My experience as a trainee teacher intern

Roselle CullenderIn 2018, I was offered an amazing opportunity to work in a local secondary school as part of the Maths and Physics Teaching Internship jointly run by the Professional Learning Network and Mid Essex ITT. I’ve always known that teaching would be a career I would consider. But despite taking part in lots of other teaching experiences, I hadn’t been immersed quite as fully in the school system as I was during my time at Chelmer Valley High School in Chelmsford.

I had such an enjoyable, interesting and challenging experience over the four weeks and met some really incredible people. It was great to put my Summer to good use, whilst also getting paid – I’d definitely recommend this internship to undergraduates, even if they aren’t considering teaching as a career. I was able to develop a wide range of key skills that have been able to support my university learning as well as my ability to apply to jobs.

Application process:  The application process was easy and stress free; the staff who carried out the interviews were approachable and friendly. It prepared me further for other job interviews and was an enjoyable experience overall.

Training and support:  As interns, we received a great deal of support and guidance throughout the process which made the internship all the more pleasurable. Before starting at our chosen schools, we were asked to attend training at Notley High School – therefore, I felt fully prepared before starting my placement. This was also a great opportunity to meet other university students who were being placed at schools throughout Essex.

Progress reports:  Logging my progress and significant experiences was a great way to understand how I developed my teaching skills during the internship. We were asked to fill out a progress report folder to note the lessons we had observed/taught and the responsibilities we had been assigned.

School experience and opportunities:  I was involved in every aspect of the school which really allowed me to understand how teaching would suit me as a career. I had such a positive experience that I have decided to train with Mid Essex ITT to become a maths teacher in September, after I finish my degree.

I’d like to thank Mid Essex for this chance to be included in the schools internship scheme in Essex. I had so much fun, made some incredible memories and even consolidated my career choices. I’d not only recommend this internship to students considering teaching as a career, but also those who are simply looking for an experience to develop key skills that are desirable to all potential employers.

Roselle Cullender is currently studying a BSc. in Biomedical Sciences in London.

If you are interested in applying for our teacher training internships in Essex for June/July 2019, please click here to complete a quick form registering your interest.
We look forward to hearing from you!


Think, think, think…

Now I’m a few months into teaching (time sure does fly), I can’t help but compare the experiences I am giving in my teaching to my own school experience. Particularly with how I was in school, when planning a lesson I often ask myself, is this a lesson I would of engaged in?

Whenever I try to think back on my lessons at school, I find it quite hard. Sure, it was almost a decade ago now but it’s not really because of that. As a student in secondary school I was quite disengaged, putting minimal effort into most subjects. At the time, I could never really verbalise why this was the case and it’s only recently I realised why it was. It was because I was bored. Where I have always loved learning new things, lessons were always delivered in a plain and dry way. Explanation lecture for about 20 minutes, followed by 40 minutes, which changed into an hour when lesson length increased, of completing questions on the explanation. Sure, some teachers gave really engaging explanations but then it became boring just completing the questions afterwards. Particularly as the questions tend to be a standard recall, or worse…. Just copying the notes.

Funny enough, my lesson plans do not follow this structure! Where, after a starter, I begin with an explanation, this contains questions for the students. I don’t just tell them the concept, I get students thinking about it. Allowing them to experiment and try out their own ideas, ultimately figuring it out for themselves. In a lesson, I may even have a second explanation, solidifying or expanding the first. Maths particularly is a subject that lends itself well to this as it revolves around logic. Where it is viewed as a subject which only has specific answers, students strangely don’t always come up with the right answer. Even after a brilliant, if I don’t say so myself, explanation, with clear step by step instruction on how to deal with a problem. Students still, annoyingly, give the incorrect answer!

Back in my day, if this happened the teacher would have just said “no” (or “not quite” pending on how blunt they are) until a hero ends the suffering by providing the right answer. However, a trick I’ve picked up is to not react and get students to reason out their answer before confirming if it is right. Particularly when the class is split between two answers, getting a brave representative from each camp to explain their reasoning. Most of the time, the brave student explaining their journey to the wrong answer will suddenly have that moment where they self-correct, realising a step they made didn’t make sense.


Alternatively, they realise when the correct answer camp explains their method. It’s a more interesting environment, with student’s putting forward their thoughts in an interactive environment. Although some students don’t see the value in this, indeed I’ve been moaned at a few times about why I’m going over the wrong answer, but they are engaged with spotting the mistakes. Particularly when I make them…

However, the explanation isn’t where the thinking stops. When testing the newly gained knowledge with an exercise, I avoid just straight forward questions. Getting ideas from Craig Barton’s book in particular such as spot the mistake, where students look for mistakes in an answer, or purposeful practice exercises that have multiple levels so students can take it as far as their understanding allows. Gone are the days of just completing textbook exercises for most of the lesson to practise the skill but not thinking about it holistically. These newer style exercises help keep students retain it, getting them to think about why they do each step of the process. In turn making it more relevant, and dare I say, also more interesting.

Alex, Maths Trainee Teacher, King Edmund School

Four Rules of Planning

After a comfortable month of observing lessons and helping students complete tasks, now it’s time in my training to start planning activities and, dare I say it, lessons. I joked with other trainees that Leonard Snart’s rules of planning are the way to go. However, from what I have already observed, learnt about, and now from experience, it actually is.

For those of you who don’t know, Leonard Snart (aka Captain Cold) is a character in the TV show, The Flash. Snart is a master thief turned anti-hero (joining the Legends of Tomorrow), infamous for his heists. The heroes are always astounded by how Snart formulates his fool proof plans. When the Flash turns to Snart for help one particular episode, he is even more confused when Snart reveals his four rules to planning and I’ve become astounded how it works for lesson planning (in a way).

Snart’s four rules to planning are;

1) Make the plan

2) Execute the plan

3) Expect the plan to go off the rails

4) And… Throw away the plan

Rules one and two should really go without saying. Making the plan is critical. Every lesson needs to be planned or you won’t know what you are going to be teaching! It also means the content is delivered in a structured way so students can grasp the full concept without being overwhelmed. Obviously following that, you need to then turn up and do the lesson plan or the students will be in the corridor all lesson not learning a thing. As I said, goes without saying.

Where it becomes more interesting is rule three. I found myself, and teachers I’ve observed, looking at their activities identifying what could go wrong. A prime example is a starter I planned for top set Year 7 showing inequalities on a number line. What could go wrong? Potential problem 1, students may not be sure what the inequalities represent. Does x > 1 mean x is bigger or smaller to 1? Does it include 1? I knew they covered this in the last lesson, so this should be fine, however, some students still had a weak grasp. To ensure it would be easily understood, I selected straight forward problems to move the focus on representing on a number line. Potential problem 2, what if they are unsure of the notation? If they haven’t learnt to do it in this way before, they would be unsure how to draw it on a number line. They need to put an arrow, an empty dot, or filled in dot, on the end of the line. Easy, I’ll quickly explain the notation before they start and I would be able to leave them to it…

Throw away the plan! Why plan if you are just going to throw away the plan? I would adapt this to, ‘know when to throw away the plan’. This is what I had to do with this starter as where I thought top set Year 7 would grasp this quickly after an explanation… I was only met with 30 blank faces. Plan was out the window! Instead of leaving them to the task, I took a massive step back to do a much deeper explanation, with a worked example, leaving students to only do one on their own. Not a great starter I know but if I wasn’t prepared to throw away the plan it could have been a lot worse! Of course, the key difference between planning a heist and a lesson, this can go both ways. In one lesson I observed, the teacher planned a few graphs questions for the class but as the students were flying through the content they decided to skip them and move on to the next concept. Again, plan out of the window!

Really, I see the fourth rule as being flexible. Before I started my training, and particularly the GPS on lesson planning, I thought lessons had to be fully planned (the mind-set of Snart’s doubleganger from Earth X, yeah, it’s that kind of show), but having that flexibility allows you to take the step back or forward to focus on what counts. The learning.

Alex, Maths Trainee Teacher, King Edmund School

Welcome to the newbies!

A very warm welcome to our new cohort of 60 trainee teachers.  Hopefully you will settle well in your new schools this week and enjoy meeting up with your peers on Thursday.  Here are some words of wisdom from last year’s trainees…. who are now all NQTs!

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Creativity in the Classroom

Inspired by excellent GPS and SPS sessions on Creativity in the Classroom, I decided it was high time I brought some fun and creativity into my year 9 classroom, to liven up the last lesson before the half-term break.

We had spent several weeks developing the skills needed for AQA Language Paper 2; the learning outcome for this final lesson in the scheme of work, was for them to revise the requirements of the paper, and to consolidate the skills needed, in a fun and memorable way.

During GPS and SPS we had played around with different resources, and how they could be used to excite and engage students; I also had in mind the Kagen’s collaborative learning model, as well as the team challenge idea from Jamie Benson’s GPS session. Putting the three ideas together, I decided to split the class into teams and created a challenge mat for each team, with a variety of tasks, and an allocation of resources and stationary.

As they entered the room, students were immediately engaged, just by the change in the room lay out, the chance to choose their own groups, and of course, the balloons!


While there was a fair amount of work to do up front to set the classroom up, the tasks were self-explanatory, allowing me plenty of time during the lesson to observe and talk to the students in their groups and individually. It was interesting to see how the different teams chose to organise themselves, and the different strategies they developed to complete all of the tasks in the given time. In terms of peer-support, it was encouraging to see students identifying gaps in their own knowledge and helping each other to find out the information.

Students were active throughout the lesson in discussing the paper 2 mark scheme, the skills needed to answer the various question styles, key vocabulary definitions, discourse markers and AFORESTPIER techniques. The work produced was of a good standard, and students had a great time. I think they got so much more out of it, than if I had stood at the front and gone over it all with them as a class.

Incidentally, there are no behaviour issues with this class and they work very well together (although they do have a tendency to become over-competitive). My next challenge is to make this work with other classes too.

Next time, I would think ahead about how to use and display the end results. I still chuckle at the memory of my mentor squeezing out of the classroom door with a bunch of 50 coloured balloons, to quickly stash them in the team room before the next class arrived. My mentor also made some helpful observations about the lesson, and I particularly like her idea of giving each of the tasks a score, so that teams can see where the challenges are.

All in all, while this is not the sort of lesson one can do day in, day out (the cost of the resources and chocolate prizes precludes it), it is perfect for an end of term treat, or to kick start a new topic.

Jenny, English Trainee Teacher, Greensward Academy

Half Way

It’s February and we are (as I keep telling myself) almost half way through our training year with Mid Essex ITT.

As I pack up my files and empty out my locker at my A Placement school, ready to start all over again at my B Placement, I am minded to reflect.

Looking back to September, I feel as though I am standing half way up a mountain, peering down at myself in the far distance.


Yes, there I am, small but determined, taking my first tentative steps. I remember the path was steep, and sometimes I would stumble. There were a couple of times, I have to admit, when the terrain got so difficult that I wondered whether it wouldn’t be easier to just run back down the valley; back to the old, familiar ways. Of course, it was my fellow travellers who kept me going, and the feeling that it would not do to let them go on ahead without me. Every time I fell down, someone hauled me to my feet again, and set me back on the right path. It would be a lonely journey without them, and I am certain I would not have come so far.

That’s quite enough of that metaphor… must be all the creative writing I’ve been doing with my Year 9s this term!

So, how far have I really come since September? I am certainly a more competent teacher now. I think that comes through so many hours of observing other teachers, teaching classes myself, and receiving targeted feedback. And with competence, comes confidence: yesterday, my heartbeat didn’t even flutter, as I calmly instructed my Year 8s to leave the classroom and line up again ready to “come in sensibly this time”. It worked a treat, but it’s not something I would have been confident enough to suggest even a couple of months ago.

Thinking about my B Placement, I find that I am excited and nervous in equal measure. A whole new school-site to get lost in, over a hundred new student’s names to muddle up, new texts, new exam board, new colleagues, new parents! But, it’s all part of the journey… and I think, if I look up, through the clouds, I can almost glimpse the summit.

Scaring Them Silly

theatreOn Thursday 11th January I headed straight from my SPS (Subject Professional Studies) session in Drama, back to Moulsham High School, in preparation for my first ever school trip as a member of staff. At 5 o’clock myself and four (dare I say ‘other’?) teachers met at the front of the school to see the students onto the coach. After a bit of a delay caused by awkwardly parked cars and tardy year 11s, by 5:30(ish) we were on our way to London with 43 GCSE drama students.

The trip in question was to see the infamously terrifying play The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre in London’s West End. The students have to write about a live performance as part of their GCSE exam and, for the first time, this year’s year 11 cohort were accompanied by the year 10s for this annual night of theatrical terror. Having seen the play twice before, I was able to avoid screaming in front of my students and was instead able to observe them jumping, hiding behind coats, sliding down in their seats and holding onto whomever was nearby, all before the inevitable declaration from at least one student of ‘I wasn’t scared Miss’.

Petrified teens aside, it was a brilliant opportunity to really feel part of the school community and in a way served as a bit of a bonding exercise for all concerned, even if a small but determined group did fail in their mission to convince one of us to take them to Starbucks (other coffee shops, to quote the BBC, are available).

Most importantly of all, the students were able to demonstrate in proceeding lessons that they could remember an impressive amount of the production, particularly when you consider how much must have been viewed their hands over their eyes.

Juliet, Drama trainee teacher, Moulsham High School


Feeling like a proper teacher

With Christmas over, I was really looking forward to getting back into the classroom and seeing all my classes again. I had spent most of the holidays thinking of new activities we could do and preparing ways to boost the year 10’s confidence in time for their speaking and listening assessment. Going back into school, I felt organised, primed and ready to go.

However, on returning, I found that my subject mentor was absent. She and I share her year 10 class and I had been preparing multiple lessons leading up to the recording of their speeches, so I wasn’t panicked. It was quite nice being left ‘alone’ to deal with this class as if I was their regular teacher and I had received great feedback from the cover supervisors who was assigned to the lesson.

The head of department was also enormously supportive even down to giving up her own time to guide me through the assessment process. As parents’ evening was approaching, I went to the Deputy Head Teacher to see if I should do the appointments solo. He said if I felt comfortable then of course.


So I did.

And I loved it.

It was such a pleasure to meet the parents of some of my favourite students and spread some positivity about their participation in class, their mocks results and my time with them. The whole of the English department came together to prepare me for the evening and I came away feeling like a proper teacher!

I saw the Deputy Head at the end and he asked how the evening went. I rattled on for a while about how much I enjoyed it to which he replied, “you weirdo!”

I suppose the novelty will wear off eventually!

Georgina – English Teacher

Primary School Visits

Last week, our secondary trainees visited a primary school local to them.  Here are two reflections from Juliet and Liane about their experiences:


“Last Thursday I made may way through the light snow fall to my primary school placement. It’s a school that I have looked around previously when looking for a place for my daughter and, whilst she ended up at a different school, I still consider it among the best in my area. The Head is warm and welcoming; the staff professional and approachable; the pupils bright and confident. There is also something rather unique about this small village school: it has two places in each class enhanced provision pupils. The result of this is that the mainstream children work everyday with children whom have varying degrees of need, ranging from those whom you would have to work with closely to know that there is anything ‘different’ about them, to those with profound difficulties.

The pupil that will always stick with me is one whom I recall seeing back when I looked around the school in 2015. He is wheel chair user with limited upper body movement and no verbal communication skills. He has an LSA with him at all times and, with her help, was able to participate in a whole class activity which, whilst he did struggle with it, did at least demonstrate that he is as much a member of the class as any of the other children. At his request, I sang him a few nursery rhymes and let him touch my jumper which he found fascinating. I then watched him use his eye-gaze – an extraordinary piece of equipment which allowed him to access a computer using his eyes.

My placement was both eye opening and rewarding, and now more than ever I appreciate all the hard work that LSAs do to provide the kind of support that teachers don’t have the capacity to provide.” 

Juliet, Drama trainee teacher, Moulsham High School


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Learning beyond the classroom

So, this week I had my first experience of being part of a school trip!

Despite being nervous about what to expect, I had every faith in my students that they would behave responsibly and do the school proud… hopefully!

The week beforehand we had all been briefed on what to in the unfortunate case that something was to go wrong, particularly as our trip involved travelling and being in a conference centre in central London.

As Monday came around, we were finally off on our trip to the Psychology Conference at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster. Students chatted (and sung!) as we made our way to the conference. I don’t know who was more excited, them or me! Throughout my own time in school, I never felt that we went on a trip that was particularly insightful to what we were studying. I think we once went to Stansted airport for a geography trip! So, I was really excited to see what the day would bring.

As we arrived at the conference, we were greeted and treated amazingly by all the staff at the Emmanuel Centre and were made to feel really welcome. The lectures began with a morning session talking to Professor Simon Wesseley a leading psychologist in the world of medicine, which was followed by quite the comedy performance of Den Burnett who spoke to the students about why our brain does stupid things. The variety in talks continued throughout the day as the students were spoken to by one of the country’s top forensic psychologists, Kerry Deynes who had worked in the notorious Wakefield Prison.

Psych blog

Whilst the day ended with a rather theatrical performance by Peter Lovatt who explained why we experience certain moods based on the rhythm of life, and got the students up dancing and performing the New Zealand Haka!

As we were driving home I couldn’t help but have a huge smile on my face. The students had behaved impeccably throughout the day and all expressed their enjoyment of listening to the variety of talks the conference had to offer. It also hugely benefitted my own subject knowledge and understanding of the world of psychology.

Most importantly, my experience of going on my first school trip as a trainee, has proven how beneficial enrichment visits can be. And really, education is not just confined to the four walls of what we do in the classroom, but all the experiences that come with it.

Safe to say, I cannot wait to go on one again!

Chloe, Psychology Trainee at Plume, Maldon’s Community Academy

Chess Club

A couple of times each week I leave the familiarity of the English team room and run the gauntlet across the crowded lunchtime playground to go and help out at the Chess Club.

Pupils from all year groups are welcome to attend and the laid-back club leader fosters an ethos of mutual respect, healthy competition and peer learning, with more advanced pupils coaching the beginners. As a result a relaxed and friendly atmosphere pervades the library.

Students from different forms and year groups enjoy coming along either regularly, or just once in a while. Here they can escape the November chill, give their brains a work out, challenge themselves (and me!) and make new friends. My role as helper is to match students up with suitable opponents, address any misconceptions they have about the rules and, above all, foster their enthusiasm for the game. It is a lovely way to get to know them outside of lessons as well.

My Dad taught me to play chess as a young girl. I’m not sure how old I was, but I remember driving him mad by calling the pawns ‘prawns’, the knights ‘horseys’ and the rooks ‘castles’. I never played it at school, but enjoyed it a little at University and later, teaching my own children to play. It has been an unexpected joy to be able to come back to it during my school placement, and brings back fond memories of my Dad.

Some of the students at chess club arrive with the confidence of playing it from an early age, while others are just learning the moves. The beauty of it is that once they are secure in the basics, they are equipped for a lifetime of enjoyment. Whether they go on to develop a serious interest in chess, or see it just as a stimulating hobby, it is something they can come back to again and again.

As I look around the room, it seems to me that the chess club is as much about developing social skills as it is about bettering one’s game. It is a safe haven where pupils can come and be themselves, away from the pressures of the playground. Sitting across the table, eyes down, fingers poised above the pieces, the complicated demands of social and verbal communication are diminished. It is all about the game.

And yet, at the same time, the etiquette of chess gives social exchanges a clear structure; they provide a map for learning to navigate the social world. The well-worn rituals of choosing your opponent, carefully setting up the pieces, drawing to see who will play white, all give a reassuring rhythm. Conversation is intimate, and focuses on the match in progress. For half an hour, at least, the only pressure is deciding what move you will make next.

The year 7s tournament has just begun and there is a buzz of excitement in the library as the names are drawn and the competitors learn which group they are in. With everything to play for in the weeks ahead, I think I may find it hard to stay away!

Jenny, English Trainee Teacher, Greensward Academy

Growth Mindset Musings


What if Professor Carol Dweck hadn’t written “Mindset”? An obvious answer might be that we would have one less motivational tool to enable children and students to visualise a way to try to succeed through extra effort.

Now may be a timely reminder that – in spite of David Didau’s scathing comments about Growth Mindset and despite my initial scepticism – reflecting on effort, improvement and achievement does prove useful.

Therefore, my blog looks back to a Growth Mindset year 9 assembly in school that was – coincidentally or intentionally – reiterated in more detail at our Thursday 28th September Growth Mindset GPS morning session at Notley. At a time when I’m struggling to persevere and implement some control, it’s pertinent for me to reflect on what happened immediately after the sessions.

My self-reflection feedback form notes as follows: –

“I’d read about Growth Mindset theory, watched the You Tube video and read David Didau’s responses but I didn’t have the implementation tools to incorporate (the concept) into lessons. I’ve begun thinking about PP and GAT assumptions and EAL achievements. I’d like to develop challenging students’, teachers’, parents’ and teaching assistants’ assumptions on what can be achieved by all using some aspects of this theory.”

My target for myself reads: –

“Focus on praise for effort; incorporate into marking and lesson planning. If brave enough, ask for honest feedback from students; continually focus on perseverance and improvement for myself and pupils.”

As a response to being offered an opportunity to create a board for the upcoming open evening, I looked at the “additional job” as a chance to visibly be part of the team; I did the extra work and then realised I’d made a slight error and self-corrected it. I was working late, after hours, to get the board finished before a school open evening. The Headmaster walked past and positively commented thereby recognising my efforts. As a “student” that comment from him was all the recognition I could have hoped for (thankfully, he didn’t notice the error). I had achieved another “baby-step” but overcame the challenges of time and somehow got it done! It was a prime example of how Growth Mindset can help everyone.

It’s satisfying – now and again – to see a student looking at the boards. I hope it helps them consider that they can improve their skills through hard work; that challenges can be embraced and be seen as an opportunity to become stronger and more persistent; that effort can lead to mastering a subject; that criticism can lead to learning; that setbacks can be seen as a call to work harder next time.

My only addendum to the reflection would be a cautionary one: – students who may be lacking in confidence may take time to adjust to the challenges in changing thinking and behavioural patterns so…… Use encouragement and make time to allow a little time for a lifetime’s development!

Francesca Ballerini

Teaching Standards Evidence: MADE EASY

All my life I have been aiming to make life easier. Sometimes that means taking on a challenge, increasing resilience each time we overcome a hurdle and subsequently basking in the joy (even if time is short before the next challenge) of success.

I know many of us are mid piles of paperwork, lesson plans, reflection and Teaching Standards !!! All of these areas are very important and so is a little rest and recuperation. Time is limited so I thought I’d blog a couple of ideas that I developed and others have found useful. If you’re doing them already, ‘Great minds think alike’ and if not you may find them helpful:

  1. When you have a piece of evidence that you may want to use for Teaching Standards, just pencil on the back or use a post it (love the variety of colours and shapes), the date produced, Standard number, Substandard and a quick note (highlighted) to say why you’re using it as evidence, if this is not obvious.
  2. Use plastic fixed plastic wallet folders to keep evidence safe and current tasks in. You can write on the front and wallets in sharpie pens for a quick easily accessible filing system. They are light to carry and great to keep potential evidence separated in until checking them against standards and marking up as in 1 (and no I don’t have a vested interest in any company!)
  3. This is my favourite and latest idea to make life easier. Each time I prepare a lesson, I gather information, ideas and resources in the form of a PowerPoint. I can then develop these slides from the lesson plan into a presentation, use some or all of them in the lesson (remember, nothing is set in stone so skipping a slide is still an option). Now for the time saver; at the end of the lesson, feeling chuffed, elated, thoughtful, okay or disappointed, I add a ‘Reflective’ slide. Quickly typing in reflections seems just easier than pen on paper as I can adjust and add content and add colours to highlight different areas. Thoughts are typed, along with any feedback given from (ST) or (M) and changes I want to make to the lesson/Powerpoint.

Liane post it 1

Liane post it 2

Later I add the appropriate Standard to each reflection (usually with a cup of tea and biscuit, yes just the one!). I add this one slide to a Reflection powerpoint. Now I have a record of my thoughts, action I can take to improve, ideas I’ve had and importantly evidence for and record of Standards that I can use now or find easily later if a Standard is lacking evidence.

All the above take just a few minutes, help keep you organised, learn the standards and most importantly can be done while relaxing with a cuppa, the obligatory treat and if lucky, with your feet up.

Liane, Maths Trainee Teacher, The Sandon School

Switching Off

Since we’re all teachers here, we know how tricky it can be to switch off during the holidays – especially when things move so quickly at work!

Here are some top tips for moving from 100 mph to a speed that is much more suited to the holidays…

Whatever you are doing this half-term, remember to take some time to doing something that is well away from work.

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

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


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!

ready set go.jpg

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.



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

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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.


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

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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 (

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

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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

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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

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In the Firing Line – Teaching My First Lesson



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.

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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.



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.

“Beautiful messiness”

An extract from a case study by Jenny Phillips, trainee teacher in English at Greensward Academy:

Professor Debra Myhill, Director of the Centre for Research in Writing, writes in her April 2018 Teachers as Writers blog:

“[The] process of moving from ideas in the head, to words on a page, through to a finished piece is a messy process, or a recursive process, as the cognitive psychologists would term it…       Young writers in school need rich opportunities to experiment, be messy, and to play around with words and ideas in a classroom context which fosters reflection on what has been written, and models possibilities for revising texts.”

Inspired by what Debra calls this “beautiful messiness” my case study describes the journey in creative writing made by my year 8 pupils.

Andy Tharby, in his excellent book ‘Making every English Lesson Count’ also tries to unpick the tricky process of teaching and assessing writing. The key message I took from his chapter on teaching writing, was the importance of providing students with the input first – in terms of inspiration and information – before expecting any sort of quality output in terms of creative writing. With this in mind, I planned a series of creative writing lessons which would first bombard the students with an audio-visual plethora of information about barn owls: documentaries about barn owls (we loved the language in Rob Macfarlane’s BBC documentary on Essex wildlife); close-up photographs of barn owls; rich vocabulary lists for every aspect of the barn own; and poetry about (guess what) barn owls (courtesy of R.S. Thomas).

barn owl

By the time we came to writing our descriptive piece, the students were primed with information and vocabulary ready for them to use and adapt. They had had chance to listen to, to speak, to adapt, to process and to enjoy the language. Words and phrases floated like dust in the air of the classroom – written on the board, noted in their books, ringing in their ears – all they had to do was reach out and choose one to make their own.

Half way through the first lesson, we were ready to write. Firstly, we talked through a checklist for descriptive writing, and I modelled the thought process for planning a piece of descriptive writing. Then, rather than setting them off immediately with their writing, I explained that we were going to slow things down and take it step by step.

Marshall and Wiliam (2006) emphasise the importance of providing feedback to students at the point of writing, when there is still some possibility of making changes. They argue that the process of peer review and evaluation of a variety of writing, is vital to help pupils build their own critical judgements about writing.

With this in mind, I gave the students a really boring, uninspired sentence or two about the owl (The owl was flying. It was putting its wings out very wide) and asked them to copy it down, and then improve it. Then we paused, to reflect on the word choices made, the intended effect, and the measure of success achieved.

Two more ‘sick’ sentences (Its face was round and white. Its eyes were black.) but this time, a chance to share their work, and add their partner’s feedback to their own.

Finally, as though released from a trap, they sprung forward to begin their descriptions, taking their initial ideas and improving them further, crafting them into a vivid and imaginative opening paragraph. Holding them back, made them more eager and they worked hard until the shrill bell broke the spell.

The following lesson, we began by reading aloud some of our writing to the class, and offering verbal feedback – both praise and constructive feedback – before completing the descriptions. The final stage was for students to look back at the checklist for descriptive writing, and decide which of the criteria they had achieved. They also highlighted what they felt to be their most successful sentence.

After a two week interval, the students wrote a second piece of descriptive writing. This time they did it cold, in assessment conditions, with just a picture of a kestrel for inspiration. Nearly all of the class remembered to make a plan for each paragraph before writing, and it was clear to see that they were striving to remember and include some of the more ambitious sentence forms and vocabulary choices.

It has been interesting to compare the progress each of them has made with their creative writing, as a result of this intensive input and slow, thoughtful, beautifully messy process of editing and reflecting. This episode is, of course, only one tiny step along the path to becoming confident and competent creative writers, but the work produced does indicate that the students made some progress in this area.


Marshall, B. and Wiliam, D. (2006) English inside the black box: assessment for learning in the English classroom. London: GL Assessment.

Myhill, D. (2018) Teachers as Writers Blog Accessed April 2018

Tharby, A. (2017) Making Every English Lesson Count: Six principles to support great reading and writing

Not Kegel, Kagan!

A slight double-take, as I mistake the topic of this week’s professional studies lecture for those exercises your pilates teacher makes you do, using obscure motivational phrases like ‘Zip and lock, darlings! Zip and lock!’

‘No, not Kegel, Kagan!’ whispers a fellow student helpfully, and, confusion sorted, we settle down to learn all about the ‘revolutionary approach to teaching’ developed by Dr Spencer Kagan of the University of California and brought to us today by Sarah Martin of The Challenger Multi-Academy Trust in Chelmsford.

Kagan promises great things: ‘instructional strategies designed to promote cooperation and communication in the classroom, boost students’ confidence and retain their interest in classroom interaction.’ After spending the morning taking part in live demonstrations of Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up; Timed Pair Share; and Rally Robin I am excited to get back to school to try these collaborative structures with my own classes.

Madly scribbling all over my lesson plans for the morning, I arrive at school on Friday prepared to go straight in with Rally Write Robin as a starter with my year 10s. We are three lessons in to Romeo and Juliet, and I want to know how much they can remember about the Elizabethan context we covered on Monday. You know, the usual cheery stuff about public executions, bear baiting, and young girls being carted off to marry whomsoever their fathers say they should. Today, instead of the usual ‘beach ball of knowledge’ or ‘quiz quiz trade’, we would work in pairs to complete a Rally Write Robin.

Preparation was very quick – just a simple A4 table laid out with A and B at the top, and they were off, taking turns to write down a key fact and racing to see who could fill the sheet first. Rather than the only active person being the one answering my oral question, pretty much every student was busy. A couple got off to a false start, filling in what they could remember about themes and characters as well as context, but the beauty of it was, that I could walk around the room, quickly sort out any such misconceptions and spot at a glance who was struggling to remember and who was racing ahead. The simple table format was better than a blank sheet, because it forced both students in the pair to take part. After about 5 minutes, one team were declared winners and we went through a few of the main points as a class. Several students asked to keep the sheet for revision. So far, so good!

Use of Kagan in the next lesson was more ambitious. The objective was for my year 8s to produce a piece of extended written work exploring structure in the opening chapters of the class novel. I wanted to use the Kagan structure for group tasks, to build up an answer as a class, before writing it individually. This took a bit more organisation, but a couple of keen students turned up early and helped me to rearrange the desks into groups of four or five. After a quick ‘think – pair -share’ about the opening line of the novel, each group was asked to assign their team members to the following roles, according to their talents:


One of the things that had made such an impression on me during the training session was the clarity of Sarah Martin’s explanation. I tried hard to emulate this with my class, taking time to make each team member stand up in turn, and for one person to repeat back to me what their specific role was. Once I was confident that they all knew exactly what they were doing, I gave each group a specific page number to analyse and report back on. Phew, the starter, the grouping and the explanation had eaten up almost 25 minutes of the 60 minute lesson!

But they were off, all busily searching, discussing, describing, drafting, questioning and arguing. Did it take a lot longer than it would have done to do it in the usual way? Probably. But it did seem to get all the students actively involved. Once they came to report back, the information presented allowed us to build up notes as a class which would give them the material for a really thorough analysis of the way the opening of the novel was structured. The down side? Well, we ran out of time to complete the individual written answer… However, I am quietly confident that they went away with everything they needed to complete it at home. More importantly, there were no passengers in the class, everyone had been involved in active learning.

On reflection, I will certainly be sticking with Kagan structures to engage and motivate students, and look forward to trying more this week. I think my students will thank me for it!

Jenny, English trainee teacher, Greensward Academy