A Termly Reflection

This is the time of year when most people reflect back on the highs and lows of the year and think about how next year will be the greatest year ever when all of their dreams will come true. Thing is, that’s an integral part of getting through my day and therefore the build up to Christmas, at least in this respect, is no different.

Apologies if I sound cynical. I am two days away from the Christmas break and the kids are really ready for it. Not half as much as me, but the low level disruption I am usually hot on has been slipping in a little more over the last couple of weeks. I think it is a combination of me being tired and them being antsy, but there most certainly is a difference.

I have been reflecting on my last term though, so even though this is not a resolutions post like the plethora you will, I’m sure, be inundated with in the days to come, I do have a new chapter to peruse and consider.

I have started a new job on a full timetable. I moved house less than a week before I started and my husband started his PGCE this year. The changes have been pretty drastic and even though I feel I have managed them pretty well there is no mistake in my exhaustion right now. I properly love my job for the first time since starting to teach and feel I finally have a handle on some aspects of the profession.

I don’t think this post makes any sense but, if nothing else, take away from this that things do get easier than your PGCE and NQT. I thought it was a myth and lies designed to hook you and keep you in the system, but it really does get better. Merry Christmas.

 

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Student Teacher Tips: Lesson Planning

Planning is a huge part of a teaching career and one that can make or break your classroom resolve. Planning 45 hours of valuable content a fortnight sounds like a mammoth task, not to mention all that planning is done outside of school hours. But, with some practice and learning from mistakes, things become very natural very quickly. These tips have worked well in my experience, so here goes with some single (short term) lesson planning basics!

1. Work Backwards

This was the most valuable thing my mentor taught me during my training (and she taught me a LOT of valuable stuff!) It’s so much easier to plan once you know what you are planning towards. Decide on your aim for the lesson and work the steps backwards until you get to where the students are now. This helps with your pacing as well; 27 steps is too much to cover in a lesson so you need to make your objective more achievable. One step is not enough. It’s surprising how frequently you find your objectives are misjudged and this really helps. For tiered learning objectives, differentiate up by creating development and extension tasks (check out my post on SOLO Taxonomy for an introduction to how you could do this and make it valuable.)

2. Have Clear Objectives

Again, my post on SOLO covers an aspect of this, but this works itself out if you use the method above. Make it clear to yourself and to your students what you want to achieve. Write it in simple, students friendly terms as well. They should be easy to refer to and understandable in order to make them really valuable, which leads on to the next tip:

3. Make Checks Valuable

Aiming to regularly check progress in lessons is a hot topic at the moment, but if you are not careful you can lose lesson content and spend the whole time checking and evaluating. Progress checks are important in lessons, but make sure they are valuable for the students, rather than just a ten second marker to reassure yourself the class is awake and half engaged. This often happens in observations, so rather than being caught out develop a repertoire of quick progress checks which are useful for students and encourage them to achieve the most they can in your lessons. They will take them more seriously if they see the benefit of them and you won’t get that awkward see of thumbs up when you know things are not as rosy.

4. Keep it Simple

The biggest criticism student teachers face is that they try to cram too much into a lesson. You will be fit to burst with fabulous and crazy lesson ideas which WILL revolutionise the way your subject is taught in a Dead Poet’s Society style of eureka, but how about you eek those great ideas out across several lessons. Again, planning backwards with regular checks means no more than five tasks absolute maximum could fit into a lesson. Depending on the length of task, it may well be less. Keep the base lesson simple and use the differentiating up to generate exciting extras your students can do if they finish the core tasks. This enhances the learning experience of brighter students but keeps the core understandable and taught well, meaning you know at the end of the lesson where every student is in relation to your objectives and hopefully (if your feedback methods are particularly strong) how to help them progress further next time. And that, in a nutshell, is teaching. Wizzes and bangs are fun optional extras.

5. Make Things Explicit

This is especially important when you are being observed, but in terms of day to day teaching students like to know what they are doing and why they are doing it. Be as open and explicit as possible about this. Be clear and open with your learning objectives. Be clear and open as to what you expect from a task by modelling it. Be clear and open about how to create good work by generating success criteria with your class. If you’re being observed, be clear and open about why you have included activities and elements in your lesson in your planning. Students appreciate clarity and transparency and it breeds respect for many. And remember, modelling does not have to be done in person. You can get students to scan a QR code to watch a demo video you found on Youtube, or read through another student example to check for good points and errors etc. Modelling is one of the most effective teaching and learning practices, so get used to making it fun and varied because it is likely you will be using it a lot.

So that’s my tips for single lesson planning basics. If you want to see more lesson planning posts you can check out my basics for mid term planning here and SOLO Taxonomy objectives here, and if you want me to talk further on any of the points mentioned above then comment down below or tweet me using the links. Thanks for stopping by, and happy planning!

 

 

Student Teacher Tips: Being a ‘Popular’ Teacher

One of the stranger (and yet still common) concerns amongst student teachers and new teachers is the good old playground debate of popularity. No matter how much we deny it, all teachers secretly long for that effortless rapport, that ‘Dead Poets Society’ moment with our classes. In practice, it’s not that easy and requires one thing student teachers lack with their classes: time. However, all is not lost, and with a little effort here and there a good relationship can be established with your pupils. Advise from making you feel good, it helps with engagement, behaviour and respect.

Now, here’s all the disclaimers. This has been a weakness of mine, and certainly was at the start of my teaching career. With trickier classes during my NQT year, I devoted little to no time fostering any relationships in a constant battle to gain any sort of respect or authority. So I am no expert. However, this year I promised myself I would get this right, if nothing else. I prefaced these approaches with a no nonsense attitude to uniform, written work presentation, lateness and low level disruption. Not smiling before Christmas may be a little extreme, but establishing yourself as the authority figure reaps its own rewards in terms of respect. No student likes a pushover teacher, even the naughtier ones. Some days I feel like the most unpopular teacher ever, even if the lesson before had been awesome. Some classes don’t buy into any of these approaches either. But, overall, I feel I have a better relationship this year with my students than any previous years. That has to count for something. 

Be Efficient

The bedrock of popularity is respect. Students will respect you if you prove to them you can do your job and do it well. This means having your paperwork in order, sticking to deadlines, keeping promises and making them feel they are getting good value for their time. Setting this up at the start of the year means that if you find you need to extend a marking deadline or change something later on, they will be far more understanding as they know you are likely to have a genuine reason for doing so.

‘But students should have respect for us no matter what! Why should we  work to earn it?’ That may be the case. Students may already have respect for you. They may not. But you need to work to keep it and, if you lose it, it’s going to take a LOT of work to get it back. Think of it from their point of view. If your boss demanded with respect and gave you nothing to indicate he or she should earn it, resentment will start to build. Show them you are doing your job well and they will thank you for it.

Be Enthusiastic

You came into this profession to spread knowledge, specifically about your subject. You are a brain evangelist and you should exault your scripture to your masses. You love your subject enough to dedicate you life to it, so show them! One of the most fun lessons I’ve taught this year had no flashy apps, no six way differentiated small groups. It was me, a whiteboard, several coloured whiteboard pens and a slightly hysterical level of enthusiasm  for sentence types. Students started by listening purely because it was a little comical, but several stick men  and sentence diagrams later they went away with a sense of the differences between a compound and complex sentence. More to the point, they went away knowing that I flipping love sentence construction. I may be weird to them, but enthisiasm is infectious and respect builds further when they see you love what you do.

Be Honest (Within Reason)

This doesn’t mean you sit and spill what happened over your weekend in minute detail. It means being honest in the little things. If you make a mistake, apologise. If you don’t know something, admit it and demonstrate good practice when looking up information. If a student tells you something you don’t know, thank them rather than resenting them. If they think you respect them and the knowledge they have, they will respect your opinion more.

Be Interested

At any one time you will have about 30 individuals in your room with their own stories and backgrounds. You may know their FFT prediction, their working at grades and their strengths and weaknesses in terms of your subject in minute detail, but do you know them?   Younger students especially are keen to share, and you can develop a relationship through interest in their stories. Of course, there has to be a limit and you don’t want your whole lesson taken up with stories of family trips at the weekend. When it’s appropriate, listen. Take a real interest. Ask questions and follow things up. Showing students how to listen and respond in conversation is a valuable lesson in itself, and treating students as individual people does no end of good.

Embrace Yourself

You are a unique and influential being. You will probably remember certain teachers at school and they are likely to be the quirky ones. The ones who allowed you to scratch between the surface and reveal the human underneath. Give them a hint of what you are about. Music you like. Films you watch. Hobbies you have. Books you read. All of that seems small and silly, but to a young person sharing hours of their day with you, it can mean a lot. Show them you are more than your job and more than just some initials on their timetable.

 

What at do you do in your classroom to build relationships? Do you have any great approaches to building relationships? How important do you think relationships are in a classroom?

 

Thanks for stopping by!

Student Teacher Tips: Observing Lessons

It’s looming, and with a blend of trepidation and excitement ITT students around the country and starting to turn their focus to September. It’s new term time! Which means this blog is starting up again in ernest. I am going to do another post on my summer goals, but the summer has been restful and eventful with many wonderful things happening. Among these things has been my dear husband’s preparations for his ITT in Biology. I’m very excited to learn many things from him as he is completing a PGCE and my training was on the job through School Direct, as well as supporting him in a truly empathetic way. It is one of the most varied, intense and wonderful careers anyone can choose, so I’m thrilled for him and the year ahead.

Leading on from this, I am writing these posts for the gear up back to school and hope to cover some of the main events and concerns surrounding the basics of ITT. Today, we are talking about observing lessons. Observing lessons is one of the most important things you do during your ITT and something you have precious little time to do throughout the rest of your career. As such, it’s important to make the most of it and gain as much as possible for yourself and your practice. Here are some tips to make that happen:

1.Dress Smart

This is probably obvious, but whenever there are children on site in a school the rule of thumb is to dress professionally. There will of course be exceptions, but just because you are not teaching does not mean you can rock up in Uggs and jeans. Keep it smart – remember, you could be teaching this class at some point.

2.Notes Notes Notes

It’s likely you will be given some sort of formulaic observation form for your teaching file. As well as filling this out, keep a notebook on hand and note down anything you felt worked well or could be recycled when you take the stage. This could be behaviour management techniques, starters, plenaries, assessment and progress checks, even formatting worksheets. If there is a worksheet you really like, see if there is a spare copy you can have at the end of the lesson. Nearly all of my teaching ideas have stemmed from observation rather than theory because you can see them in situ and in practice.

3.Student Centric Focus

No doubt your training school will give you various foci for your observations, but a great one to do is to imagine you are the student in the lesson. After observing and understanding the components of a lesson, observe the students and see what their experience of the lesson is like. You will most likely be observing the subject you are teaching and therefore have a vested interest in it, so think for a moment about the kids who cannot stand your beloved specialism. How are they dealing with the lesson? Taking this one step further, ask to have a copy of the resources one lesson and take part as if you were a student, thinking about whether there is support as well as challenge. If it’s possible. try to complete this exercise in another subject area as well so you can feel what it is like to be taking part in a lesson completely outside your comfort zone. I did this in my school last year and it was a really interesting experience.

4.Get Involved

After you have seen a few lessons and are getting the hang of things, try to get involved. You will find this helps with your energy levels (sitting in the same place all day taking notes is surprisingly exhausting) and helps you engage more with the lesson. Offer to help handing out resources, circulate and listen in on group work and ask students about their experience (ask permission first as some staff may not be comfortable with you doing this). If you can get involved, it not only gets you talking to the students and considering pupil voice, it also makes it clear to them you are part of the teaching profession. Most of them will be used to observers talking to them during performance management, so you will immediately gain a sense of status in their eyes by doing this. Just remember – take what some of them say with a pinch of salt and avoid taking them off task for too long – we all know those plucky few who like to show off to newcomers or ask pertinent personal questions!

5.Be Positive

No matter how long you have been teaching, it is stressful to have someone else in your classroom judging what you do. Even in a non judgemental situation like this one, it can feel invasive in a way. Nothing makes signing up to observations more unpleasant than someone walking in and criticising left right and centre when they have not done the job. Be polite, thankful and courteous – you are not there to judge how good the lesson is because, to be brutally honest, you don’t know yet. You are there to gain knowledge, ideas and experience of a classroom environment, so focus on that. Even if the room caught fire and there was a scissor fight, some element of the planning or management of the tricky situation will provide you with a learning experience because these are situations you could find yourself in and you are seeing those same situations dealt with by a more experience colleague. There was a lovely feedback system for peer observations in my training school this year; ‘thank you’ postcards with sentence starters such as ‘thank you for the privilege of letting me observe your lesson. I particularly enjoyed…’ As teachers, we tend to be our own worst critics, so being encouraging and positive in a specific and helpful (rather than gushy) way is really important as an observer. It is a rare privilege to watch a colleague at work and it should be treated so, because one day you will be that colleague!

This series of posts simply contains things I found useful in my limited experience. They are in no way comprehensive and I would love to hear what your experiences are and what your top tips are so we can start a discussion. If you are a trainee teacher preparing to start or having just started, what are your concerns? What would you like me to cover in other posts? Let me know down below or through Twitter and, as always, thanks for stopping by!

Five Ways to Prep for your ITT

The countdown has begun for people signed up to ITT courses…just think, in three months time you will be in a classroom! It can seem daunting and difficult to know where to start, and at the same time you can be excited and itching to start working towards doing something to give you the edge when you are thrown into the teaching environment.

Continue reading “Five Ways to Prep for your ITT”

Spotlight on…Integrating Literacy

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Literacy and numeracy has become a huge focus in the UK at the moment . Particularly in Wales, the LNF provides stages of literacy and numeracy expected for each school year up to GCSE, with an expectation these should be mapped across the whole of the curriculum. The focus is clear in England too, with Ofsted starting to scrutinize whole school approaches to these skills. Continue reading “Spotlight on…Integrating Literacy”

Three Ways to Avoid Classroom RSI

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When you join the teaching profession, you have this blue sky vision of preaching knowledge to enthralled young people who take everything in straight away and love you from the moment you step in the room. Within your first week, you find this is not the case. Having been used to university halls and people either wanting to learn or not being present, it is a sharp shock back to reality to discover some students struggle to grasp tasks, stay on task, and in many cases don’t have the attention span to pick up instructions in the first place. Continue reading “Three Ways to Avoid Classroom RSI”