Diary of a Lazy NQT Music Teacher

An Action Research Post by Catherine Mainwaring (Music)

Reading time: 4 minutes

Focus

Using the ‘Lazy Teacher’s Handbook’ to develop strategies to ease teacher workload.

Objective

To develop a range of practical strategies to lighten the workload of a single-teacher department so that curriculum planning and teaching is more efficient.

Background and Context

When deciding upon my research project for my NQT year I was drawn towards a book that I was first introduced to during my Initial Teacher Training Year. The supposedly lazy strategies to ease the life of teachers intrigued my curiosity about the possibility of doing less but achieving more when delivering a full teaching timetable – something that as a graduate teacher, was extremely daunting! What I soon discovered with the Lazy Teacher’s Handbook was that though some ideas could be adapted for everyday classrooms, with advances in technology a number felt out-of-date or misleadingly hard work. That being said there were some strategies that I was able to integrate within my teaching practice such as

  • Lazy lessons with the TA
  • Toolkit – giving pupils the tools to succeed and stepping back
  • No Photocopying

Let’s get lazy!

Actions and Impact

Lazy lessons with the TA

Having the addition of another adult in your classroom is simultaneously exceedingly helpful and terrifying! Especially in the initial stages of term 1 having a teaching assistant in the room was perhaps more of a comfort or safety blanket for myself rather than an additional support mechanism for certain pupils. The handbook identified a few ideas for using the TA ‘lazily’,  though when reflected upon, it became clear that in order to reach a ‘happy-medium’ of being a lazy teacher, some preparation and planning was needed which then had to be embedded. The handbook identified the following strategies:

  • Talk to your TA – introduce yourselves.
  • Give them a copy of the schemes of work
  • Get to know the TA – hobbies, interests, name
  • Engage the TA in the curriculum planning process

While some of these suggestions may seem quite obvious, it was still reassuring to have some guidance. Using the above strategies I found that my lessons with those classes who had the Teaching Assistant slowly started to become more manageable especially when faced with difficult behaviour in lessons or lessons where due to the practical nature of the class where pupils were in different rooms, having an extra pair of eyes proved very useful. Whilst giving them a copy of the scheme of work would be useful it contradicted another lazy activity of no photocopy (more of that later!). Among the trepidations I had about this particular avenue was that there was no guarantee that the TA would be available for every Music lesson or whether it would not be less strenuous to have a short conversation about the individual lesson they were in. One of the more useful suggestions was to engage the musical interests of the TA into my lessons. Being able to provide a united front and use example analogies to the pupils that the TA could also reiterate in the lesson proved useful whenever further clarification was needed.

Toolkit – giving pupils the tools to succeed and stepping back

I quite liked the idea for a toolkit especially when teaching the new GCSE course which now consists of a higher level of analytical detail than previously. Though having a toolkit for pupils to access in lessons seemed like a good idea at the time, it proved quite costly when resources needed to either be replaced, because students lost them or took them for their files or as more set works were discussed, more revision resources were produced. Towards the end of the academic year, I started to think of alternative ways of presenting a toolkit to my pupils, not only in Key Stage 4 but to Key Stage 3 as well, especially with regard to assessment and verbal feedback. As it stands, more time and planning is needed to fully explore the possibilities of a student toolkit.

No Photocopying

This particular strategy is one that I wasn’t sure I could fully commit to. While I loath printing out reams of scores and starter activities, such as tarsias/ rhythm bingo and exit passes, they have proved the activities that students both enjoyed the most and the ones which were able to be used multiple times during a lesson.  Motivating students by highlighting the amount of progress made within one lesson is crucial, especially for GCSE students as they approach the examination. Although I wanted to reduce the amount of printing, there are some things which need photocopying such as musical scores, especially for those pupils who do not have access to IT and online facilities at home.

Conclusions

To conclude, the Lazy Teacher’s Handbook is indeed a good foundation stone for a teacher in the initial stages of their career and as a starter for any teacher wanting to do less to allow their students to do more. One of the strengths in the literature is the ability to adapt each strategy to different teaching environments. One of the disadvantages however, is that some of the the strtaegies seem to be starting to become outdated given the vast range of developments that have been made with ICT in Education over the last few years (though I believe a new updated edition of the book has been published since my copy was printed).

Next Steps

I have found a variety of strategies in the text that I have used in different contexts within my teaching and have found with each one, a happy medium to build upon as I venture further into the teaching profession.  I have started researching the development of an online student toolkit which will be accessible to all pupils for feedback and revision. I have also built up professional relationships with Teaching Assistants and the extended Learning Hub (our pupil support team) to further develop my teaching style, to accommodate the specific learning needs of my Key Stage 4 pupils.

References

The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook – How your students learn more when you teach less  (The Independent Thinking Series – Crown House Publishing Ltd.)  Jim Smith – Author, Ian Gilbert – Editor

Featured image: ‘Teacher’ by dutchpirates on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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Making revision more effective

A sharing best practice post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Among the many challenges inherent in the new GCSE courses is the greater volume of knowledge and understanding that pupils are required to learn, recall and master in the exam hall.  This puts even greater importance on them undertaking effective revision.

In recent years staff have worked hard to develop a broad range of revision resources, whether they be revision booklets, guides, summary sheets, past paper booklets, revision tests and so on.  On top of the that, with the potential for using computer and online resources, teachers have collated or produced youtube films, channels, links and guides, not to mention making paper based resources accessible via VLEs, Google Drive and the School website.

However, despite this plethora of resources offering pupils a multitude of ways in which to revise, there are those  who still fail to make effective use of them.  In some cases these are pupils who have collected or accessed resources, have told the teacher, ‘Yes, I have my revision resources’ and ‘Yes, I know what I need to revise’, but still fail to revise effectively.

For some the problem lies not in knowing how to revise, because teachers have modelled and rehearsed that.  Nor in knowing what to revise, because teachers have provided them with revision lists and planning tools.  The problem for some seems to lie in marrying the two together.

For some pupils, breaking revision down and being specific in telling them which activities to undertake with which resources is far more likely to be productive, even for those who think they know what they are doing.

Being prescriptive in the way pupils are expected to revise can take the mystery, or in some cases the awe that some seem to feel, out of starting and completing an effective revision session.

As a tutor of a Year 11  group I have discussed with my pupils what help they want from teachers.  The answer that came back loud and clear was, “We need their help to tell us exactly how to revise individual topics.”

When I thought about this I came to the following conclusions:

  • The more structured the revision task the better, especially for the less able and many of the boys (as well as those students who are inclined to panic) so that they know exactly how and where to start revising
  • Frequent consolidation, not just of the learning but of the ‘how to’ strategies for revision, is needed to keep pupils focused

So, as a Maths teacher with a Year 11 class this is approach I am incorporating into my revision this year by using the following process:

  • Complete one mock paper per fortnight in class

Then, in the following fortnight pupils complete two homeworks:

  • Week 1 – a written homework that can be self-assessed in class
  • Week 2 – a clearly defined revision task based on the outcome of the mock, which I talk through with the class before they complete it

JJ - HW task

Figure 1  An example of a revision homework

Put simply my advice is:

  • Show the pupils how to revise by modelling the strategies
  • Set revision tasks on a regular basis, guiding the pupils specifically as to what they need to revise and how they are to do it.

Featured image: ‘Brain’ by ElisaRiva on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

Investigating the impact of Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies on pupils’ learning

An Action Research Project by Daniel James (Business Studies)

Reading time: 9 minutes

This is an investigation into the practical implications of using Kagan Cooperative Learning and its impact on pupils’ learning.

1.1 Introduction:

In the traditional taught classroom the teacher may provide some instructions or a knowledge based element followed by some activity and a question and response section to track progress. The teacher may also ask questions and expect responses from students; this is sometimes delivered in a differentiated manner where the questions are posed at differing levels depending on their ability level.

As outlined by Kagan (2009)[1] “Traditional learning is either whole-class, with the teacher leading the class, or independent practice work”, as such this can lead to an environment that is not as conducive to learning as we might think.  The traditional classroom creates a more intimidating learning environment where students are picked for their answers, where the teacher is in charge of learning and as such often lacks engagement.

Kagan offers a different approach to this where interaction is an expected part of the learning environment. This need not be at odds with the traditional classroom, as outlined Kagan (2009)[2] “Cooperative learning compliments rather than replaces direct instruction; it is used to cement learning that occurs via direct instruction”.

“[T]eachers believe Kagan Structures are instructional strategies designed to promote cooperation and communication in the classroom, boost students’ confidence and retain their interest in classroom interaction.”[3]

The whole idea behind Cooperative Learning is the act of allowing students to directly interact with their own learning. In this action research project I will explore some of the learning structures outlined by Kagan and report on their impact on attainment, knowledge development, enjoyment and confidence in the classroom.

1.2 The Structures

In Kagan (2009) they introduce the idea of the replacement cycle which suggests that with each academic cycle there is a new teaching and learning approach that replaces its predecessor.  The phrase “It is all cyclical” rings true here.  Kagan (2009)[4] says that because of this replacement cycle, experienced teachers get jaded and “give little or no effort… It is tragic for teachers who get turned off to the whole process of educational innovation”.

The ‘Cooperative Learning Structures’ approach has been designed to break this replacement cycle, getting rid of the need to plan one off cooperative learning lessons and instead implement structures that can be used as part of any lesson. “Don’t do cooperative learning lessons; make cooperative learning part of every lesson”. (Kagan 2009)[5]

2.1 My Approach

Throughout the last academic year I have used my year 9 Business classes as a focus for developing and researching the use and impact of Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies on the progress and engagement of students. The two classes have 31 students each, are roughly 50:50 in gender split and have a range of behavioral and learning needs, they are broadly mixed ability.

Throughout the year I have used a range of Kagan structures as outlined in the book “Cooperative Learning”. These structures were used multiple times across both classes, at points they were adapted to fit the subject specific content, and were evaluated as to their effectiveness.

2.1.1 How the structures were evaluated

The structures were evaluated on a three point scale these were:

  1. How time effective the structure was (Time needed to setup Vs. overall impact)
  2. Impact on student subject understanding
  3. Impact on student engagement

When evaluating against these three areas I used a 5 point scale with 1 being not effective, 5 being extremely effective. The judgements were based on students’ responses to in-class questioning, assessment of tests and exercise books and through observation.

Example judgement:

Fig 1

3.1 Findings

3.1.1 Fan-N-Pick

Each team of four has a set of question cards.  Pupil #1 holds a set of cards with questions on them, pupil #2 selects a question to ask, player #3 answers the question, player #4 checks whether the answer is right or wrong and praises or tutors, or in the case of opinion based questions,  paraphrases the thinking that went into the answer.  Roles rotate on each round.

Fan-N-Pick was used when teaching the topic of business structures. This was used as there were complex areas of ownership and control that the students need to grasp. The setup of this task was time intensive but once set up did highlight student understanding and areas where further consolidation was needed. This structure also enabled all students to take an active role in the peer assessment and challenge of one another and so improved engagement in the lesson. Overall, this structure was effective and once set up should provide a range of assessment opportunities for the teacher.

Fig 2

3.1.2 Find Someone Who

In this activity the teacher prepares a sheet/list of questions.  Pupils circulate around the class forming different pairs on each round.  Each person in the pair then take it in turns to ask and then answer a question for the other person.  Pupils record the answer on their sheet and their partner initials the answer they have given.  The activity continues with pupils moving to form a pairing with a new person.

This structure was used in a recap lesson on stakeholders, their objectives and the impact they can have on business. The idea behind this activity is that each student is given a sheet with a series of questions relating to the topic and they move around the room trying to find people who had the answer (hence ‘find someone who’). I liked the principle idea behind this and  it encouraged the students to move around the room, however with a class of 31 this proved to be a challenge with students shouting to find the answer and all too often the more able students were swamped with questions. The other issue with this is that although answers were recorded and they were correct, this did not lead to increased understanding because the responses were taken at face value and not examined in greater detail.

I further used this strategy following a series of lessons covering e-commerce. This time students were only allowed to ask a partner student one question and as such had to be strategic with which questions they asked which students. The other adaption was that the students had to stick to their side of the room and thus limiting access to only 14/15 other students. Overall, this structure needs time to embedded and strict expectations need to be applied so that no student gets a “freeride”.

Fig 3

3.2.3 Round Table

In Round Table pupils in a group take it in turns to add an answer, idea or contribution to a project the whole group is working on.  The use of a single task sheet/pen or pencil emphasizes the cooperative nature of the task.

This strategy was very effective when used to examine extended questions relating to how a business could improve its cash flow. This activity was simple to set up and the students were provided with an exam based questions where there were multiple answers, each of which were valid. The students took it in turns to add to the previous answer put down by their table and by the end of the time each row (table) had an answer that was backed up and justified. Most of the rows found this engaging and understanding of the topic was shown to have greatly increased among these students, however where rows did not engage this was due to no student in that row wanting to “take a chance” and put an answer forward. When I went to these rows and questioned their understanding they all had appropriate ideas but were initially unwilling to share with their table.

Overall an effective strategy, that if used regularly with student’s who have built up their resilience, will impact positively on engagement and understanding.

Fig 4

3.2.4 Timed Pair Share

In Timed Pair Share pupil A talks to pupil B on a topic given by the teacher for a set period of time.  Pupil B responds with a positive comment – these might be set up in the form of sentence starters, “One thing I have learned from listening to you is…’, ‘Your most interesting idea was…’, and so on.  Roles are then reversed and a new topic given by the teacher.

This structure like the previous one was very time efficient to set up and I found made for effective teacher assessment as part of a mini or full plenary activity. I was able to move around the room as students explained all they knew about the topic to their partner. Students were encouraged not to repeat what their partner had said but they could develop it if they felt some detail was lacking. Overall, this was effective and the only issue was when students did not correct their partners’ mistakes for fear of upsetting them. This is an area that could be worked on by teaching students how to give and receive constructive criticism.

Fig 5

Notes:

[1] Kagan, S. Kagan Structures: A Miracle of Active Engagement. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Fall/Winter 2009. www.KaganOnline.com

[2] Kagan, S. Kagan, K Kagan Cooperative Learning Pages 1.4. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. 2009.

[3] Kagan, S. Kagan Structures: A Miracle of Active Engagement. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Fall/Winter 2009. www.KaganOnline.com

[4] Kagan, S. Kagan, K Kagan Cooperative Learning. Page 6.5 . San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. 2009

[5] Kagan, S. Kagan, K Kagan Cooperative Learning. Page 6.6 . San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. 2009

Featured image: ‘Classroom’ by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

Kagan Cooperative Learning: Finding its place in a knowledge based curriculum

An Action Research Project by Kate Gilbert (Geography)

Reading time: 8 minutes

Background

I have been teaching for 6 years now and throughout all stages of my career so far, Kagan strategies are often shared as good practice, or referenced on Twitter or highlighted as strengths during lesson observations. As such, I have used Kagan strategies tokenistically in my lessons throughout my career but have never looked into whether the idea of cooperative learning could be fully embedded across Schemes of Work and adopted as an entire educational philosophy.  As such, I have used Professional Development time this year to investigate the full breadth of cooperative learning as opposed to stand alone strategies to see how easily it can be used within a classroom where pedagogical approaches seem to be moving away from the notion of cooperative learning to an increase in the focus on the acquisition of knowledge.

Kagan Cooperative Learning

In order for cooperative learning to be embedded, Kagan identifies seven keys: Structures, Teams, Management, Classbuilding, Teambuilding, Social Skills and Key Principles. Each will briefly be outlined below with a summary of how effective each element was when implemented within my classroom.

Key 1: Structures

In short, structures are the relationship between the teacher, the students and the content of a lesson and how these are delivered, received and processed. The structures used are content free and so can be applied to a wide range of topics and embedded over time. On reading Kagan Cooperative Learning (by Dr S Kagan and M Kagan, published by Kagan Publishing)  I realised that this is where many of the key strategies I already utilised in my lessons could be found. This I assume is because the rationales behind them make good sense in terms of general classroom practice (Carousel feedback, Find the Fiction, Think Pair Share). However, using the book to understand their place in the overall context of cooperative learning has been a beneficial one, especially in relation to the links between the other 6 keys identified by Kagan. Therefore, a starting point for this project was to identify the structures that I already use and aim to adopt more into my lesson planning. Although this was a good place to start, my previous experiences of Kagan (staff briefings, twitter etc.) had given me the misconception that the structures utilised in lessons were the main feature of cooperative learning when in fact in order to fully establish the principles, all seven keys need to be used together. As such, the project I intended to undertake – a review of the utility of different Kagan structures – became much broader by attempting to incorporate more of the keys, rather than just structures into my lessons.

Key 2: Teams

The key idea Kagan is developing here is that rather than pupils working in groups, they work in teams. The key difference here being that teams have a strong identity, ideally consist of 4 members and endure over time, with a recommendation of teams working together for 6 weeks. The idea of cooperative learning is one that I wholeheartedly support. In my first year of teaching, I changed the layout of my classroom each term ranging from rows, pairs and tables of various sizes. Whilst I also found that tables of 4 worked the best, logistically my classroom isn’t big enough to accommodate this. As such, I have four tables of 6 and two of 4 which are heterogeneous as recommended by Kagan. However, along with logistical challenges, building teams can also be difficult with constant changes to seating plans (i.e. when new information is received about a pupil, or friendship issues that arise at various points during the year) and the time needed to dedicate to building said teams. In an educational environment where the acquisition of knowledge is now more important than ever, time taken away from this to build a team identity can seem to be a waste when teams may constantly change and I only see pupils for a maximum of 5 hours a fortnight. As such, the key idea has been taken forward, but the activities that come along with this have not as discussed in relation to Key 5 below.

Key 3: Management

This aspect is the general management of the class and classroom to promote cooperative learning, for example managing noise levels and setting up the classroom in groups. Due to the layout of my classroom and the pedagogical choices I make in relation to group work tasks, this is an aspect I have already had to consider for my classroom such as giving clear time warnings and using hand claps instead of my voice to gain attention during group tasks. As such, this element of embedding cooperative learning did not require any changes to my normal classroom routine.

Key 4: Classbuilding

Classbuilding is about building a culture in the classroom with a sense of safety and belonging. There are many structures suggested for building this and the book makes a strong argument as to why developing this is important. However, I cannot help but feel that many of the structures suggested would be most suited to a primary school setting or developed and fostered within tutor time as opposed to lesson time due to their lack of application to content. The notion of pupils feeling safe enough within the classroom to take risks and feeling like they belong is not limited to Kagan but is a wider requirement for effective teaching. At secondary school level, this is largely developed through building relationships with pupils, asking about interests and having the time to praise them when they get it right. As such, I feel that any time spent using the Kagan strategies for class building during subject lessons could be better utilised with the strategies above.

Key 5: Teambuilding

Teambuilding is similar to classbuilding but on a smaller scale within teams. Despite being sceptical to begin with I found that short activities such as devising team names, identifying favourite hobbies etc. acted as ice breakers for unfamiliar groups and in some cases identified common factors that brought groups together. As such I have learnt that building pupil-pupil relationships within the classroom is just as important as building pupil-teacher relationships, especially in a cooperative classroom where the focus is moving away from teacher-pupil dialogue. This is something I will consider moving forward. However, some suggestions such as a birthday calendar were deemed to be more suited to primary school age children and so strategies need to be selected on appropriateness.

Key 6: Social Skills

Social skills encompass all aspects of interactions within our classrooms and are vital life skills that pupils need to develop. Kagan strategies aim to develop these skills by talking answers through, allocating team roles, providing structures for conversations and feedback and modelling good examples of social skills. Pages 11.6-11.7 highlight various social skills and match them to the structures discussed previously. Kagan also identifies a dozen learning roles for pupils to assume during group work. Whilst these were trialled with younger years, it was deemed that the name and nature of the roles are more suited in a primary school setting. “Quiet Captain” and “Materials Monitor” in a secondary school classroom were deemed as patronising to the pupils and some roles were seen as being higher status than others. Instead, a social skills checklist was utilised. Expectations were given of each team and every member of the team was expected to ensure that the expectations were followed. For example, the “Praiser” role was instead listed within the checklist as “show appreciation for teammates ideas and contributions”. As the teacher, I would then circulate and listen out for examples of this being demonstrated to fill in the social skills observation sheet. This resulted in a similar outcome to that envisaged by Kagan but was more adapted to the pupils I teach.

The chapter also identifies various characters who can appear during group work and the ways to overcome their dominance/shyness etc. Whilst the strategies were helpful and gave me some ideas as to how to manage different scenarios, a difficulty arises here where all pupils in the class can fit into one category or another. As such, a variety of skills are covered in different topics to ensure that all aspects are addressed.

Key 7: Basic Principles (PIES)

The acronym PIES stands for Positive interdependence, Individual accountability, Equal participation and Simultaneous interaction, where if all are in place, then pupils will be actively engaged in the learning process and as such increase their rate of academic achievement.

Positive interdependence – pupils need to work together in order to achieve. They are dependent on one another.

Individual accountability – each pupil is accountable and must bring something to the table or is randomly selected to share/give idea so no free riders

Equal participation – everyone is expected to have a voice. A partner share with your B partner sharing as much as partner A

Simultaneous Interaction – Pupils are talking at the same time so more time is dedicated to active participation

As such, tasks need to be set in order to take account of this. This lead to a re-think as to how I structure group work tasks in the future so that all pupils have ownership over a particular area. In addition, cooperative learning moves away from the emphasis on teacher-pupil dialogue. As such, pupils themselves become more active in their learning and allows more time to be dedicated to this. This aspect of Kagan has lead to a restructuring of group work where pupils take more responsibility and I act as an observer to their learning process and give feedback based on this rather than content.

Conclusion

Overall, taking more time to explore Kagan strategies has been a beneficial one. Initially I thought that I could dip in and out of particular sections of the book as I held the misconception that Kagan was largely about the structures used in lessons. Although this was a misconception, arguably I feel that it is the structures themselves that are perhaps most useful in a secondary setting and the main ideas that I will be developing further. I think that whilst it is unfortunate that our education system now seems to favour content heavy courses with the key way to test pupils being how much they can remember, I think we as teachers need to remember that the rationale behind Kagan and cooperative learning is a strong one and has a plethora of research to support its impact on raising achievement. As such, whilst I may not be fully embedding all of the 7 keys discussed above, cooperative learning can most definitely complement direct instruction from the teacher by giving pupils the chance to practice skills.

Ultimately, we as teachers could cover the curriculum through didactic teaching but it removes the element of consolidation and enjoyment that pupils need to experience. As such, I have found that Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies most definitely still have a place in a knowledge based curriculum but may not be deployed in the immersive way that the author may have intended.

Featured image: ‘Silhouettes’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

Nurturing a Growth Mindset with Year 11 Boys

An Action Research post by Kevin Magner

Reading time: 8 minutes

Context

A class of 13 Year 11 boys with a variety of different needs to be prepared for a GCSE exam in Religious Studies – what is the biggest challenge?

At the start of the year I decided that the challenge lay in getting the boys to believe in themselves and that, despite anything that had gone before in their educational experience, they still had the opportunity to reach or exceed their target grades.   For many of the boys  a history of low achievement and a variety of other social and learning needs made it that much harder for them to succeed.  As GCSE exams loomed on the horizon it was time to try and help them to raise their game.

There were two things I hoped to achieve.  First, to help them to do their best in readiness for their exams.  Second, to learn some lessons for life about self-belief and self-confidence.  With these ideas in mind I was inspired by the work of a number of colleagues who had been investigating the application of Growth Mindset thinking to their teaching, and decided to look further into this aspect of education.

Growth Mindset

‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed is a book I would encourage everyone to read.  Taken together with the work of Carol Dweck on ‘Mindset’, they  present an argument for the idea that our potential as learners is not predetermined but open to development given the right environment, resources and above all, a ‘growth mindset’.   That is,  being open to the belief that ‘purposeful effort’ is what brings you success in learning.  As teachers, it is our job to cultivate this attitude in our pupils and provide the learning resources, experiences and environment that allow pupils to discover their potential.  This then would be my focus.

The ‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook’ by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon provided a useful tool for reflecting upon Carol Dweck’s research in a school context and identifying strategies that might be used in the classroom.  Looking at a variety of other resources (see ‘Further resources’ below), including the work of a number schools which have introduced Growth Mindset thinking to staff and pupils, I decided to adopt two approaches to work on with my class.

Firstly,  to focus on ‘targeted effort’ (Hymer and Gershon, pages 43-58).  My intention was to try and shift pupils’ interest away from focusing on the grades or marks they were (or were not) achieving and instead focus attention on the effort they were making in their work.

Secondly, to focus on trying to develop a greater self-confidence in the boys and the belief that, they were the ‘Masters of their fate’ (from ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley) and by believing in themselves they could have the confidence to face the challenges that lay ahead – in their GCSE course and in life – and succeed even in the face of adversity.

Putting the theory into practice

Focusing on the importance of effort and trying to cultivate a greater sense of self-confidence and self-belief were two mutually supportive aims which I sought to put into practice in the classroom.

Targeting effort

Typically, if you mark a piece of work with a grade or score and a comment, pupils will look to the grade, feel a sense of joy or deflation and read no further.  My aim therefore was to shift the focus away from marking and feedback which concentrated on attainment because this, according to the literature can serve to reinforce fixed mindsets, such as,  ‘I did not succeed therefore I am no good at this subject!’.

So, with the exception of end of module assessments/mock exams, I set out to ensure that all of my formative assessments focused on the pupils’ effort rather than their attainment.  To ensure this was meaningful, it still needed to embrace best practice by being specific in identifying where in their work I could recognize and acknowledge effort; and where additional effort would help them to make genuine improvements to their learning when completing DIRT (Directed Improvement and Response Time) work.

yellow sticker

Example of a feedback sticker acknowledging effort

The boys adapted more quickly than I expected to this new approach to marking and quickly stopped asking, ‘What mark did I get?’ or, ‘What grade would I get for this?’.  The greatest challenge for me as a teacher, was in learning to phrase my comments in a way that focused the pupils’ attention on effort, and their ability to improve their work, rather than on comments that were either too vague and general to be of value, or comments which tended to imply an innate ability and therefore fell into the very trap or reinforcing the mindset that,  ‘I have a fixed level of ability which cannot be changed’.

In time, as I developed my vocabulary and ability to articulate my feedback more precisely, the process became more effective.   This applied to both written feedback and to verbal feedback given during the course of lessons.

To reinforce the message that it was their effort that was most worthy of recognition,  I adopted a series of reward stickers to acknowledge a particularly positive or note-worthy effort on the part of each boy.  The stickers were tiny ‘button’ stickers of a child like style  with pictures of footballs and butterflies, trophies and flowers, along with a ‘great effort’ or ‘well done’  type statement.  Initial laughter soon passed and many of the boys became quietly keen to see whether they had earned a new sticker when their books were handed back to them.

Effort stickers

Pupil’s book with effort stickers

We started counting the stickers earned and every time a boy gained five stickers I sent a praise postcard home acknowledging ‘sustained effort’ over a period of time.  This reinforced the message that it was effort that deserved praise and recognition.   For many of the boys this brought them praise and recognition in a way that attainment alone was unlikely to bring and the boys (and parents) were proud of this recognition.  While not admitting openly to liking the effort stickers, it was after one boy asked what would happen to his stickers once he started a new exercise book that I decided to add a count of the stickers already earned to the cover of a new exercise book where new stickers would add to the total earned across the year.  In such small ways self-esteem is boosted.

In going forward, I do believe that it is important for me as a teacher to continue to cultivate and practice the use of a vocabulary with pupils that emphasizes the importance of effort and the virtue of recognizing that, it is only with effort that we can truly improve ourselves as learners.

Building self-confidence

In a groups of boys, many of whom did not have high self-esteem and who had experienced knocks and disappointments when their progress was measured against target grades, I felt it was important to try and build a ‘can-do’ attitude which promoted the virtues of effort, resilience, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, coping with disappointment and believing that everybody can achieve more in life if they make a focused and sustained effort to do so.

I felt it was important to focus this work not exclusively as a rallying cry to, ‘work hard academically so you will pass your exam’ (though this was obviously one motivation for this work), but as an attitude to carry beyond school into all areas of life.

On a practical level I chose to focus on this explicitly in every lesson through our ‘bell-work’ activities (an activity that was waiting for the pupils, ready to engage them from the moment they entered the classroom).

I researched a broad range of motivational or thought-provoking pictures, images, quotations, YouTube clips and posters that were a prompt for a brief discussion and to set the tone at the start of every lesson.

I sought out ideas that I felt would appeal to boys.  Ideas associated with sport, celebrity role models, humour and a variety of activities/pastimes.   As I built a bank of resources for the bell-work activities it became clear that there was a great deal of overlap when focusing on effort, ambition, perseverance and resilience.  I therefore grouped my resources into what became ‘fortnightly themes’ , where we would approach one idea from five different angles, over each timetable cycle.  The effect of this was to reinforce the key message and a pattern emerged where we would begin the fortnight with a film-clip to establish that fortnight’s theme and then develop it in consequent lessons.  This meant investing more time in the first lesson of each fortnightly cycle but I felt that the investment in terms of the cultivation of self-confidence was a worthwhile one.

GM slideMichael Jordan

Example of  bell work slides to prompt discussion 

By the end of the year I developed the resources for 76 lessons which saw us right through to their exams.  By beginning every lesson in the same way the boys became used to the routine and could soon use the vocabulary of, ‘effort, perseverance and resilience’ and explain what it meant.  My hope was that by drip-feeding these messages to them in every lesson, alongside a focus in my feedback and conversations in class on promoting, praising and encouraging the virtue of effort over attainment, that some of the messages would begin to ‘stick’ and influence their approach to work and exam preparation.

Conclusions

In terms of measuring the impact of each initiative it is hard to give a scientific analysis of outcomes.  However, at the end of the course I gave the boys a questionnaire and interviewed them about their experience.

On the whole, at the end of the year a majority of the boys surveyed identified more strongly with statements that suggested a ‘growth-mindset’ attitude.

When asked to recall which messages they could remember from the Bell Work at the start of each lesson they recalled:  “Don’t give up until you succeed”, “Stick at it!”, “Take on the Challenge”, “Persevere!”, “Make the effort”, “If you fail, keep on trying”.

Among the bell work activities that they found most memorable they cited, ‘The Michael Jordan messages not to give up when you experience failure’; and ‘The squirrel one’ (based on a You-tube film of a squirrel successfully overcoming an obstacle course which was accompanied by the story that it had taken the squirrel 6 months to learn to overcome the obstacles that it could eventually tackle in 30 seconds), and the reason –  ‘because it was funny’!

I also asked the boys whether they felt their attitude towards and effort in R.E. had improved across the year and all those asked said, ‘Yes’.  When I probed further to ask which factors had contributed to this improvement they all said that ‘teacher encouragement’ and ‘seeing my work improve during the year’ had been a part of their motivation alongside ‘parental encouragement’ and a desire to ‘get the grades necessary to get onto a course in September’.

Ultimately, the exam results the boys achieved showed a mixed picture of attainment.   Promoting growth-mindset is not a magic bullet and does not turn a ship around in a year!  However, hearing the boys being able to talk about ‘perseverance’, ‘resilience’ and ‘effort’ as the year progressed and seeing a number of them genuinely make their best effort – at least some of the time – in the run up to the exams, encourages me to believe that the effort invested in cultivating a growth-mindset culture in the classroom is worthwhile.

Above all, regardless of exam results, I hope that each of the boys has taken into adult life something of the belief that their potential is not limited and that with perseverance and resilience their efforts to develop their potential in any area of life is both worthwhile and achievable.

Bibliography/Further resources

‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed, published by Fourth Estate (Harper Collins)

‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck, published by Random House Publishing Group

‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook’ by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon, published by Teachers’ Pocketbooks

https://slooowdown.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/summary-of-summarised-by-paul-arnold-trainer-facilitator-paul_arnoldme-com/ – a summary of ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed

http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_Dweck.html – Summary of Carol Dweck’s Theory of Motivation by Geoff Petty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkE1lC4CpIE – A You Tube summary of Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset’

https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve Carol Dweck – TED talks

https://johntomsett.com/2013/10/20/this-much-i-know-about-developing-a-dweck-inspired-growth-mindset-culture/ – John Tomsett, Headteacher Huntington School on introducing a Growth Mindset to his school

https://chrishildrew.wordpress.com/growth-mindset/ – Chris Hildrew, Chew Valley School on introducing Growth Mindset to his school

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElVUqv0v1EE – You Tube film explaining Growth mindset in simple terms for young people

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUWn_TJTrnU – ‘Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset’ -A You Tube animation explaining the implications of different mindsets through the behaviour of two young people

‘Developing a Growth Mndset in your child’, Great Torrington School parents’ page: http://www.gts.devon.sch.uk/learning/mindset.html

http://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2017/02/the-growth-mindset-collection/ – The Growth Mindset Collection – a collection of articles about Growth Mindset compiled by Alex Quigley

Featured image: ‘Bicycling, bicycle, uphill’ by Perlinator on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Creative Commons

 

‘The dog ate my homework!” – strategies to improve the setting and completion of homework

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Nicola Osman (English)

“The dog ate my homework!”  How inventive are your pupils when it comes to giving you a reason why they are not handing in or did not complete their homework?

The story goes that John Steinbeck went for a walk after he had finished writing the draft of his book ‘Of Mice and Men’.  When he returned he found that his dog had indeed chewed the hand-written manuscript to pieces and the story had to be written out again!

The challenge of setting meaningful homework that pupils are going to complete and which, if we are honest as teachers, we have remembered to set and resource on the correct day, according to our homework timetable, is one that many teachers face.  Also, if we can take the sting out of the need to chase and discipline children when it comes to late or uncompleted homework we are doing ourselves a service too.

It was time to revisit our approach to homework.

With these ideas in mind, our English faculty have set about addressing this problem for every teacher in the team and for every pupil, in every class.

The four principles that guided our plan were:

  1. To set a meaningful homework for every pupil, every week
  2. To use our online homework setting resource ‘Show My Homework’, effectively
  3. To ensure that homework had a genuine impact on pupils’ learning
  4. To set work which helps to prepare pupils for the demands of the new GCSE English syllabus

To do this we are adopting a two step strategy.

Step One: Adopt a Faculty Approach to Homework

We have adopted a common programme of homework for all pupils in each year group (Which can then be differentiated as necessary for particular pupils/groups)

Spelling HW

Figure 1: A Year 7 Spelling homework

As Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) have been given a much greater profile in GCSE English it was decided to set homework in a cycle that directly addressed these areas across Years 7-9.  The cycle runs as follows: Week 1 – Spelling, Week 2 – Punctuation, Week 3 – Grammar.   Systematically building up these skills with pupils will lay the foundation for later GCSE study.

Grammar HW

Figure 2: A Year 8 Grammar homework

Punctuation HW

Figure 3: A Year 8 Grammar test used to assess a learning homework (see figure 2)

In Years and 10 and 11, where greater retention of information and memorising of quotations are demanded by the new GCSE syllabus, a two year programme of planned and structured revision made the most sense as the basis for homework across the GCSE course.

Revision HW

Figure 4: A section of a Year 10/11 Revision homework plan

With a clear structure established, all of the homework tasks  for the coming year could be planned and prepared in advance.  This involved a lot of work but by sharing the load across the faculty team and by setting homework in a common format that could be used across all classes, we reduced the scale of the job.  So, guided by our four principles above, each member of the team has prepared a share of the homework materials for the faculty.

By working in this way we also achieved a consistency of format and style in the tasks which meant greater consistency for pupils.  This work demanded an investment of time and energy, which was taken from lessons gained after exam classes had left in the summer term but the benefit for us all is that next year’s homework has been fully planned and resourced across the faculty and this will save planning time next year.

Step Two: Streamline Communication

Having planned a year’s homework in advance, ensuring that the pupils get and complete the homework becomes the next priority and a clear ‘no excuses’ communication system is the key.  No more,  ‘I didn’t get the homework!, or more embarrassingly, ‘I forget to set the homework!’.

One teacher in the Faculty now takes responsibility for setting all of the homework for the Faculty for a term.

All of the homework for a term can be set in advance and scheduled using the Show My Homework system.  You can either make all the homework available to pupils in advance for the weeks ahead or it can be scheduled to be automatically released to pupils on a weekly basis.  Show My Homework also allows you to attach the resource sheet electronically so there is no need to photocopy multiple sheets which could then get ‘lost’.  Show My Homework also ensures that parents as well as pupils know what homework has been set and when it is due in.

This is backed up by our second line of communication, the English faculty homework board.  The board in the corridor of the English faculty is a ‘one-stop-shop’, where the teacher responsible for setting homework in a particular term, posts the five homework tasks, one per week for each year group.  Pupils can then physically check their homework in school and are encouraged to take a picture of it on their phones if that is helpful to them.  With the same location and routine for ‘publishing’ each homework pupils have no excuse for not being able to check their own homework.

HW noticeboard

Figure 5: The English faculty homework board

With many of the tasks being  self and peer-assessed, initially through tests or checks in class, this allows each teacher to focus their marking time towards the piece(s) of work that is of the highest priority for more detailed assessment.

Non-completion becomes apparent through poor test scores and by setting a pass mark and consequent re-test for those who have not made the effort, the incentive to ‘get it right first time’ is established.

Some final thoughts…

  • The scheme requires an investment of time and effort at the beginning but once established should save teacher time
  • All teachers  have an equal responsibility to contribute thus ensuring fairness within the team
  • Communication of homework and expectations regarding homework are simplified for teachers, pupils and parents
  • This scheme highlights the importance of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar to pupils

Going forward…

  • We intend to extend the options for differentiation within the tasks

So, come the start of the new school year the dog may need to find something else to chew on!

Featured image: ‘Learn, school, help’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Mini-interventions

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Richard Noibi (Mathematics)

Reading time: 2 minutes

When we speak of interventions in education, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy, we typically think of large scale initiatives.  Schemes that might run across a whole school.  Interventions that have been meticulously planned with supporting documentation, layers of responsibility and financial accountability.  These are important but for many  pupils, it can often be the small-scale interventions teachers make, that can have the greatest impact in overcoming a barrier to learning in a particular lesson.

One example I use is the ‘mini-intervention’.  This is a way of supporting a pupil who has missed a lesson or not understood a key step in their learning.

Here’s how it works in my maths lessons.

Step 1

At the start of each lesson I give my class a bell-work/starter activity to get their mathematical brains warmed up.  This might reinforce the learning from recent lessons, give them a chance to demonstrate their mastery of an aspects of maths, or get them engaged with a new area of study.

Starter

Figure 1. An example of a starter activity

Step 2

While the majority of the class are working on the starter I will sit down with a pupil who was absent for the last lesson and go over the work we have covered in a 1:1 ‘mini- intervention’ and using a block of post-it notes to provide a brief explanation and  summary of the key learning points they have missed.

Fig 1

Figure 2. An example of some ‘mini-intervention’ post-it notes on trigonometric ratios given while the rest of the class work on their starter problem

Step 3

The pupil now has a greater chance of succeeding with the lesson ahead.  They can still seek support but they have enough information to make a start on the work set for them and often this is enough to let them catch up with the rest of the class.

Fig 2

Figure 3. Work on  multi-step trigonometric ratio problems completed by the pupil who received a ‘mini-intervention’ in figure 2. who has caught up with the rest of the class

By providing a pupil with a  post-it intervention they have a reference point to help them tackle the work, rather than having to repeatedly seek help once the main part of the lesson has started.  This helps them to be more independent in catching up with the rest of the class and allows me to focus my attention on the needs of other pupils in the class.

Fig 3

Figure 4. An example of a ‘mini-intervention’ post-it on the transformation of functions

Fig 4

Figure 5. The work completed independently by the pupil in figure 4 following their min-intervention

Why not try some mini-interventions yourself?

Featured image: ‘post its/ideas’ by B-G on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Take-Away Revision

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘I’m looking forward to revising for my exams!’, said no student ever.

Revision is a fact of life for students preparing for exams and for many it may seem like an insurmountable obstacle.  Building revision time into your scheme of work, teaching students effective and efficient revision strategies and lots and lots of exam practice will all help but the fact remains – revision is about hard work.

Once students have faced the fact that revision is a necessity if they wish to achieve their best results, then offering them support, encouragement and resources is the teacher’s next job.

One of the ways in which you can do this is to provide them with a ‘Take-Away Revision Bag’.

Goody bag 2

In the bags go…

  • ‘What is the examiner looking for from each question?’ guides
  • ‘How to answer different types of exam questions’ guides
  • Revision booklets
  • Past papers
  • Worksheets
  • Factsheets
  • Pen and Pencil
  • A highlighter
  • Blank revision cards
  • Post-its
  • Sweets
  • A personal message from me

Goody bag 3

Once students have been given their take-away bag they can add to them, or use them to keep all their revision materials and notes together in one place.

Students then bring elements of the bag to each lesson to use.

The bags also  mean they are able to work through different tasks at their own pace and plan their own revision.

Goody bag 4

I am then able to use the time gained from having pre-planned the revision activities to analyse their exam answers to target further revision on required topics or to focus on the needs of individual students.

The students were delighted by their revision ‘gift’ and it gave them a lift when undertaking the hard work that was being demanded of them.

Goody bag 1

Why not offer your students a take-away!

Learning with Games

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘To play or not to play?’, that is the question.  Are games a valuable tool in the teacher’s arsenal of learning strategies or are they a distraction and trivialisation of education?

Go fish

Figure 1: Go Fishing: hook yourself a question and provide an answer.  Get it right and keep your catch.  Get it wrong and the fish goes back in the pond

There are those who would argue that we as teachers are ‘educators not entertainers’ and there are indeed times when we need to remind our pupils of that.  However, there are also times when the enthusiasm and engagement engendered by ‘playing’ a game in class can be harnessed to serve the teacher’s purpose, whether it be to acquire knowledge, reinforce learning or to develop critical thinking skills.

Jenga

Figure 2: Jenga.  Take a question from the pile and a block with a points score written on it.  Answer the question and score the points.  Get it wrong and no points are scored and the question goes back in the pile

As teachers our priority is to ensure that the learning behind our choice of teaching strategy remains the key focus of our lessons and games do not become an end in themselves.

Guess who - what's for dinner

Figure 3: Guess What’s for Dinner? Swap the cards in the ‘Guess who?’ boxes for food related words and concepts and then take it turn to question your opponent until you have worked out what the answer is

Games do have many educational virtues to commend them, not least the development of social skills such as cooperation and teamwork  but perhaps above all, it is the sense of engagement they can foster that makes them a useful learning tool.

Labelling game

Figure 4: The Labelling Game  Compete with a friend to produce the most detailed ‘Nutri-Man’ and ‘Healthy Hands’

Taking the principle or format of some of the most popular or simple games that have stood the test of time and adapting them to the classroom can be a very effective teaching strategy.  Simplicity is key to making such games work.  Take a familiar format from a traditional game (snakes and ladders, hangman) or one from the popular culture (Who wants to be a millionaire?, Top Trumps, Guess Who?) and you have a head start as pupils know how to play the game.

A carousel of such games (as shown in the pictures) can make an engaging revision session.

Why not visit your local charity shops and pick up the games people no longer want and re-purpose them in your classroom!

Featured image: ‘Dice, game’ by OpenClip-Art Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Improving pupils’ handwriting

A ‘Sharing Best Practice’ post by Sarah Barker (English)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Teachers are expert at deciphering poor handwriting.  Whether it be the last footsteps of a spider who has dragged its eight, ink-stained legs across the page of an exercise book, or the text that has taken leave of the lines  to wander freely about the page in defiance of the laws of gravity.  However, there are times when even the most skilled and experienced of teachers is left stumped by what a pupil has written.

Expressing oneself clearly in writing is a skill for life, not to mention the desire we have to ensure that the examiner will be able to read our pupils’ answers!

Improving handwriting, especially when a pupil is well into their teens is a challenge and requires real effort and concentration once writing habits have been formed.

K Before

Figure 1. A pupil’s handwriting BEFORE handwriting practice

One strategy promoted by the English Faculty to develop ‘automaticity’ in handwriting for pupils in all year groups, is to go back to basics and consciously and deliberately practise some of the basic building blocks of handwriting as an activity in its own right.

Separating out the task of improving handwriting from the challenge of writing a considered evaluation of an extract from Shakespeare, works to the benefit of both endeavours.  Improve the physical skill and then apply it to the intellectual challenge.

k-after.jpg

Figure 2. A pupil’s handwriting AFTER handwriting practice

So, you might open an exercise book to see that a 15 year old boy spent the first few minutes of the lesson ‘writing’ lines of ‘mountains’ and ‘valleys’, followed by a line of breaking waves.  Or in a 13 year old girl’s book lines of ‘a’s, ‘c’s and ‘d’s have been carefully scribed as the first part of a homework assignment.   In this way the basics of a legible script are developed and when applied to the written work to follow, handwriting improves, the pupil feels a sense of pride and the teacher breathes a sigh of relief that they  (the examiner, the college admissions tutor and the future employer) will be able to read what has been written.

 

Featured image: ‘Font, lettering’  by Victorian Lady on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Public Domain