3 Revision Strategies for Last Minute Lessons

It’s the time of year when exams are looming and workload seems at an all-time high. Revision sessions, extra marking and last minute interventions take their toll on your time and energy. It’s all for the best cause and with the best of intentions, but it can be a lot to deal with.

This year, I am teaching Literature to three year groups. I have loved it, and feel immensely lucky in an age of English Language priority to be able to do so. However, the revision stress and pressure is looming (we have had over 100 students from various years at revision regularly), and I have found myself searching for ideas for revision tasks and lessons that let the students feel they have really made some progress, but are not too laborious to put together. My top three are below.

1. Quote Quilts

Adapted from a History and MFL idea I saw on Twitter, these work really well for essay practice without the write-up (and the resultant written marking). Feedback can be verbal and quick, making students feel they have progressed and learnt in a faster loop than a traditional written response. I have used these as preparation before an exam style write-up, and have also used them to prepare quotes for a competitive ‘quote tennis’ style match, pitching half the room against the other.

The concept is simple: take a grid (4×4 for the whole text, or you could do 2×2 or 3×3 for individual characters) and write a list of themes or essay question topics. Colour code the topic list as a key and fill in the grid with quotes. Then, colour each quote with all the colours you can link it to. The more colourful the quilt, the better your quotes!

quilt inspiration

A history themed inspiration from Karen Knight (@KKNteachlearn) on Twitter)

This has been good to do in groups on big bits of paper, or individually to revise quotes and think critically about them.

2. Revision Clocks

 

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Picture from Slideshare

I discovered these via Twitter (again) and they are brilliant! If you have loads of things students want to cover in a lesson, or you want to cover all the characters or themes in a text, one sheet and five-minute increments make even the rowdiest of classes focus. It’s really clear to see what segments students are confident in and where they need a little more help, and they have a piece of revision they can be really proud of at the end. they can be used in a number of ways, but here are some I have tried:

Student-led (individual): Students are given the timings by the teacher and simply fill each segment in with what they know. They can have a minute at the start of each segment for questions, then it’s them and their individual knowledge. This works best with success criteria (eg. aim for 3 quotes, 3 points and 3 links to context in each segment).

Student-led (group): Using fewer segments (6 instead of twelve) students complete the clock but all start at different points. Every five minutes they swap their work with the person next to them, or around a small group. This means they will have a mixture of their own work and others’ ideas on their sheet at the end. it also encourages them to further others’ ideas and think beyond the obvious.

Teacher-led: The class decide the topics they are unsure about and the teacher delivers notes covering these in five-minute segments, with time for questions in each bit too. This allows for a structured approach, constant motivation due to time constraint, and everyone to have lesson time on something they want to cover.

I’ve found these particularly useful with lower sets, but higher sets have found it good to take home and use in a structured revision hour.

3. Who Am I?

post it notes.jpgI must admit, my penchant for colour coding and stationery has garnered me a bit of a reputation in my department, but I do love a good post-it note. They are just so useful. And that’s all you need for this game (which has saved me on numerous occasions when half the year group has shown up for revision and I’ve planned for 25 students). Students simply write a character name, theme or essay topic on the post-it note, and stick it on another’s head. That student then has to ask questions and guess what their note says, but the only information they will have from others will be in the form of quotes. This has kept students who have finished early amused for a long time, and they ended up writing and guessing things like ‘The Boss’ and ‘Candy’s Dog’ and ‘The girl from Weed’ which was pretty impressive.

So there you have it! My top three newfangled revision methods for this season. What revision methods are you enjoying at the moment? Have you discovered anything new? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

 

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Marking with Impact: Highlighters, RAG and Codes

Term is well underway, and finding time to blog is proving difficult. The sheer volume of work can seem overwhelming at times, so finding ways to ‘work smart’ are a must.

As English teachers, marking is a constant mountain we are striving to plough through. We itch to write lengthly comments detailing exactly where students have gone wrong and options to improve, but realistically this is not sustainable or useful. It is truly soul destroying to have spent hours upon hours marking books, only to have students flick lackadaisically through them and then make the same mistakes in the next piece of work.

As such, we have been using a new system over the last few weeks which seems to be working really well. Time will tell if it has true impact, but the initial outlook seems very positive. We have adopted two colour highlighters for marking: green and orange. Green is for any strengths in the work; orange is for any issues, errors or weaknesses in the work. When we mark books, we simply turn to a key task we wish to mark and attack it with the highlighters.

This works for all task types, and allows detailed and focused marking for a task. Alongside this, we have our Top 10 list in the front of students’ books covering common errors.

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It took a while to ‘let go’ of lengthly comments, and I still do write a lot on KS5 essays, but using this method means I can get through a class of books in about 2 hours. That’s a major improvement on my usual time, and their feedback is more specific because I don’t get marking fatigue in the same way.

I use this in conjunction with a whole class feedback sheet. These have been popular on Twitter for a while and take many different forms, but a basic template for me would look something like this:

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I share this on students’ iPads, then we have a STAR (like DIRT) lesson where students spend the whole hour working through the list of tasks and responding to the highlighter in their books. IMG_7055.JPG

As you can see, they complete it (often at length) in green pen. This forces them to look at each piece of feedback and complete a relevant task to address it. There are also extension tasks on the slide for students who have fewer targets. They also have digital target trackers they can update and document their reflections using their iPads.

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The final stage is to check students have made the effort to respond. This can be done in the feedback lesson or subsequent lesson, and takes very little time and effort. I stick a red, amber or green dot on the front page of books to clearly mark how well a student has responded:

 

GREEN: Getting it and reflecting effectively

AMBER: Reflecting but still some issues/errors

RED: Little/no effort with reflection

I then have a clear way of deciding a marking order next time around, and can monitor students depending on their colour. It’s also easy for them to see how they are doing!

Feedback from students has been really positive: lots ask for more time and the quality of talk from them is more driven and focused. We complete this feedback cycle for one piece of exercise book marking and one assessment piece every half term, so twelve pieces from each student in each academic year. This allows us to cover each strand in detail and to assess progress over time, without losing all life outside of work during the academic year.

How do you cope with your marking load? Do you use any of these strategies? What do you find particularly effective? Let me know on Twitter or down below, and thanks for stopping by!

Updates and Links

It’s been a while since I have posted. There’s no easy way to get around that, so sorry. My faculty have recently set up a blog, a Twitter feed and a Youtube channel, so my efforts are currently being directed there. I will be doing some personal reflections towards the end of the term here, along with ensuring all my pedagogy posts are duplicated here, but in the meantime please check out the links below for my posts and subscribe to the blogs if you haven’t already. That way, you get all my awesome colleagues and their posts as well as mine!

Thanks for stopping by!

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Guest Blog – MrScienTeach

MrScienTeach is a PGCE student at Cardiff Met, studying to be a science teacher. He also happens to be PixiePoppins’ husband.

Hello All.

I’ve been asked to write a guest blog post talking about my experiences as a PGCE student. First off, I am loving teaching and I really enjoy most aspects of a PGCE course. HOWEVER, there is a lot of admin and a lot of activities on the course which take up so much time! My biggest problem generally is that when focussing on course-related and non-teaching activities, I feel that I’m being a selfish practitioner. I should be focussed on my pupils and their needs, but instead I’m spending hours (and at this point in the course an increasing amount of class time) fulfilling my obligations as a student teaher. For example, I may not need to artificially explore the social, linguistic and behavioural needs of the learners during a particular lesson. However, to fulfil a QTS standard, I need to calve off a portion of this lesson to focus on something which won’t benefit my learners just so I can tick a box.

 

My meaning is – this is an annoying but frankly necessary part of the course – fulfilling QTS standards. Now in Wales there are 42 standards which I need to find evidence for. I wanted to take you guys through how I have organised my standards because it would take literally days if I had to read through my comments book once for every one of those 42 standards.

SO I started off looking at what types of evidence I needed to collect for each standard. We’ve been provided with a printed list of what we need, but I managed to steal an excel spreadsheet off the most organised person on my course, and for this I can’t thank him enough. He has written out each standard and listed what evidence is needed to achieve it. He also made the point that you can comment on cells by right-clicking. This way, as you find evidence for a standard, you can place a comment stating where that evidence can be found (e.g. Form A, date etc). The cells can also be coloured – red for “I dont have this yet” yellow for “I’ve got something but I’m not sure it exactly matches that wording of the standard” an green for “nailed it.”

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Now that I’ve got myself a bit more organised, I started by going through all my Form As and Form Bs. Not all of the standards actually require a Form A or Form B comment, to solve this, I made another spreadsheet (but on paper). I listed each standard in a table against the dates of the Form As and the Form Bs I have.

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THEN (and this is where it gets REALLY exciting) I filled in the standards mentioned in each of my forms. Form As should have been filled in with standards mentioned (so that was easy). Form Bs are a little trickier so I had to read through the comments and match them to standards. At this point I’ve only got 2 Form Bs so it didn’t take too long.

Next up, I blocked out the standards that don’t require a Form A or Form B comment, making THIS outstanding piece of organisational art…

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This next bit took a bit of thinking. I’ve heard that Form As can only be used to support 8 standards each, and that Form Bs can only be used to support 10 standards each. Now I played around with this idea for a bit. If you just start using Form As or Form Bs for evidence at random, you might max out any one Form when it might be needed to support other standards, standards which I might not have much evidence for.

SO for each standard, I tallied up how many Forms I have that support it. The standards that only have 1 or 2 Forms supporting it will definitely need that piece of evidence, whereas a standard with 6 or more forms will be easier to support. Therefore, I started with standards that had only 1 or 2 Forms supporting them. These I immediately ticked off as I did not have the benefit of multiple choice. I then worked up to those standards with 3 forms which could provide support, and then 4 etc etc. As more pieces of evidence became available for each standard, I read through each Form’s comment, and therefore chose to use the Form that most clearly supported the wording of the standard. For example, If I had to pick one piece of evidence for a standard, one which was worded broadly and one which was specific in its use of language, then I picked the specific one.

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I was therefore able to pick the most appropriate Form for each standard, and made sure that any unique reference to a standard from any one Form was definitiely included in that Form’s 8 or 10 possible uses. I was also able to make sure that the evidence matched SE1 or SE2 (sometimes the powers that be want evidence from a particular point in our development).

I absolutely understand that I have not made myself clear. I’m desperately trying to validate Taylor Mali’s assertion that teachers are “experts in the art of explanation” but I think I might just have failed. You’ll have to trust me that this is the most efficient way of assigning Form As and Form Bs to evidence standards that I could think of.

Anyway, now that I’ve assigned Form A and Form B evidence to my standards, a lot of my spreadsheet has turned green, and each green cell has a comment saying which Form A or B I’ll be using to support it. The next step is to go through my comments books and find extra evidence in there. Recently, I’ve been singling out QTS standards every week which I’d like to focus on. I’ve placed a note on the front of my comments book stating what these standards are and giving a brief description. This allows any of the class teachers to specifically address these standards when they provide me feedback, hopefully to make this next bit easier.

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I had about half a dozen comments from the last few weeks where the teacher has written down what standard I addressed in their lesson, and all I had to do was annotate my spreadsheet accordingly (for comment books, I developed an extremely impenetrable code: see if you can guess what CB – SE2 – p29 might stand for, answers at the bottom). However, after doing the easy ones, it came down to simply reading through every page of my comment book and seeing if anything jumped out at me. Ive managed to evidence a couple more standards this way, but not many.

My plan for the next half term is to have 5 standards a week which I am going to specifically address in my planning, and to ask teachers to comment specifically about these standards in my feedback. This should allow me to blast through the remaining pieces of evidence I need, including for standards which need lesson plans as evidence. I’ve currently got 55 out of the 96 pieces of evidence I need. That’s the first time I’ve actually counted. Wow. Only half way. Thought it’d be more. Balls.

Anyway, at least I’ve made quite a bit of headway. Next half term break, I’ll go back through my comments books looking for evidence for (hopefully) only a handful of specific standards. As I said at the start, personally this bit of the job for me gets in the way of the actual teaching. However, it’ll get me my qualification, and after that (aaaaand a similar experience in my NQT year) I’ll be able to concentrate on what’s important.

I’m hoping you’ve find this helpful. You may not have. You may be utterly befuddled. BUUUUUUUT I’m hoping that if you are on a teaching course at the moment, this might alleviate some of the stress of wading through the evidence and standards mountain. I reckon it hasn’t been that hard, and it’s been useful to see just how much stuff I have done. It also means I can really specifically target precisely what I need to in the last leg of my second placement.

Anyhows, I’m on twitter at @MrScienTeach so feel free to ask if you’re unsure about anythin I’ve mentioned, or just generally if you wanna talk about pedagogy or science teaching or teaching in general. Cheers.

 

Answers to the code:

I mean really? You couldn’t work it out? CB = comment book. SE2 = School experience 2. p29 = page 29. Yes I numbered all the pages in my comment book what of it.

Friday 5: Alternative Feedback Methods

Being an English Teacher is tough for many reasons, but among the teaching community the primary source of contention is the marking. The never ending ever growing truly relentless marking.

Exam season seems to bring out the sadism of the job. Just how much red penning can you handle before you crack? It isn’t just English, but from my personal experience the constant correcting of repetitive mistakes and hours writing developed feedback can take its toll: especially when students get books or papers back and all they look at is the number, or the letter, or nothing at all. Certainly not your carefully crafted comments.

As I teach a lot of KS3 and my priority has to be shifted to examination classes this term, I have spent some time collating methods which reduce the teacher workload when it comes to marking books, exams or other forms of student work. These are not new or groundbreaking but they are things I didn’t think of until someone mentioned them or I discovered them online. I am still hunting for more ideas, so if you use something which works well please let me know through Twitter or by commenting below!

 

1. Whole Class Feedback Sheets

This gem of an idea came from @RSillmanEnglish, a fab colleague and fiend of mine. She saw it on Twitter and decided to try it with her GCSE exam class. I looked into it and became hooked. It gives you the opportunity to provide detailed feedback, praise and address concerns without writing the same thing fifteen times. I designed my own class feedback sheets with STAR (Solo Time for Achievement through Reflection. DIRT for most people) tasks so the next lesson I had with the students was already planned and differentiated accordingly. I love them so much, I even developed a student feedback and reflection sheet for my exam classes. You can download any of this stuff for free on TES

2. Stamping Approach

This has worked pretty well for my younger classes, but requires a bit of set up. My students have written the writing success criteria for any piece of work in their books, using their two hands as a key for the two main aspects of writing: content and accuracy. I have a stamp with two hands on it. All I need to do now is to skim read their drafts and RAG each of the fingers of the hand. Students can then look back at the hands and work out what they need to work on. Quick but detailed, and students love having little hands stamped on their work (for some weird reason).

3. Highlighting

This is a tried and tested method which works well with lower attaining classes as it focuses them a little more. It was first brought to my attention by my Head of Faculty and I have been using it ever since. We use an orange highlighter (colours are, of course, interchangeable) to run through work and highlight any errors. This can be done when books are collected or, more conveniently, can be done whilst students are drafting. Students then need to address each highlighted word/mark/area and tick when they have done so. This can then be verified by the teacher. As well as this, we use a green highlighter to identify some great moments in the work. A confidence boosting DIRT/STAR task can then be to get the student to justify why we have highlighted the particular line.

4. Student Selector

This is not a feedback method as such, but feeds into one nicely. It’s as simple as it sounds: select three to five students at random at the end of each lesson. I do it on a fortnightly cycle so I end up marking everyone’s book in a fortnight. I then highlight or do a simple book check checklist to see if they are on track. The fact it is random means it keeps everyone on their toes, but it also means you are not taking in 30 books to mark in an evening. Instead you have a maximum of 25 and, if you keep up the routine, a maximum of two weeks’ work to check through. On busy weeks, I simply stick a red, yellow or green dot on the front of the book to indicate how the student is getting on. I then have a DIRT/STAR card which corresponds to the colours, getting the student to reflect on work and presentation and improve them. This is often set as a homework or starter task.

5. Kaizena

This is another fabulous discovery from the wonderful @RSillmanEnglish and is a really exciting way to give feedback. It is a web and downloadable app and allows you to leave comments on student work, which is uploaded from a digital document or a photograph. But here’s the really exciting bit. It allows you to leave voice annotations and links to video tutorials. This means you can explain corrections, rather than having that frantic feedback lesson. You know, where you feel pulled in all directions by students who cannot be bothered to read you comments, or who don’t understand your illegible scrawl. Considering we make video tutorials for students already, it also makes sense to be able to link them to work where the content is needed and will directly help the student to improve. Best of all, it syncs with Google Classroom. Winner!

 

These are the methods I am trialling and experimenting with so far. I hope to update this post with pictures once I am back in school and can get hold of some good examples. I hope this is useful and you can take something away from it – what do you do to alleviate marking workload? What methods work best for yoU? Let me know, and, as always, thanks for stopping by!

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.

 

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!