11. My Favourite Part of the School Day

I have two moments in the day which are my favourite. I love to get in early, and it’s a lovely quiet start to the day. Especially in winter, I like to go in and get a coffee whilst my computer boots up, then snuggle in my desk corner and catch up on emails and open presentations for the day. I also like it when my form group come in early and have little chats with me. I love these little 1:1s and I really feel like this had improved my relationship with my form no end.

My other favourite time is that moment when the last child in the the last lesson of your day leaves the room and you get that few seconds of silence before the meetings and the admin begins. I am fortunate enough to have a soundproof classroom door and the contrast of kids talking and utter silence is a beautiful thing at the end of a full day. I often had Y7 or Y8 at the end of a day too, which seems to make the maximum difference.

What’s your favourite moment of the school day? Thanks for stopping by!

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6. What Does a Good Mentor Do?

I am going to come back to number 5 and my classroom makeover, as it is still a work in progress!

I have been a mentor to both adults and children this year, but I am going to focus on being a children’s mentor in this post. I don’t know whether it was because I was lucky in having a fabulous NQT, but I found being an NQT mentor a fairly straightforward and very rewarding job. Being a mentor to my form class has, on the other hand, been a much more rocky road.

I was a Year 7 mentor this year, and my form class were a mixed bag. There were plenty of model students, students who were academically excellent, students who tried their best and needed a little help academically (in a variety of contexts), and students with behavioural challenges. I started the year as a new teacher and it soon became apparent my form were going to make or break me. I am not saying for a second that I have cracked it, and we have a looong way to go, but if you have a class like this and are looking for something new to try then maybe some of this may help.

Treat them as individuals

My form is made up of 27 individuals, and without hesitation I could recite their names and talk about them for at least a few minutes each. I know some of them respond to a good shouting, and some need a gentle talk and a sense of disappointment from me for a punishment to hit home. I know favourite subjects, struggling subjects, context galore and friendship dramas. This is what most form teachers will know about their students. I have really found it invaluable to have this information, because it allows me to approach things from a new angle. I am also really fortunate to have fortnightly 1:1 sessions on my timetable, so once a fortnight I have an hour to make appointments with my form members. I usually work through the register, but if I know an incident has occurred I can call any significant individuals to see me too. This really fosters the relationship and has helped when dealing with any issues.

A great example from my lot is Welsh. Most of my students are EAL, so Welsh is a massive struggle as a subject. Lots try, but some would rather mess around than try and fail. It constantly crops up as a problem area on the class report and the same students get detentions all the time.

I am fortunate in that I speak Welsh, so when the notorious students attended their double up detentions (see below) I used that time to teach some conversational Welsh one to one and then get them to teach me something. Some taught me some conversational phrases in their own language. Some taught me some origami, or how to stand best when throwing a javelin. They then had the challenge of getting a merit in Welsh before I saw them for their 1:1 session again. This worked well in the short term and really built up the relationship between me and the students. Long term, they started to lose the focus again. But, with repetition, I think it could have some impact.

Aside from this, recognising the good students when the class get told off is really important. It hurts to be tarnished with the same brush as your classmates when you are always trying your best, so at every possible opportunity I make it clear I know lots of students are doing well and I am pleased with them.

Treat them as a team

Whilst treating them as individuals is essential and is what everyone will tell you is the key to teaching or mentoring, what I have found works just as well is treating them as a team. A dressing down is given extra impact when students are told they are letting each other down and they don’t respect their friends Realistically, they don’t care too much about upsetting you, but upsetting their mates can have far more disastrous consequences. Similarly, celebrating success as a team, even the smallest of things (like a merit in Welsh) brings the team together, so they want to let each other down even less.

There was a lovely moment where one of my students got his merit in Welsh. He really struggled with the subject and tried to hide rather than go to class on more than one occasion. I had told the whole class about his challenge, and said that they had to help him out as a team. When he got it, they all rushed to form to tell me, so excited for him as they were. We all waited for him to arrive and gave him a standing ovation. He was so happy he cried. He was mortified, of course, because it was totally not cool for something like that to happen, but he knew in that moment everyone was on his side. I have found, undoubtedly, mentoring my form as a team and a collective is as important as nurturing them individually.

Be real

I am strict with my form. We have rigid routine and a double up policy: They get a detention and they serve another with me. They get a praise card and they get a card or a call home from me. We are formal and almost military. But we also have a laugh. I tell them about my day and they tell me about theirs. I joke around with them. I dab behind some of them and then deny it vehemently, leaving a furious debate raging as to whether it actually happened. I talk about the big things: racism, sexism, terrorism. I am open when I don’t know things or make mistakes. I tell them when I learn from them. I tell them when I am tired or stressed, and say they should be mindful of other teachers or students who may feel the same. I don’t know if this would work with an older form, but they seemed to respect this a lot. It was really enjoyable to learn things from them about their cultures and beliefs, and I feel I have shown them genuine respect by doing so.

Next steps

They are not perfect. No way. But, in a way, I like that. I really do have a sense of responsibility and a sort of love towards them. We have the basics now, and they are fully aware of my expectations. In this academic year, I hope to continue all of the above and to now build some restorative justice into the mix. They really want to do well but struggle a lot, and relationships between them and classroom teachers are not all great. So, I am introducing ‘thank a teacher’ day and teacher praise postcards. We are going to set targets and track them as a class and make sure we thank other students and teachers whenever we can. Hopefully, by getting them to focus on the positive moments of the week, they can see how good they are and want more of them. It’s a gamble, but worth a try.

What strategies do you use as a mentor? Do you have any strategies to share? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

 

2. Technology in the Classroom

Something I really want to utilise this year is the opportunities 1:1 technology in our school offers. It’s easy to brush technology to one side in English; after all, you don’t need a computer to learn reading and writing, right? But the thing is, we are training young people to go out and function effectively in the real world as working adults. And, in most jobs, communicating effectively with technology is an integral part of the day to day requirements.

Now, I’m not saying we should abandon pen and paper. I am a massive advocate of traditional methods, and am a proud owner of a paper planner and a guzzilllion Post-it notes in a paperless school. I do calligraphy, for crying out loud. But I also know the value of using online communication and the value of teaching with it. Our students use the internet to communicate every day. They use word processors, presentation software, email clients and social media to function. Tapping into this as a teacher is valuable for both parties.

So. This year I plan to get students blogging and vlogging. I plan to get them creating print and audio-visual media and considering how to make them effective. I even plan on doing a whole unit dedicated to generating an interactive e-magazine. I also plan to document it on Twitter and think about what works and what doesn’t when using the students’ iPad minis. Hopefully we will see an increase in creative writing engagement, an awareness of why correct grammar and syntax is important, and some enthusiasm for English which seems more vocational and tangible in terms of links to the workplace. I’ll keep you posted!

What are your technology based goals for this year? Are you thinking of setting up social media for your department? Are you using technology successfully? Share your ideas and links down below, and thanks for stopping by!

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!

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!

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!