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!

New year, new you?

The Mid Essex ITT offices are back open after Christmas!

We have lots of events coming up, so take a look at our website to find out more.
Alternatively, you can call our office on 01376 556 398 (8.30am-4.30pm, Monday-Friday) to chat about your options for teacher training in 2019.
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Thinking

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.

Brave

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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“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.

References

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 http://www.teachersaswriters.org/general/writing-and-rewriting/ Accessed April 2018

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

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!

Creativity

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

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:

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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