Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Teaching isn't that hard... Just teach them stuff!

I went to school on Thursday for results day and had a great time. We'd been under much scrutiny this year and delivered on the requested improvements, and our top end was more successful than ever. I was extremely proud and pleased with my own class's results - 9 A*s, 9 As, 9 Bs and 2 Cs, 93.1% 3LOP+, 65.5% 4LOP+, average residual of 4.7.

Having let the dust settled, I took to SISRA to look at the departmental results. 93.1% 3LOP+, 76.9%, 70.4%, 52.4%, 71.4%, 33.3%, 0%, 0% with an overall figure of 57.6%. I'm struggling to gain much positivity from these figures, and as a result, I've been thinking about what changes we could make as a department to improve over the coming year.

The coming year scares me because so much of it is unknown. We're playing a game where we're not sure of the rules, not sure how to score, and not sure how to win. Our departmental figures are set to take a huge dive, and I've been thinking of ways that we might limit this damage.

Teaching isn't that hard. Basically, the job is know what the kids can't do, and teach them how to do it. I know that there are more aspects to it than this - meeting student needs, behaviour management, office politics and so on - but I think this is something that is largely skimmed over by a lot of staff.

Targets, exams, 'that C grade'. These things take up teachers' thoughts and set their objectives. 
'But their targets are Bs and they're getting Es' is a scenario where teacher response is 'Well I'd best teach them the grade B stuff!'.
'But this, this, this and that are on the exam' is normally followed by 'So I'd best show them how to do that'.
'But they need to get that C grade'is normally followed by 'So I should teach them key topics, right?'.

I think this is the key - know what the kids can't do, and teach them how to do it.
Why teach students the grade B stuff if they don't understand the topics that prove scaffolding for these objectives?
Why show them things that are on the exam if they don't understand the topics that lead to these questions? I'm thinking about multiplying pairs of brackets when students can't expand simple brackets.
Why teach them key topics when their understanding of other topics that support those objectives isn't secure?

Two years ago we started a new scheme of work at KS3 where students work towards a number of objectives in Number, Algebra, Area and Perimeter, Angles and Statistics, and until they score 80% on their assessments they don't move on to the next aspect of each part. It's not a perfect way to go, but it has been working for us. Unfortunately, we don't work like this in Key Stage 4, and I think we maybe should do.

For every assessment my students complete, I fill in a spreadsheet for what kids could and couldn't do (number of marks achieved on each questions). It creates a print out sheet for them to take away, and it gives me a lot of information on what my students achieved their marks on.

They get this as a printout. It tells them where they dropped marks, what they need to revise and gives them the appropriate clip number to take away and work on that.

I get this:

This is what my Year 11s did in their final two 'proper' lessons with me - one final mock, to get a decent idea of what grade they should be getting and give them some confidence/a kick up the back side. It also told me, in no uncertain terms (as they were done in exam conditions), what my students were and weren't able to do in an exam - and whilst this isn't the be all and end all of our jobs and their education, it's how they're judged, and as a result, what I'm aiming for.

We don't send kids on study leave, but rearrange their timetable to provide 'revision lessons' or something. From this, I was able to say that my students needed, as a matter of urgency, to revisit:

  • Identifying the 'identity' sign and making use of it.
  • The area of a parallelogram.
  • Writing the negative root of a simple quadratic equation, rather than just the positive one.
  • Algebraic fractions.
  • Writing the equation of a linear graph.
  • Understanding speed, distance and time.
  • Probability - specifically, use of a sample space diagram when rolling two dice.
  • Bearings.
  • Basic angle facts.
  • Drawing and interpreting a cumulative frequency diagram instead of a frequency diagram.
Some took five minutes, some took fifty, but I had a good idea of what my students couldn't do - specifically on that paper, but it's a good place to start. Except it wasn't a start, as I'd been doing the same thing since March, and as a result, the topics were changing and I was identifying different things that they couldn't do - and teaching them it. I didn't go for the back end of the paper, and I didn't think 'Oh, but what if this topic's on the paper? I should cover that...'. I covered the things that they couldn't do.

I do this for all year groups all of the time, now, and their progress is fantastic. I mean, it makes total sense.

My main aim for this post is to identify some issues that will face some teachers this year. You, me, your mate, that bloke down the corridor who rocks in at 8:45 and leaves at 3:15, are going to take over classes this year where kids are working 'below their target grades'. I am, definitely, and I would have at every school I've ever worked at, because I've always been picking up the pieces left by others it seems. My advice is...

You are only able to affect the students in the time you teach them. If you get kids who are on track, great - if the kids you get are a bit behind, then teach them what they don't know. If you don't have the data, give them a baseline assessment and work from there. Progress happens when students are taught something they didn't know and then they do - if you teach them it and they still don't know it, don't get angry and teach it again in a different way (I've been there, done this, shouted and shouted and shouted... But it achieved nothing. I've regularly said 'I'm not angry at you. I just know that you don't know this when you should, and that's frustrating. We're going to do it again, and if you still can't do it, we'll do it again, and again, and again...'). Students must make progress whilst in your care - this is your job and this is your role. If they make progress and don't meet targets, this is not the end of the world. If they don't make progress, you've got to change something, because teaching them something they don't know, so that they do is the basis of your job.

Enjoy 2016-2017! I intend to!

Monday, 8 August 2016

After... A Year of The One Hundred Minute Lesson

At the end of last year my school made the decision to move from 60-minute lessons to 50 and 100-minute lessons. I taught one 50-minute lesson every fortnight, and as a result, I've focused on the use of activities within 100 minutes rather than 50 - to be fair, the 50 is very close to 60 and wouldn't be too much different to 'traditional' lessons.

That said, I feel the same about 100-minute lessons now. I found that after a difficult first term, with teachers and students getting used to a necessity to work for longer before their next break (between lessons, or break or lunch), pupils were more amenable to the longer working periods and were becoming quite used to longer periods of concentration.

Over time, I found it easier to plan the longer lessons, and it became easier and quicker to plan my 13 100-minute lessons a week than 22 60-minute lessons.

Our school is continuing to move forward with 50 and 100-minute long lessons and I'll continue to work through them in the following way...

0 - 10/15m is a settler activity. This is typically a recap of work covered in the medium/long-term, but can be handed over to feedback from a recent assessment or homework.
10/15 - 20/25m is time for sharing learning objectives (and success criteria), as well as having students note down the appropriate MathsWatch clip number to facilitate independent study. They'll then take a short amount of time to recap things that they need to know/be able to do for the forthcoming lesson.
20/25 - 35/40m is my bit. I talk, they listen. I ask questions, they answer. I ask them for ideas and they share, continuing on from each others' ideas. I link to things they've done before and extend to things they'll do in future.
35/40 - 50/55m is a short amount of time set aside for students to do some 'messy' work on whiteboards. I'll use some of the Increasingly Difficult Questions sets (and create more accordingly) where students will be able to find their own level of difficulty for a longer amount of time.
50/55 - 70/75m will give students an opportunity to work on a task suited to their level in their books, based on the diagnostic task they'll have just done, working at four different levels.
70/75m - 95m will offer an opportunity to recap what we've done, apply this to a problem or to exam questions and to make links between different topics.

... leaving 5 minutes to set homework, clear up, be ready to go!

I have at least another term of 100-minute lessons. I like them. This is the plan.

I have written some other blogs on 100-minute lessons, which you can access by clicking those links.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Robotics at School

A little time ago, I noticed a tweet from @MissBLilley about a STEM club and activities to run within it. A reply to this tweet (which I favourited to go back and take a spy at) directed me to the Tomorrow's Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge. I put an application in and whilst I was away on residential with next year's Young Leaders I received an e-mail offering us a place on next year's event. Huzzah!

The challenge is open to 11-14 year olds who will work in teams to work through 'space missions' involving teamwork, robots, designing, discovery and lots of Lego and fun! (Or so the web site says...)

My plan is to offer the event/challenge to our students in year 8 and year 9 from Week 2 in September and start to deliver 6 90-minute sessions to those interested. I have a few ideas to run alongside this, which are...

1. I attended a Leeds Festival of Science event called 'The Great Leeds Build Off' at The University of Leeds. As a part of this, students were in teams of 4 and assigned roles. One student could view a model and sketch it, a second could view the model to check their sketch, a third was to 'buy' the materials required to re-build the model themselves and the fourth was to build the model from their partners' specifications and materials. It was a fun hour-long activity that the kids bought into, but I wouldn't necessarily say it was worth travelling to the University for, and it would've been better as a roadshow event.
I intend to do something similar to have kids get to know one another across different year groups, with Lego that I used to have as a child.

2. I've bought a couple of robots! A Sphero 2.0 and a Sphero Ollie (A Darkside version, naturally) so that kids can have a bit of a play around with robots before working with them. Both can be controlled using a Bluetooth-enabled device, such as a phone or tablet, and my intention is to use them to race against each other (around a loop, timed, or around a course outside, racing), potentially battle against one another and bowling (I've already had 10 pins cut for this). The ICT department also have two Spheros, so we can have four teams racing/battling.

3. We have some BigTraks in the department. They work in the same way as the old computer programme 'Logo', and students will have a course to programme a route around, given an amount of time to plot their route and fire their rockets (we have rocket launcher attachments) at three targets. This should give students the chance to programme some robots before they get into the kit offered by Tomorrow's Engineers.

I'm thinking of having ten members in our team, but offering this to all and being selective once we've been through the opening bits. An ICT teacher at school has a plan to run a robotics club, and as a result the remainder can continue with him.
I have five of this year's outgoing Year 11 students coming back after college to gain work experience/help out and I'll assign these students as mentors to our team to help them work through the challenge. Two for each one will work out well!

As well as this, @MissBLilley and I have spoken about organising some 'fixtures' to compete against each other before we go to local competitions for a bit of a dry run! Very much looking forward to this!