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Michaela’s Blog

Posted on June 27, 2015 by Katie Ashford

Knowledge is Power

When I began blogging in 2013, the argument that knowledge should be at the heart of the curriculum was readily rejected. The most common counter-argument was that rote learning of lists of facts was a waste of time as it would not lead to ‘deep learning’ (whatever that means) or understanding. Since that time, the debate seems to have shifted somewhat. Fewer people now argue that knowledge is irrelevant. Instead, critics argue that knowledge is just the beginning, or that we should somehow teach knowledge and skills simultaneously, or that a distinction between knowledge and skills is a false dichotomy (yawn).

I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of knowledge. It’s one of the reasons I joinedMichaela– where our motto is ‘Knowledge is Power’. Although I’ve always believed that a knowledge- rich curriculum could lead to great things, I had never seen it in action until I came to work at this school. Over the past year, I have come to see the impact that knowledge can have on a child’s ability to make interesting connections and links, and to analyse and evaluate ideas. At Michaela, all our children are expected to learn lists of facts by rote. This is still very unusual and there are many out there who criticise us for it.

But time and time again, I have seen the value of learning such lists of facts. Not only do pupils genuinely enjoy knowing loads of stuff, this rote learning has proved to be incredibly useful when they come across new knowledge. They are able to make connections and inferences that someone who lacks such knowledge would simply not be able to make.

Here is one of my favourite examples of this:

I was reading through a biography of Percy Shelley with ‘Poseidon’- one of my year 7 classes and my tutor group. Many of the pupils in this class have reading ages far below their chronological age. More than half the class have Special Educational Needs.

On this particular occasion, we were preparing to study Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’. In the biography, we came across this piece of information:

Shelley began writing his poem in 1817, soon after the announcement that the British Museum was to acquire a large fragment of a 13BC statue of Rameses II from Egypt.”

I explained that Rameses II was a powerful Egyptian Pharaoh.

Within seconds, a forest of hands shot up. Slightly baffled, I asked one of the pupils to tell me what was wrong.

“Miss, how could Rameses II be a Pharaoh in 13BC when Egyptian civilisation ended in 31BC? Miss, that doesn’t make sense.”

I was stumped and couldn’t answer for this. It later transpired that there had been a typo in the printed version of the biography. Instead of 13BC, the date should have said 1213BC. Because I lacked knowledge of the date of the end of Egyptian civilisation (which the pupils had learned in Mr Porter’s History lesson), I would never have been able to spot the mistake. In fact, I would have had a completely incorrect understanding of Rameses II and the statue, which was over a thousand years older than I had believed it was.

In this instance, a lack of relevant knowledge rendered me incapable of grasping an accurate understanding of the facts. I consider myself to be a relatively good ‘critical thinker’ (although I’m sure many readers may disagree!), but my ability to think critically was useless in this instance because of the gaps in my knowledge. My pupils, by contrast, had been empowered by their knowledge. Consequently, they were in a far stronger position to critically analyse the text they had been given than I was.

Rote learning is perceived to be a dull, mindless activity that leads to little other than parrot-like recall, but this simply is not the case. On the contrary, mastering lists of important dates is essential for critical thinking to take place.

Posted on 16 June, 2015 by Bodil Isaksen

Maths teachers. Let’s create something awesome.

Summer project: Codifying the knowledge

Spend two weeks at Michaela, expenses paid, working on our curriculum and resourcing. I’m keen to think deeply about knowledge organisers in maths. What knowledge should we include to cover the whole secondary curriculum? How should it be structured and organised? How can we align our curriculum sequence, resources, and assessment optimally in line with this?

I’m particularly excited to work alongside Bruno Reddy, Kris Boulton and the folks at memriseon this. We want to map out and capture “the knowledge” in maths, from year 1 to year 11. We think memrise might be a great tool to capture it on.

We’ve already got some great people, including a cognitive science expert, working on similar projects in English and Science, being led by Joe Kirby.

Ideally, you would work for a 2 week period starting on 3 August, though the length of time and start date are flexible. There is scope to work from home if travel to Wembley would be inconvenient.

If you like thinking about the curriculum and knowledge in maths, and love talking to keen beans like Joe, Kris, and Bruno about it then this project will be right up your street.

Express an interest here.

Full time teaching post: Catapulting our highest attainers

A little while ago, Simon Singh got in touch with me. He told me he’d been bemoaning the lack of attention given to teaching our highest attainers in STEM for years. Now he wanted to try to do something about it. So we’re giving it our best shot.

We want to take the top 5-10 children from Years 7 and 8 at Michaela and Colin Hegarty’s school, Preston Manor (just round the corner from us), and give them a really special maths education. One that truly stretches them and puts them on the road to Oxbridge STEM. If you think talented young mathematicians deserve something more strategic and long term than a desperate last minute scramble of STEP questions in year 13, this is for you. We want to give these pupils an education like this all the way through from year 7 to sixth form.

We’re looking for a full time teacher to make this a reality. Someone who loves maths (especially the sort of Oxford MAT/Cambridge STEP/UKMT/Olympiad stuff) and can do a brilliant job of teaching and inspiring small groups of keen, high attaining kids to go further than would be possible in a class of 30. QTS is not a necessity.

Interested?

Cross-school collaboration: Brent Maths Network

When I started at Michaela, I had no idea that two of my favourite twitter maths teachers,@hegartymaths and @nicked82 were both less than 5 minute walk from my classroom. And given the 1% rule, I’m sure there are scores more incredible maths teachers that I don’t know yet in the area.

I’m starting a Brent Maths Network for maths teachers in Wembley, Harlesden and surrounding areas to connect; share ideas, concerns, problems and solutions;  and host events like teachmeets.

Our first meeting is a pizza night on the 24th June, hosted at Michaela. Michaela is easy to get to (it’s right by Wembley Park tube) so if you’re a maths teacher in the North West, do come along. And, y’know, free pizza.

If you’d like to come along, follow this link.

Visiting

Maybe none of the above quite works for you, but you’re still interested in what we’re doing at Michaela. We love visitors! Visitors normally arrive late morning to have a tour and see some lessons before joining us for family lunch at 12:30. We have an open door policy, so you can observe lessons as you wish.

If you fancy coming along at some point before the summer holidays, fill out this eventbrite form. If you’d like to ask more questions before committing to a visit, fill out this form.

Posted on 13 June, 2015 by Bodil Isaksen

The underrated teacher qualities

These are the underrated teacher qualities.

Reliability. 

Turning up day in, day out. Turning up year in, year out. Getting that thing done for Mrs W that you said you’d get done, even when Mrs W is too sheepish to remind you to do it. Kids knowing what they’ll get when they show up to your door. A calm sense of self assurance. A sense that if you stick with me, I’ll teach you what you need to be wildly successful. A reliable pair of hands trumps jazz hands every time.

Subject nerdery.

Yes, we see subject knowledge on every ticklist out there, but it tends to be ticked off thoughtlessly unless there’s a reason for alarm bells. By subject nerdery, though, I mean being unabashedly in love with the nitty gritty of your subject. Pursuing that love through day-to-day habits. Listening to history podcasts while you iron. Opening your department meetings with a maths problem to solve. Listening to French talk radio while you get ready in the mornings. As well as improving your subject knowledge, the fact you’re dedicating time to learning more about your subject shows the children you genuinely value it as an academic pursuit.

Liking kids.

Wanting to spend time with your charges. Your pupils genuinely bringing you some joy. Yeah, you can fake it, and Lord knows you need to fake it sometimes. But faking it is exhausting. It’s hard for teaching to be your career forever if the faking it is constant. It’s also important for teachers to like kids when they’re their best. I always raise an eyebrow when I hear “oh, I just love the naughty kids” or similar. It’s toxic if pupils get any sense that negative behaviour, which will ultimately hold them back in life, gets them more affection or attention from teachers. Love the quiet kids. Love the beige kids. Love the kids that slog it out day-in-day-out without remarkable results either way.

Explaining clearly. 

Get a reputation for explaining complex things so they seem simple, and you’ll win the respect of all but the toughest kids. No gimmicks required. Explanations are chronically neglected in ITT and CPD. One picks up tidbits from colleagues over time, one might stumble across techniques like economy of language, but it’s too rare, too unsystematic, too arbitrary. I suspect we’d need to worry less about the CPD biggies of AfL, differentiation, and engagement strategies, if we just spent a little more energy on strengthening our explanations so more children understood more of what was going on in the first place.

This isn’t novel or new. Ask people about their favourite teacher from their own school days and I suspect they’d embody many of these traits. How sad that gimmicks, vested interests, bad research, dodgy CPD, managerialism, and observation culture has made use lose sight of these simple truths.

Posted on June 6, 2015

Butterfly                    Hornet

When teachers were asked about workload, 44,000 responded. Teachers work 50-to-60 hour weeks, often starting at 7am, often leaving after 6pm, and often working weekends. Some 90% of teachers have considered giving up teaching because of excessive workload, and 40% leave the profession within 5 years. There are teachers out there working 90 hour weeks.

For a school, there are great benefits to leading the way on reducing workload. Teachers who aren’t exhausted teach better. We contribute more over a longer time period. We are far happier to invest time in building trusting, caring, affirming relationships with children. We stay calmer in difficult confrontations, and are less likely to be short-tempered in everyday interactions. We support and encourage each other better. New teachers improve faster, veteran teachers stay longer, and everyone works smarter. A school that pioneers healthy work-life balance is more likely to attract teachers to join – and little matters more in a school than recruiting and retaining good people.

As a school leader, it’s worth asking: “what do you want teachers to say about the school when they’re with friends and family?”

In the school I work in, what I’d most like teachers to say is this: “We work smart. We focus only on what most improves learning. We stop ourselves from doing some good things, so we can put first things first.” 

What it takes to reduce workload is a shift in the mindset and culture of school leaders and teachers.

You won’t spend very long at Michaela without hearing teachers mentioning hornets or butterflies. I first borrowed the analogy in 2012 from Sir Tim Brighouse, who said that hornets are high-effort, low-impact ideas, and butterflies are low-effort, high-impact ideas. Barry Smith has advised teachers for years to think about ‘learning return on time invested’. Since then it has become a part of our everyday chat at Michaela.

EffortImpact

We can view everything we do at school through this lens. The idea is to get rid of the biggest hornets and search for the hidden butterflies.

Seeking out Hornets As senior team, we think ferociously hard about every decision through the lens of the impact-to-effort ratio. We encourage all middle leaders and teachers to do the same in their own arenas. Here’s what we’ve decided not to do:

  • No graded or high-stakes observations
  • No performance-related pay or divisive bonuses
  • No appraisal targets based on pupil data
  • No individual lesson plans at all
  • No expectation of all-singing, all-dancing lessons
  • No starters, plenaries, group work, attention grabbers, whizzy/jazzy nonsense
  • No cardsorts, discovery activities or flashy interactive whiteboards
  • No writing, sharing or copying learning objectives or outcomes
  • No extensive photocopying of worksheets
  • No shoe-horning of IT into lessons
  • No mini-plenaries or checks on progress within a lesson
  • No labour-intensive homework collection, marking or chasing up
  • No unnecessary manual data input or entry
  • No unnecessary paperwork
  • No labour-intensive written ‘dialogue’ marking
  • No time-wasting, temporary display
  • No split timetabling
  • No long-winded written reports to parents

It’s such a relief not to have to do any of these things and be free to focus on what matters most: our subjects and our pupils.

Searching for Butterflies

Resourcing

Knowledge organisers are the ultimate renewable resource: they can be used by every future year-group and every teacher who teaches them. A knowledge curriculum, teacher-led instruction and strong textbooks reduce workload by eschewing differentiated or personalised resourcing. I’ll write about this idea of renewable resourcing in another post.  

Homework

We replace the hornet of setting, chasing, checking, marking and logging homework withrevision, reading and online Maths – three of the most beautiful butterflies out there.  

Marking

Written marking is the ultimate non-renewable resource. By contrast, multiple-choice questions and icons are butterflies. I’ll write about our feedback approach and minimalist marking in another post.  

Two-Week Half-Term

Teaching teenagers full-time is an exhausting job in itself. The simple decision to have a two-week Autumn half-term has a powerful impact on staff energy in the longest term of the year.

Display

We replace the hornet of transient, temporary display with the butterfly of permanent, enduring display.  

Reports

We replace the hornet of highly labour-intensive written parental reports with online access to subject, behaviour and attendance data so parents can see online anywhere, any time, how their pupil is doing.

WorkloadImpact

If you are blind to the hornets in your school, you are allowing your teachers to get stung. Hidden butterflies improve learning and reduce workload, burnout and turnover. At Michaela, we are just getting started, and we are confident that there are many more butterflies to find.

Posted on 2 June, 2015 by Bodil Isaksen

Motivation is muddier than intrinsic versus extrinsic

I am highly motivated to go spinning. I tend to enjoy it during; I’m always really proud of myself after; and I’m very driven by my end goal of getting fitter. I’m showing up of my own free will, in my evenings when I could be doing any manner of other things. I could walk out at any time with no sanction. I could turn down the resistance to low and give myself an easy ride. I don’t. I want to be there, I want to work hard.

With all that, you might think the behaviour of the instructor would make little difference to how hard I work. But I’ve been amazed at how little things the instructor does can change so much.

The fact is, no matter how much you want it, when it’s hard-going and you’re huffing and puffing, your genuine desire to succeed isn’t enough. Your willpower depletes. You forget why you’re there. So what is it that makes the difference in that moment between walking out and staying the course? What does my favourite instructor, Melvin, do that the others don’t quite manage, to make me turn up the resistance even when I’m really feeling that lactic acid?

Passion: The absolute number one factor that makes the difference between a great class and a mediocre one is the enthusiasm of the instructor. You can feel the passion for fitness and – this is crucial – for getting other people fitter oozing out of some instructors. It makes a world of difference.

What I’ve learnt: let everything I do and say scream how much I care about the kids I teach, how much I love and value maths, and how deeply I want them to succeed.

Care: When you feel like the instructor genuinely wants you to succeed, get fitter, and meet your goals, the experience is transformed. It means they can get away with pushing you harder. They can be harsh to the point of shouting at you, chasing you back into the room if you try to walk out. You want to come back next week to show them you’re a success.

What I’ve learnt: make it obvious that whenever I do something to make their life harder, it’s to help them.

Belief: The best instructors know you’re capable of more than you think. Melvin will come round and turn up your resistance when you think you can’t move your legs any more. You should hate this, but you don’t. You’re just so proud that Melvin thinks you’re capable of more.

What I’ve learnt: have belief in the kids over and above the belief they have in themselves.

Realism: High expectations need to be tempered with realism, though. One instructor would always just say “turn your resistance up to the highest” and will go full pelt for 10 minutes. It’s just unrealistic. He’s not checking that you do it. It just makes me not listen to what he says and set the resistance my way.

What I’ve learnt: get to know the kids well enough that you can tell when they’re pushing themselves; push each kid to their own limit; don’t make blanket unrealistic statements.

Following through: Lots of instructors will tell you to stand up and sprint. If half the room doesn’t, they don’t actually do anything about it. The message that comes across seems to be “I’m here, getting paid either way, they’re the customer, they know what’s best for them, I don’t really care”. The best ones actually follow through. They’ll approach those who aren’t doing it, and work with them till they do.

What I’ve learnt: if you ask for something, expect it and check they do it; for this reason, make sure your expectations are reasonable! Again, know each child and what they can do.

Hard to please: I love an instructor who is difficult to impress. It makes me work so much harder to get their approval. When I do get a fist bump or a high five from them, I am ecstatic. When they turn my resistance up I’m so proud that they think I’m capable of more.

What I’ve learnt: make praise genuine and authentic; use lots of methods other than praise to maintain a positive climate so that praise can be kept rare enough to be meaningful.

Circulation: I like an instructor who circulates the room. It feels more personal. Little things like a thumbs up. Chanting “one two forward back” at you until you get the rhythm right. It’s not that the instructor has any authority over me: if he notices me not trying my hardest, he can’t put me in detention. Yet the mere presence makes you push yourself that bit harder.

What I’ve learnt: circulate; encourage and challenge as I go; adjust tasks upwards and downwards as necessary.

Peer effects: The work ethic of those around you has a big impact on your own. If two girls are casually sat down, cycling, having a chat, it’s really hard to get in the zone and drive yourself hard. If one person walks out, it’s so much more tempting to follow them out the door. It’s why I really appreciate the instructors who don’t let that stuff happen.

What I’ve learnt: don’t tolerate one pupil ruining the learning environment for others; cultivate a studious classroom culture; engineer a state of flow.

If an exercise class with willing adults can be this complex, this must only be scraping the surface of motivation in the classroom. I’m convinced the principles of showing you care, knowing your kids, and pushing them further than they believed was possible are entirely transferable from a sweaty spinning studio to a studious maths classroom.

Posted on May 29, 2015 by Katie Ashford

One Hundred Classics for Every Child

“Miss! I learnt about the Blue Carbunceruncle, Miss!” The excited shriek comes from a tiny, wide-eyed boy in my tutor group. The knot of his tie is inexplicable; his folder bulges out from under his skinny little arm; the Velcro on one of his shoes is stuck to his trousers. He pauses briefly and looks up, beaming and panting slightly after his hasty trot up the stairs.

I can’t help but grin back. “Oh! You’ve discovered the secret of the Blue Carbuncle, have you? Quite the Detective!” I reply. My voice is filled with genuine glee as I emphasise the correct pronunciation of what is – to be fair- a surprising and confounding word at first greeting. My response is animated, possibly a touch over-egged, but I’m enjoying myself and am getting swept away by the enthusiasm, so I keep going with it.

“Yes, Miss!” He offers a bashful grin and giggle, wipes his nose on the cuff of his shirt, and turns and walks to his desk.

A hand shoots up from the front row. It’s a tall girl with a pristine shirt and ponytails. Her pens, ruler and exercise book are already laid out perfectly on her desk.

“It was hidden inside the duck, Miss!” she yelps.

Another hand “Miss, ‘ow do you say that word of that blue thing, Miss?”

“Mr. Holmes is so clever, Miss!”

“He’s sick, Miss!”

Two days before, I presented my after-school Reading Club kids with the newest addition to our repertoire. We’d already ripped through abridgements of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, among others. I’d been savingSherlock for a while. I wasn’t sure if they’d get into it, to be completely honest. I wasn’t sure if the stories might be a bit too obscure and complicated. But fortunately, my instincts were spectacularly incorrect. Contrary to my predictions, Holmes was quite the hit. They couldn’t get enough of him and his sharp-witted, crime-solving ways. I’m pretty sure that two or three kids have decided they want to become detectives since reading about the famous sleuth. I’m sure the HR department at the Metropolitan Police will be delighted.

Reading Club is the highlight of my day. At 4pm, the bell goes and I open my classroom door. Fifteen smiling faces wait in the corridor, books clasped in their clammy paws and a thousand questions on their lips.

“Is Esmeralda going to die, Miss?”

“Does Shmuel go back to Berlin with Bruno, Miss?”

“Was it the monster that did it, Miss?”

“Can I read first, Miss?”

We settle in to our current tome after a quick recap of what we read the day before. We take it in turns to read sections aloud and we discuss what we’ve read. That’s it. We read. We enjoy it. We talk about it. It’s not complicated at all.

I’ve written before about how to get kids reading. I should note that all the kids in Reading Club can decode well enough to access texts aimed at 11 year-olds. The content andvocabulary may be challenging in places, but that’s the beauty of reading in a group with an adult: I can do my teacher thing and support them through the tricky bits.

Katharine, our Headmistress, regularly pops in to Reading Club to see what’s happening (and to soak up its general awesomeness, of course). She is unbelievably supportive and champions reading around the school. We were chatting about our whole-school reading strategy recently when she pointed out that our weakest readers are now the kids that have read the most classic novels. We have a lovely school library, and all pupils have been reading plenty from there. This is, of course, wonderful, and I’m never going to tell a child they can’t read something if they really want to read it, but there are lots of books that they may fall in love with, but might never pick up off the shelf. Let’s be honest: if you were eleven, would you rather read The Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Wuthering Heights?

Whether you’re a Wutherer or a Wimp, it’s important to be exposed to as broad a range of texts as possible. Additionally, there is something fabulous about having read and engaged with the classics. They are the books that have shaped our society and have influenced our collective thinking throughout the ages. Not only should we want to keep the flame of these favourites alive, we should want to empower all children with the cultural knowledge these stories bring.

Inspired by Reading Club, therefore, we have recently introduced a new reading goal for every child. Over five years, every single Michaela pupil will read at least 100 classic novels during tutor time. Some of these will be abridgements, but many won’t be. This does not include any subject lesson reading or independent reading. Many kids, therefore, will read a lot more than this. But the absolute minimum entitlement for every kid is 100 books. Why should we settle for any less?

How the programme works 

  1. All pupils read the same book every day during tutor time. Every child has a copy. The tutor reads along with the pupils and will read aloud occasionally, too. (We buy one class set of each text and rotate. Expensive: yes. WHAT ELSE IS WORTH SPENDING THE MONEY ON?!??!?)
  2. All pupils take their copy home each evening and read the next section.
  3. The next day, the tutor gives the class a multiple choice question based on what they read the night before. These are created centrally and provided to the tutor on a PowerPoint.
  4. Pupils may read ahead or re-read sections if they wish.
  5. Pupils are expected to carry their own book from the library, which they are welcome to read at their leisure after class-reading time is finished. This equates to about twenty minutes a day.

At this rate, we get through one short book every two or three weeks. Some longer novels can take anywhere up to about seven or eight weeks. In future years, when they are in the habit of reading at home, they’ll read longer sections independently so they can get through weightier tomes in less time.

If you are keen to learn more, here is the briefing document I wrote for tutors, which outlines the strategy in more detail: New Reading Strategy Tutors

Here is an example PowerPoint with multiple choice questions for tutors: Dracula PowerPoint

*Note: ‘Blue’ is the name of our in-house ICT system, which we use to create and assign multiple choice quizzes.

English – 25.05.2015 – Corridors

25 May 2015, Posted by admin in Michaela's Blog

Posted on Ma 25, 2015 by Katie Ashford

You stand behind your chair and hoist your brand new Reebok bag up on to your shoulders. You check to see if your shirt is tucked in, but the weight of the rucksack and your general awkwardness make any on-the-go wardrobe adjustments impractical and inelegant. Just tap your fingers on the table instead, you think. That’ll make you look cool and nonchalant. A broken light buzzes and flickers overhead. A faded clock-face screams that break time is nearly here. A rumble of chairs above tells you that others are packing away now, too. Mrs Archer stands stern and firm at the front of the room. Her unshakeable glare and an almost imperceptible eyebrow shift suggest that you should stop the table drumming this instant if you wish to avoid a verbal lashing. Fold your arms and look somewhere else, you idiot! Once again, you berate yourself for doing the wrong thing.

All is still and silent. The clock hands continue their lonesome strides across the barren seconds and minutes. Time is not slipping by unnoticed today, like it does usually.

A click, and the stillness is shaken. The bell wails and the room shudders and trembles as the hoards charge towards the doorway. Elbows, kneecaps, the stamp of eager feet: hundreds of bodies swamp the maze of corridors that lead towards the canteen. It’s rush hour for teenagers: chaotic, violent, and out of control. Mr Shetland arrives at his duty post and observes the ensuing mayhem. He munches on an apple and feebly points his fingers and utters ineffective words. Nothing changes. The madness heightens.

There are only fifteen minutes of freedom available, and you have many tasks to complete in that time. Your course to the lunch hall to meet Tina and Hanna is a gravelly road indeed. Try not to tumble down two flights of stairs; sprint across the yard without getting caught by a teacher or laughed at by an older kid; push through the hundreds of pairs of year 11 legs to get to the front of the snack queue. And the corridors: the endless corridors. You have to pick up your lab coat for science next lesson, and it’s in your locker. Your locker is on the Geography corridor at the other end of the school. The thought of going there fills you with dread. Maybe I could say I left it at home? Your mind is awash with potential excuses as you desperately try to think of a way to avoid going to fetch it. Nah, Miss O’Neill will kill me if I forget it. You remember last time: the shrillness of her voice, and the snotty note she wrote to your mum in your planner. Shrugging off the memory and admitting defeat, you make your way over there.

Locker number 101. You are too young to notice the irony. It’s about the size of your Reebok bag, contains your PE kit, lab coat and German dictionary, and is guarded by a huge silver padlock that your dad used to use for the garage. It’s on the bottom row, right in the middle. The stampede is still flowing through the Geography floor. You pick a moment and dive towards the ground, gripping a tiny key in your fingers. You are swift: the door swings open within seconds. Hand on lab coat, you are ready to stand again and make your escape, when suddenly, the human tidal wave crashes and consumes you, and your forehead makes its acquaintance with the sticky, gum-covered linoleum floor. Boot to the face. Trainer to the rib. You see nothing but school shoes and frayed trouser hems. A year 10 boy trips and slumps on top of you, his Lynx-soaked body weighing heavily on your bird-like frame. The air fills with uproarious laughter and shrieks of “OHHHHHH! She fell over! GUTTED!” The second wave is one of shame and embarrassment; you’re on the floor… again. And the clock, which was previously so sombre, so forgiving and so slow, has raced on and now your science lesson starts in less than three minutes. Can’t be late. Stand up; brush the dust off your bum and the stupefied look of shock off your face. Stuff your lab coat into your bag. Run as quickly as you can.

 

***

You awake from the daydream and take in more familiar, calm surroundings. The kids are strolling past you in single file, all smiling and wishing you a good morning. No pushing. No shoving. No jibes. No jostles. Some people hear of this and say you are ‘extreme’, that ‘no excuses’ are harmful, and that walking in silence in the corridor is too ‘militant’. And you remember the corridors and the fear and the dread and the loathing and the horror, and the words of the naysayers do nothing to perturb you or shake your faith in the environment you have helped to build.

The pupils snake gently into their classrooms and the doors close. Empty corridors. Mission accomplished.

Posted on 23 May, 2015 by Bodil Isaksen

How should I revisit past content?

The three part lesson; the 5 minute lesson plan; the 7 Es lesson structure; the countless other lesson planning proformas I’ve encountered. What do they all have in common? Despite being wildly popular, they place no emphasis on recalling and revisiting prior learning. Memory deserves far more love and attention than this.

Recaps should be a nonnegotiable part of practically every lesson.

What should we recap? And how should we recap it?

Based on what’s relevant to the learning today

Probably the most common form of revisiting in the average classroom. Bringing relevant prior learning to the forefront of pupils’ minds before embarking on new content can be the difference between triumph and disaster in a lesson. Before teaching rounding, you’ll want to be sure pupils remember place value column names; before teaching adverbs you’ll want them to be sure of a verb’s definition; before teaching about electron shells you’ll want them to be confident of what an electron is; before teaching what Jesus’ crucifixion means for Christians they need to have the doctrine of the Fall at their fingertips.

How to best do this is up for debate. Hollingsworth and Ybarra recommend you tell pupils the required knowledge explicitly, then get them to practise. Tightly controlled, this means pupils are less likely to go into the new learning with misconceptions lingering.

6

The alternative would be to give the pupils practice without explicit instruction beforehand. There are a couple of reasons one might choose to do this.

If revisiting is forming part of the Do Now, you’ll be wanting the kids to be getting on with it straight away, with no teacher input.

If you want to make use of the testing effect for memorisation, telling them will ruin that as they won’t have to work to retrieve the material from their long term memories.

Make it stick

 

It’s a balancing act.

I aim to give them just enough explicit instruction that they get it right. That might be no instruction. It might be a very quick choral response of the relevant formula or fact before they apply it. It might be a longer period of instruction.

Of course, the difficulty is that different pupils will need different amounts of prompting. Given the way prior misunderstandings can cause your lesson to unravel, I err on the side of more instruction for this kind of recap. Circulating like a hawk while they practise can be critical for catching misconceptions to squash at this point.

Based on the forgetting curve

Your lesson objective is about the geography of Japan. An observer comes in and sees you quizzing pupils on the geography of France. They’re nonplussed: how is what you’re doing going to help pupils meet the learning objective? Well, it might in some sort of roundabout way, but really, that’s not why you’re doing it. Because learning isn’t about one off lessons.

We should be completely content with dropping in unrelated content into lessons. The forgetting curve waits for no man. If you only ever recap when it’s relevant to the new learning, the storage strength may be so weak it can’t be well recalled at all. We need to catch it just in time.

Forgetting Curve

My wonderful colleague, Jonny Porter, will chuck a map of the British Isles at kids every now and again out of the blue, and ask them to label 27 important features on it. Nothing to do with the lesson objective, but the boost to that forgetting curve makes the task invaluable.

maap

Recaps based on the forgetting curve are most effective when planned upfront with a holistic view of the curriculum. The spacing of each recap on a given topic can increase over time. This works out nicely as all the new content you’re covering means you’ll inevitably have less opportunity to go over the same thing repeatedly.

Time in lessons is precious. We want recaps to maximise the boost to the forgetting curve with minimum time expended. What precisely is the aim of your recap? What knowledge is it in particular you want to improve the memory of?

Let’s say you know your children have been putting the wrong number of decimal places when squaring numbers. Do they need to actually perform 4.7 squared, or could you just ask a drill question of how many decimal places 4.7 squared will have? Your answer will depend on whether children practising performing 47 x 47 is a priority. Is it worth the additional time it will take?

Do pupils need to answer comprehension questions about plant cells in full sentences in their books, or could they scribble one word answers on their mini-whiteboards?

There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s a professional judgement call.

Based on the 20%/80% principle 

We can’t recap everything all the time. Concentrating on the 20% that has 80% of the impact is an excellent curriculum design principle in general, but it’s particularly important to bear in mind when planning what to revisit.

Paretos-Law

Automating the core 20% is critical. Getting it into long term memory can feel like a long slog, but it’s worth it. Times Table Rock Stars, for example, is a 20 week investment. In my experience, lots of teachers see times tables as “last year’s teacher’s job”. If that’s the way you see it, you might feel a little reluctant to spend a few minutes every single day for over half the year. An old Chinese proverb springs to mind: the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now. My advice is this. If you notice critical gaps in the kids’ knowledge, just crack on and start filling them. The time will pass anyway. 

Recall methods

Here are some different options for how you might want to run a recap:

  • Filling in a partially blanked out knowledge organiser or diagram.
  • If you’re repeatedly using the same grid or diagram, you can laminate them for pupils to label with a mini-whiteboard pen. This saves a bit of photocopying.
  • Oral drill, cold call questioning of facts or descriptions.
  • Choral response.
  • Speed drills like Times Table Rockstars.
  • Longer procedural questions through “nothing new; just review” or “only 100% will do”.
  • Mini-whiteboard work.
  • Comprehension questions in exercise books.
  • Even (whisper it) a card sort.
  • A million other ways.

But really, however you do it, just do something. It’s like investing in your pension: it’s not particularly sexy, and you won’t see the benefit right this second, but down the line, you’ll be really glad you did.

Posted on April 5, 2015 by Olivia Dyer

TEXTBOOKS: LIBERATING, NOT CONSTRAINING

Having missed AM registration due to traffic on the M25, Lucy’s science teacher wades into SC6, briefcase in tow. Beads of sweat trickle down his face as he takes a seat in front of the class and places one foot over the other on the desk in front to give his feet a rest. Lucy and her classmates raise their eyebrows; they know what mood Mr Callaghan is in. A textbook mood. “Lucy, do us a favour, and pass these out”, Mr Callaghan leans back and reaches over to the filing cabinet to his immediate left, and grabs a class set of GCSE textbooks. Lucy stretches over the wooden desks, frisbee-ing the textbooks as Mr Callaghan removes his feet from the desk to swivel his chair to face the whiteboard. He grabs a pen out of his shirt pocket, shoves the lid between his teeth and scrawls, ‘Page 60-62 on space exploration. Read and answer questions.’ The hour passes slowly, only interrupted by a few barks from Mr Callaghan, attempting to hush Lucy and her friends.

The above narrative depicts what I used to think a lesson using textbooks looked like. There is a view that using textbooks undermines the “professionalism of teachers” (Oates, 2014, p. 5). 96 per cent of science teachers in England do not use textbooks as the basis for instruction (Oates, 2014). Many argue that textbooks dictate teaching style. This post will aim to show that rather than being oppressive, high quality textbooks can liberate the teachers that use them.

Firstly, the term ‘high quality textbook’ can be used to refer to any rigorously designed paper-based resource, which can be considered an antidote to the current “undesirable narrowing” (Oates, 2014, p. 6) of content that is taught in most schools in England. The problem, however, is that there is a lack of high quality textbooks on sale in England. This is a result of a move away from wide use of high quality textbooks since the 1960s in America and 1970s in England (Bennetta, 1997; Oates, 2014).

An example of a high quality textbook is the 1992 edition of Integrated Science (Allen et al.), which is unfortunately outdated. If you look carefully at Fig 1.1, you can see that it includes a 1982 Observer article about the US Plans to build a village in space, or what we now know as the International Space Station (ISS). The assignment requires pupils to answer challenging comprehension questions. This 654-word excerpt from the Observer can be starkly contrasted to a more recently published science textbook,Activate (Hulme, Locke and Reynolds, 2013), which includes only 31 words about the ISS (Fig 1.2). This lack of high quality, current science textbooks has led me to create my own paper-based resource (Fig 1.3 and 1.4). I will now outline how I would use this resource to teach a lesson on the ISS.

1992-textbook

 

Fig 1.1 A page of the Integrated Science textbook published in 1992 by Allen et al.

2013-textbook

 

Fig 1.2 A page of the Activate textbook published in 2013 by Hulme, Locke and Reynolds.

my-textbook-1

 

Fig 1.3 The first shared page of my unpublished textbook.

my-textbook-2

 

Fig 1.4 The second shared page of my unpublished textbook.

Previous lesson

In the previous lesson, pupils would have started a new sub-unit of Astronomy called space exploration. Pupils would have answered four questions assessing their understanding of natural satellites before progressing onto the new sub-unit:

Write down the number of natural satellites that the planet Jupiter has.

Name Earth’s natural satellite(s).

Copy and complete this definition of orbit; “The path that an object takes to…”

Define ‘natural satellite’.

Having demonstrated that they are prepared to begin the new sub-unit, pupils would have read about and discussed the history of artificial satellites, answered seven comprehension questions on the text that they had read, and then memorised the definitions for ‘artificial satellite’ and ‘Sputnik 1’, the two non-negotiable pieces of knowledge that pupils are expected to memorise from the first lesson:

Artificial satellite – A man-made object launched by rockets into space, orbits celestial objects.

Sputnik 1 – First artificial satellite. Launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.

Lesson on the International Space Station

1) Recap

Whole class recap on definitions memorised last lesson.

Teacher: What is the name of the man-made objects launched by rockets into space? 3, 2, 1…

Whole class: ARTIFICIAL SATELLITE!

Teacher: What do artificial satellites orbit? 3, 2, 1…

Whole class: CELESTIAL OBJECTS!

Teacher: What was the name of the first artificial satellite? 3, 2, 1…

Whole class: SPUTNIK 1!

Teacher: Who launched Sputnik 1? 3, 2, 1…

Whole class: THE SOVIET UNION!

Teacher: What year was Sputnik 1 launched? 3, 2, 1…

Whole class: 1957!

Teacher cold calls pupils, asking them to recite the definitions learned in the last lesson.

Teacher: Lucy, tell me what an artificial satellite is.

Lucy: A man-made object launched by rockets into space, to orbit the Earth?

Teacher: Almost! Said, can you help Lucy out?

Said: Instead of the Earth, it’s meant to be any celestial object. Artificial satellites orbit celestial objects.

Teacher: What do you think, Nimco?

Nimco: Miss, I agree.

Teacher: Can you articulate what you agree with, Nimco?

Nimco: I agree that artificial satellites are man-made objects launched by rockets into space, that orbit celestial objects.

Teacher: Excellent use of full sentences, Nimco, you can have a merit!

2) Whole class reading

Teacher nominates pupils to read sections of the textbook aloud.

Tia: Construction of the artificial satellite, the… (struggles to pronounce ‘international’)

Teacher: INTERNATIONAL, 3, 2, 1…

Whole class: INTERNATIONAL!

Teacher: International means something involving more than one country. Can you repeat the sentence from the beginning, please Tia?

Tia: Construction of the artificial satellite, the International Space Station (ISS) began in November 1998. The ISS is truly international because its construction involved more than one single country.

Teacher: Well done, Tia. Perfect pronunciation and projection. Ashley!

Ashley: In fact, five space agencies – NASA (American), Roscosmos (Russian), CSA (Canadian), ESA (European) and JAXA (Japanese) – constructed, launched and use the ISS. This shows that space exploration has come a long way since the Sputnik crisis of 1957, as countries and regions now work together.

Teacher: Why does this show that space exploration has come a long way? Joseph!

Joseph: Well, yesterday, we read that when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, we read that the US government saw it as a threat. But now five different space agencies have made an artificial satellite together.

Teacher: For such a detailed explanation, Joseph, you can get a merit. Thank you. Reesha, may you continue where Ashley left off?

Reesha: The ISS is a manned artificial satellite, which means that the satellite is carrying or operated by one or more person.

Teacher: So, ‘manned’ means that there is one or more person in the satellite. The person inside is not necessarily a man, however! Reesha, can you tell me what manned means?

Reesha: Manned means that there is one or more person in the satellite.

[Continue reading in the same manner until end of section]

3) Comprehension questions

4) Memorising definitions

Around one third of the lesson time will be spent on part three and four. This is because it is important to consolidate learning. Not only do comprehension questions check pupil understanding of what has been read and discussed, they also give pupils an opportunity for extended writing. In my PGCE and NQT year, I was forever having discussions with tutors and mentors about how to develop pupils’ scientific literacy and support them to write more in every science lesson. In my opinion, a high quality textbook embeds opportunities for literacy in every lesson.

So why do textbooks liberate?

Rather than having to think about what that extended writing activity might be, future PGCE and NQT staff can be supported with a high quality textbook. Instead of being a straitjacket and horrible guide, a high quality textbook is an effective tool that can free up resourcing time, so that teachers can instead produce writing frames for their weaker pupils, plan their teacher-pupil dialogue and explore different aspects of what is being taught. Surely giving teachers a high quality resource that allows them to focus on their delivery of the content can only be referred to as liberating?

I used to think that textbook lessons were incredibly dull and unhelpful. However, since producing paper-based resources that prioritise an efficient, content-rich approach to lesson delivery, I have found them not only to be incredibly useful, but actually, quite fun, too! As classroom teachers, we have to trust that the content that we are teachingis fascinating. This textbook approach might be very far from the status quo, but, let’s face it: if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

References

Bennetta, W. J. (1997) A Dumbed-Down Textbook Is “A Textbook for All Students” Available at: http://www.textbookleague.org/82dumbo.htm

Oates, T. (2014) Why textbooks count. Cambridge Assessment.

Posted on May 16, 2015 by Olivia Dyer

The Key to Great School Trips

The key to planning great school trips is organisation, organisation, organisation! How does one know what to organise? Look no further than this blog post. Michaela Community School might have only had its second school trip ever last Thursday, but we would like to share how Michaela does things, and the rationale behind some of these things.

Choosing the trip

Ensure that all pupils have studied the units relevant to the trip. This means that pupils can engage with exhibitions, workshops and performances intelligently and the trip will aid their understanding of the unit(s).

Before the trip

1) Letter

Send out a letter a fortnight before the trip, with a permission slip at the bottom. In the letter, outline:

a) What unit(s) of learning the trip will complement;

b) Date(s) for the trip;

c) Time pupils need to arrive at school;

d) Expected time of arrival (ETA) back to school;

e) Contribution towards the trip;

f) Dress code;

g) Items to bring;

h) When permission slip is required back.

Royal Observatory Trip Letter

Suggestions 

c) Plan the trip with at least twelve weeks notice, to avoid clashes with other school arrangements, such as sports matches and to ensure that the venue has the availability. You will need at least 14 working days for the Transport for London School Party Travel scheme.

d) Always push the ETA 30 minutes back from what you would expect. This way, parents do not worry unnecessarily if pupils are late arriving back.

e) This is a voluntary contribution, so the school should support families in genuine need.

f) Pupils will try to get away with wearing non-regulation shoes, headscarves, outerwear, bags and even trousers/skirts for a school trip. Pre-empt this by outlining the dress code in the letter and reminding pupils at every opportunity. Tell pupils the consequences of not wearing correct uniform, and stick to this consequence.

g) This includes whether or not pupils should bring stationary, lunch and pocket money. At Michaela, we set a limit of £20 for day trips, but make it clear that this is not necessary.

h) Anticipate that 50 per cent of families will miss this date. To avoid this, try and plan this date for just after the end of the calendar month. This will ensure that working families have been paid.

2) School uniform

Unless pupils are going on an overnight trip, full school uniform should be worn. If pupils are going to be undertaking physical activity, we would suggest that the school PE uniform should be worn. Wearing school uniform means that pupils can be easily identified, are more likely to behave in a professional manner and reduces chance of bullying.

3) Food

Michaela will provide full school packed lunches for all pupils. Inside these packed lunches are a piece of fruit, a snack and a bottle of water. Pupils have a choice of four sandwiches/baguettes (usually cheese, tuna mayonnaise, egg mayonnaise and plain). They will choose their sandwich/baguette on a first come, first served basis on the day of the trip. If the trip sets off early, they will have an additional break time snack to eat before lunch. If the trip begins later, pupils have the opportunity to eat a break time snack in school. Ensure that you book a lunch space at the venue, so that pupils have somewhere to eat their lunch. Pupils are not allowed to eat sweets bought in the shop on the trip.

4) Belongings

A standard trip requirement is that pupils bring their drawstring PE bag with a pen and their current reading book. Encourage pupils to leave all valuables at home.

Pupils may bring their mobile phones to school, but will need to hand these in before the trip. The phones will be locked in a secure place in the school, which pupils may retrieve on their return. Pupils are not allowed to take their phones on the trip. If pupils are found to have done so, phones will be confiscated as per school policy.

5) Trip exclusions

A few days before the trip, look through the list of pupils attending the trip. If any pupils stand out as having behaved extremely badly in the recent weeks, exclude them from the trip.

6) Assembly

On the day of the trip, hold an assembly which outlines:

a) How to behave on the road;

b) What to do if lost on journey/at venue;

c) How to behave on public transport (explicitly model);

d) How to queue;

e) What to do if you see if other pupils misbehaving;

f) How to behave at the venue (in the shop, toilets etc.);

g) How to view exhibits (explicitly model);

h) History and relevant information about venue (optional, but good for enthusing pupils).

Natural History Museum Assembly

7) Behaviour

Tell pupils upfront that you will be rewarding good behaviour with the school’s usual behaviour system, as well as sanctioning any behaviour that does not meet the school’s expectations. When the expectations are being outlined during the trip assembly, make it clear that there is no choice but to behave in the expected way. Pupils must read on public transport, must offer anyone older than them their seat (avoids ‘should I or shan’t I offer that person my seat?’ scenario) and must walk on the left hand side. The rationale is that this is how commuters behave, and to behave any differently will mean that you would not fit in.

8) Information pack

Produce an information pack for staff going on the trip and provide each staff member with a clipboard. There should be three sections of the information pack:

a) Directions

b) Itinerary

c) Groups

Use Google street view to show members of staff how to get to the venue. When you go on your pre-visit to the venue, use this as an opportunity to take photographs of the journey to put in the information pack.

ROG Trip Instructions

During the trip

1) Behaviour management

On the final page of the information pack, separate all pupils out into groups. Have an additional column on the table for behaviour management. This will enable staff to easily document any merits and demerits that they give out on the day. Recognise great acts of kindness, which will increase pupil motivation.

2) Registering pupils

Before the pupils set off, tell them their group and individual number. Get them into an orderly line and get pupils to shout out their number in order from 1-15. The last pupil should shout out their number and the phrase, “last man/woman!” This roll call can be done before pupils get on public transport and on the platform after all pupils have got off. The roll call can also be carried out before and after activities at the venue. This makes registering pupils stress free, and gets them into an orderly line.

screen-shot-2015-05-16-at-11-10-12

 

Below are some photographs of our pupils on school trips. You will see them reading on the tube and lining up for a roll call next to the Diplodocus skeleton in the Hintze Hall of the Natural History museum.

screen-shot-2015-05-16-at-11-09-44

screen-shot-2015-05-16-at-11-10-41