Sunday, 29 September 2013

DKLs, planning and marking

This week brought new meaning to the term 'Door Knob Lesson' as described by @judeenright in her blog ( I arrived at school on Thursday morning to find that none of the computers in our block were working and that all the lovely schemes of work, lesson plans, objectives, resources, etc were completely inaccessible. I had a double year 10 lesson to start the day where my planning had been reduced to a few scribblings on a bit of paper in my planner ("revise C1.5, start C1.6"). The reaction to the news in our department was varied to say the least, from loud, shared panic to others who immediately sought out a pair of 80s glasses and spent the day embracing the retro feel of being without technology (my other half, who else?) I went along the route of trying to carry on as normal without the students noticing that I now had no real plan or resources and was rewarded when one of my year 10 girls stated half way through the less "your lessons are so creative Miss" (I wish I could have recorded it...)

I'd had a lovely new title slide inspired by Zoe Elder (@fullonlearning) ready to roll out that was reduced to me writing it on the white board (I still love the 'we are learning to ... so that we can ...') alongside success criteria and key words.

Powerpoint should be up on TES - search 'helenlochead' in resources

I then allowed my responding to feedback starter to take longer than I normally would have done and this is something that I actually want to make sure I repeat in the future. I'd marked students books using a feedback table that was created by a colleague in our department as a result of looking at how we give feedback last year. The idea is that the teacher spends less time writing out the same few WWW and EBIs and just ticks/crosses whether the success criteria was met or not. The written feedback should be a question or a small task that helps the student to meet the remaining criteria, rather than just stating which criteria they did not meet. The LfL part (language for learning, our whole school literacy policy) is used to highlight the first three spelling mistakes and students are asked to write out the correct spelling. Students are also given 'sentence starters' to help them get going with their feedback and corrections. 

We are asked to mark books twice a half term and I'm trying to make sure that I purposefully set a task that I know (and the students know) I will be marking instead of just doing work in lessons and then choosing a piece when I flick through the books before marking. Copying and pasting the graded success criteria from our Chemistry schemes of work and adding a few sentence starters means that the feedback sheet is quick and easy to create. I then print out four on a sheet of A4 and guillotine them up before sticking into students books. Ideally I'd get students to stick them in themselves but I've not managed to be organised enough yet!

Spending (nearly) a whole day without computers was definitely a challenge, but I think it was enlightening in a way to know that you don't need to spend hours and hours planning lessons or making resources in order to create a great learning environment. Coincidentally, Jim Smith (@thelazyteacher) is coming to do whole school training with us on Thursday, and I've also just submitted my tagline for the 'inspiring teachers' group I'm leading at school this year: "Investigating ways of creating high impact lessons efficiently – working smarter not harder in order to achieve a work life balance whilst ensuring high quality teaching and learning."

Blog post on my three "this week I've tried" activities to follow...

Saturday, 21 September 2013

This week I've tried...

This week I did a bit better at sticking to my three activities, but also remembered that it's ok to allow for a degree of flexibility when the activities weren't appropriate or when I found something that fit better (like the brilliant conclusion builder from that I used in my A2 Chemistry practical lessons this week - check out this blog for loads more amazing ideas too!)

So this week I tried...

Slow writing
Students do a first draft (seen in blue below) of their work but only use every other line before going back and editing (seen in black below) in another colour to improve their work. The catch is that when they do their first draft they have to follow certain rules (e.g. the first sentence must have exactly six words, the second sentence must contain at least one verb, the third sentence must begin with the letter D, the fourth sentence must include alliteration, etc.) This activity always takes students a while to get into it but it's worth persevering and the next time will be easier!

Gallery critique
Students were asked to make notes for homework and then had to display their work for others to critique. Each student left their mini whiteboard (a4 whiteboards - single greatest investment our department has ever made in my opinion!) with their work for other students to give WWW and EBIs. I had to remind students to be kind, specific and helpful in their feedback and the quality of feedback improved when I told students their feedback had to tell the other person something to actually do to their work. I also gave students one praise sticker each to award to the piece of work they thought was best with a winner being announced at the end.

Students used foldables to summarise their work - I always stand at the front to model/demo the folding and cutting, and even the A level students struggle to make six equal sized pieces! Just google 'foldables' for loads more ideas as well.

Tablet trick
This week my year 9 top set had their first lesson with tablets. Once we had established some ground rules (tablet time starts now, tablet time ends in 321... Thank you to my other half for coining the alliterative phrase!) we spent the lesson researching how white blood cells work. Instead of students just googling I got them to download a free qr code reader and created some static qr codes linked to useful websites that I printed off before the lesson. I used which is really simple - just copy and paste the web address and click 'generate'. The students loved the treasure hunt element of the lesson (I think I originally got this idea from a tweet by @sue_cowley), although on reflection I probably should have had 10 questions for them to be answering but they're a top set and work well independently.

One last thing: This week I showed my form the news report about Daniel Pelka ( I have had my form since year 7 (they're now year 10) and it is the first time I've seen them speechless. I then asked them to come up with one word to sum up what they thought about what they had seen and they used words like 'devastated', 'heatbreaking' and 'preventable'. I told them the reason I shared this with them was because, even though it is upsetting' I want them to know that I am always there for them and that they can come to me with any worry, big or small, even if they think it's insignificant. So on reflection the hardest part of the week for teachers isn't the three and a half hour open evening to attract new students to the school, it isn't the after school meeting that you attend to discuss behavioural concerns with a C/D borderline student and their achievement worker, it isn't even the A level exam results meeting with the Head period 6 on a Friday - it's being there for (and worrying about in so many different ways) every single child that you come across in a week. 

Saturday, 14 September 2013

This week I've tried...

Returning to school this September for my third year of teaching (or fourth if you include the NQT year) I'm determined to find ways of working smarter instead of working harder. In order to keep juggling the various different responsibilities I have this year I want to carry on thinking of ways that I can (no doubt sometimes desperately!) try to maintain a work life balance.

One of the things I've started is deciding three activities a week to use with every single one of my classes. Doing this should allow me to improve my teaching of a particular activity but should also reduce the amount of planning needed. I remember starting as an NQT and feeling like I had to do different activities with every class before realising that those classes are probably never going to talk to each other, and even if they did the generic activity would have been about a different topic anyway!

So, this week I tried...

Points progress/Rapid progress by @teachertoolkit
A great way of checking and showing progress. you can find more detail in the TES resource by @teachertoolkit but essentially you ask students to write down what they know already about a topic/idea (no success criteria given!) then show them the success criteria as points. They give themselves an initial score and then continue to improve their work throughout the lesson before giving themselves a (higher!) points score at the end. I used this in a lesson observation at the end of last year that was graded outstanding by a current Ofsted inspector who came in to do some work with our department so it's worth a try (and I think it works brilliantly irrespective of what Ofsted think!)

Quiz quiz trade
I described this activity at the Hounslow Teachmeet and it's still one of my favourites (thanks to our Language for Learning coordinator at school for introducing it to me a couple of years ago!) Essentially all youhave to do is write 6 questions with the answer underneath each question and print them off a cut into slips. Each student should have a slip with one question (and the answer) on it. Students circulate around the room and spontaneously pair up and in their pair ask each other their question. The activity can be used as revision (where students should know the answers and their pair is just checking) or as a way of introducing new information (where the pair tells them the answer if they can't guess it). Once each student has asked their question (Quiz, Quiz) the pair trade slips (Trade) so they have a different question before finding someone else to pair up with. With my higher ability sets I did this using bits of information instead of questions and answers so that students have to teach each other a bit of information before trading (Teach, Teach, Trade as one of my year 9 students named it).

20 second summary
At the end of the lesson students are given a few minutes individual preparation time to come up with a 20 second summary of what they have learnt today. Once the time is up you select a few students to share their summary with the class.

I'm going to be completely honest and say that I did actually struggle to remember to do all of the activities with all of my classes. Even though some of them are so simple to do (the 20 second summary for example) I still find myself getting caught up in worrying about whether I've covered all the content or whether every child is behaving and making progress... I guess I'll just have to become a bit more disciplined about sticking to my 'three activities a week' diet!

In other news... All the students at our school are getting tablets as part of a trial programme and I've been lucky enough to be given a Motorola Xoom to aid my teaching. I'm going to try and find something new to try with the tablets every week as well.

Tablet trick for this week: A colleague in my department recommended "Teacher Aide Pro 2" (£7.99 from the Google Play store) which is fantastic for keeping track of homework/assessments as well as for creating and changing seating plans. There are quite a few other features that I haven't got to grips with yet but there are helpful video tutorials and I think if you ask any of the other teachers in our department that have invested in this app they'll say it was £7.99 well spent.