Reflecting on Cover Lessons

After spending my GPS and SPS sessions focused on Lesson Planning, I was keen to observe some more lessons so that I could peel them apart, slotting the activities into what I thought was; the Starter, the Main and the Plenary. However, as in real life, sometimes observations do not go to plan and one quickly discovers that their objectives are pushed aside because something else, a different learning opportunity, presents itself.

As I walked away from my first observation I overheard a music teacher explaining to a student how tricky it can be to learn to improvise when playing a musical instrument. Being a musician myself, I mused that improvising during ‘real life’ can also be ‘tricky’. If you want to change your tune in the beat of a breath this skill must be continually tested. In fact, the reality for many teachers is that lessons do not go exactly to plan, and whilst it can be unnerving, it also presents an important opportunity to develop a crucial skill – the ability to improvise.

I made my way to my next observation, a Geography lesson, expecting to pick it apart only to discover there was a supply teacher in situ. Instead of sneaking back to the safety of the English faculty, I stayed to watch the lesson. This proved to be a really valuable opportunity to reflect on what happens to student learning when a teacher is away from class.

I discovered that although a lesson plan had been prepared, there were many things that were missing from it. This meant the supply teacher could not ‘step into’ the teaching role as quickly as she would have liked and was forced to ‘improvise’.

Although the tasks were detailed, the learning objectives were missing and small specifics – such as page numbers for the various texts circulating around the room – were incorrect. Furthermore, the teacher could not use the planned power point as she did not have access to the school’s computer systems, nor was a hard copy of the slides left for her. No internet access meant websites and pictures from the web could not be accessed and ultimately, the supply teacher could not teach to the lesson plan. Although she improvised, the students missed not just valuable lesson time but also the continuity and expertise of their teacher.

In hindsight, this was a crucial lesson to have observed because I witnessed the lesson plan of another teacher rendered useless because of technology. Had the teacher included a memory stick in the cover pack the lesson could have been delivered seamlessly in their absence.

Shiela, English Trainee, Ormiston Sudbury Academy

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Ready, set… GO!

Now into my third week of teacher training I am beginning to feel part of the department, school and part of the lessons I have been observing. Yes I’ve had the occasional “Hi miss” in the corridor, (which I will admit I was rather excited about!), but until you are standing in front of the classroom and you are the person who has the control of teaching, that is when it hits you that you really are the blood running through the veins of that lesson!

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Monday period 2 in my third week I delivered my first activity. A great class of year 10 GCSE business studies students. This was an introductory activity on the topic of risks and rewards. On the whole, I believe the activity went well; the students were engaged, responsive and most importantly, they did not even mumble whilst I was teaching. This 10 minute activity made me feel like I really was part of that classroom and the students respected me as a teacher. Later on in the same day, I supported a year 8 citizenship lesson (again, what a lovely bunch of students!). Just after half way through the lesson the teacher had to attend a meeting so a cover teacher was bought in. To my surprise, the year 8’s now saw me as their teacher, even though there was a cover teacher present. I was the one that they were familiar with, I was the one who knew the tasks set and what to do and essentially, I was in control of that lesson. Having only 30 minutes of sole teaching time in one day, it felt like I had gone from walking in the park, to running a marathon! Not only did I feel like I had achieved a rapport with the students in that class, I was able to try out my teaching style and also develop my confidence in teaching.

Then it was time to reflect upon my day. Did I over plan for my year 10 activity? Yes, probably. Did I think too much into it and aim for perfection? 100%. However, to all the trainees with Mid-Essex ITT (or any teacher training programme), it is OK to over think. This is the time to do it! Once the assignments start creeping in and we have 12-15 lessons a week to plan for, there will be no time or will-power for extra thinking! Take every opportunity to take a lead on an activity. By planning an activity/lesson you are able to really consider effective teaching strategies and if the task you have prepared would work well with that particular group of students. I consider myself lucky that I was able to be part of a class where it was myself and a cover teacher; it was my first opportunity to be considered as the ‘lead’ teacher. Be prepared for a question every 30 seconds and to run around the classroom backwards and forwards to attend to those hands waving in the air! Three words to sum up my third Monday into teacher training? Ready, set…GO!

 Mohini, Trainee Teacher in Business Studies at Shenfield High School.

 

Finding my Feet

As the end of my second week of teacher training draws to a close, I find myself for the first time with a free period, an empty work area and some time to reflect.feet

I have spent enough time around schools to know that teaching is definitely not boring. Each child (and each colleague for that matter) brings their own unique blend of strengths and challenges. Getting to know them has been one of my main aims for this first few weeks. Putting aside my self-consciousness and ignoring the snide remarks “you a new sixth-former miss?” (very flattering, at my age, I’m sure), I have tried to talk to as many pupils as possible, as I go about the school. I have made it my mission to learn their names, find out what they are interested in, what books they like reading, where they live, who their brothers and sisters are. There have been a few awkward moments, like when a boy I greeted in the playground tried to shake my hand for some reason. Very polite, you might think, but I was holding a laptop and a timetable and he was grasping a half-chewed wagon-wheel, so it took a fair few minutes of swapping things from hand to hand to complete the handshake. But on the whole, the interactions with pupils have gone smoothly; they seem to be friendly and responsive.

The group I am getting to know most quickly are, of course, my form group. My form group are a fantastic collection of wide-eyed, trepidatious year 7s, as bursting with enthusiasm at the start of their secondary career as their brand-new pencil cases are bursting with felt-tips. This has helped me ease in gently to teaching; to dip my toe in the water. Facilitating short activities with my form group at the start of the day, has helped to calm both their nerves and mine. It is hard to imagine how, in a few short years they will transform into the unruly, six-foot students in the upper years. It seems impossible to think that perhaps by then, I will have gained the confidence to teach them effectively too.

This morning, as I entered the school site, bleary eyed from a late night tidying up from my daughter’s birthday party, my efforts were rewarded. A group of boys hanging around near the cafeteria, turned towards me and, before I had had chance to say anything, one of them said cheerily: “Morning Miss”. I smiled to myself. I think it’s working!

Jenny, Trainee Teacher in English at Greensward Academy

 

Walls of Wonder

Wall displays are a wonderful, colourful opportunity to inspire students to achieve the sort of standards we’d like them to meet.

Here are some excellent examples of wall displays that have been created by some of our NQTS (Vicki Bailey and Dan Griffiths) who are enjoying the opportunity to make their classrooms their own.

 

September

septemberI’ve been teaching for a number of years now and since that time, each first day back in September begins in a similar way.

On that first CPD (Continued Professional Development) or INSET (In-Service Education and Training) day – the name varies from school to school – it usually begins with the whole collective of staff coming together in one room to discuss the school’s GCSE and A ‘level results. In our school this involves everyone from the catering team to our Learning Mentors (Learning Support Assistants or Teaching Assistants in other schools) as we realise the significant positive influence adults with a number of different backgrounds and experiences can have on a student’s experience whilst at school. This is one of the reasons why all staff who work here are a form tutor or co-tutor – including the Head Teacher’s secretary and the team who work in reprographics.

After the initial buzz that inevitably comes from colleagues seeing colleagues for the first time in six weeks dies down, the Senior Leadership Team present last year’s successes and the new school improvement plan – better results, more focus on student outcomes, improved student progress (!) The day is then broken into meeting after meeting. The first, a pastoral one, (usually involving discussions such as: who in the year group needs pushing, who’s new around the table, what’s changed regarding the sanctions and rewards, uniform, pastoral staffing – something always has!) and then a subject meeting (along the lines of: who’s teaching what and when, pleas of ‘could we please keep the office a bit tidier this year?’ from the Head of Department).

The day is full of questions: ‘how was your summer?’ and fuelled by cake and adrenaline. It’s always exhausting, regardless of your role within the school, and I always find myself with a to-do list at the end of it which never really gets any shorter until the final few days of the summer term in July. It’s a dash to get exercise books, text books, rulers, glue, planners, board pens and class lists and, of course, planning your first lessons that will (hopefully) enable students to be engaged, enthused and actually learn something. books

However, although I am one of those teachers who actually enjoys CPD/ INSET days, it is only when the students return that I am truly able to find my feet again. Ultimately, it’s why I chose to be a teacher: to have daily interactions with students and to help them learn about the subjects I love myself. The difference between the first day back when the students are here and the one that preceded it always strikes me. The teacher world is full of calm conversations, coffee and a wealth of experiences that, although useful, often make things significantly more complicated than they need to be. The student world is full of noise, colour, laughter and excitement which, as you have chosen to go into education too, you must find as infectious as I do. It’s only when all of our 1,000 + students are in the building that I remember why I chose to do this.

5th September 2017

 

Inspiring learning and Developing Exam Skills: What if we can do both?

With such an emphasis on teaching GCSE exam skills and pupil progress towards achieving the criteria in both key stage 3 and key stage 4, it can be easy to put down our rose-tinted glasses and lose sight of our ultimate goal: to provide inspirational learning.

But what if we can do both?

After all, which teachers do you remember from school? Was it the ones that taught you about the exam criteria, or the ones who showed you how to colour outside of the lines as well? (Yes, another metaphor, I apologise).

These questions, and in fact this whole blog entry, were prompted by a question I received from an Ofsted inspector this week: “Which lesson, that you have taught this training year, are you most proud of?”

As you can imagine, thoughts began darting around in my (very busy) brain about which of my lessons had showed the most progress, or had the most planned links to the GCSE specification. As trainees, we find ourselves always looking for what to improve, and often tend to forget that we should think about the times we are proud of.

During this internal monologue, my brain began pushing these criteria aside (don’t worry they’ll be back) to reveal one lesson that I remember feeling proud of.

When I approached the end of our ‘poetry from different cultures’ topic with this particular year 8 class, I asked them to bring in an object from somewhere around the world and a poem that they knew, or they had found, from the same part of the world.

The lesson aimed to use these materials to get students to develop the appropriate skills needed for the ‘unseen’ poetry section of the Literature GCSE (I told you they would be back). For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, this is where students have to analyse and write a response about a poem that that have never seen or revised before.

Whilst the lesson provided this development of skills, what I would like to focus on, is how it created an environment and a shared ethos between us, which allowed us to learn more about each other, our experiences and different cultures from around the world.

I began the lesson by telling the class about my time teaching in an orphanage in India, and showed them the poem I had written whilst I was there. To model what they should do in the rest of the lesson, we analysed the poem together (surprise surprise, they very much enjoyed critiquing my writing) and then they set off to look at the poems and object their peers had brought in.

As you can see from the pictures, we all thoroughly enjoyed this lesson. The students took responsibility for filling in their task sheets and in turn practiced the key skills needed for the unseen poetry questions of the paper.

It worked well in particular for the very bright, but often distracted, members of the class, as they came to see that poetry could be fun whilst also relating to their own lives and interests.

As well as this, in a world where children often see opinions of cultures different to their own portrayed negatively, this lesson promoted British values of acceptance and equality whilst also allowing students to explore other cultures without even leaving their classroom.

So, with all of this in mind, a belief that this experience has allowed me to develop, is that it is our job to let our pupils colour outside of the lines as well as within them.

Jessica Meechan

Excluding No-one

For many of us, the challenge of behaviour management is a daily grind that we battle with alongside lesson planning, writing reports and marking tests. Bottle flipping, fidget spinners, uniform infringements and low-level disruption may be the extent of the trouble in our classrooms in general, but every now and then we are greeted with a student for whom the usual sanctions and punishments of behaviour points, detentions and isolation are merely stepping-stones to a longer term solution, exclusion.

Upon my arrival I was greeted by the headteacher Sue who discussed the challenges of running such a centre but spoke warmly of the students in her care and the contribution that each of them makes to the school. Before lessons began I was served coffee by Tommy* one of the students who showed his potential as a barista producing a frothy coffee any Costa employee would be proud of. Students wandered around the communal area chatting, arguing, shouting and swearing and the atmosphere was good-natured but with the feeling that something serious could kick off at any moment.

Next up I had the opportunity to join a year 7&8 science class. A total of 8 students were in the group although 3 of these were sent straight to alternative rooms with staff meaning that 5 pupils were joined by 2 members of staff and myself to study animal and plant cells. I positioned myself with one boy Tim* who had sat by himself and immediately engaged in conversation. Whilst clearly being someone who struggled with large classes it was difficult to understand why he was at the school in particular. At one point one of the other 4 students flew into a rage and stormed out of the class, seemingly for no apparent reason. At the end of the lesson Tim* was commended for his effort and it was commented by the staff that this had been the most work he had produced since being at the school, the influence of an adult male perhaps?

Lunch was provided by the school, a brief but tasty curry and students were soon off to their final activity of the day, the enrichment classes. I joined 3 students and 1 member of staff making a trip to the local shop to purchase items for a cookery session. During the trip I was able to discuss with 2 of the year 11 students Leo* and Katie* about how they found the school, their aspirations and plans – an artist and a women’s football coach – and how they ended up being at such a centre. Both spoke highly of the provision they were being given and admitted that for them, mainstream schooling simply wasn’t working. Both had been at the school for a number of years and would be leaving in a few short weeks to move on to sixth form college.

And so, I came away from The Centre, with a feeling of admiration, optimism and hope that those students whom may reach the end of the line for us in mainstream education, have so much more potential still to offer and can still fulfill their dreams. Discipline and respect may still be hit and miss but the students at The Centre clearly loved the place and recognised the impact it was having on their lives. An enriching and fulfilling impact.

*Students names have been altered

Andrew Heinrich

From A to B to Back Again…

It’s been a while since my last post and plenty has happened over the past couple of months or so. For starters, I got a job! I’m excited and no less relieved to have secured a full time position for my NQT year at my ‘A’ placement training school and looking forward to continuing to develop my teaching practice with a great team.a to b

Secondly and no less significantly I have spent the last 6 weeks or so at my ‘B’ placement school teaching new classes with new teachers and a bunch of new systems. It’s fair to say that many of us trainees were more than a little nervous, apprehensive, skeptical even about the idea of leaving the schools we had spent the formative weeks of our training with to relearn everything afresh with a bunch of people we didn’t know. For my part I was happy to approach the time with an open mind and ready to try out new ideas and different approaches that I maybe hadn’t thought about before. I was also interested to see and learn from different teachers with different ways of working and different styles of lesson delivery.

It was never my intention to compare my 2 placement schools with each other and I certainly don’t plan to share that in am open forum. However, it would be safe to say that many of the expectations I had before arriving at my “B” were confirmed. Yes it was different, yes it was new, yes it was all very odd at first and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there. There were new classrooms, new teachers, new resources, new systems and policies and most annoyingly, new kids to get to know. And in that first week or so I questioned on several occasions what I was actually learning by being there. However, as my time comes to a sudden and all too rapid end I can reflect on how, yet again our tutors knew best and it has in fact been an enjoyable, informative, useful and (at times) frustrating  experience after all.

I will now spend the last few days of my placement pulling together all of the ‘evidence’ for our next monitoring point whilst simultaneously doing revision and test lessons across the board. At the same time I am looking forward to going back to ‘A’ placement, and a 4day week…at least for the time being. Back to the familiarity of what I have been used to for my first term and half. I’m just wondering if it will still be the same as when I left it.

Andrew HeinrichUnknown

Meeting Teachers

Last week I had my first opportunity to both attend and present at a Teachmeet event. For those of you outside the education sector I shall endeavour to explain the idea. Teachers and trainees may want to skip to section 2.

Teachmeets began around 2006 in Scotland as a way for teachers and educators to get together and ‘share good practice’ Over the last 10 years they have grown and are now held regularly around the world and vary in size and stature from small local events to international conferences attracting renowned key-note speakers.

As part of our training there is an expectation that we present at least once during the year and having missed the last event in the autumn I was persuaded to put together a presentation this time around. Having been to numerous industry conferences in my former life and spending many an hour listening to less than interesting talks I must admit to being a touch skeptical about the impact and usefulness of Teachmeets as a concept. However I can categorically say from the outset that they are invaluable, engaging and time well spent.

I was asked to speak about using problem-solving in lessons to bring subjects such as science to life having used just such a concept in an observation lesson earlier in the term. I decided to adapt this slightly to talk about getting students to take risks and develop their investigative skills through problem solving tasks and using their creativity to help them understand concepts and ideas. I discussed the idea that in the early stages of a science education at least the process of learning and trying out ideas is way more important than the product or the end result. Getting the right answer is not always about getting the right result. I was also able to share some of the creative ways that my students has chosen to ‘write-up’ their experiments through modelling, video and song. Not perfect science but perfect process.

One of the most popular things at Teachmeets is the use of Twitter to provide a running commentary not only to those unable to be there but also to participants and the audience in the room at the event. Here are a selection of the tweets that my talk generated.

Andrew Heinrich

The Importance of Questioning

There are many different methods of assessment, both summative and formative. Summative can be considered the assessment of learning, usually taking place at the end of a period of teaching to establish the pupils’ performance. Whereas formative is often referred to as assessment for learning and continually takes place in the classroom (Bourdillon and Storey 2002). Effective formative assessment involves the student and teacher in a dialogue and exchange of reflection and feedback, which allows the teacher to identify understanding and provide the students with the means to make progress (Hodgen and Wiliam, 2006).

Questioning is a method of formative assessment, and it is a method I use regularly with all my classes. Questions can be either open or closed, and both have their merits. Closed questions can be asked to individuals or a whole class. They can provide teachers with a snapshot of the students’ ability to answer a question, and can be used to discover how well they can recall facts and processes. However, closed questions can be limiting for students and teachers alike. Less confident students are unlikely to volunteer answers where there is a wrong or right answer. The use of mini white boards for whole class participation can negate this issue, whilst also enabling the teacher to check everyone’s understanding and I have found repeated closed questions can help to build confidence in students. However, teacher often perceive correctly answered closed questions as evidence that students have understood the learning objective. Whereas, in fact students can answer questions correctly, through a learnt process, whilst still having misconceptions within their understanding (Wiliam, 2002), and it is through open questions that teachers can uncover, and then address these.

Although closed questioning can enable me to gauge if students can respond correctly to a particular style of question, I find open questions more effective in uncovering misconceptions. During a lesson on linear graphs, a student could correctly identify the equation of a line. However, when I asked her to explain how she knew the equation, her explanation was mathematically inaccurate and in time this would have hindered her progress. Through deeper questioning and allowing the class to become involved in a discussion surrounding her ideas, the whole class was then able to share ideas and re-evaluate their understanding. This example highlights the importance of open questions, where deeper thought is necessary. However, open questions require teachers to be responsive in their questioning in order that they provide the necessary feedback to students’ current understanding (Hodgen and Wiliam, 2006). This can pose a difficulty in that each student and class will vary and therefore, to ensure teachers respond effectively their subject knowledge and awareness of possible misconceptions must be strong, but, although they cannot be sure of exactly what to expect, this level of questioning can be planned for (Hodgen and Wiliam, 2006).

Most students consider mathematics and discussions to be mutually exclusive, which has meant some students have been reluctant to discuss their ideas in class. This has changed over time, and I intend to develop better discussions by using questions that have more than one answer to encourage class debates, as this can be beneficial to the development of students’ mathematical literacy (Hodgen and Wiliam, 2006).

Kirsty Clarke- Howard

Feeling Like a Real Teacher

They warned us. They told us things were about to get crazy busy. That we should be prepared for long days, even longer nights and hours upon hours of lesson planning. Did we listen? Well actually yes we did, but it’s still taken us all by surprise.

Throughout our training we are encouraged or rather required to “reflect, reflect, reflect” on lessons, observations, reading, reflections, each other. Sometimes these reflections can be a grind but more often they give us the opportunity to examine what we have witnessed or experienced and identify ways in which we could improve things the next time around. And that so far has been the difficulty, I haven’t been able to put things right. Of course that is not completely accurate, each lesson offers many aspects on which to reflect and make improvements for future lessons be it behaviour management, lesson timing, student progress, assessment or differentiation
strategies. However, up until now I have not had the chance to deliver a whole lesson for a second time.

Of course, I’m not naïve, just because I’ve experienced the highs of teaching a repeat lesson doesn’t mean I don’t have much still to learn and will no doubt undergo many more lows along the way but this experience has really given me renewed enthusiasm, focus and determination to make the a success of the remainder of my training year and my eventual move into NQT status.

Andrew Heinrich

For more of Andrew’s blog posts, visit: https://anewadventureblog.wordpress.com

In Defence of Teenagers

Many people cannot bear the thought of working with teenagers and when they hear that I am working in a secondary school they shudder and wonder how on earth I could do that – and then they are quick to assure me that they certainly couldn’t work with teenagers. EVER.

But for me, working with teenagers is the greatest part of the job.

That isn’t to say that working with teenagers doesn’t present a list of challenges: stereotypes exist for a reason and it’s true that teenagers can be difficult. Sometimes they will refuse to engage in a lesson that you’ve spent precious time planning and preparing for as they’d rather talk about their friendship issues than explore how Arthur Conan Doyle creates a sense of mystery in The Sign of Four; they’d rather put their head on the desk and have a little nap than think about the use of superlatives in King George VI’s speech and they’d definitely prefer to wander across the room and have a chat with their mate than have a discussion with the person they’ve been forced to sit next to about the effect of alliteration on the reader (“what’s alliteration Miss?”).

But teenagers are also open, generous and forgiving; often in a way that many adults are not. Teenagers are able to recognise when you are having a tough day and they’ll adapt to help you in a natural and unassuming way. They’ll forgive a quick loss of temper and they readily accept an apology if you forget to do something for them. They can often do this  without question; a skill that many adults have forgotten.

Teenagers are capable of far more than we give them credit for. We often ignore their pleas for more independence, assuming they aren’t ready. And sometimes they aren’t ready, but how can they develop that independence if they aren’t given the chance? How do they become well-rounded individuals if we constantly tell them they aren’t allowed to do that, to try this, to say that or be like that? But sometimes they are ready: students at Notley High School had to deal with the unexpected and deeply tragic death of a friend and peer in year 7. The students responded to Emilia’s death with respect, maturity and grace; they supported each other and came up with fundraising ideas to honour her life and her contribution to the community.

Teenagers are often expected to behave better than adults too. They aren’t always allowed to defend themselves because this is seen as talking back and being rude. But as an adult I expect to be allowed to justify my actions and my behaviour, because how can anyone understand my choices if they don’t know the reasons behind them? We don’t always give teenagers that same respect.

I feel blessed to work with teenagers. It is a privilege to be a part of their lives; to spend time with them whilst they are figuring who they are and what is important to them. I won’t pretend it’s always easy because to be honest, it’s rarely easy. But I will say I’m lucky.

Vicki Weitz

The Importance of Planning

A recent study identified six common lesson planning pitfalls of novice educators (Jones, K. et al, 2011). The pitfalls are detailed as the following: unclear learning objectives, no assessment or assessments that are completed outside of class, no evidence of the development of student ideas, assessments that do not match learning objectives, starting activities that are a waste of time or do not prepare students for learning, and students being passive recipients of knowledge (Jones K. et al, 2011). The study, which examined more than 500 teaching episodes of teachers in training or in their first two years of teaching, was conducted in the United States, but the pitfalls researchers described were all too familiar — I have stumbled upon each one during the first term of my teacher training.

Each pitfall could be mitigated or avoided through thoughtful lesson planning; I have found that it is easy to mistake extensive planning for thoughtful, meaningful planning. Elaborate games and activities designed for learning episodes within a lesson may be enjoyable, but not actually lead to independent learning or firmly embedded knowledge (Didau, D., 2012). Furthermore, such planning can be time consuming and may prevent teachers from engaging in more useful activities, such as marking and giving targeted, specific feedback. Similarly, learning objectives may be lovingly crafted using Bloom’s Taxonomy, but not be usefully connected to a tangible skill or to previous knowledge or lessons. Meaningful planning is grounded in cognitive research, knowledge of students and their individual learning needs, and a long-term view that acknowledges that much of learning is invisible, requiring time and repeated practice, as Nuthall has written, “learning takes time and is not encapsulated in the visible here-and-now of classroom activities” (Nuthall, G., 2007).

After receiving some feedback from a lesson observation that I was engaging in ‘too much chalk and talk’ and lessons with too many activities and too little assessment, I stepped back to think more deeply about how I could structure and plan lessons more effectively. Firstly, I returned to my learning objectives. Teacher and blogger Zoe Elder suggests adding the connective ‘so that’ to learning objectives to provide ‘a concrete way to communicate the relevance of learning … making the reason for the lesson in the LO overt and explicit from the outset’ (2012). This seemingly simple tweak has helped me think in a more specific way about the skills that I am attempting to teach and has naturally lead to a more tangible connection between objectives and assessments.

Secondly, I have been spending more time marking and giving feedback, using my marking to plan more successfully. David Didau argues that marking is planning (2012) and it has been key in planning lessons that are modeled, scaffolded and differentiated more effectively, as well as more explicitly linked to previous lessons. Again, this seems obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to lose sight of the importance of marking under the daily pressures of preparing content for lessons. Broadly speaking, I am aiming to move away from abstraction towards precision and relevance.

 Heidi Bernhard-Bubb

What on Earth am I Doing?

In they come.

Straight after lunch, full of enthusiasm, questions and quite possibly a lot of sugar!

Putting on aprons is a task and a half, tying bows behind their backs is a skill we are working on. Someone squeals and appears to do a little dance on the spot waving their arms around.

The cause of this? ‘Some kind of hideous slime is on me!!!!’ ‘SNOT!’  ‘Someone’s sneezed all over you!’ ‘Oh, my God. That’s gross!’

‘It’s wallpaper paste, everyone calm down.’ Unfortunately, the paste saga would continue throughout the lesson. Year eight do not clear up well.

And so. Go big or go home.

Printmaking with year sev
en. Twenty-eight, year sevens who can’t tie their aprons.

Here we go anyway.

The explanation, the demonstration, the checking they understood the explanation, the any questions? The double checking that they understood the demonstration. The exaggerated pointing to the clearly labelled equipment stations and the A3 instruction sheet on each table (with diagrams) that we have just followed.

Sometime later…

Despite; re instructing, re explaining, re seating, I have become the Pied Piper and have a stream of students following me, it’s a large stream and is holding multiple ink covered papers. My apron is to protect me from my work, not effective if the work is attacking from the side. They don’t know who the Pied Piper is.

But.  They are proud.

Proud of their first print picture, smudged in places, faint in some and over loaded in others. We won’t mention the finger prints. Then they are off to try again.

We now have a surreal conga line as I walk around the classroom. An inky, slightly wallpaper pasty in places, conga line. They ask me if I’m claustrophobic, someone decides I’m kid-o-phobic.

Sometime slightly later…

Twenty-eight, year sevens learnt about printmaking, how do I know? Because they have all designed a print plate, made a print plate and printed their plate, except one, who borrowed my plate and wrote ‘TOP’ on the front, so now my Koi Carp has the word ‘qOT’ on its back.

The end is in sight. len They don’t want to stop. I sound more like Len Goodman on strictly every time I call ‘year SEVEN!’

They eventually stop, I suspect deploying my ink tube collectors first was a wise move.

The speed with which t
hey manage to untie their aprons is record breaking. They wash up at a snail’s pace.

I now have tables full of colourful images. The tiny drying rack is full. I’m going to need to construct a wool and paperclip style washing line, I should have thought of this sooner.

And we are done.

‘Can we do this next lesson!’

What, on earth, am I doing?

I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing.

Dawn Anderson.

Art Trainee.

dawn.jpg

Life-saving Skills

Having settled in to school life, I thought it was time to try to become more involved in the non-academic side of the school. Ramsey Academy has a great spirit with teachers, staff and students being involved in a wide range of different activities. I knew it was definitely something I wanted to be a part of. It was at this time that I read about a campaign set up by the British Heart Foundation, to try to get young people trained with lifesaving skills such as CPR. I knew this was it, this is what I wanted to bring to Ramsey.

I had read of a story earlier in the year, in which a local primary school teacher had collapsed at school. Fortunately, there were brave teachers at the school that were trained in CPR and they managed to keep going until an ambulance arrive. It is most probable that without that treatment, she may not be here today. You are never too young to learn this invaluable skill, and you never know when you might be able to help save someone’sbritish-heart-foundation-logo-fw life. In some cases, CPR can double the chances of survival from cardiac arrest.

I want to be able to give students, staff, parents and people of the community the skills, ability and confidence to step in and help. As part of Restart a Heart day in October, The British Heart Foundation advertised the opportunity for schools to apply for a grant to get free CPR training kits and resources. Having previously owned a first aid training business and having been part of the emergency services, seeing first-hand the difference having these life-saving skills can make, I knew this was a chance not to be missed. With the support of the Headteacher, Mr James, I applied for a grant and fortunately it was accepted. We now have 35 brand new CPR kits ready to train students of Ramsey, giving them the opportunity to become potential life-savers in the community of Halstead, and beyond.

I am really excited about starting the training in the New Year and getting to know more students and staff. It feels great to be able to contribute to the wider life and ethos of the school, and it’s clear that it is a big part of becoming a teacher, after all Standard 8 is dedicated to it.

Lauren Vint

Improving questioning with… a dog toy?

Yes, that’s right! Dog toys are the latest trend in the world of pedagogy*.

(*In Becky’s world of pedagogy that is.)dog-toy

For just £2, you too can purchase these brilliant balls from Pets at Home.

Okay, I’ve got the balls – now what?

Step 1: Use Bloom’s taxonomy to choose different levelled task words. I chose: identify, clarify, summarise, predict, explain, and argue.

Step 2: Find suitably pretty coloured card and cut this into strips. Write one task word per strip. Then fold these so that the word is hidden and post inside them your ball.

Step 3: On your lesson presentation, write your six questions.

Step 4: Scratch that, if you want more control over the differentiation then ask questions using the task word spontaneously depending on which child gets which word.

Step 5: During your class feedback, pass the ball to students who then extricate one of the strips. Once they know their task word they must answer the corresponding question.

Step 6: Bounce the question to another student – do you agree with Student A?

Step 7: Celebrate with celebrations (other chocolate brands are available). You’re a great teacher!

Becky Churchman

If you’d ike to submit a blog like Becky, contact Fiona.Lane@midessexinitialteachertraining.com or fiona.lane@notleyhigh.com

 

 

Primary Science Worship

This week I had my first experience since starting my teacher training of ‘another school’ Scheduled into our timetables was a visit to a primary school in order to experience specifically Key stage 2 and get a feel for how pupils engage with learning before they reach secondary school age and how primary education as a whole differs from secondary. Aside from the obvious of course.
I took the opportunity to make use of some contacts to arrange my enrichment visit at a local middle school catering for school years 5-8, giving me an all too rare view of pupils across the more usual transition from primary to secondary. It would be worth noting that I was somewhat sceptical about the benefit to be gained from spending a day in a different environment but reflecting now can see how incredibly useful the visit was.

I was greeted at reception by one of two specialist science teachers employed at the school whose focus is KS3. It is their role to take the enthusiasm and excitement of children in KS2 and develop it into scientific curiosity and investigative enquiry that can help children flourish in upper school education. I was impressed by the facilities available, expecting perhaps to see more of the primary school setting that I am used to from my own children. Years 5 & 6 both regularly have science lessons in fully equipped laboratories, something rarely possible in a conventional primary.

Although my main focus for the visit was years 5&6 and how they prepare for transition upwards I was particularly interested to see how the year 7&8 students compared with my own classes. Of course the National curriculum being what it is, the subjects being covered married almost identically. The learning itself therefore was similar although the feeling was very much of a primary school setting. I found it a little odd but could certainly see some clear advantages. Where I really felt the students benefited was in years 5&6. It was clear that they enjoyed the extra responsibilities and advantages that being part of a middle school brought them, whilst at the same time had the comfort blanket of the familiar routines and feel from their earlier schooling. Part of the primary school feeling was I think in due to the lack of male teachers across the school. Just four full staff, two of which were in the PE department. Whilst gender is of course of no consequence, the difference between this environment and my own experience of secondary school was marked.

There were of course many useful aspects and initiatives that I can take away from the visit and use in my own teaching. From alternative behaviour management approaches to classroom expectations and teacher-student interactions, much was to be gained from the day. I’m not sure how easily it will be to introduce collective worship to my bottom set Year 9s however.

Andrew Heinrich (https://anewadventureblog.wordpress.com)

That First Bad Day

Maybe it was the lack of sleep due to a disruptive 5 year old, or sleeping through the alarm, or waking to the earth-shattering news from the US, or the weather, or the drive to school, or something else. For some reason, things just didn’t click and now, reflecting back on the day I have a strange feeling. One of dissapointment of course, but a feeling actually mixed with relief. Relief because I was starting perhaps to coast, to think that things were going too well and wishing I’d done all this years ago. So it was good to be reminded that I’m still less than 3 months into my training and I have a long way to go to become the teacher I am striving to be.

To be honest, it’s been a tricky week anyway so far with supply cover issues, staff sickness and pressures in the department. All things I should perhaps be shielded from but at the same time have been affected by. The school day itself actually began on a positive note with the opportunity to speak at the Year 7 assembly to present a science challenge, something which having spoken in meetings and at conferences did not daunt me in the faintest. The talk went well and was received positively, and then the issues started.

First up was the year 8 class for whom I was delivering a lesson on gas tests and reactivity of certain gases. The starter activity failed to engage them, the practical took too long, I used the wrong apparatus and breakages were occurring around the room. Students were failing to follow simple instructions – either I wasn’t communicating properly or they weren’t listening but for whatever reason things just weren’t working, we moved on. The second part of the lesson wasn’t much better and soon safety was becoming an issue meaning that the practical had to be stopped and equipment packed away. In the end not everything got completed, learning was minimal and it was essentially a lesson to forget. And then there was year 7.

It started badly before the lesson by forgetting to prepare some of the resources for differentiation and then not being able to access the internet from the lab, curtailing some of my plans. Students were actually then well engaged and responded well to the tasks and the structure of the lesson. However, again, not everything was completed, a final assessment didn’t take place and the lesson seemed chaotic and unstructured. Comments from the teacher observing reassured me that there was some good learning taking place but it was clear that I needed to up my game and refocus my planning and preparation.

Teaching a Passion for Science

When I first thought about teaching one of my main reasons was to try and ignite a passion for science in children.

I have a very interesting year 7 class, with a high number of children with extra emotional and educational needs and even several EAL students. However they are my favourite class, I have taught them since they all got re-arranged in to this class 3 weeks in to the term and I therefore feel like I have a special bond with them, we are all learning together. They even told me last week that I was their favourite teacher, the first time I have been told this and a moment I hope will stay with me long in to my teaching career.

However after receiving their scores for the end of unit test they sat in the last week before half term, I was very disheartened. The scores were very low, several in the class had done very well, but many not. Was this my fault, had I not been teaching it correctly? They has all been told to revise, all their books were up to date and they had all been completing the worksheets in class not problem…

New half term, new topic, new approach.

The first two lessons on states of matter and changes in states they picked up straight away, we had watched our usual videos, filled in sheets and designed posters, they we’re understanding all the questions in the plenaries and flying through the starter sheets I was giving them, we’re away I thought! And then we hit diffusion, after talking to them about it for 10 minutes and them copying down definitions and them telling me they understood it, I thought we were triumphing! I asked one of the children to tell me what diffusion was without looking at their book…. Silence fell over the class… ‘Can anyone help?’ I asked, silence.

‘Close your eyes heads down on the tables, now put your hands up if you are confident in understanding what diffusion is.’ Nothing. Not one single hand went into the air. I looked at my lesson plan, diffusion was objective one and we still had two more to get through by the end of the lesson. By this point heads were starting to pop back up and questions of ‘What next Miss?’ were being fired at me. Time to scrap the lesson plan I thought and get back to bGlass of juice with a strawasics with them.

Half an hour later after discussions about smelly socks, their favourite food that their Mum cooks, their favourite squash and how strong they liked it (that wasn’t part of diffusion but they were all interested and partaking!). They put their heads down again and I asked the same question, this time every hand went into the air when I asked if they knew what diffusion was! Excellent, they really got this I thought as they left the room telling me each what diffusion was, this is my new approach.

Since then we have talked more about squash (I didn’t realise how much you could talk about squash in science!), we have built boats out of playdough, role played as states of matter and created posters and presented to the class, stripping science down the see it working in the world around us. I have just finished marking their mid-topic test and many of their scores are nearly double those from last topic and I feel like we’ve had a breakthrough. The children whom had been quite for the first half term and not joined in with class discussions are now joining in more than others and I have just been told that science is their favourite lesson! They are starting to develop that passion!

I have learnt several lessons from my class this term;

  • Children need to be able to see science happening around them to fully appreciate it, to have a passion for it.
  • Although a lesson plan is great, sometimes it needs to go out of the window.
  • If you fall a little behind, don’t worry as long as the kids are understanding what they should be learning (although don’t tell my HOCA that, I don’t think he would agree!)
  • Don’t always believe the children when they say they understand, they will follow everyone else and tell you what you want to hear! (Although I am choosing to believe them when they tell me I am their favourite teacher and science is their favourite lesson)
  • Maybe my class are naturally better at Chemistry, but as a Biologist I refuse to believe this!

Jessica Carter- Mears

The eureka moment – An expectation for all, not a privilege for some

lightbulbIt doesn’t get much better than witnessing the eureka moment of a student who is so fixated on an inability to succeed in a given subject but then finally grasps the concept. Better, of course, is knowing that it was a direct consequence of your teaching…

I am a massive fan of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset.  Instead of complimenting intelligence which aligns success with intellect and comparatively associates failure with stupidity, one should focus on the efforts put in to encourage progression. Mistakes, according to Dweck, are not synonymous with failure, they are instead evidence that one is trying to improve, regardless of ability level.

Being faced with a child that pleads, ‘I cannot do that, I have never been able to and never will,’ is unfortunately something a teacher is faced with on a daily basis. Instead of acknowledging a child’s weakness and further fuelling their fixed negative thoughts, one should focus on the strengths he or she exhibits and use this to shape the explanation of a given topic.

During tutor time at my Placement A school, it is now compulsory to dedicate sessions to numeracy and literacy. In a room filled with mixed ability students, this soon becomes a nightmare for those convinced of their own failure and surrounded by peers boasting, ‘This is so easy!’

When faced with two boys who literally threw their hands in the air in despair and placed their heads on the table, reluctant to participate, I took it upon myself to help them to overcome their fear of failure.

With positive encouragement, verbal support and varied worked examples, not only did these boys eventually grasp the concept of percentages and fractions, they were gladly nominated to be the experts and teach their peers. The glint of self-satisfaction and pride in their eyes is enough evidence for the power of positivity, the importance of celebrating differences and the emphasis on varying the ways in which something is taught. This eureka moment should be an expectation for all, not a privilege for some.

Megan Hall – MFL

If you’d like to write a blog post like Megan, please contact Fiona.lane@midessexteachertraining.com

 

The Price of Poundland Pedagogy

Masks.jpgBeing a trainee teacher often involves shifting from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again with astonishing speed. As we heard today from our experienced GPS speakers, saying ‘crisps and dick,’ instead of ‘crisps and dip’ can entirely ruin a lesson. I am still internally smiling, no laughing even, about what happened in yesterday’s English lesson…

On Tuesday, wanting to create the salubrious environs of a noble Veronese banquet and ball, I rushed into the neon-lit cornucopia that is the Poundshop in Chelmsford. Here was a diversity of Venetian-style masks, all ornate and beautifully decorated, choosing for myself a particularly pretty, damask pinky-red mirrored number, swathed in lace; many other different masks went into the shopping basket. I parted with a few pounds spent on goodies, including some fake tashes, promising myself they’d be used many times into the future: for the masquerade ball in ‘Much Ado…’ with the year 8s and 9s and maybe for a party at home. The gender bender disguises of the heroines in ‘Twelfth Night,’ ‘Merchant of Venice,’ and ‘As You LIke It,’ could definitely be facilitated by the right facial hair or mask.

The Capulet ball would be a chance to have fun with a new bunch of recalcitrant teens, to charm and enthuse them to the delights of Shakespeare and to give them incentives to read out loud for the first time. I had just taken on the year ten class with a new timetable at the beginning of this week. After a series of cover teachers, the class of thirty had got used to being plain rude to whoever stood at the front of the class. But my plan, I hoped, would change all this…

A break before the lesson allowed me to prepare the scene. Tables were pulled together and clothed in white, I used elegant cream place-cards, recycled from a recent Golden anniversary of a family member, to set out the seating plan, having spent the previous night finding a diversity of interesting and obscure aristocratic titles for my new English students. Each of the 6 tables had a plate with a course from a formal Italian meal and the task for that table. The aperitivo was to consider the stage directions – the lighting, choreography and other aspects of how to direct the scene; the antipasto -changes in Lord Capulet as he welcomes high society into his home and scolds his nephew; secondo – the theme of love, for this is the key scene where our eponymous young lovers meet and fall in love for the first time. The contorno was to consider Tybalt and the theme of honour; Insalata- Imagery; and Dolce – impressions of Juliet. Masks were artfully arranged at the front on my desk as an incentive for students to become actors, to read out loud for the first time this term.

When the lively bunch queued outside the class and peered into the room, they were definitely excited. They came in loudly and found their names, sat down and excitedly began to introduce themselves to each other. Princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, lord lieutenants and viceroys, marquesses and dukes, to name but a few, began to assume a more upright bearing. I explained what each table had to write notes on and was about to explain that people would move around the tables, when I realised this cramped room was far too small for anybody to move, except the actors maybe. A few introductory powerpoints later (a summary, setting the scene) and the required roles for 11 actors was up on screen, with big speaking parts highlighted in red. I asked for volunteers and they duly put up their hands, but only 7 of them. Here is where I came unstuck. It was all too exciting, there was too much to accomplish and I picked the first people to put their hands up, nervous that no-one else would like to read. I should have waited, teased out more people, refused more. The actors that came to the front were part of a cool, disruptive gaggle. I was just happy that someone had volunteered, I was buoyed up on the vision, the plan…

God, they struggled with the text! They slumped into their chairs, when I had asked them stand, mumbling quietly, embarrassed. Capulet faltered and gave up, I became Capulet. They took off their masks, no-one else could hear what they were saying. I stopped the action periodically, perhaps confusingly (I was Capulet after all), to explain the plot and decode the language. One girl who played a servant at the beginning of the scene, sat at the front, and began to lean against the white board, flicking the powerpoint from the prompts/ scaffolding I had put for each of the 6 topics. I was distracted, trying to get that slide up again, in a little struggle with her, with me at the computer, her sitting near the front, leaning back to change the slide.

For the classroom, I fear, Romeo and Juliet met inconsequentially, against a more interesting flickering background. Their poignant words, full of tender, nearly ecstatic, religious imagery was mostly not heard properly. It was perhaps not understood fully that this is their first electric touch and kiss. I became Capulet again, Benvolio, the Nurse, then at last, the teacher…

All back to the seats for the last 20 minutes of questioning and formative assessment. Order, order! I pull off my pretty damask mask and everyone is looking at me, all the students, these newly assumed members of the upper-class, pointing, staring and laughing and laughing more. “Miss, Miss, Miss,” (I know it was a bit of a miss wasn’t it? But still…) “Miss, miss, miss…”( more uproarious laughter) “Your face, your face, your face…” laughter almost obscures their words, “Your face… IT IS ALL RED!”

Lesson learnt – Poundshop pedagogy can come at a price. Of course, soap washes off the stains; new ideas may leave you red-faced at the end, but hopefully, the memories are indelible. The classroom quietened down, we got on some serious study and I put my mask on til the end of the lesson.

Sheri Haward

If you’d like to have a blog published on the site like Sheri, email Fiona.lane@notleyhigh.com

Teaching Sixth Form: Making Progress and Making Learners Inspired!

My lesson idea was inspired after observing a Year 12 lesson in which they learned about the assessment objectives for their essay writing. I wondered how the students would cope with applying those AOs to their own writing. Sure enough, the class teacher set an essay question for homework and off they went.

I planned my lesson and was ready to teach when they arrived with their newly written essays in hand.  I put each of the assessment objective numbers on the board and asked them to describe what the criteria was for each; they easily remembered the AO that involved language analysis but needed to work as a group to identify what each of the others required. As I explained how to use the AOs to write essays, there were obviously some puzzle pieces beginning to fall into place.

I then paired up the pupils and gave them two essays to mark – one was (close to!) perfect and another was full of common errors. They immediately recognised that the bad essay hadn’t been proofread, was full of spelling errors, didn’t engage with the assessment criteria and they found only a couple of instances where they could award marks. Upon reading the better essay, they found it easy to identify how AOs had been met and were using the AO list as a checklist when setting improvement targets for each essay.

As they discussed their opinions of the essays, there was clear dismay on some of their faces and a muttered ‘I wish I could edit mine.’ I asked if they had identified anything from this activity that they would use to improve their own work. One pupil said he would proofread now, while another said she would integrate context differently. Unanimously, they agreed that they would use the AOs more closely next time.

All of this had taken place in the first 30 minutes of the lesson; I had allocated the second half for the pupils to use the computers to edit their homework essays. When they were told they had half an hour to edit their work, the students were excited and hurried to improve their work where possible. They used a different colour ‘ink’ to make their improvements and I assisted each pupil by answering any questions and by identifying an extract of their essay for them to review.

By the end of the lesson, all pupils had a greater understanding of what each AO was about and of how to apply these when responding to a text in order to improve their essay writing. They were inspired and motivated to improve their work, they made measurable progress as a result of the lesson, and they were able to use their new understanding to get better results on their essays – yay!

Rebecca Churchman

If you’d like to write a blog like Rebecca, contact Fiona.lane@notleyhigh.com

In the Firing Line – Teaching My First Lesson

andrew-photo-two

 

It’s 10:05am and suddenly it hits me. This is really it. All the ideas, dreams and wondering about what it will be like are about to become reality. In 60 seconds time I will finally find out what it is like to stand in front of a room of teenagers and try to teach them.

We are now about 5 intensive weeks into our Initial Teacher Training course and I have so far spent numerous lessons observing teachers, offering small group support and ‘critically reflecting’ on specific aspects of their teaching practice.

That was an interesting technique…think I’ll magpie that

Hmm, I possibly wouldn’t have taken that approach with that student

And other such scenarios. All good evidence, all a learning process, each lesson another piece of knowledge to store away for when I need it most. Like now. Of course, I’m not stood here in front of the class, hoping to deliver the most amazing lesson about atomic structure to a year 9 bottom set. I’m fully expecting all manner of things to go wrong and if I survive till break I’ll consider it a success. But then at the same time, I’m secretly hoping that it all works really well, that I’ll be some revelation in the classroom and that this crazy idea of becoming a teacher wont be dashed at the first attempt. Frankly, that I wont hate it.

And I don’t. Sure, the realisation that it’s just me in front of all those baying teenagers is somewhat daunting at first, but I love it. The answering back, the lack of respect, the constant low level disruption, those few students that do what they have been asked to do. I made that happen. And I survived, I didn’t cry, shout, put the whole class in detention or physically assault anyone. And next time, I know, it will be just that little bit better, and that little bit easier and I might even know their names.

It’s time to get teaching.

If you’d like to read more of Andrew’s brilliant posts, please visit:

https://anewadventureblog.wordpress.com/

andrew-photo-one

 

Social media, Technology and the Modern Teacher

Each month, we’ll post some suggestions of things to try relating to either social media or technology in the classroom (edtech). This month (October) it’s the turn of Twitter.

Twitter

tweachers-map

The above image is a great resource for if you are starting to realise the benefits of using Twitter for your own CPD. Each stop on the tube map is a teacher you might wish to follow. The different colours on the tube line correspond to their specific interests atwitter-photond there are some specific mentions of particularly strong Tweachers (teachers who tweet) and the reasons for following them.

If you are not on Twitter, it is well worth the few minutes it takes to sign up. Some of our favourite tweachers and organisations can be found in the link below:

101 Great Teachers to Follow on Twitter

This link should also support you if you haven’t yet made a Twitter account.

The photo above is a screenshot of a Twitter feed that includes conversations on how children learn, a debate regarding the possible subjective nature of some types of exams, teacher well-being and a link to a GCSE computing quiz resource. It’s a daily dose of CPD that can help with day to day teaching alongside helping you to keep up-to-date with a range of topics relating to educational reform.

If you’re convinced, sign up and don’t forget to follow @MidessexITT!

 

 

 

 

 

Differentiation (one) GPS – 29th September 2016

Trainees speed-dated and got their subject thinking hats during yesterday’s GPS focused on teaching to accommodate children’s different learning needs and the importance of challenge for all! Congratulations to Fred, Heidi and Jess M for having the most popular ideas for how to differentiate brilliantly.

Poundland Pedagogy £!

imageEver heard of Poundland pedagogy? It’s the idea that spending just a few pounds in a pound shop can inject creativity and fun into your lessons. For example, investing in a pack of mini trophies as prizes for effort or an inflatable beach ball for your students to pass to each other to get everyone involved in contributing ideas (maybe use this one with your more sensible groups!) Google: ‘Poundland pedagogy’ to get some other ideas.

Gardening for the mind

A friend asked me how the teacher training was working out so far.

“Great,” I said, “Really well.”

He looked at me quizzically, perhaps detecting a slight twitch in my eye.

“Must be tiring though?”

He’s right of course; it is exhausting. I’m not going to be the life and soul of any party for the foreseeable future. In fact, I struggle to stay up past 10 p.m. I fall into bed each night, my mind whirling with plans for the next morning, and critique of the day just gone. The hours in school are full-on and the evenings completely taken up with being a mum. Only when I finally lay my head on the pillow, do I get chance to catch up with my own thoughts.

Meticulously, I rake through all the memories of the day, trying to bring them into tidy piles, so that I can sleep. In one pile there are the things I should (or should not) have said. In another are the things I could have done differently. Next to them in a dark corner, the things I messed up. _45608624_flowers_istock_466.jpgI force myself to add to these piles some cheerier thoughts: a piece of positive feedback I’ve had, something I did which helped my pupils learn, or made them smile. In the dark stretches of the night, I turn each incident over, examine it, either cursorily or at length, before laying it down. I think it helps.It helps because reflection and self-criticism are at the heart of this year. In fact, I am beginning to realise that reflective practice is going to be essential for many, many years to come if I am to become the best teacher I can be. It is the cornerstone of the school-based course, where the cycle of reflection is iterative from the very start. Read, Listen, Observe, Teach, Reflect, Repeat.

The reflection part takes many guises, informed as it is by feedback from multiple sources. It is the insightful comments of my mentor, the targets in my TPF, the scribbles in the margin of a lesson plan, and the discussions in my weekly tutorials. It is the asterisk on my GPS handout which says *could this work with my top set year 9? and the moment in a lesson observation when I think I would have done that differently. It is comparing notes with other trainees, it is noting down thoughts for this blog, and, yes, it is my “mental gardening”, sweeping my jumbled thoughts into manageable heaps, as I wait for sleep to come.

I look at my friend and smile.

“Tiring, yes.” I say, “But worth it.”

Jenny, English trainee teacher, Greensward Academy

Building a sense of community

Last Thursday, after an intensive day of training at Notley, I attended my very first open evening, and by first I literally mean ‘first ever’. I do not remember having anything like that during my school years in Spain; you went to the school you were allocated to according to where you lived, and that was pretty much it, at least in terms of primary and secondary education.Image may contain: 2 peopleSo, when I arrived to the school on Thursday evening I did not have an accurate idea of what I was going to find. I took some time to wander around other departments and see what they were showing. It was lovely seeing some of the sixth formers who did their GCSE in Spanish last year and talk a bit with them about their experiences and the A-levels they were doing now, and I was honestly impressed about how involved they got with parents and visitors and how passionately they talked about the things they get the opportunity to do in school. Other pupils offered the parents a tour around the school and, I must say, they took their role very seriously! They explained all the displays in the corridors, talked about events, extra-curricular activities and introduced them and the kids to the staff in the departments. When they came to the languages classroom they were welcomed by some of our Y11 students, who assisted the kids in several interactive challenges and had the chance to try some typical food, from chorizo and olives to pain au chocolat or croissants (we languages people have a slight advantage when our classes smell that good…)

But what I definitely enjoyed the most was seeing some of my students out of the language lessons, doing things like tap dancing or trampolining. Most of the time we make a mental picture of our students by how they act during our lessons, since it’s very likely we don’t have that much contact with them outside that context. We can see some kids as apathetic, unmotivated, reluctant to take challenges and try something new… But being able to catch them doing something they love, they thrive at, being engaged and proud of their school, made me realise what a strong sense of community we have and how important it is to make the most of these moments and use them to build a relationship with our students (I may or may not have done that by singing a duet with a Y8 on the ukulele). It all comes down to gaining their trust and being able to get to them and help them become the best possible version of themselves.

The highlight of the evening was that I had the chance to have a little chat with a Y9 boy who is usually quite challenging during lessons (good things can happen when there’s food around). I was very surprised when I spotted him looking from the door and invited him in, he looked unconfident and I have the feeling that he was afraid of not being welcome there. When he talked to me about the things he enjoys, what he does in his free time and what he wants to achieve, I realised that I am determined to see that spark in his eyes during my lessons as well. I will try to choose my activities better, I will support him more, I will give him the space and time he needs to work best and I will definitely have for him as high expectations as I would have for anyone else; but our students need to know that we appreciate and respect them for how they are, not just how they do or perform in our lessons.

It was kind of a milestone for me and I came back home exhausted feeling that I am doing something meaningful, that I have an impact in their lives and what they will achieve in the future, and that thought is overwhelming –in a good way- at times. It made me realise that all the effort we are putting in this year and that we’ll put in the future, all the frustration at certain points, the struggle… it is all worth it, because we also are in one of the most rewarding professions possible.

Sara, MFL trainee teacher, Hylands School

Que sera sera…

It’s the start of the 4th week and I am prepared to the have plaster ripped off or in technical terms ‘The First observation’, to tell you the truth, I was very nervous. Even though it wasn’t the full lesson. But just having it at the back of my mind that 34 pairs of eyes, were bearing down into my soul, hoping that they would be able to understand, what it was I was about to teach them.

One would think being a drama graduate, I would be able to ‘fake it’. If only. I had my lesson efficiently planned, ensuring I filled in all the necessary boxes on the form. I had all my resources, carefully made and my PowerPoint was great. But I, the ‘teacher’ not so great.

I was shocked about how nervous, I was. I was over thinking, everything. I don’t know why, that is a part of myself to work on, self-reflection is required. I cannot fathom how in just 9 months I am expected to be an almost polished teacher, but it is constantly reiterated that it just takes practice. The days and weeks are flying by and I don’t see this happening at all.

During my feedback, I was asked, how I thought it went, I said ‘awful’. My mentor was shocked, she asked why? I then started to tell her everything that I did wrong, I started to list the things that I didn’t do. I was in total shock with was said next, I was told that it was a ‘good lesson’, but I just needed to RELAX. That my lack of confidence, made me feel that it wasn’t great. Due, to the lack of confidence, I must admit that I did forget some vital thing on my lesson plan but overall, the kids listened, participated in the activities and my subject knowledge was there. Why was I so worried? This shows that I CAN DO THIS. I just need to take it one step at a time and breathe. Why am I so hard on myself? We as humans, our own worst critics. It has been done now, I cannot go back to that observation, and I can only use this experience as a stepping stone, to better myself for next time.

For the trainees, who have not yet tackled their first lesson/activity etc…

Word of advice, I know it is easier said than done, but try to RELAX.

Even if it means practicing in front of a mirror, that’s fine.

This is what I will be doing in future.

Good luck everyone 🙂

Whitney, Drama Trainee, Shenfield High School

Que sera.jpg

Mastery Learning Starter Ideas

Mastery learning is the idea that students should be secure in their understanding of a topic before moving on to the next. In order to demonstrate this, here are some maths starter sentence stems (although many of them could be used in a number of other subjects) that might allow students to show their mastery!