what this shape is? What's its special name?

One of the class came in to work with Year 5 and demonstrated building one for the class, going around and helping others as we worked.

This is what you'll need:
(Six dowel rods and a pile of elastic bands)

Every joint must be banded tightly - so have loads of bands available as many will be snapped - so that the structure is as strong as possible.

Step 1: Get three rods and put them side by side. Put an elastic band around one end, tightly, so that your rods look like this:

Step 2: Twist two of the rods around, leaving two at a right angle to the other one. You're going to put two more alongside the one by itself, tying as you did in Step 1 at the other end.

Step 3: Open up as shown in the following photograph. It will be like having two pairs of chopsticks joined together.

Step 4: Pick one from each set of 'chopsticks' and pair it up with one from the other.

Step 5: Put elastic bands around where these rods cross - this is where you'll start to see the tetrahedron taking shape.

Step 6: This is where you add the final edge to your tetrahedron. Lay the final dowel rod across both ends and secure this rod in place using elastic bands.

Step 7: When you've attached the last rod, you're done.

This gives you a 'small' tetrahedron. To make one the size that we did you'll need 64 - I set the class the challenge of two each. Some struggled and made one, others were awesome and made 5!

Taking four 'smalls' you can make a 'medium'. Three on the base and one on the top. Band them in place (which can be quite tricky!) and make sure they're strong by lifting the top - if it's done well if won't alter in shape!

Taking four 'mediums' and joining together in the same fashion will give you a large - this is where the strength of the bands is so important.

Four of these will give you an 'extra large' - the one in the original picture at the top. It stands so tall and is so large that it took about 10 of us to lift it and hold it in place (on their toes) while I secured it in place.

Once finished it's very impressive - all the kids took pictures on their phones (I figured that relaxing the 'phones are to be turned off and at the bottom of your bags whilst in school' rule was OK 5 minutes from the end of the year) and a handful of staff found their way in, very impressed by the work that the kids had put in.

Such a brilliant end of term activity. Will do the same with other classes next year! :)

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Feeling Good...

I'm in a very good place at the moment. We're about 5/6 of the way through my second year at my current school and I don't think I've felt this good in the last 5 years.

I feel I should pay reference to this post I wrote in August 2011 about what I wanted from this year.
Classroom Management is still something I need to work on, but I think much of what I struggle with is out of my control. My 7 set 1 are excellent, as are 8 set 1. 7 set 3 and year 9 are reasonable, but year 10 and 11 aren't great. They're not fighting, bothering anyone, but they're not doing much - I guess this comes down to individuals.
My Classes have been changed massively. Year 11 set 5 were decimated after getting half a dozen up to Cs and those on Ds entered for linear. Currently I have a group of E students who are preparing for their linear exam to give them a shot at an unlikely C. Year 10 set 5 saw massive changes after half a dozen got Cs and the bottom end fell out. I was also given 8 set 1 instead of 8 set 3 at Easter due to maternity leave.
Extra Curricular goings on are fine - I got a new kit and I'm working on introducing Junior Maths Leaders over the next academic year alongside Literacy Leaders with the head of English.

My main reason for my good feeling comes from the last week. Myself and a deputy head (who came from my previous school at the same time) put our heads together and invited the linear classes in for a focus on C-grades to push them over the line. Of the 30 kids invited, all of whom are currently holding on to Ds and Es, we saw about 20. These are set 5 and 6 kids at an inner city school and because two teachers who they had never met two years ago told them to come back, they did. Sure, the lure of pizza may have had an effect, but the possibilities seem endless with our kids and the only thing holding them back from really, really being outstanding students is inconsistent expectations across a staff room and the respect they should be given.

After my first second year at a school with a constant cohort of kids, I really see the benefit of knowing your pupils well and them knowing you. Go out, speak to them, offer kind words and a few friendly insults, but most of all let them know that you're only job at that place if to help them to progress to their potential and that your role as a guardian between 9 and 3 and your role as a babysitter come second to that.

I held a short conversation on the way out with the aforementioned deputy head and as I stepped in to my car came to the conclusion: I don't care if OfSTED or SMT don't see me as an outstanding teacher as long as the kids at my school do, since that's the reality of it.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Speed Data Collection

I'm conscious of the time that it is, and how long my day has been, but this is just designed to be a quick one.

I've been half-following #sendGoveyourtimesheet on Twitter this week, and had a very short count up of my working hours this week. 7.30 - 16.30 on Monday (2 hours in the evening), 7.30 - 16.30 on Tuesday (1 hour in the evening), 7.30 - 19.30 today (parents' evening) is already 30 hours - do I now work 2.5 more hours this week and call it a day?

The thing I wanted to post about was inspired by this post. I wish I'd bulled it up a lot more now, as this was very good and very useful and could've been a lot more fun than it was.
In order to give a little more value to representing data to my Year 8 class I had them collect data about themselves. I could've done this as homework, but decided to finish an activity off today and follow it up with speed data collection.

It's very similar to speed dating - set the tables up so that they're somewhat circular, and set the kids up so that they're facing one another. I prepared 15 questions - one with a lot of answers, and one with yes or no - and gave each pair the same question to start with. On my whistle (one lesson of PE per week!), pupils began and on my second whistle, moved one seat to their right, taking their question and asking the next person. I stopped them at different times to check they all had the right number of data points and they stopped when they returned back to their original date. This meant that all of the insides had asked all of the outsides, all of the insides had asked the outsides and that the two sheets were so easy to collect and collate.
Get the tables back to how they were supposed to be, and we're away with 30 data sets with results from the class. Ace!

Bar charts, frequency diagrams, pie charts and scatter diagrams here we come...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Connect Thoughts

Inspired by this blog post on 'Think-Tac-Toes' by Mr. Collins I set about finding all I could about them. I encountered an English adaptation called 'Thoughts and Crosses', in which the idea is the same - pick three questions in a row and have a go at them.

I thought that this may lack of a bit of choice, so immediately considered a 'Connect Four' type activity called 'Connect Thoughts'. Each row is graded, with the bottom being an F, second being E, D and C (as I only teach Foundation tier for the time being).
I intend for it to be a fifteen-minute activity, where pupils attempt four questions which make a line - with the idea being that a pupil might want to show progress (F, E, D, C) or consolidate their understanding of grade D questions before moving higher.
A chat with a colleague earlier indicated that it might well be used to allow pupils to race one another, or even play a game of Connect Four and put counters on their questions that they answered correctly - starting at F and blocking each other off as they go.

Here is the first one, completed:
Connect Thoughts - Percentages

Any feedback would be outstanding and I'll look to post more as I get them done.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Angry Birds... Subdued kids...

Today was the first day back. Typically, kids were a bit mental. The wind wasn't a great addition, sending them loopy too. Having Year 11 Set 5 two lessons wasn't the best idea, so the last half hour was spent with these:

I had a kid say that this was his most fun lesson in years and another went round picking up Birds and Pigs that people had left to take home with him!

I strongly recommend using them for a relaxed lesson with the sole intention to have kids improve their ability to visualise nets folding up.

Drawbacks for me were that I photocopied them onto paper at short notice. Definitely plan ahead, get them photocopied in colour on to card. Maybe even arrange for kids to bring a weighted object in that will roll, so that once you're done you can roll them at each other across tables.
One of the kids cut the ears/hair out and stuck them over the 'slots' on the top - works extremely well!

Thanks to Mr. Collins for blogging about the files! :)

[Update: After a brief flurry of exchanged Tweets, I've had thoughts of how I might have done this with improved planning and more time.
I'd have definitely created a level for the models to live in - colour printed backdrop on A3.
I'd have also had some kids create towers by making differently sized cuboids and perhaps decorate these with lollipop sticks to give a wood effect.
If I'm able to fashion a slingshot, I'll have the Birds stuffed to increase their weight.
As an extension, it may also be possible to investigate the best way to weight the birds to get furthest travel - cotton wool to minimise damage, or plasticine to increase weight?

Just a few thoughts...]