Sunday, 27 October 2013

Manageable and meaningful marking #blogsync October

I challenge you to find a single teacher that actually enjoys marking. After three years I'm still not a huge fan but I've tried to find ways to make my marking manageable but, more importantly, meaningful. I was given the opportunity to run a session on feedback for NQTs this term alongside one of our Assistant Heads and this (combined with the October theme of 'marking' for #blogsync) seemed like a good time to reflect on my own practice.

What do I mark?
As an NQT I would spend hours trying to mark every piece of work and it took a lot of repetition from my Head of a Department before I recognised the value of only marking selected pieces of work. I now try and set certain pieces of work with the intention of marking it (as opposed to looking through student books after the event to try and pick a piece) and make sure that students know what I will be looking at. See the brilliant post by @MaryMyatt "Should I be marking every piece of work?" for more on this.

How do I mark it?
In order to make my marking easier I try and share the specific success criteria with students so they have a checklist. Recently I've been printing off these checklists so that they can be stuck in and I can tick and cross each criteria instead of writing out the same few WWWs and EBIs for students. The time that I save on re-writing the success criteria can then be spent writing a question or giving a hint to students on how to respond to their feedback (see my post from 29th September for an example). I also love the 'purple page of progress' idea from Danielle Kohlman (@kohlmand), a great way of making feedback stand out and become more useful for learning.

Why do I mark it?
There are so many answers to this one: because I'm supposed to, because I'll be criticised in our department book scrutiny if I don't, because one day Ofsted might pick up one of the books during an observation... I think the best reason for marking books can be found in David Didau's (@LearningSpy) blog post "Marking is an Act of Love" - we mark because we want it to have an impact. I couldn't agree more with David's argument (and that of many other bloggers on this topic) that for marking to be effective we need to give students DIRT time (dedicated improvement and reflection time). This is something I've tried really hard to fit into my lessons this year and I was amazed when I marked my books for a second time to see that nearly every student had completed a 'learner response' to their EBI. This certainly didn't happen in my books last year, and I doubt it would have happened this year if I hadn't given students DIRT time or made them aware that they have the resources (their own exercise books, their peers, the textbook, the internet on their tablets, me...) that will allow them to improve their work. I also think it is really important to acknowledge that students have completed their learner responses, perhaps with a snazzy sticker like we have at Greenford High. This continues the (written) student teacher dialogue and might even encourage students to have a quick look back at their work and remember what they did two or three lessons ago.

I'm still not saying that I love marking books (especially the part where I found out that between me and my partner my Toyota Aygo doesn't have enough boot space for us both to fit our half term marking in...) but I certainly feel a lot more positive about it knowing that it will take me a maximum of an hour and a half per 30 books and knowing that the marking allows students to make progress.

('What, How, Why' taken from Zoe Elder (@fullonlearning), one of the books on my half term 'thank goodness I finally have the mental space to be able to read this in depth' reading list... Other books include 'Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential' by Carol Dweck and finally finishing 'What's the Point of School?' by Guy Claxton)

Mary Myatt

Danielle Kohlman

David Didau

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Why I will be striking on October 17th

Tomorrow I'm going to take the difficult decision not to go into school and teach the students that I care so much about in order to try and win a longer term improvement for their education.

The union will be claiming that the strike is over pensions, pay and working conditions and I agree but I think more needs to be said about the impact that the changes to pensions, pay and working conditions will have on our students. Our core purpose of improving the life chances of the students that we work with day in and day out is being threatened by rapid and ill thought out change at government level.

If you make teachers pensions worse (even though the current system works and is apparently in credit) you are less likely to attract the best people into our profession and so students will not have the best teachers in front of them. Making teachers work until they are 68 is virtually physically impossible if they are expected to keep up with the current demands of being in the classroom and providing high quality learning experiences. Forcing older colleagues out of the profession also means that students are missing out on valuable expertise acquired over a lifetime in teaching.

Performance related pay is not about paying good teachers more, it's about paying more teachers less. The overall budget hasn't changed so for every teacher you pay more, another one has to be paid less. This will lead to negative competition between colleagues in schools and will start to erode the community of support that our students have around them from every subject teacher, every pastoral worker and every member of senior leadership that cares about them. In addition the best teachers will avoid the worst schools because they won't be able to guarantee the performance that will get them a pay rise. This means that students from socially deprived backgrounds will be further deprived by not having access to the best teachers.

Working conditions
I love my job. I love the students that I get to work with on a daily basis and I love watching them learn. If I'm honest though I often struggle to be as good as I want to be for the students because my PPA time every week is nowhere near enough to plan the amazing lessons that I want to do, never mind trying to fit it all the marking and other professional duties that are expected of me. I want to do all of these things, I'm not being lazy and trying to get out of them - I genuinely want to do everything that I can for my students, but I can barely manage it now and I certainly don't know how I would do this if my PPA time was taken away from me, or if I was told to be in school from 7am until 6pm, or if I had to cover lessons for colleagues and invigilate exams. All of this could happen and all of it will directly impact on the quality of learning that is able to take place in our schools.

I couldn't agree more that our education system needs reforming, that we need to reconsider our curriculum and examination system and that perhaps our payscale isn't perfect in the current form. I also know that we can't fight for positive changes to be made when we are desperately trying to cling on to what we have already fought for.

I don't want my students to miss their lessons with me tomorrow but I feel like Michael Gove has left me with no other way to fight for the future of British education but to go on strike. I know that I couldn't live with myself if I found myself in a classroom in five years (or even in a year) thinking "I wish it wasn't like this" and knowing that I didn't stand up for my students against the changes. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

This week I've tried... The self-development edition

Last week I think I experienced many of the 'continuous professional development' opportunities that the education system has to offer, all that was missing was a TeachMeet and maybe some whole school training... I was asked by @benton_clare on Friday (after discussing the toll that being so ridiculously busy has taken on us!) which I thought was best and it made me think that I should take the time to reflect before it all passes me by.

This week I've tried...

  • Masters in Science Education King's College London "What makes a good dissertation"
  • Leading our Coaching Programme in department meeting
  • Teaching Leaders Middle Leadership "Navigating your team through change"
  • Being observed by HOD
  • Observing a colleague
  • Action research group with Zoe Elder (@fullonlearning)
In true teacher style I've gone for the traditional WWW/EBI approach, although I'm not sure if I'll be able to persuade some of the parties involved to do their 'learner responses'!

Masters in Science Education King's College London "What makes a good dissertation"
WWW I now have a clearer focus for my dissertation topic, we looked at examples of abstracts from previous dissertations and it was useful to have the opportunity to discuss ideas with a variety of other Masters students (some full time, some part time but teaching in different subjects, or in primary)
EBI A disappointing lack of 'practice what you preach' from King's College - too much teacher talk and nowhere near enough time for discussion on the practicalities of how to get started or setting action points for our next steps

Coaching in department meeting
WWW The gift of time! 30 mins was kindly given by our HOD for discussion in coaching pairs and I got to witness the realisation by the two colleagues I was working with that coaching provides an opportunity to discuss concerns and come to your own solutions by having someone listen. Observing the interaction in pairs and giving feedback on how to improve the coaching process was interesting as well.
EBI If I had maybe put people in groups of three or four so that they could all observe the coaching process instead of just leaving people in their pairs. I also want to set up an anonymous survey to see whether all colleagues found the process useful or not.

Teaching Leaders Middle Leadership "Navigating your team through change"
WWW Considering 'what does successful change look like?' as a group. Looking at the 'personal transition curve' for those leading the change, but also for those being affected by the change ( Looking at the Kotter 8 step change model and applying it to a change that I am currently attempting (
EBI More time had been spent on how to effectively implement change/overcome the barriers and strategies that would allow a team to move on along the 'personal transition curve' 

Being observed by my HOD
WWW Seeing the impact of thorough planning and positivity on a C/D borderline class - my HOD commented that he'd never seen a class where every single student was engaged all of the time. I feel like this is the ultimate goal for a teacher - if our students are engaged they'll learn more.
EBI Don't wake up at 3am in a panic about being observed. Being (uncomfortably) aware that if I had time to plan all lessons more thoroughly they would be better...

Observing a colleague
WWW My colleague recognised that they wanted to improve their teaching with this set 4 class and we discussed strategies before agreeing to a follow up observation in a couple of weeks - I love working in a department where everyone is always trying to improve so that they can provide the best for their students.
EBI Wishing I done this as a 'developmental' observation rather than a 'judgemental' observation - the teacher, and more importantly the students, might have got more out of it. I feel like I've seen something about this on twitter, or read about it somewhere - now I'm going to have to research it! The conversation @benton_clare and I had with @fullonlearning on Friday gave me some excellent starting points though.

Action research group with Zoe Elder
WWW Collaborating with colleagues, beginning to understand the principles of action research, considering potential enquiry questions for my own action research, creating a 'web' with colleagues and spotting the links between our potential action research plans, being given time to be able to do all of this!
EBI Every school got to do this! I'm not sure whether action research would appeal to all teachers but by being selective perhaps there can be a 'trojan mouse' effect across a school (

I think I would find it hard to pick a favourite from the list above, they all had value in terms of improving either my teaching, the teaching of others or improving my leadership and management skills - all of which should directly impact on the students. I loved the Action Research Group for bringing me back to the core purpose of being a teacher - the learning but I also really enjoyed working with colleagues in my own department through lesson observations and the coaching programme. That's not to say that the Masters or Teaching Leaders sessions weren't valuable, they're just a little more removed from the day to day classroom but ultimately they're still linked to the bigger picture of providing better teaching and learning.

A quick final point: One of the things I noticed that came up as I was writing this is the fact that I always want more time for something! As a fourth year teacher I feel like I'm starting to get slightly better at maintaining a work-life balance but I wonder how long that will last if Michael Gove gets his way with our working conditions...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

This week I've tried...

A slightly belated post from the activities I tried last week...

Summary spirals
This can be done with scrap paper - students cut out a circle and then cut into and around the circle to make a spiral. They can leave a slightly larger centre to put key words in and then write their summary from the centre outwards (if they run out of space they can just turn around and write back towards the middle!)

I then got students to move around the classroom and pair up when I said 'pause' so they could show off their spirals and award a sticker to the best one (each students gets one sticker - see 'gallery critique' in a previous post)

Scrunch and throw
Again, scrap paper is fine to use for this. Students write down everything they can remember from the lesson/from a topic before (loosely!) scrunching up the paper. Don't forget to get students to put their name on or getting the right sheet back to the original owner will be a nightmare, as I discovered the first time I did it... Students then throw the paper (not at each other, not at me) and pick up a new one. They they add more information from their own knowledge in a different colour before scrunching and throwing again. On the final 'unscrunch' they are allowed to use textbooks/exercise books/other resources to add new information in a final colour.

Speed dating
Students stand in two lines facing each other (see the lovely picture of my year 13 Chemistry students - they were very excited about being in a blog post!) One student asks the questions and is allowed to use the textbook if they need to and the other student answers. After a minute or two you move one student from one line to the opposite end of the line and everyone else moves one place to fill the gap. Then switch sides for the students that are asking the questions.

In other news: I'm very excited about teaching lessons the 'lazy way' after our amazing inset by @thelazyteacher, will try and get the best ideas down in a blog at some point - if only there were more hours in the day!