Re-finding my teaching mojo

Back to School – Bluesquarething

So, it’s been a while since I wrote a blog post. But this year I am determined to find the time for self-reflection that I missed out on last year – and forcing myself to blog at least once a fortnight should help me do that.

The return to school after such a long break is always a funny one, and this year I’ve felt less organised than ever. Partly I think I overworked myself last year and really needed a long break, meaning that I didn’t even do the token 3 or 4 days in the run up to starting this year.

And yet, it really doesn’t take long to get back into it. This morning I felt quite disillusioned arriving at school. The same corridors, the same room, the same tip that I didn’t tidy properly at the end of term… and the same requirements to be excellent, to be outstanding, to have engaging, entertaining lessons. I really didn’t think I had the energy for it any more when I rolled up at 8am.

By third lesson I’d spent two hours with my new form, taught a tutorial lesson that didn’t result in me wanting to bang my head against a wall and was starting to take some shiny new Y7s through the intricacies of logging on. I didn’t have time be tired, found myself making jokes the kids didn’t get (is it just me that does this?) and just generally felt quite at home.

This afternoon I met both of my new Y10 classes and was impressed by their work ethic, their ability and my planning (I might be one-sided but I genuinely thought they both lessons were well paced, included varied activities and both actually had a plenary!).

So, while it seemed a dispiriting moment to be heading back to the front lines, it’s actually reminded me of all the things I love about teaching. Interactions with enthusiastic kids, being helpful and supportive, seeing people make progress on a minute by minute basis and all that stuff.

We’ll see how it goes in week two once they’ve gotten a little more comfortable 😀

Sssh… it’s a secret!


Originally uploaded by daniel_pfund

I had a tutorial lesson today. Or maybe citizenship. Or PHSE. You get the jist…

The aim of the lesson was for the students to understand the concept of budgetting. In addition to the central aim I wanted them to appreciate what their finances might be like in the future and to compare their expectations with harsh reality.

So, printing off a semi-random budgetting sheet found on letting agent’s website we proceeded to fill it in as a class. It took the full hour.

We discussed the cost of renting vs buying, shopping at different types of supermarkets, repayments on loans for different standards of car and, with some degree of shock for the students, the difference between gross and net salaries!

At the end of it we packed up, threw the paper in the bin and went to lunch. I didn’t formally assess their work, they didn’t produce evidence of having completed tasks or showing progression in their knowledge and understanding. I would have been graded as Requires Improvement, or probably Inadequate.

And yet, I’m absolutely certain that EVERY student in that class learned something. They might not remember the figures, but they were surprised by how inaccurate their preconceptions about incomes and expenditures were, and they bought into the lesson really well.

I could have built in more activities – learning checkpoints, scaffolding, differentiated resources and mini-plenaries. And in many cases those tools are incredibly useful. But every once in a while I like to just spend the full lesson exploring something and not necessarily weighing the pig every 10 minutes to see if it’s gotten fatter.

But I’m in the middle of my appraisal, so sssh… it’s a secret! 😉

Learning and Progress

je dois apprendre aux curieux

Education seems to go in cycles. For the last 5 years there has been a whole school push towards chunked, fast paced lessons. The theory behind this was (to simplify and generalise massively) that by keeping the lesson moving you prevent the pupils stagnating mid-lesson, getting distracted and losing focus.

This was by-and-large a good idea (IMO) and led to pretty much the objectives outlined above. The downside, however, is that students ended up being a bit too reliant on teacher intervention in order to keep that pace going. Students aren’t allowed enough time to think, to reflect, to try and solve problems themselves. As a result I think that we, as a staff, got better at teaching, but the students didn’t necessarily get any better at learning.

A new whole school initiative has begun this term, focussing not on Teaching and Learning, but instead on Learning and Progress. Now at first that sounds like a sound bite and potentially quite hollow. In fact my first response was to ask if that means we no longer have to teach. With a bit of thought, though, it seems quite clear to me that this is actually a pretty sound idea.

An example we were given was of a DT teacher getting his Y7s to make key fobs. When asked about the learning he said that students had learned how to cut acrylic, file it and drill a hole through. In the next lesson his Y9s were making clock faces. They cut some acrylic, filed it and drilled a hole for the hands. The question was asked, “Where is the progress?”. The answer? “It’s a bigger piece of acrylic”.

There is a real danger, especially in ICT, that tasks simply become repetitive. The spreadsheet task in Y9 – is it really different to the spreadsheet task in Y7? Or is it just bigger? On a smaller scale, if you tell pupils what a row is, a column, an absolute or relative cell reference – do they really understand it? Do they really learn it? How do you know?

The emphasis here is not (again, IMO) how can you prove it – but how do you know it? And this is another stumbling block. It’s easy to see this as a millstone, as a burden to provide evidence – but it’s also an opportunity if you take it in the right way.

I’ve just planned a lesson for Y9. We’re in the middle of a term-long project and they need to create a website for their “Grand Designs” company (having designed houses in Google Sketchup).

  • For starters they get mini-whiteboards and have to write down their idea of a purpose for the site.
  • Having discussed the purpose they draw a mind-map or other plan for the site.
  • Having knocked up a quick page they do a very quick peer review (3 stars and a wish).
  • At the end of the lesson they screengrab their page into a project diary and write about what they have done, and why.

The idea is not necessarily that I have written proof to document their progress over the lesson but I can make a judgement based on their whiteboard answers at the start, their drawn plans, their peer reviews and their project diary as to just how much they have understood about audience and purpose (which is the aim of the lesson).

Only the final part of the lesson is kept for posterity, and that is so that I can use their project diary as a tool to assess their work at the end of the unit – but during the lesson I can see how they are doing, I can see whether the message is sinking in and I can adapt, or add extra lessons, to make sure that the students do get the chance to learn the thing that I want them to.

So, yeah. I think Learning and Progress is probably a good idea and I think that by thinking about it I might do a better job at helping my students to learn. Which isn’t the same thing as teaching – although it is pretty close.