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