For teaching to be effective you need to do this….

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For teaching to be effective you need to do this. How and when you do it, is up to you.

This is my current thought on teaching. We are increasingly aware of what generally ‘works’ in teaching; that which increases the amount of learning. A culmination of watching successful teachers and research, give us a good idea of what things teachers can include in their practice that promotes learning over other strategies.

Think of the best teachers you’ve met or worked with. What made them great? What did they do that seemed to have most impact? 

Suggested ‘things that (might) work’ from research are here:

We can keep on saying “Leave teaching to teachers. They’re the professionals” however having worked with many different teachers over my career, I believe it would be negligent of leaders, in all cases, to ‘leave it to teachers’. It’s an ideal but it’s not a reality.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of unknown things that may work and work even better. However, at this point in time, we believe these specific things matter and make a bigger difference than other things. We need to include them in our lessons.

In the mean time, if we want the best for learning, should we say to teachers “Your teaching must include these things, but how and when you do them is up to you”?

I think we do.

Why students don’t know until we teach them

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This blog is a reflection on a specific part of what I do; using folders for GCSE. However it could be applied to other aspects of teaching.

I’ve had people respond with ‘they’re not organised enough so the folder is a mess’ when I propose that students use folders to organise their work.

The point that these people miss is, that there is no reason why a student would know how to organise their folder if they’ve never used one before. In my introduction of using folders I’ve had to ‘train’ students in many ways. Believe it or not I have a mini session on ‘How to use a hole punch’. Why would they know how to use one properly if they’ve never been shown or had the inclination to find out?

The same goes for using divider tabs. I have to show them that the filing goes behind the tab and the tab should be labelled. They don’t just do it naturally. They need to be shown how and shown an example.

Some of you are probably thinking I’m wasting crucial learning time. I don’t see it that way. I see it as essential learning. The reality is it takes 10 mins of a 3 years. We don’t have a sixth form but I know that all my students that go on to further study, will know how to organise their work. This in turn will save their future teachers the hassle. It’s an essential skill for study.

I also think we can expand this model. So many teachers tell students to ‘revise’ yet they never show students how to revise or what it means. Unless they have the inclination to ask or google it, they won’t know how to do and they probably won’t do it. We’re doing our students a disservice if we don’t teach them how to revise before we ask them to do it.

So many teachers just ‘expect’ students to be able to do things when the reality is they don’t know how. Teachers need to think carefully about how they can effectively and efficiently support students in the skills need for learning as well as teaching them what they need to know.

Can everything and anything be justified to be used in the classroom?

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“… everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere…”

http://www.dylanwiliam.org/Dylan_Wiliams_website/Papers_files/Cambridge%20AfL%20keynote.doc

I have seen people on social media and in real life criticising the use of specific resources & ways of teaching. I’ve done it myself.

However, whilst I was recently planning a lesson for a particular class I considered a type of resource that I have not used for a long time. I had previously been told that it wasn’t a good type of resource and rather than assess it for my needs, I stopped using it.

I’m referring to ‘fill in the gap’ exercises.

I found a resource that was a ‘fill in the gap’ activity and thought how it could be useful for the students that I was planning for. It would:

  • Test they knew what the specific RE terms meant e.g Guru Granth Sahib
  • Make them recall last lesson’s learning

And if I really felt the need to justify it in terms of literacy, it:

  • Meant they had to identify the ‘type’ of word that would fit e.g noun, adjective
  • Test their spelling
  • Remind them what Guru means (and other keyword definitions)

And as an activity:

  • Didn’t take me any time to make it
  • Meant they could work alone without the need to chat (unless checking with each other)
  • I didn’t even have to explain what to do. They knew.
  • Give them a chance to settle as they came into class as we didn’t need to wait for latecomers to start

Had I really wanted to I could also have:

  • Cut off the words that went in the gaps, for further knowledge recall challenge and it would also check their independent spelling
  • Added red herrings so there were more words than gaps

So with all that justification, why are ‘fill in the gap’ activities so maligned? This got me thinking about other resources and ways of teaching:

Is it possible to justify all types of resources, all ways of teaching? If so, does anyone have the right to say that a certain resource or way of teaching shouldn’t be used?

Can all teaching activities be (sometimes tenuously) linked to cognitive science? 

 

 

I propose that it is possible to justify most, if not all teaching activities, including those that have recently been highlighted that specific research doesn’t support. It’s all in how you justify them. I also propose that most of these could be justified with cognitive science research if set up in a certain way. However, it is how they are used and the type of justification that matters.

I’ve seen people say ‘It works in my classroom, my with students so I’m going to use it‘ and other people criticise this. The issue is that I agree and I disagree I mainly disagree when any justifications are not weighted towards the learning of the knowledge and skills of the subject. They may focus ‘too much’ on trying to develop other skills or meet other ends that aren’t subject related.

For example, if I give my class a starter in Sikhism and I’ve been told that in my lesson I have to use literacy (a ridiculous situation but that’s for another blog) and I put GURU GRANTH SAHIB on the board and students them to write as many words as possible only using those letters, I could justify this:

  1. I can ask them what the Guru Granth Sahib is (subject knowledge & recall)
  2. It settles them down with little instruction
  3. They can work independently or collaboratively
  4. It tests their spelling skills
  5. I have included a literacy activity in my lesson plan

Only number 1 links to RE knowledge and skills and that is 20 seconds of the activity. The rest has nothing to do with RE. I would therefore argue it’s not a suitable activity for an RE lesson. However, you might argue that if it was a grammar/spelling lesson where they had been working on the use of ‘ing’ words, it ‘might’ be more appropriate.

So, I go back to Dylan’s quote. I don’t think it just refers to context of school or class when it says ‘somewhere’ I think it is more where it is done within the curriculum. It’s also not possible to argue that in all cases a specific teaching resource is inappropriate for teachers to use as it all depends on how it is used; nothing is intrinsically ‘bad’.

This is problematical as I know teacher use activities and resources that I don’t think they should be using. So when there need to be discussions with teachers about appropriateness of activity, get them to write down the justification/s. If subject knowledge and skills is outweighed by other reasons, it may be a waste of learning time.

I’m prepared to be challenged on this.

Why a misbehaving student should not be sent to another teacher

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This is a common part of a school’s behaviour system; if a child is misbehaving in class, they’re sent to another colleague to work.

I personally think it is a weak system. Here’s why….

Sending them to another teacher that has a class

  1. If a child’s behaviour isn’t good enough in one class and they’re sent to another teacher, they may go on to misbehave. They’ve potentially disrupted 60 children’s learning in one period.
  2. Depending on the teacher they’re sent to will depend on the outcome. Staff that struggle with behaviour management that get sent a student from somewhere else will struggle. Consequently, those staff with strong behaviour management may get more than the fair share
  3. The teacher will have to constantly check a student, that will probably be doing different work, is getting on, thus distracting from their own class.
  4. Students are inquisitive. They ask why that student has come to their class. All you need is for one student who knows the incoming student to make a comment and the their presence in the new class becomes problematical.
  5. It some cases, the student will enjoy the class more than their original class and will then protest that ‘Teacher Y is better than teacher X’ or their ‘class is more fun’. This creates divisions and the child may deliberately misbehave in their original class just to get into the ‘fun’ class.
  6. Often, sixth form classes are used for the student to ‘sit at the back’. Why should sixth form lessons constantly be disrupted? How is that fair? The teacher will also be conscious of the student, will have to check on them and depending on the subject being taught, it may not be appropriate for a younger student to be present.
  7. One student may be fine, what if a department have 8 classes on at once and they all have one misbehaving student? It is impossible to send them to one colleague.

Sending them to another teacher that doesn’t have a class

  1. ‘They’ll sit quietly and get on with their work’ – this might be the case but they can sit quietly elsewhere and do their work so the member of staff can ‘relax’ during their non-contact lesson.
  2. Teachers have the ‘right’ to have time out from students. If it is your one free period of the week, why do you want to have a student in your room?
  3. Depending on the circumstances, a student may want to talk to the teacher/ask about the work. A teacher may be busy and could do without an added pressure on their time.
  4. PPA is for planning and preparation, not looking after misbehaving students.
  5. As 5 above, if this student knows the consequence is to go and sit with this teacher, they may start to choose this rather than to misbehave.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that teachers shouldn’t take responsibility and contribute to the whole school community but in the vast majority of schools where students misbehave it is much better for students to be sent to a specific room (isolation/withdrawal etc) where one person looks after these students than to possibly cause more issues for other students, other staff and waste learning time. It is then for the teacher and HOD to attempt to resolve/organise a consequence/meet with the student at another time.

I’m not sure why schools use this system. I get the feeling it may ‘water down’ the overall impression of poor behaviour and thus leaders may feel there aren’t behaviour issues. Misbehaving students are located all around the school, instead of in one room. If student A, misbehaves in every period 1-5 and is sent to another teacher, they may well not be picked up by a behaviour manager. If they’re in a separate withdrawal room 5 times in one day it is clear there’s an issue and someone whose role to deal with this can intervene to get them back on track. You would hope it would get to period 3 and they may not even get to period 4/5 as they clearly aren’t engaged. It’s preventative instead of reactive.

Leaders may argue that departments need to manage themselves. This sort of leadership, in my opinion, is weak and often an indication that the leaders themselves cannot manage or do not know how to manage the whole school behaviour.

Overall, I think this system puts unneeded added pressure on teachers in schools to ‘deal with it themselves’ instead of taking a whole school perspective on behaviour.