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Handbook was that though some ideas could be adapted for everyday classrooms, with advances in technology a number felt out-of-date or misleadingly hard work.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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‘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

 

Six strategies for busy teachers, for providing quality feedback to pupils

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Tom Nadin

Our aim is to provide students with feedback which leads them to reflect on and improve their work BUT how can we do this is in a way which is sustainable and without creating an excessive work load for staff?

While it is important to give appropriately detailed written feedback on key pieces of work, it is also important for teachers to consider using feedback strategies that are practical and effective, thus helping them to manage their workload.

Teachers in the Science faculty are trialling a number of these strategies:

  • Where feedback may be fairly generic such as after a test, use photocopied stickers

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  • To identify work that is correct and work that needs correcting/editing, colour code the pupils’ responses

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  • Numbered responses

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Pupils use the numbers on the feedback stickers to write in and then respond to their own ‘Even better if…’(EBI) statements from a list which the teacher has provided for the whole class, e.g.

EBI Statements:

  1. State the correct units for force, mass and acceleration.
  2. Explain why the units for acceleration are metres per second squared.
  3. Why is acceleration a vector?
  4. Explain the difference between mass and weight
  5. The force stated here is a resultant force. What does this mean?
  • Peer assessment

When it is possible and appropriate, pupils can assess another pupil’s work based on success criteria/a marking scheme that the teacher has provided. This can also build pupils’ understanding of exam marking criteria.

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  • Self-assessment

When it is possible and appropriate, pupils can assess their own work based on success criteria/a marking scheme that the teacher has provided. This can also build pupils’ understanding of exam marking criteria.

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  • “DIRT” (Directed Improvement and Response Time)

This works best when this is a planned part of a lesson and pupils are given enough time to complete it thoroughly. Teachers need to explain the importance of it.  Insist on its completion.

Periodically, give pupils enough time to go back through their book; responding to comments and catching up on work they may have missed through absence.