The power of talking with parents – some ideas & anecdotes for new teachers

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#Blogsync post

What is the role of the family in young people’s education?

It is sad that I often hear teachers blaming parents for their child’s attitude and behaviour in school. In my experience, it is rare that an apathetic/rude/naughty/lazy child has a parent with the same behaviours when I’ve come to speak with them.

I’ve found that in many cases where there is a challenging child, there is at least one parent pulling their hair out, not knowing what they can do, at their wits end and usually quite happy to share this.

So, I believe that the family is an essential part of education because we should be talking to the parents to support our aims and through this be supporting them in theirs. We should be working together to ensure they develop the skills they need for life and leave with as many qualifications they need for their next steps.

Calling home

If you say to most secondary students you are going to call home they will respond in one of two ways:

“No. Please don’t call home”

or

“Go on. My mum/dad don’t care”

I’ve learned that the second response is normally not true. It is their way of trying to detract you from doing so. The fascinating discussions I’ve had from parents for whom their child said this. Repeating what they’d said is a great start!

The sad thing is that in many cases the first call home is a negative one. If it is, always try to make the last call home a positive one. I always feedback to the parent on how the new strategy has gone. So if I told them their child is underachieving due to them distracting others, once I’ve moved them in my seating plan and things have settled, I report back.

Some schools have a contact week/fortnight. Teachers are supposed to be in contact with parents as much as possible in this time. Ideally, a quick call with positive news to share. For those of us that teach high numbers of students, plan regular contact weeks and choose students carefully each time.

The problem with calling home is it takes time. However, one late night calling home has the potential to resolve many issues. Don’t let the issues roll on week to week. Nip them in the bud with a call home. 80% of issues are resolved by this.

Parent’s Evenings

I love doing parent’s evenings. I find out so much about the students that they would never have told me. For example, I found out that one student’s father was seriously ill. The child didn’t want anyone to know but mum told me. That changed the relationship I had with that student for the rest of the time I taught them.

In another example, a mother gave me her email. It started off as negative reports back but when the child realised that negative emails has consequences for them at home i.e the x-box is taken from them, they realise it is easier to do as they should in school, for the benefits out of school.

Unfortunately, we often say, those that come to parent’s evenings aren’t the ones we need to see. For many, this is the case so I have advocated a Head of year/progress manager calling home for the ‘top’ 20 students with overall concerns to ensure we are getting in who we need to see. If not, call home yourself.

Playing off of parents

I’ve experienced this a few times. A student will tell you which parent to call. They do this because this is the ‘softer’ parent or the one they can emotionally control. Sometimes this is when parents have split. I now always call both. if they both have access rights, then they both have the right to know. By contacting the parent that they didn’t want you to, it tells the student that a)they’re not the one in control of the situation and b) if they didn’t want both parents to know what the issue is, they shouldn’t have behaved in the manner that has caused the call home. We’ve had some great turn arounds with some students on this. The students are now totally on board and in some ways have more respect because you stood up to them.

Don’t be afraid to be the one in control!

Suggestions for working with parents

  • Get their email – instant communication without having to find a phone. Much quicker and easier than a call
  • Make the first contact a positive one
  • Always present the parent with solutions. Just telling them their child has an issue won’t move things forward. Ask if they are supportive of these solutions. It’s a team effort!
  • If you say to a student you will call home, you must do it.
  • Allocate a block of time to sit by the phone. Make positive calls as well.
  • Record (either in the school system or by email) what was said and let those who need to know, know what was said
  • Before contacting home, check how that student is doing elsewhere. I’ve had parents say ‘it’s your subject’, I can then read out their other subject data and prove it isn’t!
  • If possible, speak with the student about the conversation you’ve had with the parent to share the outcomes.

The role of parents seems to be underestimated. They have a huge role in the success of their child. We should be engaging with them as soon as they join the school and establish relationships that support the child.

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What could OFSTED do differently?

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Inspired by Stuart Lock’s post I’ve been thinking about what an Ofsted team could do in a school that might give a better picture of the school and what it is really like for the children that attend. I know time is limited in an inspection but I’m going for quality not quantity.

Here are a few suggestions:

Pre-inspection SLT report

Before Ofsted arrive the senior leaders should be told to write what they think the bullet points for improvement will be on this report I.e they know what Ofsted are going to say, they know what they need to do. Not a 20 page SEF. Just those bullet points. Seeing if they match or not should lead to further discussion.

Student trail

One inspector chooses one child. They are given all data about the child including all of their books, reports, SEND, all teacher data since they joined the school etc they the follow them for the day (possibly including break/lunch and if time is  a problem just the first and last part of each lesson). They should scrutinise all the data to see if it accurately reflects what they are seeing I.e if the school data system says they are working at level 5 in Science but the book and lesson don’t concur with this then there may be a problem.

They could then also speak with the child as much as they can without interrupting their learning and could interview them separately. This would be to try and triangulate what they read and seen about this student. They might also speak with their parent/guardian to further clarify if things match.

If there are long lessons they could possibly do this for two or three children during the day.

Interview staff

Not just teachers. Not just middle leaders. Not just those from core subjects. As many staff as possible (Not just one panel over two days). Ask them questions that will support or challenge all other data.

Make the teacher survey compulsory. Give a student survey as well. Make them electronic so they auto analyse. Publish the results to all staff.

Speak with the caretakers and cleaners.

One inspector should spend most of the two days doing this.

Interview students

Don’t allow the school to organise this. Speak with many many students. Not just a small group.

Speak with them at break and lunch.

Observations

Observations  still happen but without a grade. However if a teacher is observed they should be interviewed for 10 minutes BEFORE the lesson and 15 minutes after. Not to judge the lesson but to establish how their lesson fits into the whole picture. They should have to show their mark book. Tell the inspector about the class. Who they are concerned about. Who their vulnerable children are. What they are doing to intervene. How this lesson fits into their scheme. How they felt it went. How it links with school priorities . How it links to their development targets and the CPD they’ve had to support this. It’s not feedback by the inspector, it’s a discussion about the class & the teacher.

Then speak with leader who line manages the person observed. Ask them what they think was seen. Do they know their team? Ask them questions to see how they work with their team. Check if it all matches.

SLT should be seen teaching.

The inspector should use all this information to triangulate with other sources.

Does this usually happen?

Possibly the best question they should use throughout the inspection with everyone.

Stand at the front gate from 8am both days and at end of school both days

Speak to the students that are late. Ask why. Ask what happens to them because they are late but also ask other questions. These are the students who may be the voices that tell a different story.

Speak to parents dropping off/picking up.

Knock on a few local doors. Ask residents their views. Do they know what is going on at the school. If there is a problem is it dealt with quickly.

On reflection I think that some of these inspectors are supposed to do but my emphasis is the amount of time doing this instead of interviewing senior leaders, the people with the biggest vested interest in the school.

Pre-inspection documentation should give as much info as possible so the inspection is about triangulation. Triangulation with with those that didn’t write it.

Data vs intervention: Actions speak louder than numbers (My #SLTcamp presentation & more!)

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I need to start by saying that I am a data geek. I love data.

However, it strikes me that many schools are putting too much emphasis on the ‘end’ point of the data. Creating pivot tables, data sheets, graphs, % increases and decreases are all about analysing what has already happened. Yes, it can be used to identify trends and plan intervention but at a whole group level without any background of how or why they’re at that level/grade.

A pivot table is a very useful tool....

A pivot table is a very useful tool….

This blog post aims to try to present a change of emphasis. It outlines a system of recording a different kind of ‘data’. That has the potential to make significant difference to the progress of a student.

When I first went to plan this for #SLTCamp I got cold feet and Mary Myatt recommended an interview with John Hattie in the TES. I’m glad I did as it gave me renewed confidence in what I was planning to say:

“The most important thing you should worry about is growth for every student,” he says. “Everyone deserves a year’s growth for a year’s input. Teachers should think more in terms of evaluating their impact. We have a mentality where we evaluate the students’ impact. That’s great, but the only way you do that is to have the teachers evaluating their impact on kids. If things aren’t improving maybe they need to change.

…… It’s simple: if your teaching practice is not having an effect on your students’ performance, you must change.”

He also thinks that teachers should work more collaboratively and talk about the things that matter. “Teachers aren’t as good as they should be at knowing each other’s impact and working with each other to change that,” he says. “Very rarely do they talk about their teaching; it’s all about curriculum, assessment and students.

“Too many teachers believe the essence of their profession is autonomy….”

He’s not the messiah .. Published in TES magazine on 14 September, 2012  By: Darren Evans

The data collecting process

Most teachers are told to enter data about their students anything from every 3 weeks to once a term. This data is usually one/some of the following:

  • Current level/grade
  • Predicted level/grade
  • Homework level/grade
  • Effort level/grade
  • Attitude level/grade

I believe that most of this data is for parents and leaders in a school, it doesn’t have much ‘behind’ it.

data end point

Creating the story

The power with that data is that it should tell a story. A story made of everything that has been done to support a student. This may include what is being done specifically for them in class, for homework or further interventions out of these areas. Not a list of detentions or the revision sessions they attended but a specific set of actions. The ideal would be that they enter any time anything is done for the student. Not just limited by a deadline.

It should also include the impact of the action, at a later date or additions if needed. There are no limits!

Examples of what could be included:

  • Moved in seating plan 5/11 (didn’t work). Moved again 19/11
  • Writing frame given. Writing significantly improved in second assessment
  • Level 5 homework sheet on fractions given 6/11
  • Called parents to update on progress.Very happy to support 13/11
  • Given list of 10 keywords. Will test 21/11
  • HOD spoke to Billy about quality of 3rd assessment at break on 20/11.agreed to use writing frame.
  • Given specialist writing pen.Writing significantly improved.18/11   (thanks to @annapalmer for sharing a great success with this)

more useful

Telling the story

I realised the following would have significant impact on how effective the system worked.

  • Staff need training and support in shifting from numbers/letters to actions that have impact
  • Staff should be able to be honest. If the record isn’t accurate, it’s worthless.
  • Actions cannot be superficial i.e told to come to revision
  • Staff understanding of the levels/grades has to be clear to be able to have effective interventions with impact.

Discussing & adding to the story

I believe that we should have a significant amount of time set aside to discuss the information that has been entered. In our case we met as a department the week after data was entered. As a head of subject, I used the filters on SIMS to analyse the data. I could then ask staff about individual students and how they were progressing. I could then also add what I was going to do to support that teacher and/or student where necessary. The record was amended or added to as appropriate.

We teach all key stage 3 and 4 and we just managed to do this in 2 hours.

Sharing the story

I set this up originally in SIMS assessment. The beauty of this is that staff could enter specific student data but a head of year could see all subject actions. By using the individual report feature you can then produce an A4 overview of everything relating to a student. The Head at the time found this incredibly useful when she had to meet with parents. Instead of having to ask all staff what we had been doing with a student, she asked the data admin to print this off and she instantly had a sheet of what we’d all done.

The filters on SIMS means you can then manipulate the data to show virtually any combination of students to see what is being done for them.

The other benefit of SIMS is that you can add to the comments as you do more and more with a student. It also records who made the change. This is really useful in some cases.

It can also easily be done in Excel using pivots and mail merge.

However we didn’t go the whole hog. The power of the data is when teachers start to share. Share successful interventions. Share what works/doesn’t work for a specific child. In some cases it makes you feel a bit better to see another teacher having the same issues as you.

Imagine starting in September with a new class in year 9. You have their numerical data from the past two years but you also have a record of every strategy in the classroom and outside that has been used with each student.

I think that this sort of knowledge about a child has the ability to empower teachers so that they can support students to achieve world class outcomes.

How can you use this data?

  • For hard mentoring – the more accurate and detailed information you have about a student the more affect mentoring can have
  • To use to share with parents what support their child has had from the school if they come in to discuss their child
  • Head of year/progress manager/tutor – they can have a holistic view of what the students is doing and what provisions have been made for them
  • Year on year – teachers & heads of department can evaluate the interventions they did the previous year and decide whether they are worth repeating
  • Use on similar students – where particular actions have been effective on a specific type of student, these interventions can be tried first with a similar student

If you already use a system that does this I would really love to hear how it is working and the impact that it may have had.

Feedback on feedback

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I use as much self and peer assessment as I possibly can, however this isn’t to reduce my marking. I still have to mark. In fact it increases the time spent marking as I have to read the original work and then read the feedback. However I have started in lessons to feedback on the feedback.

With peer marking however this is a potentially sensitive area as I’m not writing my comments about the work, but about the feedback given. Think of the student whose work is ‘perfect’ but has a reviewer who doesn’t feedback very well. They get my comments on their ‘perfect’ work!

"Good work mate" - Not exactly the feedback I was looking for!

“Good work mate” – Not exactly the feedback I was looking for!

So I’ve decided not to write feedback on feedback but make it part of the lesson. My lesson ‘menu’ that I write on the board (so students know what is happening that lesson) says “Feedback on feedback”. It has to be done the same or next lesson that the peer marking was done otherwise they will forget what they had read in the first place.

As part of the re-cap from last lesson I ask students to remind everyone what criteria we used to assess the piece of work and some of the ‘phrases’ they’re encouraged to use.

Students use the Academy SPAG policy with their red pen

Students use the Academy SPAG policy with their red pen

I then have only those whose feedback didn’t follow the guidelines in my hand. Only these are given out to the peers, along with the red pens.

In my classes the following applies:

Blue/Black pen – first draft

Red pen – self/peer assessment

Pink/purple pen/stampers – my feedback

Green pen – improvements/2nd draft

Advice in red from peer. Green pen shows they've made the improvement

Advice in red from peer. Green pen shows they’ve made the improvement

Everyone else gets the green pens to improve their work, if needed.

I use stampers to show I’ve checked work and show that it’s been peer/self assessed. This saves me a lot of time.

2013-10-01 09.46.272013-10-18 15.42.52

I think I will invest in a couple more saying something like “Good feedback given using criteria” and “Please make suggested improvements with green pen”.

It’s clear this work has been worked on!

After reminding students what ‘good’ feedback looks like they can then improve it. Albeit in this case he just focused on SPAG.

Second time lucky!

So feedback is sorted! Well not really.  I used a similar process with some A level students. Their feedback was spot-on. It followed exactly the criteria for the question. They could tell me why it was a good answer. One problem. It wasn’t actually correct. They’d followed the process of answering but what they’d written was incorrect.

Great feedback using the assessment criteria.One problem, their answer was wrong!

Great feedback using the assessment criteria.One problem, their answer was wrong!

So my lesson learnt is that I need to ensure that the two aspects of writing are equally understood by students; What they’re writing and also how to write it.

Strategies to help students with terminal exams

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As a teacher who has only ever taught subjects with 100% terminal exams I have developed strategies to deal with this. I have also had to deal with seeing students once a fortnight and regularly not seeing them for four or six weeks due to holidays or interrupted lessons.

So I thought I’d share some ideas of how schools may start to work with their staff on a coherent strategy to ensure students always do their best in this exam.

  • Practice makes perfect – ‘Mock’ exams – we manage to squeeze in 1 full mock exam before they sit their paper. Maybe schools should have regular practice of this? I believe it should be in the exact location, under the exact same conditions that they will be in in the real exam. It is about the ‘experience’ and ‘feeling’ of an exam that has the potential to make a difference
  • Find out which students have exam nerves. Find someone in school who can run a series of sessions on how to control nerves etc
  • Playing the ‘game’ – exam boards have their own rules and in some cases ‘hidden’ hoops. I teach students these from the first lesson. I believe that taking an exam is about 60% skill of answering the questions in the correct manner and 40% knowledge. i.e if you know HOW to answer the question without much knowledge you will do better than having complete knowledge and no idea how to do the exam.
  • Forewarned is forearmed – I believe students should see exemplar exam papers as early as possible. If they know what it looks like and touch them and see what they’re like, they’re less likely to choose the question they never studied or the question on a text they never read.
  • Homework – The homework I set has a direct link to what is needed in the exam. Is ‘finishing’ a piece of work a good use of homework time? Would it be better used embedding what they’ve learnt in class, to help with the memorisation of the topic?
  • Memory – I’ve been in contact with @davidfawcett27  this week. He has strategically planned his course based on research on how memory works. This includes common sense things like repetition of concepts and using thinking skills to stimulate independent thinking. I THINK THIS HAS THE POTENTIAL TO HAVE THE MOST IMPACT and I really want to start to use ideas in my course.
  • Tracking & monitoring – if we are accurately tracking and monitoring student progress, including across subjects we have a powerful tool to see how a student may perform in an exam. We can then do something about it. The problem is, it must be meaningful data. Teachers need to work together and have guidance on what this means in their subject.
  • Intervention strategies – At teacher, head of subject and whole student level this can have a massive impact. If we have the accurate data we can then do what is needed to ensure the student achieves. If we are doing regular testing, we can easily find out what a student’s strengths and weaknesses are. There can then be personalised intervention.
  • Teacher collaboration – We are the people teaching the students. We see them on a daily basis. We know how they think and how they work. Staff should be given time to discuss and share successful strategies. You never know, one member of staff may have the ‘magic touch’ with a student whilst the rest of his/her teachers are struggling. If this is shared, that student will have a better chance of success.
  • ‘Mock’ results day – I’ve seen this happen in other schools but haven’t done it myself. On a day after a series of mock exams students receive their results in an envelope, in the hall, as they would on the real results day. The idea is that any shock that may happen, happens in the mocks not on the real day.
  • High expectations – I’m really focusing on this, this year. ‘OK’ is not good enough. ‘No homework’ is not good enough. ‘sloppy presentation’ is not good enough. This creates an ethos. If the whole school does this, expectations change and the ethos changes.
  • Stress management – How many schools offer students stress management sessions? drop-in at lunch time? My year 11s are already saying their stressed. They still have 7 months!
  • 24/7 learning – Students work at weird times. For sure when I’m in bed snoozing! However, if we provide them with the facility to work when they want to with a high level of support then this may help. Students can email me anytime ( although I don’t keep my email on 24/7!), we have all resources on our website, staff are using Edmodo, I have a subject Twitter account, I have put help videos on the website for them and I have used podcasts in the past.
  • AfL using exam papers – Towards the real exam, my students are so sick of doing practice papers. They do a paper, I mark it, with feedback, they make improvements. They do another exam, reminding themselves before what they did wrong last time, and I repeat as many times as I possibly can! I keep a record of how they do on specific question types. I can then focus on specific intervention and students can focus on their weak areas in class. I truly believe that no work my students do is summative except for the final exam.

How about using a staff INSET day (or CPD session) to think about these and to share ideas/resources? Now that may have some impact!

Apologies for all the cliches 😉