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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

Posted on 15 March, 2015 by Bodil Isaksen

Empowerment through no excuses

Excuses disempower. Taking responsibility empowers.

At Michaela, we have a no excuses culture. What does this mean? It means if a pupil does something wrong, we expect them to own that mistake. We do not expect them to deflect responsibility. We do not expect them to blame other people or their circumstances.

If they have no pen, rather than saying “my pen dropped out of my blazer overnight”, we want pupils to say “I didn’t check my equipment before I left this morning”. We want them to think “I’ll get to school 5 minutes early so I’ve got time to buy a pen from the stationery shop”.

No excuses does not mean we leave children to fail. We do everything we can to help our pupils succeed. The example of the stationery shop illustrates that on a small scale. We open the stationery shop in the office before school everyday so pupils have a chance to fix the problem. So Sue’s example doesn’t seem relevant. Were someone to lose their uniform in a fire, we would, of course support them in finding a solution.

These concepts are not in opposition; in fact, they complement each other. Turns out solutions are a lot easier to generate once a pupil has stopped deflecting responsibility. Taking responsibility, accepting the reality of the situation is often the first step in getting it right.

No excuses is empowering. If you believe a problem is the product of things you cannot control, you place the issue outside of your locus of control. Once you have placed it outside of your locus of control, you have mentally decided you cannot take steps to change it. If you recognise how your actions contributed to causing the problem, you can decide to change that in the future. How wonderful it is to recognise how much you can impact the world!

Excuses are rife in too many schools.
“I couldn’t help turning round; they called my name”
“I didn’t know what page to do for homework”
“The queue in the canteen made me late for period 5″
“My computer crashed with my coursework on it”

As teachers, we can indulge these excuses, or we can reject them. We can show pupils how different choices could have avoided the situation. We can enlighten them to let them see how they have more control and agency over their life they might initially believe.

Getting pupils to see the value of taking responsibility is one of the most valuable gifts we can give them. How much richer their lives will be, in every aspect, if they approach the world seeing what they can change rather than what they can’t.

0000000

Posted on May 9, 2015 by Olivia Dyer

Do Your Kids Hate Science Yet?

Last week, a science teacher who had heard about the knowledge-led, mastery-focused curriculum at Michaela asked me, “do your kids hate Science yet?” On the same day, I attended a ‘knowledge versus skills’ science debate. The skills troops were gathered and I was offered an insight into the ideological battlefield. There was a real sense of dissatisfaction by how little their sevens’ loved Science. The troops seemed to agree that the reason why secondary school science does not inspire young minds is because there are not enough opportunities for discovery, creativity and awe-inspiring practicals. I agreed that many science departments in secondary schools do not inspire young minds. However, this is because those departments do not have a high enough level of rigour in their curriculum at Key Stage Three. Even their lower ability pupils are not sufficiently challenged.

Quite frankly, science departments around the country patronise children. They do this by trying to get their children to be scientists and think like scientists. Ironically, by trying to treat the pupils like adult scientists, they end up patronising them by turning lessons into ‘playing grown-ups’. Even at Advanced Level, I did not think like a scientist. On starting out, even Aristotle did not think like a scientist. Instead, he was deeply influenced by his teacher, Plato. Aristotle’s work on geology, physics, metaphysics, psychology, biology and medicine were founded on the 20 years that he spent at Plato’s Academy, accumulating masses of knowledge and experience.

Thousands of hours of practice are needed to become an expert at something. This is what our pupils are missing. We cannot fast forward time. Instead, we need to embed knowledge into their long-term memory. If something has not been converted to long-term memory, nothing has been learned. Once pupils have mastered the content, we then need to give them lots of practice at retrieving that knowledge. This is how we can achieve skilled performance over years.

One thing I think that I can agree on with the troops, is that all teachers want their pupils to go out and change the world. Knowledge is power. It is knowledge about the intricacies of organelle structure that will enable them to go and study Biology at undergraduate level, not that practical that used iodine to measure the amount of starch in different foods. Children love knowing things. Watch the videos below; they speak for themselves.

https://youtu.be/YQZMk19qQ-E

https://youtu.be/1Bx9OFXlCvE

Teachers need to think about the opportunity cost of ‘awe-inspiring practicals’. Time spent doing fun, whizzy practicals is time not spent mastering the particulars of the alkali metals or the halogens. Children feel successful when they know things. Next time you submit your practical requisitions, consider why your pupils are doing the practical. If it is to help them discover, be creative or awe-inspired, think again. Do not underestimate the satisfaction and awe your pupils can gain from being told facts.

Recommended reading:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Seven-Myths-About-Education-Christodoulou/dp/0415746825

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Dont-Students-Like-School/dp/047059196X

http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/WILLINGHAM%282%29.pdf

Posted on May 3, 2015

Revise with self-quizzing books for every pupil across all subjects

What should teachers do about homework? And what should pupils do about revision?

Homework and its Discontents

Homework is a tough ask for pupils and teachers. Pupils have five hours of lessons, then more hours of work loaded into their evenings. Teachers teach 20 lessons a week, then have to set, explain, check, collect, mark, track, sanction, and chase homework.

Revision and its Discontents

Revision is often crammed into a few weeks from Easter in Year 11, and rarely coordinated across the school. Each teacher thinks that their own subject is most important, and expects pupils to do some ‘20-25 minutes a night’, mostly uncoordinated with other subjects.

The science of memory

When I read Make It Stick, 11 cognitive psychologists’ applied scientific research, this insight struck me:

What would that look like across a whole school? What if we combined revision and homework?

 A Long-Term Revision Strategy: Self-Quizzing

At our school, from Year 7 onwards, homework is revision: self-quizzing for all pupils across all their subjects. Revision lasts not five weeks, or five months, but five years.

Self-Quizzing Books 

Every pupil is given a self-quizzing book with every subject’s core knowledge. The book is organised in subject sections, with numbered pages. Knowledge organisers from each unit are stuck into this exercise book. For instance, in English by the end of Year 7, there are organisers for parts of speech, syntax and punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, myths, rhetoric, poetry, poems to be memorised (OzymandiasInvictus and If) and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:everything they study that year. Organisers for Maths, French, Science, Humanities (History, Geography and Religion) and Art are all kept within one beautifully organised book that pupils take home to revise every evening.

Practice Books

Pupils self-quiz from one subject’s knowledge organisers every night for homework, as guided by their teacher. For this they use a separate practice book that they take between school and home. They cover up one side of the knowledge organiser, write it out from memory (in a black pen), then self-check and correct any spelling mistakes, omissions or inaccuracies (in a green pen). They learn the most valuable knowledge in every subject by heart.

There is a timetable in the front of their self-quizzing books with five weeknights for the five main subjects: English, Humanities, French, Science and Maths. Every pupil in the year is revising the same subject on the same night. Everyone has the same five-year revision plan. This is important if pupils are absent for a day or two, or longer-term – they still know exactly what revision to do, precisely which subject to prioritise, every day. Self-quizzing becomes a daily, automated habit for the long-run.

Practice Book Checks

We aim for 100% of pupils to complete their self-quizzing every evening. It’s a high bar, and this is what we do to reach it.

Teachers check the practice book to see if the self-quizzing practice is of sufficient quantity and quality. On quantity, pupils must complete at least one page of self-quizzing for prep, with no spaces left on the sides or at the top or bottom of the page. On quality, it must be neat and accurate, with no uncorrected spelling mistakes. We turn knowledge organisers into online and in-class quizzes, so we can see precisely whose self-quizzing is ineffectual, and support them to improve their revision.

Because it is the same revision strategy each evening across all subjects, it becomes an automatic routine. Last week, for instance, we had 98% quality completion: out of 600 hand-ins, only 10 instances were of insufficient quality, and those pupils were put into detention to remind them of the importance of quality revision. The week before it was 97%. We track those who struggle and contact their parents to support them.

The other benefit of combining knowledge organisers, self-quizzing books and practice books is this: they reduce the effort teachers spend on extensions and cover.

Extensions as Revision

Pupils can use self-quizzing books to revise key concepts, definitions, dates and events whenever they have finished a task. In a Maths lesson, the fastest pupil might finish an exercise three to four minutes before the weakest pupil. That’s four minutes they can be revising, which means far less work for teachers providing extra extension resources.

Cover as Revision

No teacher at Michaela has to email in cover work or proforma when they are away. Pupils can simply self-quiz for the lesson, testing themselves on previous terms’ or units’ topics, writing from memory, self-checking and correcting, to help them remember what they’ve learned.

Extra Reading, Extra Maths

Subject self-quizzing is not the only homework pupils do. They quiz themselves online or on their phone with Quizlet flashcards and other multiple-choice apps. They also read for 30 minutes every evening. They also do 30 minutes of Maths practice online on IXL, guided by their Maths teacher as to the topic. All three habits (readingMaths practice and self-quizzing) are habits that are sustained over five years.

This homework-revision strategy requires coordination:

  • Department Heads and teachers must agree on and create organisers for each unit
  • Teachers must check all pupils’ practice books once a week and set detentions if not done
  • Maths Teachers must check IXL each morning and set detentions if not done
  • The Maths Department displays pupils’ rankings (in the year) by effort on IXL every day

Here’s what I like about this homework and revision plan: it’s long-term, (spread over 5 years)memorable (just 3 things to do each night: self-quiz, read, IXL), habitual (always the same strategy every day) yet still subject-specific (one subject’s content to self-quiz on each night),collective (all pupils in the year do the same subject on the same night), research-based(based on 100 years of science), inexpensive (a few exercise books a year per pupil), andminimalist (one sheet to photocopy and stick in for each unit in each subject every four weeks or so).

It’s still evolving, and we’re open to ideas, suggestions and alternatives. But I think this application of cognitive psychology could reinvigorate homework and revision in schools.

Posted on April 11, 2015 by Katie Ashford

Why being a SENCO is awesome

Whenever I tell people I’m a SENCO, or explain the nature of my job to non-teachers, I pretty much always get the same response.

“Crikey, I couldn’t do that job!”

“You must be mad!”

“That must be such hard work!”

“Why would you take that on?”

“Sounds like a complete nightmare!”

When I told one of my friends that I was applying for the position of Director of Inclusion at Michaela, they said: “I’m pretty sure nobody else would want that job, so you can guarantee you’ll get it.”

I’m really not sure why people react in these ways when I tell them what I do. People recoil in horror; they look at me as if I’m completely mad; sometimes, they even have the audacity to give me patronising pat on the shoulder, implying on some level that I’m a haggard soldier about to leave for yet another war-torn country against my will.

I hear loads of people say how much they want to be a Head of Department, a Head of Teaching and Learning, or a Head of year, or how they aspire to be a Head teacher some day, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has said that they want to be a SENCO in the future.

This makes me really sad. It makes me sad not just because we need great people to do this job, but because it is an incredible role. Here are a few reasons why I think so:

  1. Clear focus

Too many people overcomplicate the role of SENCO, which can make it seem less appealing to prospective applicants. For me, my role is very simple.

My aim, first and foremost, is to make myself redundant.

To do that, there are two really important things I need to keep in the centre of my mind at all times: first, make sure every child can read. Second, do whatever needs to be done outside of lesson time to make sure kids learn when they are in lessons.

I’m so clear about what I want to achieve as a SENCO that I don’t fuss about with things that get in the way. So I avoid pointless meetings, unnecessary paperwork and attending timewasting conferences as much as possible. Instead, I teach, organise interventions, spend lots of time with the pupils, and make sure teachers and support staff have everything they need to teach their kids really, really well.

  1. Improves your teaching

In my first year of teaching, I was thrust into a bit of a nightmare situation at a bit of a scary school. One of the things that I really did love, however, was the fact that I had been given pretty much all bottom sets in my first year. Again, I received looks of pity and pledges of support, and although I was initially horrified at the prospect, I quickly grew to see it as a gift. Those classes- 10.6, 9.4, 11.5 and 11.6- crikey, they were tough. But I was a much better trainee and teacher for it.

Teaching bottom sets makes you a better teacher because you have to think really carefully about how to get weak kids to grasp tricky concepts. How can you get a group of illiterate boys to understand (and possibly enjoy) Romeo and Juliet? It forced me to chunk down content into minute parts, and to think deeply about exactly what I wanted them to master and how I could help them get there. It forced me to think about learning in a completely different way, and it transformed my approach, understanding and beliefs about teaching forever.

Long term, strategic thinking

Being a SENCO is more than attending annual review meetings and drinking cups of coffee. It’s an opportunity to shape the direction and focus of the school. As a SENCO, you are thinking constantly about what’s best for those who need the most support, and with a proactive attitude and a bit of gusto, you can fly the flag for SEN when senior team are cooking up the latest school-wide strategy. It is an excellent opportunity to have a huge impact on what is often (sadly) a big chunk of the student body. As a SENCO, you can introduce your own school-wide initiatives and strategies that support these kids. It’s an incredible opportunity to change and improve things.

  1. Strong relationships

At Michaela, I only teach the bottom two sets, and am the tutor for the weakest kids. This means that I know those kids really, really well. I teach them all of them for six hours a week. I see some of them another 3 and a half hours on top of that (for intervention and/or reading club). Our amazing team of Teaching Fellows run other interventions with them and report back to me on progress (quantitative and qualitative) every week. I observe them in lessons at least twice a week. I speak to several parents often. I know those kids really well. It’s a great pleasure and I’m excited to get to know them even better over the next five or so years.

  1. Transformation

If you have high expectations of SEN kids, the sky is the limit. Tell them they can do it, tell them you love helping them do it, and give them the right tools, and you will transform their lives. As I said at the beginning of the post, nobody needs education more than the kids with the biggest mountain to climb. When they do reach the peak, the view is more incredible than you- or they- could have ever imagined.

Posted on April 10, 2015 by Olivia Dyer

SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE ORGANISERS

Two weeks ago, our illustrious Assistant Head Joe Kirby wrote a blog on the the most valuable content that subject leaders at Michaela want all pupils to remember for ten years and beyond. Although Mr Kirby and my more disciplined colleagues distil that knowledge onto a single page, I, the reprobate Head of Science, do not always manage this. Mr Kirby, the most pragmatic reformer of us all, sums up the advantages of knowledge organisers here:

“When a new teacher starts in a school, one of the first questions they have is ‘what do I teach?’ At a single glance, knowledge organisers answer that. Everything our pupils need to know for the year is set out clearly in advance.”

Today on Twitter, Nick Wells asked for me to share my Science knowledge organisers. I am not one to deny the people what they want. What can I say? I am basically a modern day Jesus. So here they are, my friends. Enjoy them. Relish them.

If you are not of the knowledge persuasion, you may choose to print them out, Pritt Stick them together and use them as a blanket for those balmy, but unpredictable spring evenings. At least then they would not go to waste.

Science Knowledge Organisers

Let me take this opportunity to plug an upcoming debate on ‘Science: knowledge versus skills’ on 30/04/15 (evening). The venue is TBC, but in London somewhere. Jip ahoy!

Posted on February 27, 2015 by Olivia Dyer

The vocabulary overload

Ashley squints at the interactive whiteboard as the glare from the sun penetrates the window and dazzles him. “One difference between the structure of a general plant cell and a bacterial cell is that with a bacterial cell, instead of a nucleus, the DNA is held on a plasmid.” As Mr Thompson points at a squiggly line occupying the inside of the bacterial cell, Ashley recoils at the sweat patches developing in the underarm region of Mr Thompson’s grey polyester shirt. The post lunchtime slump takes hold of Ashley’s consciousness, and he begins to ponder the definition of ‘DNA’. Minutes later, having decreed that DNA is a suitable abbreviation for ‘dubstep not afrobeats’, Mr Thompson concludes his explanation by informing the class that they have “five minutes: off you go!”

Moments later, Ashley turns around and it dawns on him that he has no idea what to do next. Completely boggled, Ashley gets out of his seat and furtively glances at the pair of the bookish girls in the corner – the ones who always get the best results. They plump for some sort of petri dish and so, not wanting to question their scientific wisdom, Ashley leans over to grab one too, whilst scanning the room for clues as to what to do with it next.

Of course, Ashley should have been listening to Mr Thompson’s period five lesson on pathogens, and would not have been quite so confused if he had not begun to muse possible definitions of ‘DNA’. However, the classic mistake that Mr Thompson and almost every other science teacher in the nation has made at some point in their career was to convolute their explanation with superfluous vocabulary. We science teachers need to be mindful that our subject is a minefield of unchartered territory for children. DNA might be in our everyday vocabulary, but to the average 13 year old, the word is jargon. It might as well be a foreign language. If pupils don’t know the meaning of words that underpin new concepts, they probably should not be used without prior acknowledgement from the teacher. Why overload a pupil’s working memory with alien terminology? It is said that young people struggle to hold more than five items in their working memory at any one time. Therefore, using unfamiliar words is an unnecessary distraction, which subsequently makes learning more difficult.

What about the words that our pupils are used to using in everyday discourse? Take energy, for example. Most pupils in year seven will associate the word ‘energy’ with food, fuel and the ability to undertake activity. Science teachers, irrespective of their specialism, feel familiar with the concept of energy. It is an important idea in biology, chemistry and physics. However, ask a science teacher to define energy or explain clearly what is meant by the word. It is difficult to do. Many science teachers do not, themselves, have a clear understanding of the scientific conception of energy. They see energy as a fuzzy ‘thing’ – something that is measured in Joules. The reality in science, however, is far more complex: energy is a quantifiable property that can be converted to do ‘work’ – what happens when a force acts upon an object, resulting in a displacement of that object. According to the First Law of Thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

Quite frankly, the teaching of energy in secondary schools in England is a mess and improving the situation requires subject specific training. However, I will save that rant for another time! In order to communicate the scientific conception of energy, we need to simplify things. For those perplexed by the above definition, lets begin with a simplified definition: energy is the amount of work that can be performed by a force.

To understand this definition, teachers also need to explain the concepts ‘work’ and ‘force’. As with every academic discipline, explaining one thing requires the understanding of many others. But there are additional layers of complexity in science; take work and force, for example. These words have different meanings in the everyday discourse of a year seven pupil. From their point of view, ‘work’ is synonymous with ‘labor’, and ‘force’ is synonymous with ‘vigor’. I personally made the decision to teach Energy as the penultimate unit of my Key Stage Three curriculum in year nine. This is because, as I have outlined, it is such an enormous concept underpinned by many other concepts, which I want to make sure my pupils master first.

There is a huge gap between what is required to understand a concept and the reality of what many science teachers are actually doing in science labs around the country. ‘What are they doing?’ you ask. Throwing words around the science lab, I tell you! What this post elucidates is the tip of the iceberg. Energy is one concept in Key Stage Three out of hundreds, if not thousands. Imagine the breadth of knowledge we assume pupils have if we count the Key Stage Four and Five sciences. Currently, science teachers do not put this amount of thought into how they explain concepts. This is one of the reasons why children in England are not learning Science.

In conclusion, it is imperative that we acknowledge how huge a problem this ‘vocabulary overload’ is. Next, we need to identify the issues with using scientific vocabulary and systematically develop, sequence and share definitions. Here is a challenge for you science teachers out there. Over the next week, take one of these three words – particle, structure or weight. Pinpoint the issues that arise when using the word in Key Stage Three science, and then develop a comprehensive definition. Next, decide when it should be introduced in the curriculum sequence and thus, into pupil’s scientific vocabularies. After all, we are all in this together.