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.
One of the challenges teachers face is ensuring that they have high expectations for all of the students they teach. So often teachers fall into the trap of expecting less of low ability sets in terms of work produced or letting students complete poor quality homework because they have worn the teacher down by repeatedly not handing work in! If students see evidence of low expectations, they will live up to those low expectations and will produce work that does not reflect their abilities thus leading to lower achievement.
At the beginning of the year, I always try to set expectations high with regards to behaviour and quality and quantity of work. Sometimes, however, this takes time to take hold! In John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers he compares learning to building a brick wall – it takes time to put each brick into place in order for it to hold strong. This is the same for expectations to me: every lesson should reinforce those high expectations so that students gradually get to know who you are as a teacher. You want to be the teacher with the reputation for not giving up and the one who won’t accept poor quality work or bad behaviour
Students need to have high aspirations for what they can achieve so therefore your modeling of work should reflect this. Showing a bottom set year 11 group an example of a piece of work that is poorly spelt, misses the point and doesn’t have any development of ideas may reflect their abilities before they have learnt anything but isn’t going to show them how to get better. They need to see excellent examples of writing that they can see what can be achieved with support, scaffolding and feedback. The model above highlights this idea of high expectations and challenge perfectly (Making Every Lesson Count, Allison and Tharby). With appropriate models, high expectation and challenge, time and teacher intervention in the form of frequent feedback, students can produce the type of work that we want them to.
‘All children are apprentice craftsmen. They should be encouraged to hone and refine their work with pride and diligence until it reaches excellence’ – An Ethic of Excellence: building a Culture of Craftmanship with Students, Ron Berger
I was fortunate enough this week to take part in a learning walk and was impressed with the level of creativity – across both KS3 and KS4 English classes.
In one year seven English lesson, the group were reading Treasure Island as a class. As we walked in, the teacher was reading aloud from the text. All of a sudden, the teacher paused, crouched down at the front of the classroom and started beckoning students over to her and begun whispering ‘hide!’ Within moments, the whole group, along with the teacher, were ‘hidden’ under the desk and the teacher continued to read aloud. It was at this moment in the novel that the characters were under threat of being discovered by pirates and had to hide themselves. The excitement from the students was delightful to see and it enabled them to understand that this was a key moment of tension in the chapter. The students could empathise with the characters. It was a moment they would not forget in a hurry!
It was also helpful to notice differentiation in action. At the time of the learning walk, there were five different year eleven lessons taking place, all studying ‘Macbeth’. The majority of the classes were focusing of act two, scene two of the text in which Macbeth kills King Duncan. In the set five group, the teacher set up the whole lesson focusing on just one key question: how does Shakespeare create tension in act two, scene two? The small group clustered around one table and observed the film version of the scene and discussed the content in order for students to have a firm basis of knowledge of what happens. The teacher then asked them to think about the structure of the scene, considering key moments of tension and how these were created e.g. the mysterious knocking. The member of staff then revealed three keyboards that she had borrowed from the music department and asked the students to create the music and sound effects to accompany the scene (!) It enabled the pupils to understand the text in action (which they must do as it was originally designed to be performed) and to understand that the tension dips and peaks throughout the scene.
In the top set group, the teacher was still encouraging creativity but predominantly through allowing students to have more autonomy in how they chose to make notes and annotate the copy of the text; some students wanted to write in full sentences in their books whereas others chose to highlight sections of the text and write in note form. This approach, allowing students to have that degree of independence, will undoubtedly be of benefit to them when it comes to revising the text as their notes will reflect their preferred way of learning.
Ever 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.
This week, trainees had their first of two GPS sessions focusing on delivering engaging, challenging lessons that are well-matched to students’ needs.
Planning a Lesson
Without doubt, one of my favourite parts of being a teacher is the planning. I appreciate that this may be unusual but there have been times when I have enjoyed the planning more than the delivery of some topics! This is likely to be because, as a secondary school teacher, I have elected to teach a subject I love, therefore, the opportunity to read and research some topics that I haven’t touched upon myself for a while is something I genuinely enjoy doing. It’s then considering how I can make the content accessible to students which is sometimes the tricky part. As Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison say in their fantastic text, Making Every Lesson Count (2015): ‘Always look for the easiest path to learning challenging material, not the hardest’.
There have been occasions when I’ve planned lessons that have fallen flat because the content was too difficult. Worse still, I’ve planned lessons where the content has been too simple and I’ve been left trying to invent extension tasks that are not just more of the same content, trying to avoid the: ‘You’re finished, have you? He’s more of the same task. Well done’ (teacher walks off to leave the student alone who then rarely completes the work). This is why planning is so integral. If you manage to plan lessons that are engaging, challenging, well-suited to students’ needs, that have taken into account prior learning, students’ next steps, potential behavior pitfalls, literacy and numeracy across the curriculum, include plenty of opportunities for assessment and demonstrate excellent progress every lesson, you have cracked it! Most of us, however, realise that a lot of these elements are contingent and happen within lessons and therefore don’t require any pre-planning. It’s how you respond that counts. For example, in a history lesson where the students are frequently misspelling the same key words over and over again, the teacher might pause the flow of the lesson to discuss this and display the correct spellings on the whiteboard. This is something that not all teachers find easy but will be something that will happen as your training continues.
At this early stage in our trainees’ careers, planning is essential and will often take a considerable amount of time. The key things to remember are: what do students know already? Where do I want them to be by the end of the lesson? How can I check that they have learnt anything to help me plan for next lesson?
Planning a lesson well will help to lessen behaviour issues and will have students wanting to come to your lessons. Try to enjoy it!