1: Goals for the School Year

What a way to start a challenge! I have thought a lot about my teaching over the summer and have a few things I want to change for the new year. This is the first time I have been in a school for a second full year, so I know the systems well and what works for the students and for me.

Establishing Routines

I know my classes and know the systems and pressure points in the year, so establishing routines from the first day is really important for me. Last year, I worked with the goal of learning, reflecting and coping with the year’s demands. This worked, but it meant things were established in the classroom and dropped or neglected a couple of months down the line. Rather than trying to do everything, I am going to work on the basis of doing the basics really well. I will have a marking schedule (which I already know will never work out, but I can try!), a feedback system and a homework schedule. Spending some time setting these up over the summer should save me some headaches when we go back. I hate to admit it, but I know I neglected one or two homework deadlines last year, and that took its toll on my time when I was marking stragglers’ pieces rather than moving on.

I’m also going to be  using the awesome ‘5 a day’ starter idea  that has been circulating on Twitter. The routine really appeals to me, and for my lower set Y10s will hopefully build confidence and retention.

Extra Curricular

I set up the Creative Writing Group last year, and whilst it was a success in some respects, I feel some aspects of it could be refined further. I hope to introduce non-fiction writing and journalism into the group and hopefully have it as a more holistic writing group. I also hope to use blogs more to showcase the writing and publicise it on social media.

I am also aiming to run and hold a Media Excellence Awards (MEAs) ceremony at the end of the year. We are a technologically advanced school and using that technology for creative means is something I am really passionate about. Students will be able to create film scores, short films, music videos and film posters, entering them for acting, directing, cinematography and a whole host of other awards. I am hoping we can get the hall set up in true Hollywood style, and will be hoarding trophies and decorations all year. I will be posting more updates on how this pans out later this term, as I plan to launch it at the start of November.

Social Media

We have a Twitter account, Youtube channel and blog as a department, along with a Media Studies channel and blog I run solo. I want to utilise these even more this year and encourage students to create their own blogs we can then share via these channels. It’s tough to find the time to do this stuff, but by allocating some PPA time each week I hope to keep on top of all of them. Getting students to create blog content also aids with literacy and creativity, so everyone’s a winner.

Balance

I look in the mirror at the end of the summer holidays and see some one who is well rested, well fed and relaxed. I know I feel good in myself and have taken the time to exercise, to reflect and be mindful. I am cynical about some of this stuff, but I know I think and work better when I am like this. At the end of a school term I don’t look like this. I look more tired, older and less…well. In short, I look burnt out. I do find it very hard to switch off in the holidays and rarely do for more than a couple of days, but I really want to work on this in the new school year to ensure I can give my all to the job when it matters, ie. when I’m stood in front of my classes. I know my mind will drift to work if I don’t give it anything else to do, so I’m making sure that I maintain exercising in some form every day (yoga, boxercise and running) to give my mind a chance to switch off, even if only for 15 minutes or so. I’m also getting back into illustration after taking a little break. I find when I am painting my mind switches off, so it seems like something therapeutic I can do of an evening. I want to try out watercolour and botanical illustration specifically, so I’ve been looking at inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest to prepare for that. Hopefully this plus some long baths with meditation will help me maintain my balance.

 

So they are my goals for the new year! What are your goals? Is there something really new you want to try out? Let me know, and share your goals or posts below. Thanks for stopping by!

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Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge

To kick off the new year, I thought I would attempt a blogging challenge. I am notoriously bad at these, so don’t hold out too much hope, but if anyone wants to join in then link your posts down below or under the relevant post so we can share ideas!

A Summer Reflection

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We are two thirds of the way through the summer holidays here, so now seems a good time to write a reflection of the year. I’m in a good mental space after having a month of more casual work hours, and have had some time to indulge in my creative projects outside of work.

This year has been a real rollercoaster. Around May last year, I was seriously considering leaving the profession. I didn’t feel good at my job and the pressures of the environment were compounding this. I was trying hard to be like the other teachers I saw and putting myself down if something didn’t go exactly how I wanted it to. I was getting more out of my writing and illustration at the time, so had pretty much decided to pursue those. I had course lined up and was going to go freelance. Teaching was not for me.

But then a new job and a new opportunity to make a fresh start came along. I decide to give it one more shot and to do things how I felt was best for me. Not to judge myself against others. Not to put myself down if something I trialled backfired. Give it a go, give it my all and hope for the best.

Fast forward to this year, and I am an entirely different person. I absolutely love my job (possibly too much) and am embarking on the challenge of a TLR in the coming academic year. I will have to manage people and make decisions affecting a whole key stage, which is terrifying and exciting all at the same time. I am also teaching Media Studies again which is my ultimate dream job, so things are looking good.

This has meant, however, my summer has been eaten up a little through preparation of resources and displays. I love this aspect of the job, so it’s no biggie, but I am a wary of the fact I have not had an awful lot of time switched off to work and this will hot me when we re back in the swing of things. Next year, I plan to spend a lot more of the holiday taking time for myself, so the evenings and weekends used up in term time don’t take their toll so much. I’ve learnt what works as a display and what is more work than it’s worth, so they will not be a task for next holiday at least. I will be posting pictures of my classroom in a later post, but I am really happy with the time I have spent on it this summer and I really feel like it’s a home from home. I have also spent some significant time getting resources ready for the new Media Studies A Level and GCSE English Literature courses, which has been really rewarding. I will also be writing a post about these soon, so if you are looking for something maybe that can help you out.

So, onto the summer. My husband has garnered a job as a Science Teacher and is SUPER excited, so he has been prepping for next year too and made some fabulous resources. I really do envy his classes; he has such great ideas for teaching scientific concepts. I was worried that us both being teachers would mean we never escape work, but it’s actually been lovely to share ideas and really understand each other’s workload and lifestyle. As with any job, you don’t truly get it until you do it and we have a respect for each other that naturally arises from walking in each other’s shoes.

As well as work, we have spent some lovely time with our friends, Dan and Lucy, and had a magical walking tour of London. I am a Harry Potter nut so we visited all the filming locations, as well as locations for Sherlock. We also got to see The Tempest in The Barbican, which was a groundbreaking production and truly mind-blowing. Closer to home, we’ve spent quite a bit of time with family, which is a luxury in term time. We have been boding with my little cousins: twins who turned one this summer. It’s been lovely to have the quality time to spend hours with them and the rest of our family without having curriculum and marking filling up our thoughts.

We have also done a bit of decorating. We moved into our first proper house just under a year ago, but with Stuart doing his PGCE and me adjusting to the new job we have not managed to do any decorating to make it our own. We decorated our bedroom and kitted it out Harry Potter style. It’s AWESOME! I really wanted that room to be a place we can go to when things get stressy and truly relax and switch off, and I think we have managed to achieve that.

Creative-wise, I have done a few things, but my focus on work has meant this has been neglected somewhat. I have done some crafting and scrapbooking to create my new Harry Potter themed teacher planner for next year, which has been really fun. I have done a little drawing, but just to keep my hand in practice really. I’m sure I’ll get back into it once I’m back at work, but I just wasn’t feeling inspired. I did do some significant outlining and planning for my second novel, and worked a bit more on my first. I’m struggling a little with tying all the ends together for my first, so I’ve been plotting for the second in the hope it will help something click. I’m really happy with the outlining I have done though, and it serves the extra purpose of being an example I can share with my Creative Writing Club when I’m back at school. You can read my first novel on Wattpad, and the second will also be serialised there, or you can check it out through the ‘witing’ tab on this blog.

So that’s the summer so far! Lots of other things have happened and we have had lots of adventures, but what’s been so great is that we can share them together. September is going to be intense for us both, but I feel like we are closer than we have ever been and things are just going to keep getting better no matter what life throws at us. It’s been a tough few years and things finally feel on track. Bring on the new term!

 

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!

English blog

Media blog

Twitter feed

Youtube channel

Friday 5: Teacher Fashion Picks

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As a teenager, I spent many years working in a shop. Once I graduated, I spent some time in a bank. Both of these positions required me to wear uniforms. Starchy, ill-fitting and generally uncomfortable, I longed for the day I would be in a position to pick my own clothes to wear to work. Little things, I know.

I love fashion, and I enjoy browsing the internet for trends about to hit the high street. I am also sort of known for being pretty bold and quirky in the way I dress. I have been known to crack out the occasional bow tie, and am regularly seen sporting some wide legged culottes. Teaching is a wonderful profession in this regard as it allows you a certain freedom of expression, and I like to grab that bull by both horns.

However, dressing as a teacher can also be a daunting prospect. Especially for younger, female teachers, you are greeted by 150 critical eyes every day, and one wrong move can spell corridor gossip suicide. It can really say a lot about you as a person and a professional, so it is an aspect of the job which requires some consideration. I am an advocate for dressing more formally. My school requires it, and I feel more professional when I do. As well as that, I am in my mid twenties and can slip into sixth form territory if I start to dress down, which is not good for someone trying to assert authority over students only a few years younger. Dressing professionally, however, does not mean same old white shirt and black trousers every day. I refuse to slip back into having a work uniform.

So, without further ado, here are my top 5 picks to have in your wardrobe as a teacher. Hopefully this will inspire you or give you some staple items to start with. I also have a teaching fashion instagram account over at @pixiepoppinslookbook so you can see how I style things every day and hopefully get some ideas there too!

1. Cigarette trousers

I love a good cigarette trouser. I have a bunch in different colours and with different patterns. They are formal enough to look like suit trousers but are as comfy as jogging bottoms. I pair mine with a plain t shirt and either a cardigan or a blazer and I’m good to go.

2.Brogues

I have stupid feet, so brogues are the best shoes for me in terms of staying on. As well as that, they are effortlessly on trend and heeled version as super comfortable to walk around in all day. I have a black and a brown pair and I rarely wear anything else. Winner.

3. Florals

As the. And of my blog suggests, I have a pixie cut. I like to dress in slightly more girly pieces to take the edge off it, especially when it’s freshly cut. I also like something with a pattern so drywipe marker stains and humous drips are not so obvious. Florals are a great option because they are not so bold as to be unwearable more than once in a week, but offer something extra feminine and colourful to an outfit.

4. Blazers and Cardigans

Blazers add a touch of structure and formality to any outfit. I have a load of different colours and styles, but my favourites are ones with some jersey stretch that allow me to reach up to the top of my whiteboard without bursting a seam. I like to shop in the sales for mine and I often go for bold block colours rather than black and grey. Of course, I do have black and grey, they just never really seem to make it out of the wardrobe. A cardigan, conversely, can dress down an outfit slightly, making it a little less starchy and over formal. I often wear cardigans with office and pencil dresses I have, to soften the silhouette.

5.  Dresses

A dress and a trusty pair of black opaque tights has never done me wrong. I prefer a more fitted pencil dress but I do own a couple of flared skirt dresses too. As mentioned above, I pair these with a cardigan and change it up for a jacket if I am attending a parents evening or an open evening. A couple of things to bear I mind though – midi length is always best and, though I love to shop from Boohoo.com, I always pick thicker pointe or scuba material rather than the thinner jersey material. I don’t want a VPL to be attached to my reputation for evermore, and it’s that bit more formal and appropriate.

Honourable Mention: Scarves

Scarves are my go to accessory and I have just enough to be a little ashamed. In the colder months they can provide a much needed barrier against chills and student sniffles. In the spring and summer, they can provide a feminine floaty extra to an otherwise business like attire. You can also get away with , in desperate times, wearing a dress or a top two days in a row by throwing a scarf on top and thereby changing the whole look. Hooray for scarves!

And so this concludes my fashion essentials. As mentioned above, I am self indulgent enough to have a teacher fashion instagram, so if you want to see any outfits in action head to @pixiepoppinslookbook. I always look out for bargains, so most of my clothes are from Tesco, Asda, Boohoo, Matalan or Primark. I occasionally splash out on a more expensive item but I think as long as you feel good in the clothes you wear, you will always look like you are dressed well.

‘What is you staple item for the classroom? What are your teacher fashion essentials? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

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!