Friday, 26 December 2014

Nurture 2014/15

Five positives from 2014

1.      I felt like a good teacher (at least some of the time).
I’d like to think it’s rare I toot my own teaching horn, so to speak, but I aced ‘Of Mice and Men’ with Year 11 this year. The kids loved it. Their resulting work was INCREDIBLE. And I managed to share some teaching ideas on my blog that other teachers seemed to like too. Bonus. It’s those moments when everything comes together in some gloriously exciting recipe of discovery that make this job EXCITING. And that have the power to sustain you through other days when nothing seems to go right or inspiration fails to materialise and an hour feels like a day…

2.      I turned 30.
I think this one’s at least partially related to number one. I am officially long in the tooth. I have grey hair. I am onto my third GCSE specification (not including the million and one revision to this one). And that brings with it a surprising amount of experience and comfort. Most of the time I feel like I know what I’m doing – or at least the parameters of what is expected. I definitely know who my friends are. As cheesy as it sounds, I know myself a whole lot better too.

3.      I found/am finding the NPQSL course hard – in a good way.
I suspect I wasn’t the only one to leave the first NPQSL session going ‘Woah, what have I got myself into?’; talk of 50 hours study time to a stressed out HoF was never going to be an easy sell. But, as it turned out, the work load hasn’t been the only difficult aspect of the course. It’s held a mirror up to the bits of me I don’t like and challenged me to think about how to address them. I like it because I’ve found it difficult, which surely means it will ultimately be worthwhile – like all the really good learning any of us do.

 4.      I started to write again.
I was an angsty teenage writer of short stories and poems, but hadn't written anything for enjoyment since Uni. However, this Easter I wrote my first blog post when my dad retired from his job as Head teacher and have managed to post on a nearly monthly basis since then. It’s been really great to get posted on the Oxfam site and to get my slightly deranged outpouring of devotion for ‘Lord of the Flies’ included in the ‘Pursued by a Bear’ online magazine. Zoning out for an hour to write a blog has been a great way of emptying my head.

5.      I got married to my best friend.
Enough said.
Five wishes for 2015

1.      For Ofsted to realise (finally) how brilliant my school is.
This is a big one for me; I am immensely proud of the teachers and students where I work and want recognition for them. Exam results alone do not a whole school make: when the big ‘O’ do arrive I’ll be very happy to peer through the magnifying glass to analyse our faults – there is no area for improvement we aren’t keenly aware of – but I will also have my arsenal of evidence ready to show them how much progress we have already made and exactly where we are heading.

2.      To be kind to my house.
We’re lucky enough to live in a lovely semi with views of sheep, high ceilings and a brick fire place. But, I don’t think our house feels lucky sometimes to have us as its guardians. It needs its damp course looking at. We don’t have a blue recycling bin. The loft has become a dumping ground for the unneeded and broken. The problem is that with demanding jobs, putting aside time for our little house is increasingly difficult. In 2015 I’d like to do something about that.

3.      To create a new GCSE course I can be excited about teaching.
I've made it out of the other side of the change curve in relation to the removal of tiers of entry, move to 100% exam etc. and am determined to embrace the new specs with open arms. Our students deserve a course that their teachers want to teach. For us, this is going to be mean exciting, fresh new texts and a new, more integrated way of delivering the course. We're only at the embryonic stage, but I'm excited for our plans to be brought to fruition ready for their September 2015 start.

4.      To cook proper food more often
Too often this year I've slipped into the habit of frozen things and takeaway menus and have been left feeling icky by it. I'm looking forward to opening up a couple of new cook books and making my occasional visits to our fab oriental super market more regular occurrences.

5.      For my two best mates to have fantastic weddings.
I'm looking forward to being the drunken bridesmaid this year rather than the overwhelmed bride: two of my brilliant friends get wed to their brilliant (and long-suffering) boyfriends this year. And that is just lovely.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Setting: what works for the wilting ones?

It is December 2013, half way through our GCSE English Language mock exam, and something is wrong. First at the front, but then to the sides of the sports hall, students begin to slowly wilt.
Their hands slowly slip forward on the exam desk. Their shoulders slightly droop. Their heads hang, woefully slack, wearing leaden expressions. And then – with a barely audible sigh - their exam papers close… and not even my best 'meaningful stares' will see them opened again.
OK, so I dramatise, but one of the important ‘stories’ that came out of our exam analysis from last year was a clear group of Year 11 students who had simply ‘given up’ in that exam. They had been beaten by the relentless two hours and fifteen minutes that is AQA’s ENG1 slog. Not because they lacked ability – in nearly all cases teachers felt they were academically capable of their aspirational GCSE target – but because they did not have the *thing* that keeps us working right up to the invigilator’s final cry. Namely: confidence, aspiration and a feeling of self-worth.
On closer investigation these were identified as the ‘set 4’ students. In our larger than average comp we set students at GCSE into five numerical ability groups on each side of the year group, with two set 3s running broadly as our traditional ‘C grade groups’.
Set 4 in this year group predominantly contained students with D grade GCSE targets. As a result, for the most part they'd been overlooked by our raft of interventions, had seen their more able counterparts ‘moved up’ into set 3, and, crucially, they’d understood throughout the GCSE course that they were  ‘set 4 of 5’: not the least able, but not much point in trying all the same.
With the heart-wrenching image of the 'wilted ones' firmly in my mind, it became clear: ‘set 4’ must die.
Whilst pondering how I could make this happen through my usual comfort blanket of the shiny graph*, I was also pondering a second conundrum: setting. Bringing to a head a year of trad/prog debate, at 2.11pm on Wednesday 3rd June The Guardian had reported that Gove 2.0, Nicky Morgan, was likely to insist on setting for all. By 7.52pm this would be a claim she would strenuously deny but for many pro-setters this was to be a rallying cry. Within my own school, and indeed within my Faculty, there were many voices clammering for the introduction of setting at Key Stage 3, something my own pedagogical biases instantly had me baulking at.
So, what to do. Well, with a few words of encouragement from my Head and admittedly in part as a stalling tactic, I decided to go on a fact-finding mission to two of the highest achieving schools in our LA ‘benchmark group’.
It should be noted at this point that we simply don’t do this enough. Just pick up the phone and visit each other. The two HoF I approached welcomed me with open arms and their pride and professionalism reminded me once more that we truly are in this together, regardless of the competition so many toxic educational changes try to foster.
But, did this help? Er, no. Whilst one school used wholly mixed ability groups throughout KS3 and 4, the other rigidly set in year group. So, where did they leave us?
Right back where we started: with the 'wilting ones'. What those visits gave me the confidence to do was consider what was right for those students. For our students.
It seemed clear that our ‘set 4’ students needed to feel a sense of aspiration that would only be created if they were alongside other students gaining higher grades. They needed to be in a group with students in set 3, even set 2. And, crucially, they needed to not be called blinking 'set 4'! Why not do as form groups do and name the classes after their teachers? After all, aren’t we quick to call them ‘our’ kids? Let them see our pride in them and let us celebrate that sense of responsibility.
But, I was quick to be reminded, what about our most able students? And our students for whom securing a GCSE passing grade would be our raison d’etre? Again, driven by the needs of our students, as Faculty, we agreed that there were students in these broad groups for whom a true mixed ability model would not best serve them. But never, we concurred, must these choices be driven by behaviour only need.
Thus was borne a new model of grouping: 10HT JHU; 10HT CSPA; 10HT ABL; 10HT SFR… With a bit of knowledge about our Faculty you might be able to identify the teacher, but I challenge you, spot if you can find the ‘set 4’ student in that lot.
And the acid test? Last year, creative writing controlled assessment marks on average were 6/6/5, a high D grade. This year, 6/6/7, a secure C grade.

The true test? A lovely Year 10 student’s horrified reaction when I praised him for meeting his D grade target.

*shiny graph


Sunday, 5 October 2014

The evolution of an idea: why Twitter rocks!

Back in September, struggling to get back into my Sunday marking routine and desperate to avoid that book, I took a quick snap of a 30 second starter I'd use the week before.

The next day, I'd received a number of requests for teachers for a copy of the worksheet, but lazy bum me just directed them to Google images...

Thankfully, some hardy souls weren't put off and made their own version. One kind teacher blogged their version, providing the Dropbox link that sloth-like me couldn't quite be bothered to.
The wonderful Amjad Ali then asked me to write up the idea for his fantastic 'teaching toolkit' blog site and, when I was too lazy to do it, did it for me.

And that's when things got really exciting.

First of all it got rebranded as 'Crowdsourcing' on this blog.

Then another teacher took the idea and turned it into an impressive display of not just one question but a whole army-full!

The idea even went cross-curricular, becoming an RE lesson!
67 favourites and 37 retweets later my throw away ten minute activity that came into being literally mid-sentence through a discussion with my Deputy is now something entirely new. 

The idea itself is not particularly remarkable. If you are interested then you'll find more details here. What was remarkable, however, were those incessant phone buzzes that resulted in the week to come. From across the country other teachers latched on to my silly little worksheet and turned it into something altogether more special.
To me those buzzes highlight just how exciting it is to be teaching in this brave new Twitter-filled work where an idea can reach outside the boundaries of one classroom and into other institutions the very next day.
I hope this blog can be a time capsule to be opened by myself and others when we're interacting with our students in this brave new world.


The post-it note approach to essay planning

Overly scaffolded essays are RUBBISH. RUBBISH for the students who are lead by their nose through four hours of dullity. RUBBISH for the teachers who will spend hour after hour attempting to mark slight variations of one mediocre response. RUBBISH in that they reinforce Gove et al's tired old critiques related to spoons and feeding.
However, unsurprisingly, many 15 and 16 year olds still require stabilisers when it comes to writing an extended response under exam conditions. The approach below was developed to try and combat this dilemma specifically in English controlled assessments.
Pick your weapon
I think it's really important to give students a choice of question whenever possible. At my place, giving students choice seems to have lead to improved results, perhaps as they more readily 'buy in' to the question/task.

I RAG rate my questions to show that some are more challenging, but give students free choice in terms of which they then choose. 

Giving a choice also means that they are already thinking about their response before they've even begun to plan - or else how can you make a decision! 

They then write their chosen question at the top of an A3 sheet of paper, like so:

Prepare for battle
Firstly, students need to sum up their 'quick' answer to the question. They should be able to give you the gist of their response on the back of a post-it note:

With a bit of 'spit and polish' this will become their opening paragraph. They then stick it on their A3 sheet in the top left hand corner, at the 'start' of their response.

Locate your evidence
Students then need to consider their best bits of evidence (i.e. quotations) for the argument they've outlined. I've made a simple 9 box worksheet for this, but again post-it notes would do.

A top tip is to get them to add page numbers at this stage to save time later.

Build your case
This is the most crucial step, where the 'story' of the essay takes shape. Students need to arrange their evidence in an order that fits the ideas expressed in their opening paragraph. Take for example the second post-it note above. I would expect the student to group all of the evidence that Crooks is treated badly, then that he is disabled and, finally, that he is heroic and 'keeps on going'.

I get students to talk through their essay to me at this point, explaining how each point links to the last. Then and only then do I lend them the pritt stick so they can be stuck down in order!
Put flesh on the bones
At this point the skeleton of the essay is in place and it's time to put the meat on it: time for the highlighters, coloured pens and spider-like arrows.

I give students a RAG rated checklist for their notes linked to the assessment criteria. That way there really is no excuse for missing out tricky bits like structure or context!

Marvel at your future success
I hope that it goes without saying that my students do not have access to this plan when they write their controlled assessment. They do, however, use it to create their notes page and to revise from at home prior and during the assessment window. Many bright sparks get a marker out as soon as they leave the classroom to cross out the paragraphs they've written that lesson: a brilliant way to remain organised and motivated over what can span a fortnight of silent scribbling.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

'Of Mice and Men' - 5 ideas to help make the final two years of teaching this text the best

#1 Crowdsourcing
I'm loving the shiny name given to this idea by @EducatingCCC, so am adopting it as my own! This is an idea that could work as starter or plenary, to generate new ideas or consolidate understanding of previous learning.
Simply give students a crowd outline and a question. They then label each figure with the name of someone in the class and their response. The challenge is to make every response different!
#2 Black out analysis
This idea was developed from the fab 'black out poetry' that was circulating on Twitter earlier this year.
Take one collapsed extract from the text. Not sure how to collapse text in Word? Use the 'Replace' tool to turn spaces into ^p i.e. new paragraphs, then reverse!
Then ask students to black out any word that doesn't relate to a particular theme or effect. In this case we were looking at sympathy, but loneliness, violence, dislike etc. could also work. When this is done, they annotate to explain their choices.
I collapse the text to try to get students to think creatively about the connotations of individual words, before considering them in the context of a passage. Clearly, context will change the meaning of some words, but this in itself leads to useful discussion!
#3 Onion analysis
Born of exhaustion from essay writing practice and exploding quotations, this is again inspired by something I saw on Twitter: revision foldables. The idea goes that to encourage close language analysis, students need to appreciate the 'layers of meaning' within a quotation, of which this is a visual representation.
You identify a useful quotation and then print it landscape across the bottom of a page 8-10 times. Staple these together to create a booklet.
Students then select which words/phrases they will analyse, cutting out the others on that page. They write their analysis of this in the space above it. They then repeat this with a new word or phrase on the second page. And then the third... etc.
In theory, flicking through the booklet will reveal closer analysis of the quotation. Does it work? I'll tell you after tomorrow p4!
#4 The least popular word
This one came out of desperately trying to illicit original ideas from a middle ability set, all too keen to have me provide the 'answers' for them.
Pop a quotation up on the projector in a grid like this: 
Give students a post-it and ask them to pick out one word that implies or suggests something about the character/theme. Crucially, if they are the only person to select their word, they receive some sort of reward (for us Vivos). This should encourage them to think more creatively.
The bonus of this is then when they are given individual copies of the grid and can 'steal' the original ideas of the class - a ready-made CA paragraph if ever I saw one!
#5 Evaluation octagon
Ok, so this isn't one strictly for OMAM, but I five is so much more a satisfying idea than four, isn't it?
This one was inspired by the much-loved 3D essay plans created by a brilliant teacher in my Faculty. No one can resist fiddling with a tactile three dimensional object, not least teenagers.
In this version, questions are used as prompts for students to evaluate their work, with greater scaffolding through sentence starters magically revealed if they pick up the octagon.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Making Matthew rich: practical strategies for building word wealth

This blog could also be titled ‘An Ode to Geoff Barton’ as, like many other English teachers, his elegant and emotive speeches are how I first came across ‘the Matthew effect’. However, the concept, as far as I’m aware, originated in Daniel Rigney’s book of the same name.
‘The Matthew effect’ is the idea that those who are bought up in 'word-rich' environments ultimately become part of the ‘literacy club’, reading/writing and getting more ‘word-rich’ as a result. Whilst, conversely, those who are 'word-poor' become doubly so due to a reticence to read and inability to enjoy ‘word-rich’ texts. There’s a much more eloquent and extensive synopsis by David Didau here.

This blog post – whilst recognising that what happens in one classroom will not change the ‘world’ of a school alone - is not an attempt at address the Pandora's box of whole school literacy. If you’re interested in that then I recommend visiting Chris Hildrew’s blog.
Instead, it’s an attempt to pull together some ways I’ve been attempting to address building word power in my own classroom over the last term. All of these strategies require minimal planning, but used together have maximum effect. However, they all start with one important proviso: the world of language is not a democracy; some words are more valuable than others. It’s therefore important to take a moment to define which words are at the top of this autocracy: what makes a ‘rich’ word?
As a starting point, for me, ‘rich’ words:
  • have not been heard or read before
  • unlock more sophisticated concepts
  • build self-esteem and aspiration
  • create autonomy and power in the user
And, yes, least importantly, achieve more marks in a GCSE English Language exam…

‘Big yellow box’ them

Increasingly nowadays my Powerpoint is my lesson plan. With one group, I've made sure every lesson there is a yellow box on the right hand side with 'rich' vocabulary in to scaffold their ideas and discussions. It also acts as a useful aide memoire for my future planning as I can see words they have previously been exposed to.

Drop them (in)
It's a truism that the simplest ideas are the most effective: ensuring rich words are part of your day to day communications with students is a perfect example. It may be tempting to ‘dumb down’ our vocabulary when talking to 'little people', but students who are ‘word-poor’ must be exposed to the richness of language in order to become 'word-wealthy'.

To secure understanding the 'rich' word needs to be followed by a pithy explanation of the meaning. The best definition for encouraging confidence has to be the single word summary - see above. There's plenty of time for refining that definition once the word has gained some familiarity.
(Interactive) display them

If you don't yet follow @ChrisMoyse, you need to start following @ChrisMoyse. This is my 100% plagiarised version of an awesome display of his creation. Each fry packet from a well known food chain, contains 'rich' synonyms for the word underneath. In my Faculty, we've also got paint colour charts that do the same job, but any Twitter search will reap a plethora of other imaginative ways to display these words in a way that shows just how exciting they are.
Hook them

By this I mean find a way of making them memorable. Here's a simple method from a lesson this term: words that start with the letter 'D'. This slide was introducing students to the relationship between Curley and his wife in that educational pariah 'Of Mice and Men'. We then divided them into three categories: male stereotypes; female stereotypes; the effect of these ideologies. This vocabulary framed the lesson and ensured that, at all points after this, students were using vocabulary sophisticated enough to articulate concepts related to gender roles, misogyny and patriarchy.

Return to them

It's one thing to walk out of a lesson proudly (and metaphorically) clutching a new word, but it's quite another to return on a new day still brandishing that word like a verbal blade. Making the next lesson's pre-starter remind students of their wonderful new word-y weaponry will make all the difference.
Cover sheet them

With the coming of the new National Curriculum for English from September (that some of us still have to adhere to, Academites) we've introduced a standard cover sheet for all of schemes of work that will clearly identify 'rich' words that students should be exposed to over the unit. As Wayne from Wayne's World once said: 'Plan for it and it will happen'. Or at least I'm sure he said something to that effect.
Debunk them
One of my favourite phrases to teach students is 'the dominant ideologies associated with' as it can simply be explained by 'the main set of ideas linked to' - e.g. stereotypes - and is directly applicable in a variety of literary and non-literary discussions related to text, audience and purpose. Watching young people play with the phrase, using it to show-off to other teachers and students, is a joy. I always leave them with the challenge to go home and when their parents ask them what they have done at school today to reply, not with a grunt, but with "Well, mother dearest, we have been analysing the way that Curley's wife both adheres to and rebels from the dominant ideologies associated with femininity in 1930s America."
WOW word them
On the door of my office I have a WOW ('Word of the week') word which also gets printed on the weekly Faculty bulletin. Soon to go whole school, if nothing else then this initiative will flag up the importance of vocabulary for accessing and engaging with any aspect of both the curriculum and the wider world.
Reward them

Be it scrabble or Sports Day, I love a bit of competition - and so do students. Whatever your reward system, ensure that no use of a 'rich' word goes unnoticed, acknowledged and praised. For us it's Vivos with points literally meaning pennies to spend in the Argos catalogue. We also have rather lovely 'Literate learner' stickers (and any teacher worth their salt knows the power of a good sticker).

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Trite but true: teenagers are ace.

It's the worst time to write this blog. I'm frantically trying to create a new timetable, a new engaging KS3 curriculum, a new accessible route through the ever-demanding and increasingly ludicrous demands of GCSE specifications, whilst choosing a new A Level spec., recruiting a new Deputy and Key Stage Coordinator - oh, and planning a wedding in four weeks time.

But, somehow, that all just makes it more necessary.

I think it was when an incredibly frustrated Year 10 student had just taken out his emotions on my quivering plastic display case in the corridor outside my classroom that this blog post finally came into being.

Having flourished since September - moving from a copied couple of lines to a full page of his own ideas - being faced with his first taste of a GCSE exam paper had landed him right back at square one. He was unable to put pen to paper; quite simply, he felt like a failure. Despite my concern for both my rather lovely display, cataloguing the last year of English trips, and his own, now bruised, fist all I could feel for him was pride: 1. that he cared that much; 2. at the realisation that he absolutely could do that exam and that I was going to do everything in my power to convince him of that over the next year.

Because, you see, teenagers are ace.

Unlike most adults, their emotions are plain to see. Happy. Sad. Frustrated. Proud. Grateful. Lonely. Reading a classroom is a pleasurable skill for an experienced teacher, spotting who is about to metaphorically (or literally in this particular case) 'hit the wall' and bringing them back from the brink. Grabbing good work and whacking it under a visualiser and then spotting the side-smile of pride from the recipient of class jealousy and praise. It might be given the jazzy title of 'emotional intelligence', but I don't think it's the teacher's intelligence that should be the focus.

You see, for me, it's simply that teenagers are ace.

Before I put finger to key for this blog, I tweeted about whether I should write it. I'm very aware that the title alone could be perceived as somewhat nauseating. And I'm sure repeating it has brought up a vom-bubble or two for some. As a result, I had a couple of alternative blog suggestions from the Twitterati, one of which was: 'Are teenagers a product of their environment or creators of their reality?' My response was simply: both. Which leads me to my next reason that... well, you get the idea.

Teenagers are sponges; young people soak up praise and the ideas and attitudes of those around them. As my brilliant first school had on the toilet wall: 'Teachers create the weather...' Every lesson is a fresh start, be it in terms of behaviour/relationships or learning, if only we can convince ourselves of it, greeting that child with a chirpy 'Hello' or tackling again that problem topic (presentational devices for me!).

Maybe teachers should be a bit more like sponges too. And I don't mean that we should all start saying 'LOL' or 'YOLO' (although anyone who works in a school will inform you that it's a media-mythology that they go around spurting that tosh) or stretching out our ear piercings (again, ahem).

I mean that we should be open to learning from our students. I'm sure it's not the complete reserve of the English teacher to nick an idea from one class and pass it off as to another as their own unique insight. Maybe we should also listen to them about the changing experiences of being a young person in 2014 too. I'm pretty sure I didn't know my sub-level in Year 8 or start my GCSE course in Year 9. God help me if I'd been asked to study Maths until 18...

And when we are learning from them, we will definitely be taught, once more, that teenagers are ace. Because, despite the challenges they face, they still make cheeky jokes about my name, do amazing pieces of homework and show kindness, passion and excitement in our schools.

And that's what'll be getting me through the timetable, new NC, specs, Gove's many whims - and be at the centre of every blinking decision I make.

The final words belong to the Lead HMI for English who has said recently the key question in judging provision should be: 'What is it like to be a student in this class?' And what I think she meant was: 'Teenagers are ace. Are they made to feel - and be - ace in this class?'

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

GCSE revision that REVIVES! (Updated March 2015)

Are you losing the will to live in your final lessons with Year 11? Join the club. Here are a couple of the more creative strategies I've tried to use to fan the flames of the flagging in the final days before E-day.

Note: the vast majority of these are not my ideas! They are ones that have been magpied from a variety of sources including many awesome Twitter users like @siancarter1 and @englishlulu, as well as members of my fantastic Faculty like @mrszshah and @missrcapper.

Knowledge Vomit

A good way to ascertain your starting point for revision, the 'knowledge vomit' challenges students to splurge out everything they know on a topic in the grossest way possible.

I've seen this done really well on desks, floors, windows etc. - just make sure you use chalk pens or NON-permanent markers!

Quality Revision (get it?!)

OK, not every student has a smart phone, but in this era of marginal gains if you get three or four more students revision I'll take that as a win.

Just whack a hyperlink - Youtube video, website, Dropboxed document etc. - into a free online QR code generator like to make your QR codes. Then, copy and paste them into a Word document (I recommend using a table to keep them in neat little rows) to turn in a worksheet or poster. I've stuck ours up  at A3 postersin rooms frequently used for revision and given out A5 versions for exercise books!

Twister and Shout

I've had this germ of an idea for a while. I want to use it as a way of revising GCSE anthology poems, but I'm sure it could be adapted for anything where students need to make links.
In my version, they write the names of the poems across each of the coloured dots. They then take it in turn to spin the spinner to identify the finger they need to use and then use it to link to the poems, explaining the similarity or difference they're identifying. This could be a theme, idea, language technique, the tone, or structure. If they can't go (either because they can't see a link or their fingers won't stretch) they lose the round and their opponent scores a point.

You can nab an editable version of the play board and spinner from my Dropbox
Feeling brave? Why not try the whole body version (using same sex pairings) with the this online spinner.

Revision cubes

Use these how you want! To generate questions, prompt individual or group responses, as the start of a mind map...

You can find the ones I have made here:
GCSE English Language
Poetry anthology
'An Inspector Calls'
'Of Mice and Men'

Mind pegging

'Peg' what needs revising to something memorable like their bedroom, house our journey to school. Simples.

Student-created revision guide
My favourite incarnation of this was the 'William Golding's Guide to Life' I created at my last school. I divided students into groups and gave them a subject e.g. 'Friendship', 'Adolescence', 'Food', 'The Environment'. They then had to work together to write from the point of view of the author about these topics. What they produced was creative, witty and insightful. I'll try to dig it out when I get a second...

Here is a simple proforma for a stripped down 'An Inspector Calls' version and an example.

Stick or twist tasks

Whack some revision tasks in a bucket or bin (preferably clean). Students choose one and if they don't like it get to 'twist' by choosing another one - just once though! Will they risk choosing a harder one...?

You can find the writing tasks I use here:
'Stick or twist' writing tasks

Snakes and ladders
Gah! Just realised I haven't photographed these! Students basically were given the grid and added revision questions to the squares then swapped and played the games. I'll add the grid to my Dropbox soon.

Spider web analysis

Great for any revision that requires students to make connections. Whack what needs comparing around the legs of a desk, add strings with blu tack for the link, wrap around a post it to add explanation.


Sunday, 6 April 2014

'We're doing English now."

The title of this post comes from a comment I received following my recent Performance Management observation: "You make it clear We're doing English now." I think it was a compliment. Given the need for positivity at the end of what is, as always, a somewhat draining term, I'm certainly going to take it as one. Anyway, what this seemingly innocuous observation triggered was reflection about how we can get students all in, all on task and, fundamentally, all learning, in the crucial first five minutes of a lesson.

It's a pet peeve of mine that some lessons begin with a register, locating a pen etc. Want to kill your subject? Ask your students to first copy down the learning objectives. However, simply starting with an engaging stimulus alone doesn't ensure that you engage the thirty plus brains sat in front of you. So how can we marry this need to both inspire and challenge students with very different needs both in terms of ability and engagement?

Here are a couple of suggestions that might make this seemingly impossible task a little more achievable.

Wicked whispers
I am an absolute unashamed thief when it comes to teaching strategies. This one (I think) is an original. And, as such, it's mega easy. Step one: ask a hard question. A really hard question. One only the bravest and boldest in the class will attempt. When three or four of your bravest volunteer an answer ask them to stand up and silently whisper their answer in the ear of another student. Crucially, that student must be able to explain the answer. When they can they then also silently whisper in the ear of another student. Before you know it, the whole class will be standing... at which point you ask them to sit back down and ask the question again. In theory, all students should now have their hands up with an answer!

Note: IMHO it doesn't actually matter if the answers given are right at this point in the lesson, simply that all students have felt empowered to attempt to answer a challenging question without you intervening to tell them the answer.

Line of agreement
"Come in. Do NOT sit down. Question on the whiteboard. Agrees near the window. Disagrees near the door. Decide where you stand. I want at least one reason." You get the drift.

Three answers on three walls
The best tactics are often the simplest. I love this one because it is immune to the distractions of late comers, requires all students to participate and suits any topic. The title says it all: you blu tack three pieces of paper giving three possible answers onto the three walls of the classroom. Students come in, read the question on the Powerpoint and immediately have to go and stand next to an answer. No opt outs. Suspect they're just following their friend? Make it clear you'll be asking them for their reason as to why they've chosen that answer.

In the last couple of weeks I've been using this Year 10 who've been studying Macbeth. For example, as an intro to language analysis. Pop up three quotations. Challenge students to stand next to one for which they can explain the meaning. Then, move to another for which you can identify a language technique. Finally, stand next to one where you can explain the effect of a language technique on the audience. It also worked well for the start of their first lesson comparing the texts. Who's most likely to take a selfie? Lady Macbeth, Macbeth or Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde? Who's most likely to pull the legs off a spider? Cheat in an exam?

Stand up/Sit down
Like all of the tactics here this is about ensuring that there is no choice not to respond. If you stay sat down you're giving an answer. If you stand up, that's an answer. And you will be picked on to justify why you answered in this way!

Post-it notes
So much better than individual whiteboards which seem irresistible to the doodler, post-it notes ensure every single child contributes. Maybe it's their child-friendly size that does it. Intimidated by a blank white page of A4? Here, try this sunshine shaded snippet that is no bigger than your palm. See, three words in and you've almost filled me! Again, this a late comer immune tactic, simply hand those who have completed their post-it a second one (and a reward).

No nonsense top tip: sick of students sticking their post-it notes at the top of the whiteboard/on each other/anywhere they're not supposed to? Add a box on your Powerpoint in which they have to stick it.

To be continued...